The personal collection of William [Bill] S. Reese is to be sold by Christie's beginning in May, 2022

- by Bruce E. McKinney


Bill Reese, who passed away in 2018, was both a rare book dealer and a collector of Americana, other books, prints, and art.  It was a great privilege for me to be his client for a decade.  In 2002, Bill Reese became the very first member of Americana Exchange (now RareBookHub).  In 2022 his exceptional personal collection will be sold at Christie's and it will be a monumental event.


The collection, acquired over decades, will be dispersed in a matter of days and hours:  his fourteen thousand days in the field, converted into "May I have an opening bid?  On the left, yes in the back and on the right!"  The sales are going to be memorable.


Although auctions - no matter how important - are brief events, auction houses have long known how to convey long-term significance.  In this era,  the cataloguing and photography will be remarkable.  The auction catalogue will live on to become a valued reference, taking its place alongside those of George Brinley, Robert Hoe and Thomas Streeter.  Bill's personal selections will be accorded respect.  And virtually every item will then be forever remembered as "Bill Reese's copy" or "the Reese copy."  Such formalities are well understood but are rarely consistently applied.  I have no doubt Christie's will convey a sense of homage.  He earned it.


Auction Announcement provided by Christies


Across the latter decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, few individuals contributed so greatly to the field of American rare books as William Sherman Reese (1955-2018). The founder of the eponymous William Reese Company of New Haven, Connecticut, he was a seminal figure in antiquarian Americana—a man whose expertise and intellect left an indelible impact on both his trade and the nation’s most important rare book collections. For William Reese, rare books and manuscripts existed at the intersection of what he described as “text and icon, appealing to us in both an intellectual and physical sense.” For nearly half a century, Reese embodied the curiosity, engagement, and passion for history at the heart of both text and icon. He left a legacy in connoisseurship that continues to grow.


It is our great honor to announce that the Private Collection of William S. Reese will be sold in a series of four dedicated auctions in 2022, at Christie’s New York, Rockefeller Center.


In counterpoint to Reese’s extraordinary renown as a bookdealer and philanthropist, the extent of his personal collecting has been relatively little known. When the books, paintings, manuscripts, prints, and artefacts are shown at Christie’s next spring, it will be the first time in over 30 years that any portion of the current collection has been publicly exhibited—with the exception of one volume in the “Grolier Club Collects II” exhibition in 2016. The book Reese selected then was acquired by him in the late 1980s: a presentation copy of Herman Melville’s Typee, 1865, given by the author to Henry Smythe, collector of the Port of New York.


However, Reese’s fascination with the world of printed things began with birds and John James Audubon, pre-dating his Melville and other author collections. The several fine prints from Audubon’s Birds of America are among the items which were probably acquired the earliest. Reese shared an enthusiasm for these prints with his father and the two made collecting trips together from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Philadelphia and New York when Bill Reese was a teenager. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the more recent items acquired is a July 1776 broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence—likely the first printed in Massachusetts—which was won at the James Copley auction in 2010.  The Reese Collection is as strong in colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal Americana as it is in American color-plate and Western Americana.


Indeed, across all categories of printed Americana—plus Melville, natural history, travel, and literature—William Reese’s private collection is every bit as inspiring an achievement as his life and career. We deeply look forward to presenting it to the public over the coming months.


Auction Schedule


MAY 2022


Evening sale devoted to New World Exploration and Americana to 1814


Day sale with morning session of Americana after 1814 and the “Best of the West”; afternoon session of Natural History, Travel, and  Literature


Online auction with diverse subjects including favorite authors, Yale, American practical arts including architecture, and bibliophily





The Collection will be presented in three fully-illustrated and cloth-bound auction catalogues. Advance orders are recommended and can be made online at the Christie’s Catalogue Shop.


Other enquiries:

Christina Geiger



Twitter: @ChristiesBKS  #ReeseCollectionChristies