Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2022 Issue

John Reznikoff: one of the old men at 62


University Archives was a new and interesting idea when John Reznikoff enrolled at Fordham in 1978 for a Jesuit education that accentuated context, experience, reflection and evaluation.   Simply stated, most educational approaches emphasize facts while Fordham’s and many liberal arts schools were focusing on process.  For someone soon to embarque on a career buying and selling collectibles the Jesuit approach would turn out to be an inspired decision.  Paper collectibles, other than stamps, were not yet a substantial field with extensive auction and dealer history.  For a new player the playing field was remarkably level.  Within a year he organized his first corporation:  University Archives, relying on his ability to recognize underpriced and under-researched examples then reselling them with more complete stories.  For a kid, it was a nice way to get into the biz.


The 1980’s would turn out to be last leg of what had been a stable, but small, field with several dozen players making the market.  Before the Internet, dealers relied on knowing each other and what they were doing, receiving each other’s catalogues, reading them, comparing and remembering what they read and adjusted and learned.  It was a quiet and worthwhile moment.  Nevertheless, there were opportunities.


Soon he realized, he could arbitrage from one dealer or auction house to another. Imagine the thrill of stopping at one booth at a show in one corner of the room, making an informed purchase and soon “flipping” it at a profit, sometimes a significant one. There was an emotional connection to this providing pleasure and confirming his ability. The money was needed but the challenge wasn’t principally defined by the money, because for him early on, all money turned into inventory.  His balance sheet turned into his scorecard and he could see his handle was increasing.


Reznikoff also soon ascertained there was a way to “fold over” knowledge and buying expertise from one field to another, in this case with stamps learning from stamps to benefit his budding autograph business.


And then in the early 1980’s a new and higher level of collecting ambition emerged and prices firmed.  For that they and the field could thank Paul A. Volker, the 12th chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, who raised short term interest rates to throttle the inflation that had been weakening the American economy for years.  In 1982,when interest rates began to decline those who had money could use their growing resources to great effect – one of which was to join the nascent explosion of interest in rare collectibles as a small group of ambitious collectors literally started to rewrite the pricing/valuation model by their willingness to pay up.


It was a remarkable time for collectibles generally, certainly maps and manuscripts found the new footing bracing too.


In the 1990’s what had been a small market was then becoming interesting to the major auction houses and prices continued to rise.  For John, the way into that echelon was to consign material to them and he would do so for more than 10 years.  Auctions were simply another option for buying  and selling, especially those things he could not sell to his regular clientele. 


Reznikoff was also fortunate to have two major mentors in the early days. First it was the great Robert Siegel of Siegel Auction Galleries in New York. Reznikoff considered “Bob” to be his surrogate grandfather with whom he would often kibbitz when in New York City, later joining him on junkets to places like Puerto Rico and Atlantic City.


A few of Siegel’s pithy quotes that Reznikoff remembers were notable. Once Reznikoff was remarking at the longevity of a famous dealer that had brokered the British Guyana  stamp of multi-million dollar fame. “He’s been in business 50 years!” Reznikoff boasted. Siegel, unimpressed snapped back “M’boy …He hasn’t been in business 50 years, he’s been in business 1 year and repeated it 50 times!” Siegel was expounding, of course, the importance of innovation and flowing with the times. On another occasion Siegel was complaining about a former mentee and said “I taught him everything he knows….but I didn’t teach him everything I know” this time revealing the importance of keeping some things close to the vest.


Reznikoff’s other mentor in the early days was Charles Hamilton, the “Dean” of autographs an authority and author of many books on the subject and exposer of the fake Hitler and Jack the Ripper Diaries. Reznikoff would sit in Hamilton’s offices on 63rd street for hours in the early 90’s and soak up as much knowledge as possible. Hamilton was also the source of many early exciting purchases. Reznikoff bought the rights to Hamilton’s landmark two volume work “American Autographs” which someday he promises to republish and update as an honorarium to his late mentor.


From the early 2000’s up to today Reznikoff’s living mentor has been Ken Rendell, also an author of many books and considered by John to be the greatest dealer to ever have lived. Through his mentors’ wisdom and his own abilities Reznikoff soon learned he was a bit of a savant when it came to recognizing value, and doing so quickly. He developed a sixth sense for those items which might not seem important on the surface but for which John knew somehow would “describe out” with proper research. Rarely he was wrong. 


By the 2010’s, after years of consistent commitments to auctions, he decided to run auctions himself.  In 2015 he pressed the button, simply adding another way to sell to buyers who prefer to pay market-determined prices.  Over the past 6 years his auctions, based on dollars have increased 4-5 times. While in 2015 there were 200 registered bidders at his first auction, now there is over 10,000!


And he is only 62 and hopes to be active over the next 20.


Here are links to his website and he’s happy to talk with buyers and sellers. 


Website:  www.universityarchives.com

Telephone:  203.975.9291, 800.237.5692

Email:  john@universityarchives.com

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