Finally, at lot 12 a gentleman in the room bidding more than twice the high estimate secured a funeral announcement in Spanish to break the mystery bidder's run. In the ensuing minutes it became apparent the phone bidder was not done, and in fact was not even breathless and so with renewed commitment the lots continued to fall one by one to him, always dropping close to zero before an opening bid was proffered. In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Portia says, and it applies here, "the quality of mercy is not [con]strained." Actually it was not visible at all. It was more like Tennyson's:
Half a league, half a league,Or so it seemed.
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
By lot 40 bottom fishers were reduced to prayers for the dead and at lot 44 George Fox of PBA stood up to say he was going home to get his collection. "My material will be up in the afternoon" brought a good laugh. And then the carnage continued.
By the end it was apparent that, for a few hours, the ghost of Henry E. Huntington, the extraordinary Southern California collector, had returned to pace the boards. Mr. Huntington, in the early twentieth century, had sent the greatest dealers of the era, George D. Smith and upon his death A. S. W. Rosenbach, to buy at auction every lot when he found the material appealing. For a few hours he was back and for all, even the unsuccessful bidders, it was exhilarating to watch, a sale so dominated by a single buyer.
The aggregate low estimate was $44,240. The sale brought $152,000.
Mr. Dawson is a great bookman, brother of Muir and son of Ernest and an obsessive collector as all the great bibliophiles have been. In the rooms at Johns' on the second an equally obsessed collector, albeit at the moment still unnamed, acquired 80% of the 113 lots, paid almost four times the low estimate and achieved an absolute theft in broad daylight. Such material, as a group, will not be back. The experience though will linger as a fine memory.
To those who wonder if this can happen again Mr. Dawson plans to sell more material in the future. At 93 he has begun to slow down but has made no decision to stop. He prepared the catalogue descriptions, left the estimates to Mr. Johns and made the decision that there be no reserves. For the moment it isn't clear what Mr. Dawson will collect next but its safe to say it won't be social security checks.