Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2021 Issue

Coming Soon - Digital Collectible Books?

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Beeple's 5000 Everydays (Christie's photo).

One advantage we always thought physical books had over their digital counterparts is that physical books are collectible. There is no way you could collect a book composed of ephemeral electronic impulses, a copy of which everyone on earth could have on their computer. Where is the substance? Where is the rarity? So much for common wisdom. Our perceptions were stunned a few weeks ago when a digital artwork sold for an astonishing $69.3 million at Christie's. Seriously. There is nothing on canvas, no physical painting. What the buyer got was a digital file, the same (almost) as every other one you can copy off the internet for free.

 

Welcome to the world of NFTs. NFTs are non-fungible tokens. There, that explains it. I don't understand it either. “Non-fungible” means one of a kind, it cannot be replaced by something else. An original painting is non-fungible, a print fungible. Tokens are those things that make cryptocurrency work. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, and one bitcoin can be replaced by another. They are fungible; they are all the same. An NFT adds a marker to the token that makes it unique. Your NFT, unlike your bitcoin, is not exactly like every other.

 

Still, there is nothing you can touch, hang on the wall, put on a shelf, even flip like a baseball card. It is just an image you view on a computer screen. I guess you can somehow display the token to your friends to show that yours is the “original” copy, but who is going to pay for that? The answer is someone just paid $69.3 million for it, so I guess we need to rethink that.

 

The artwork is called Everydays: The First 5000 Days. It is a collage of images from the Everydays series. The artist is “Beeple,” the art-name of Mike Winkelmann, age 39. He reminds me of Banksy, except we know who he is. "Beeple" is comparably self-effacing. On his website, Winkelmann (who refrained from using capital letters) writes, “he makes a variety of art crap across a variety of media. some of it is ok, but a lot of it kind of blows ass. he’s working on making it suck less everyday though so bear with him.” It's reminiscent of Banksy and his “I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit.” Like Banksy, his artwork is better than he makes it out to be, but still, $69.3 million for a digital file?

 

So, will we see books offered to collectors as NFTs? Unless this whole concept blows over really soon, I think it is inevitable. Not just art but videos, music, cards, all sorts of things are being sold now as NFTs. Books, which are now available as e-books, are an ideal use. A famous author could sell their first copy, in effect the manuscript, typed on a computer, as an NFT for big bucks. If you think an NFT of some text is a stretch, Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, sold his first “tweet” for $2.9 million. Yes, a first copy of an e-book can be sold as an NFT. Furthermore, NFTs can be created that are virtually identical, so the author could have a first edition of NFTs “printed” in a limited run of 50 copies and sell each of these, not as rare as a one-of-a-kind, but still rare. Presumably, the author could even digitally sign each of the digital copies to make them even more valuable.

 

Is this the future of collecting, or at least, a viable alternative to traditional collecting? Obviously, whoever paid $69.3 million for Beeple's artwork thinks so. Yes, you can display a picture that looks the same on your computer screen, or read an e-book that looks the same on your e-reader, and not notice the difference whether there is a multi-million dollar token with it or not. But, that is also true with prints, first and second printings or editions of books, or photographs, which all look essentially the same. For example, contemporaneously printed photos off the same negative are far more valuable than look-alike ones printed later, though they look the same. Some unnoticeable feature, like a watermark on the paper, makes all the difference. Perhaps the ability to have a look-alike digital version is not so critical after all.

 

You might argue that you cannot display your digital collection the way you can your physical one. You can only look at it on a computer monitor. Sort of, but you can now put up an electronic screen on the wall to display your artwork. You can show your picture, or alternatively, a picture of a bookshelf housing your e-books. Even better, you could have the screen on your wall scroll through your “paintings,” or scroll through images of the covers or title pages of your books. You are no longer limited to just displaying spines. Advantage, digital.

 

Of course, that still leaves the issue of not having something you can physically hold, traditionally such a major part of collecting. That is too big an obstacle for me. I want to be able to touch what I collect. But so what? I am not of the digital age. I may consider myself non-fungible, one of a kind, but to sellers of books and art, I am fungible. I can be replaced by another customer, so why should they care what I think? The reality is that the next customer more and more will be someone born of the digital age, for whom this type of collecting may make more sense than it does to me.

 

So, is this the future of collecting or just a temporary fad? We look to Winkelmann for an answer. He told Fox News, “I absolutely think it’s a bubble, to be quite honest. I go back to the analogy of the beginning of the internet. There was a bubble. And the bubble burst.” However, there is a second part to that quote, “But it didn’t wipe out the internet. And so the technology itself is strong enough where I think it’s going to outlive that.” Perhaps we won't see too many more $69 million price tags, or more of the other sky-high prices we have recently seen, but that doesn't mean this form of collecting will go away. The Dutch tulip bubble ended and people no longer pay ridiculous prices for tulips, but they still buy them. Perhaps there is a place for digital collecting, even if I won't be a participant. NFTs may survive, but these prices still look like a bubble to me.


