Ira Lipman founded and ran for more than five decades Guardsmark, one of the largest private security companies in the United States. Lipman and his wife collected in a wide variety of areas: jewelry and watches; baseball memorabilia; fine art ranging from Toulouse-Lautrec prints to a Damien Hirst spin painting; even a fine still life by Winston Churchill featuring a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. Sotheby’s has been selling pieces from the Lipman collection since last September under the uniform designation of “The Passion of American Collectors: Property of Barbara and Ira Lipman” (Mr. Lipman died in September 2019, Mrs. Lipman in March 2020).
But it is Sotheby’s stupendous sale on April 13 & 14 that puts the “American” in “The Passion of American Collectors.” Books and manuscripts dominated the Lipmans’ collecting, with printed and manuscript Americana being the special domain of Ira Lipman. By all reports, Lipman was a passionate patriot, deeply influenced by the founding fathers. He also played a notable role in American history himself, serving as an inside source for NBC’s John Chancellor during the integration of Little Rock Central High School, where he was a student.
Lipman fell under the tutelage of the Chicago bookseller Ralph Newman in the early 1980s and he quietly built a significant collection loosely inspired by the Grolier Club’s One Hundred Influential American Books Printed Before 1900. He sold this first library anonymously at Sotheby’s in 2013 under the title “The Library of a Distinguished American Book Collector,” although the identity of the consignor was an open secret among the trade. In addition to some fine literary highlights, the 2013 sale featured a first edition of Tom Paine’s Common Sense ($545,000) and a remarkable aggregation of seven signed books from George Washington’s Library at Mount Vernon ($1,205,000).
But shortly after that auction, Lipman sold Guardsmark, a development that significantly increased his leisure time as well as his bank account, and he began almost immediately to assemble another library (as many bibliophiles with seller’s remorse have done before him). Working closely with Bill Reese, Lipman’s second library focused on the American experience and includes material ranging from the late sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. In 2018, Reese edited Celebration of My Country: Selections from the Ira A. Lipman Collection, a privately printed catalogue highlighting two hundred important or representative books, broadsides, manuscripts, maps, prints, pamphlets, and other material ranging from Thomas Hariot to Abraham Lincoln. In his Introduction, Reese notes that while the Lipman “collection ranges across three centuries, its heart is the turbulent fifty years from the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1754 (or the French and Indian War, as it was known in America) to the realization of a continental United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.” In concluding his remarks, Reese admits that “Selecting two hundred representative works from an assemblage as rich and extensive as the Ira A. Lipman collection is necessarily an arbitrary task. There are many other equally interesting and important works on the shelves next to those described here. Taken together, they do what every great collection should—tell a series of stories while knitting together a group of unique objects into a narrative. In this collection, the narrative is a mighty theme: the evolution, growth, and rise of the United States from its earliest colonial beginnings to a world power.”
It is left to the Sotheby’s auction catalogue to reveal the breadth and depth of the Lipman library, which can be seen objectively as a collaborative achievement between a great collector and a great dealer, both now lost to the book world. The only way to experience the full impact of the Lipman collection is to browse the full catalogue. As an enticement, though, here is a brief roster of a few of the highlights. But do take a look at the catalogue, if only to see the number of highlights that wouldn’t fit on this brief list.
Lots 21, 22, 23: two magnificent autograph letters signed by John Quincy Adams condemning the institution of slavery and defending the rights of enslaved persons to petition Congress, with an autograph transcript of his resolution that rescinded the despised “Gag Rule.”
Lot 35: a scarce broadside describing Philadelphia’s preparations for celebrating the Treaty of Paris.
Lot 47: two very scarce publications relating the 1779 court martial of Benedict Arnold.
Lot 72: the “tombstone” issue of William Bradford’s Pennsylvania Journal, protesting the Stamp Act.
Lot 76: Francis Bugg’s rare anti-Quaker News from Pensilvania.
Lot 91: Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio, the very uncommon 31-plate issue handcolored and mounted on card.
Lot 117: the broadside “Address of the Congress to the Inhabitants of the United States,” 9 May 1778, a virtual renewal of the Declaration of Independence.
Lot 133: The first book-form printing of the Declaration of Independence in The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, English Constitution, which was in press when the Continental Congress issued the Declaration, allowing the printer to add it as an appendix.
Lot 135: Daniel Denton’s A Brief Description of New-York, formerly called New-Netherlands.
Lot 221: Alexander Hamilton’s appointment as aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
Lot 246: Winslow Homer’s very rare series of Civil War lithographs, Campaign Sketches.
Lot 293: James Otto Lewis’s Aboriginal Port Folio, one of perhaps a half dozen copies complete with lithographed title and 80 plates.
Lot 295: Ezekiel Russell’s justly famous Lexington and Concord broadside, “Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops.”
Lots 302, 303: the earliest obtainable printings of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and the final Emancipation Proclamation.
Lot 362: Thomas Paine’s American Crisis, one of the most eloquent publications of the Revolution—and one of the rarest.
Lot 390: the unique surviving copy of the earliest obtainable American edition of the Bay Psalm Book.
Lot 430: Simcoe’s privately published Journal of the Operation of the Queen’s Rangers, from the collection of one of the Rangers.
Lot 472: An interesting copy of the first printing of the Treaty of Paris, printed in Paris for Benjamin Franklin.
Lot 508: A very moving letter signed by George Washington to Crèvecoeur about the responsibility of becoming president.
Lot 552: A manuscript map from the Siege of Yorktown, from the collection of General Rochambeau.
Such sales rarely occur. For the serious they are essential.
Link to the sale: