Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2007 Issue

Auction House Perspective: Who is the new book collector?

Djohns

Doug Johns: Seeing a future in the past


By Bruce McKinney

This month I interviewed representatives of three auction houses about who is and where is the new book collector? They are Dr. Martin Gammon of Bonhams & Butterfields, Doug Johns of Johns' Western Gallery, and George Fox of PBA Galleries. In February I asked four dealers the same question. The differences both between what booksellers had to say and what auction representatives this month are saying illustrates the complexity of the book, manuscript and ephemera categories as well as the differences in approach taken to them in the auction field. A seemingly simple question yields complex clues if no outright answers.

The auction house sale banner furls high above a diverse community and has for hundreds of years. For generations beyond personal recall possessions have been redistributed within the community by inheritance, gift and sale, often by auction. In North America for 350 years and in Europe for much longer, such sales, often including books, have been cried out and hammered. Down through time "by auction" has emerged as a synonym for sale by necessity and what this simply means today is that at a time fixed items will be sold for prices determined by demand. By comparison, what a dealer offers is a set price with the time of sale unknown. Both approaches have their virtues and auction their necessity. Printed material at fixed prices dwarfs books at auction though the market for books at auction has been growing exponentially.

Auction is a term that has one basic meaning but many different forms. And as different as these forms are they are all several magnitudes removed from the four dealers we interviewed in February. They differ in how they describe, how they promote, what they charge, where they sell and who they sell to: all the time retaining characteristics that define them as auctions. Perhaps the largest differences are in the basis for sale and few auctions houses have only one. Without reserve means that should someone bid just a dollar, and no one else bid, a Gutenberg Bible could sell for that price. Such sales [in principal but not for a Gutenberg as far as we know] occur, most often in the country circuit where, by midnight, all will be sold or sent to the dump. This is why auctions are interesting. You never really know what is going to happen.

All this is to explain how auctions, while selling similar and often the same material as dealers, are a very different breed. In Vegas this mentality takes them to the high stakes tables so it's surprising to interview three auction men that hardly seem like gunslingers. Appearances apparently are deceiving.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 1805 TN Supreme Court Book, John Overton and Hugh White Opinions. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> TN Lunsford Bramlett Archive, incl. Polk White House Invitation, 8 Items. $400 to $500.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Civil War Archive, incl. Gen. Bate on Death of Polk, Capture of Nashville. $2,000 to $2,400.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 5 Dickens 1st Ed. Books, incl. Edited by Author. $800 to $1,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Charles Dickens, 5 Christmas Books, 1st Eds. $800 to $1,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 2 Slave Documents, Nashville TN & North Carolina. $700 to $900.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 3 Maurice Sendak Signed Items, incl. Nutcracker, Pierre. $500 to $600.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 7 Phillip Roth Hardcover Books, incl. Author Signed, 1st Eds. $500 to $550.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 6 Kurt Vonnegut Hardcover Books, incl. Author Signed, 1st Eds. $400 to $500.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 3 Edward Gorey Items, incl. Print + 2 Books. $400 to $500.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Josef Albers, INTERACTION OF COLOR, 1963. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Henri Matisse Jazz Portfolio for MOMA, 1st Ed., 1983. $600 to $800.

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