Posted On: 2021-05-10 18:50
User Name: kenm

Hi Michael - perhaps a bit of a quibble but I don't think prints are fungible. If I lend you $10 then when you repay me, you don't need to return the exact $10 bill - because, in most cases, currency is fungible.
On the other hand, if I lend a museum a print for a gallery show (even a relatively common print) then when the show comes down, the museum can't give me a different copy of the print. I want my copy back.
Prints are not fungible which is why prints are considered to be each a unique piece of art.
regards
Ken


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Athanasius. <i>Illustrium Virorum Opuscula,</i> Paris, 1500. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, Translated Faithfully into English,</i> Rheims, John Fogny, 1582. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Stith, William. <i>The First History of Virginia printed in America,</i> [Williamsburg, 1747]. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b><br>S. Bonaventure. <i>Commentarius in Secundum Librum Sententiarum Petri Lombardi,</i> Venice, 1477. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Juvenalis, Junii. <i>Satyrae,</i> with the commentary of Domitius Calderinus, Venice, 1475. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Horatius Flaccus, Quintus. <i>Opera.</i> Ed. with commentary of Christophorus Landinus, Florence, 1482. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Scotus, Duns. <i>Quaestiones in Quattuor Libros Sententiarum,</i> 1476-1477. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Polidori, John. <i>The Vampyre, A Tale,</i> Paris, 1819. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom's Cabin,</i> Vol. I and II, 1852, and a Later Edition, 1885. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>iGavel Auctions<br>Antiquarian and Other Books<br>September 14 – October 12</b>
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> Book of Hours, Illuminated Vellum, Calendar of Months, 15th century. $600 to $900.
    <b>iGavel Auctions, Sep. 14 – Oct. 12:</b> <i>Picturesque,</i> America, Europe, Palestine, and Russia, 1872-1885. $400 to $600.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber—Imitating Norman Rockwell's "Triple self-portrait,"</i> acrylic, watercolor & colored pencil, 2002. Sold June 2021 for $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jane Russell, archive of letters written during a whaling voyage, 1840s. Sold July 2021 for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Guild of Women Binders, exhibition binding of A.F. Pollard’s <i>Henry VIII,</i> London, 1902. Sold July 2021 for $12,350.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Robert Frost, <i>Collected Poems,</i> author’s presentation copy, signed, with entirety of <i>Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening</i> inscribed, NY, 1930. Sold June 2021 for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> James Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> deluxe limited issue, signed, London, 1936. Sold June 2021 for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Mercator [family], <i>[World and Continents],</i> 5 double-page maps, Amsterdam, c. 1633. Sold June 2021 for $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Schlegel, <i>New York, Taken from Central Park,</i> hand-finished color-tinted lithograph, 1874. Sold June 2021 for $11,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolaus Copernicus, <i>De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium,</i> second edition, Basel, 1566. Sold April 2021 for $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Book of Hours, Use of Utrecht, illuminated manuscript, c. 1435-45. Sold April 2021 for $60,000.
  • <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Bible, English. The Holy Bible, Second Folio edition, the "Great She Bible", engraved More-Speed 1611 map of Canaan, Robert Barker, 1613-11. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Galilei (Galileo). <i>Opere,</i> 2 vol., first collected edition, Bologna, Heirs of Dozza for Carlo Manolessi, 1656-1655. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Venetian choirbook.- Single leaf from a 13th century Venetian antiphonal, with large decorated initial, manuscript on vellum, Venice, [c.1260]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Petrarca (Francesco). <i>Rerum vulrgarium fragmenta,</i> decorated manuscript on paper, Italy, [second half of the 15th century]. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> New York School of abstract expressionists.- Abbott (Mary Lee). [Sketch book of original artwork], [New York], 1945. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Contemporary colouring.- Nitzschewitz (Hermannus). <i>Novum beatae Mariaevirginis psalterium,</i> Zinna, Press of the Cistercian Monastery, 1493. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Shakespeare source book.- Montemayor (Jorge de). Diana of George of Montemayor: translated out of Spanish into English by Bartholomew Yong, first edition in English, B[ishop]., 1598. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Milton (John). Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, Compos'd at several times, first edition, state with "S" in "S. Pauls" in imprint, 1645. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Power and the Glory,</i> first edition, 1940. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b><center>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>& Works on Paper<br>30th September 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Crowley (Aleister). View of the Tyrrhenian Sea, probably from the hill behind the abbey of Thelema, Cefalù, Sicily, charcoal, [1921]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> Fleming (Ian). <i>Casino Royale,</i> first edition, 1953. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 30:</b> China.- Thomson (John). <i>Illustrations of China and Its People,</i> 4 vol., first edition, 96 photographic plates, 1873-74. £15,000 to £20,000.
  • <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 20. ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY. Letter to the editors of the Boston Atlas on slavery and its political ramifications, 1842. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 208. HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. <i>A Farewell To Arms.</i> New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929. First edition. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 237. ADDAMS, CHARLES. Original drawing "Now Remember-act casual." $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 4. SMITH, ADAM. <i>An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.</i> Philadelphia, 1789. The first American edition. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 131. BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VON. <i>Cinquieme Sinfonie en ut mineur: C Moll de Louis Van Beethoven. Oeuvre 67.</i> First edition of the complete score. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 73. Chinese Export Painting. Album of twenty-three original Chinese natural history studies of flowers and insects. Likely Canton: circa 1850. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 241. GOREY, EDWARD. Original drawing "Cat Drawing Wallpaper." Signed in Pencil in lower right margin. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 36. LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. Autograph note signed instructing Edwin Stanton to meet with the important African American abolitionist and officer Martin Delany. [Washington:] 21 February 1865. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 112. JONSON, BEN. <i>Workes</i>. London: William Stansby, 1616; Together with <i>Workes.</i> London: Richard Meighen,1640-41. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 161. STURGIS, LEE. <i>Salmon Fishing on Cain River, New Brunswick.</i> (Chicago:) Privately printed (for the author by Ralph Fletcher Seymour), 1919. First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.

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