Collecting is a Journey: The Lifecycles Program

- by Bruce E. McKinney

It is in the nature of old books and collectibles that to successfully collect there is more needed than simply to be attracted, even consumed with the material.  This other aspect is that underlying financial logic is rarely acknowledged because it is easier to buy than to buy well although it's necessary.  To successfully collect you have to develop a sense of how rarity and value intersect in your chosen concentration.  If you understand this early you’ll make better choices.  It’s difficult to explain and I think Mr. Stuart expresses it clearly.


Said another way, spending money to understand how to collect is almost always a better first investment than buying out of focus or poor examples in your ultimate focus.


Here goes:


By Spencer Stuart, collections advisor:



The Lifecycles Program


Collecting is a journey. Executed with foresight, it can be a source of both self-exploration and understanding of the World. Done under influence and imitation, collections can come to represent expensive, burdensome wastes of time in the eyes of its beholder.


Lifecycles: Collecting & Collections is a three-part program that analyzes the process of collecting into three distinct passages. Drawing from professional experience, Collections Advisor, Spencer W Stuart, examines the questions collectors have at these pivotal moments and available options to develop techniques of collecting.


Initially, Lifecycles was offered as a single session of an hour. This iteration is an extended, 3-part program. Each presentation will be an hour long and will take a deep-dive (more case studies, more methodologies) into the three stages outlined through the Lifecycles series.


Registration is indicating we will have a diverse group of registrants attending. Representatives from the Trade, Trusts & Estates, Librarians and Curators from Institutions as well as Private Collectors.  No doubt there will be interesting and valuable conversations.


Those interested can register here:



Origins of 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 when working for an auction house, 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.


Register for Lifecycles: Collecting & Collections through EventBrite: