Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2007 Issue

Where is the new book collector?

Crichton

Bruce McKinney speaking with John Crichton [r]


By Bruce McKinney


The book collector, who has ever been a solitary creature, is seemingly less visible and hence more difficult to find today. Who's looking? Every dealer on the planet is interested to know who they are. So too are the listing sites and various publications and services that cater to them. These collectors are elusive. You can almost believe they are a vanishing breed, drawn in a thousand directions, all of them away from the collecting of books, manuscripts and ephemera. Almost.

Recently I asked four gray-haired dealers for their perspective on this question. In this case the gray hair is a useful indicator of experience. They are John Windle, Jeffrey Thomas, John Crichton and Michael Good, San Francisco Bay Area book dealers with more than a hundred years of experience between them. Younger folks may not remember the pre-internet world clearly. These men remember it too well, the way we all recall touchdowns scored in high school and the soliloquy delivered in the college play, wistfully and perhaps a bit sanitized. The question I asked "Where is the new book collector" is a seemingly easy question but its one that in the answering tells us as much about the respondent as it does about the collector. The new collector is after all, almost mythical, sightings hardly more common than Loch Ness monsters. But it of course is not the new collector that is hard to find. It's new mintings of the old-style collector that are. Collectors are in fact everywhere and more plentiful than ever. Listing sites such as Abe, Zvab, Biblio, ILAB-ABAA and AE provide a steady flow of orders to sellers. And eBay gavels thousands of books everyday. Traditional auctions sell 200,000 documented lots annually and an untold number of undocumented ones as well. There are plenty of buyers. But these rank and file collectors buy carefully and curb their enthusiasm at the sight of three digits. They are omnipresent and of course very different from the old style collector. They are also the growing backbone of the rare book business. Think of them as Mr. Seventy-five dollars, Madame Cinq-Cent Francs, and [English] fifty-quid.

These dealers clearly miss the old-style collectors who had money, ambition to collect and trust in the dealer to act on their behalf. Such collectors, rare in any era, are increasingly collecting independently, buying more at auction and more often from a range of sellers rather than through a single dealer whose objectif primaire is to represent them. Finding such collectors much less building relationships with them, though never easy, has become very difficult. Even when face to face with such collectors, because encroaching may be poaching and book dealers live inside a world of rigidly protected relationships, they may not feel it appropriate to offer material though it's potentially beneficial to collectors. A collector thinks they are just buying a book while a dealer may see it differently.

So when I ask serious, long respected dealers "where is the new collector" it means something different to them than it does to me, a collector, since I first held an old [if not rare] book fifty years ago. To obtain these interviews I travel with Joe Belk [Cinematographer], an experienced cameraman who will capture the hours of tape we record. This is to be a first attempt on AE to integrate video with the printed word in an article in AE Monthly. Ashley E. Rodholm [film editor] , a senior at Berkeley is to handle the editing.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions