The life of Bill Reese ended 3 years ago, but his discernment, judgment and collecting acumen continue to be admired. His name will soon be illuminated on the marquees at Christie’s in New York. On May 25th and 26th, his personal library of travel and exploration books, printed Americana from the 17th to 20th centuries, American paintings and drawings, natural history books, and important literature will be sold in a three-session live auction. Reese Collection sales will continue into June with both an Online auction (19 May – 2 June) and a suite of important paintings by Agostino Brunias selling on 10 June in the Old Masters Evening Sale. This spring, about 600 books and artworks will be dispersed to clients, friends, fellow dealers and competitors.
Bill’s depth of enthusiasm was legendary, but the extent of his knowledge even more rare. His understanding conveyed confidence to collectors and collecting institutions who wanted to possess great Americana and wanted certainty. He understood the material, be it from the discovery of the New World, to the founding of the American nation, to America’s development politically and socially. To understand America’s history through its documents, books, maps and ephemera became his life’s work. Many of the important collections of Americana today reflect his influence.
Soon the public will have the opportunity to compare what he offered over his 300+ catalogues with what he collected. Not surprisingly, he was as discerning a collector as he was a dealer.
During his career, when meeting with a new collector he invariably asked about their preferences and could—off the top of his head—suggest a list of material from his inventory that would further their collecting ambitions. Many collections, born of nebulous curiosity, grew with his first guidance into lavish manifestations of history. In time, many of those collections themselves became spectacular events at auction or prized gifts to the greatest collecting libraries. He knew the material and the market’s confidence in his judgment will soon be reflected in the auction outcomes of his storied collection.
Having built his business and collections over forty years, Bill saw prices rise and fall, and was ever mindful that unusual copies had to be pursued when they were offered, even if the outside world was in turmoil. One and only examples do not often reappear. So it is an odd circumstance that the Reese Collection of Americana will be sold at one of those times, when foreign war and American political uncertainty may shake a collector’s confidence and step aside.
About such times, I remember Bill saying, when it’s hardest to feel assured, the purchases will be remembered fondly. It was good advice and I pass it along as a whisper in the room, reach for the prize. His material is exceptional, you are in the presence of an event.
As to what to consider – here are a few of the high spots to get you started:
Lot 297, Charles Bird King portrait https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6368867?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6368867&from=salessummary&lid=1