How about spending $300 to save $10,000

- by Bruce E. McKinney


Collectors early on too often follow the well-trod path from enthusiasm to disaster after they learn that market valuation is different than asking prices.  For the new collector this is terribly important because enthusiasm can get badly dinged. 


To familiarize yourself how to collect Spencer W. Stuart has organized a collector/collection advisory service and has created a 60 minute webinar to explain his approach.  It addresses many of the questions and complexities inexperienced collectors will find useful.




Collecting needs to be contextualized.  Why and what are essential questions.  What are your goals and are they practical?  Are you a person who buys the cheapest or the best copies?  Is your goal to enjoy a meaningful collection or to achieve a meaningful investment?  In other words, collecting requires to identify, understand and accept limits on time and money.


Spencer’s approach is intense but it’s a good investment.


That said, to be effective you will need to embrace some aspects of the dealer perspective.  And to do that you’ll need to think like a dealer.  Dealers are knowledgeable.  And in your chosen collecting focus you’ll want to become expert.


If you would like to join Spencer’s webinar here is information about him.


Spencer W. Stuart:  Curriculum vitae


My Start


In the winter of 2014, at the age of 24, I was hired by the Toronto office of Bonhams Auction House. Having recently graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, England, where I received a Master’s degree in the History of Art, I began the position as a business administrator with the thought that I would transition into one of the Visual Arts departments. This thought decisively changed with the exposure to a quick succession of quality book collections in the Greater Toronto Area. Dealing directly with first editions of Modern Irish Literature, Travel and Exploration, and finally the Natural Sciences, including the books and letters of Charles Darwin, served as my introduction to rare books and manuscripts.


A bibliophile since adolescence, at Bonhams I was fortunate to have the opportunity to handle and examine these rare items starting in 2015 with the invitation to work with the US Book Department on their sale featuring the collection of Barbara J. Land, a prominent figure in the Bay Area Rare Book community. For the next three years I would make two week visits every quarter. It was there that I was introduced to highly experienced colleagues who have taught me to catalogue and evaluate rare books as well as provide me with opportunities to develop auctions alongside them. The Rare Book School at UVA and the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars further supplemented my fundamentals.


During my time with Bonhams I was able to work with colleagues on some fine collections such as the Andrew Caren Archive, the Harry E. Gould, Jr. Autograph Collection, and rare books and manuscripts such as first editions of James Joyce, letters from the later part of Charles Darwin’s life, and, perhaps most notably, the first known printing of Aristotle’s De animalibus.


Establishing Spencer W Stuart, Collections Advisor


In the Summer of 2017, I started Spencer W Stuart, Collections Advisor aiding collectors at various stages acquisition, cataloguing, deaccession, and donation. During this period, in addition to my client work, I began giving public lectures on book histories, writing articles for a variety of publications including Amphora and The Book Collector and serving of the Board of the Alcuin Society. In the Fall of 2018 I was invited to become a monthly guest on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (equivalent to NPR) radio show North By Northwest where I lead conversations relating to an anniversary in publishing history with a particular focus to the material stages texts go through before becoming a book. []


The decision to start my own collection advisory business stemmed from continual house visits where I was met with a similar scenario, representatives of a collector’s estate left to divest of the collection under duress with little information nor time. In addressing this, I work with active collectors to devise strategies for deaccession. In tandem, as a younger participant in the industry, I work closely with New Collectors. This is a demographic that is more technologically connected to their markets of interest and they are participating in the auction room, albeit mostly remotely, like never before. Bruce E. McKinney’s data in his January 2020 article “The Pie is getting Larger” for Rare Book Hub, although not addressing demographics directly, indicates a year over year net increase of bidder participation across the fields of rare books, print material, photography, and ephemera. As McKinney states:


As part of the Rare Book Hub / Americana Exchange database project we record auction statistics and the numbers are many, almost a blur.  But consider this.  The number of lots offered, percentage of lots sold and the median sale price over the past 5 years, have all increased, suggesting the collectible paper market, at the auction level at least, is growing.  In real terms, in 2015, 423,000 lots were offered and this year a projected 510,000 when all the lots are counted, an increase of 18,000 lots annually [3.92%] that has also seen a rising percentage of lots selling, increasing from 73% to almost 77% over the same period.  That can’t happen without more participation and according to our sign-ups, it’s collectors that are making the difference.


This is certainly the case amongst my clientele as well. The young, fueled by expert online research skills and creative approaches to subject collecting, are mitigating risky purchasing decisions at a considerably quicker rate than that of their predecessors. They simply have access to more information and opinions that allow them to make educated decisions. Credit should be paid to the improved transparency within the Trade itself. Concurrent to this emerging trend, middle and late-stage collectors are making use of increasingly inexpensive and accessible collection management software, combined with subscriptions to auction result aggregators, to better understand how their collections relate to the larger market place within which they are involved. It is an exciting time to be working with collectors engaged in this paradigmatic shift.


However, these collecting behaviours have not been adopted across the board, which led me to develop a three-part program to define what the early, middle, and late phases of a collector look like in this technological environment. Entitled Lifecycles: Collecting & Collections, the Series focuses on collecting art (prints, photography, and painting) and building private libraries. It will cover the complete timeline of a collector and their collection(s), discussing the initial attractions that move one to collect through to the steps one must take to ensure a collection’s legacy beyond one’s very personal time and place.


Register for Spencer W Stuart’s Lifecycles webinar through EventBrite: