Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2020 Issue

In the Age of Ephemera

Books have long been the mainstay in the ‘printed’ category while other printed forms have periodically captured the headlines and imaginations of collectors and collecting institutions.  But we seem to be entering into a profound stage of change that is seeing the very definition of printed collectibles evolve in face of emerging visibility by subject, period and category.

 

This is of course nothing new.  Schools of painting come and go as do random subjects become an era’s bright and shiny object.  Furniture that bespeaks style as do categories of objects such as flags, models, weapons, and related objects also add immeasurably to collections.  Hence a famous printers’ press is hardly a giant step once a collector’s imagination has broken through the bounds that frame traditional collecting possibilities.

 

Epic collecting was once the sole preserve of wildly wealthy collectors, museums and highly significant libraries that had knowledge, gumption and resources.  These days there is more money around and the internet rewards intense research revealing collecting focuses we never dreamed were possible.  Just a decade ago collecting seemed to fall into well-defined categories and now we seem to be living through the emergence of tens of thousands of seemingly random dots that become personal constellations.  It is a remarkable moment in the history of collecting as this extraordinary avocation is being restructured by information and personal interest rather than by dealer inventories that have structured their holdings into traditional collecting categories.  Voila, presto, there are a thousand ways to effectively collect.

 

While virtually all collecting disciplines are affected they are not equally altered.  Books have been suffering disproportionately because the great listing sites make it transparent how many copies are available when collectors are often looking for rare material.  Manuscripts, by comparison, are unique and often have few comparable options.  Printed maps tend to have multiple copies as do engravings.  And then there is ephemera and what is it?

 

A large portion of collectible printing was intended to survive.  However, ephemera is/was essentially ‘created for the moment’ and is/was not expected to survive.  Few precautions hence were taken to record, define and explain such items although through the prism of time such objects are often intensely interesting.  Books, by comparison, have documented history that is built transaction by transaction when they pass though auction rooms.  Ephemera has a much slimmer history, in part because identification is often difficult when neither date nor place are provided when its location was self-evident.  Here are a few examples; announcements that ships, boats or barges are to set sail.  Posters for entertainments such as Romeo and Juliet at 8:00pm often suggest a poster was provided on the day at the place for the event.  Menus too don’t necessarily tell a complete story, just what’s for dinner, not necessarily the day and year, not even for sure the place.  Photographs often tell us only what we can piece together from what we can see.  So such items only tell a fragmentary account.

 

Taken together however such material often can tell us a great deal about the past.

 

This in a small way begins to explain the power of ephemera and why such material is increasingly finding its way into auctions.  It’s often inexpensive, fragmentary and incompletely described.  Hence, the collector or institution has to have an educated perspective to guess at what or how material fits in.

 

All this said, the future for ephemera is robust.  We expect 30% of all auction lots will focus on or include such material over the next 10 years.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000

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