Books at Auction in San Francisco
By Bruce McKinney
In February, as the ABAA comes into San Francisco for its once every two year antiquarian fair February 16-18, auction houses gear up to offer collectible material that appeals to this highly focused audience. This year Dorothy Sloan, Bonhams & Butterfields and PBA are hosting sales just before and after the fair. Their material provides an interesting counterpoint to the show where results are difficult to confirm. At auction, sales are public, the outcomes immediately known. Auctions and dealers have been on a parallel path for more than 25 years as auctions have increasingly moved into the retail side of the business. In prior decades traditional auctions functioned as the wholesale redistribution network. Today that role is increasingly taken by eBay.
The first sale will be held on February 14th. Dorothy Sloan of Austin, Texas provides 137 lots of Texas and the Southwest material. Her venue, as in past years, is the Joseph & Mildred Rolph Moore Gallery at The Society of California Pioneers, 300 4th Street, San Francisco 94107. Bonhams and Butterfields offer 497 lots on Monday the 18th and PBA 129 lots on Thursday the 22nd. Bonhams & Butterfield is located at 220 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco 94103. Pacific Book Galleries [PBA] conducts their sale of Rare Books & Manuscripts on February 22nd at 133 Kearny Street, San Francisco. The fair is a powerful magnet with potential sales of more than $6.0 million. The aggregate low estimate of the three auctions another $1,778,975. The Sloan material is available for inspection from Monday February 12th until the lots go under the hammer Wednesday at 10:00 am. Both Bonhams and Butterfields and PBA, whose sales are the following week, provide inspection the week of the fair and special arrangements over the weekend.
Auction realizations tend to be lower than retail prices because the date of sale is fixed and the price decided by competitive bidding. Dealer material is more extensive and the prices fixed [but subject to discussion if not agreement]. For the dealer, the variable is in the timing, for auctions it's in the price. When auction houses offer material of interest it's an attractive way to acquire it. Both dealers and auction houses strive to offer unduplicated material so to avoid direct comparisons.
The first auction is Dorothy Sloan's sale of 137 lots. Here are some representative items:
33. HUMBOLDT, Alexander von. Vues des cordillères....Paris, 1810-. 69 engravings & aquatints. Folio, later three-quarter morocco. Good, complete copy, fresh color. First edition of "the most beautiful and generally interesting of Humboldt's works" (Sabin 33754). Glass 627: "Pioneer work with first partial publications of various Mesoamerican pictorial manuscripts." Hill (1) I, pp. 148-149; Hill (2) 839. Lipperheide 1630. Palau 117026. Pilling 1871. ($10,000-20,000)