Rare Book Monthly
Business as Unusual: the Frank Streeter Sale
The sale was organized impersonally, in alphabetical order, $2,000 books lined up with those estimated $60,000 to $80,000. At the outset, no spoken description or remembrance of Mr. Streeter, the collector, was given although, as is custom, a write-up was included in the two volume hard bound catalogue. It was more like "Ladies and gentlemen, let's cut to the chase." Cut they did, instantly taking lot 1, Acosta's The Naturall and Morall Histories of the East and West Indies, a book that is not so rare, to almost four times its high estimate of $4,000. For those wondering if the first lot was a true indicator or a hormone imbalance lot 3, Addison's Arthimeticall Navigation , against a high estimate of $40,000, sold for $78,000. Lot 4, Alphonsus X's Tabulae astronomicae then sealed the deal as, against a high estimate of $15,000, it too sold for $78,000. Around the room, nervous glances, like dandelions in late spring, appeared in every camp and corner. What's going on here: as it turned out; a lot. The people in the room weren't here to watch. They were here to buy and in a remarkable performance dealers, from both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific, simply stepped up. In many cases the prices must have run double expectations but this did not deter the knowledgeable from doing what they do: buy the books their customers want or will in time want. It's easy to be a dealer when you own material right. In this sale, dealers bet that the whale was breaching, that the market was turning higher in the wake of strong price confirmation. No doubt some sleep was lost Monday night. On Tuesday the auction continued its upward pace and the bids continued to flow.
The bidding was widespread though the dominant forces were in the room. Bill Reese, the perennial heavyweight, bought 85 lots for almost $3.2 million. Graham Arader bought heavily as did the firm of Bernard J. Shapero of London. David Block, representing Bill Berkley, bought quite a few exceptionally valuable items. In some cases the room was quiet and "thing one" and "thing two" battled it out on the phones. In other cases, as if to give the room a warning the auctioneer would say "I'm going to sell it to the internet bidder," and in one case it was for $75,000. Admonitions from the podium notwithstanding, by the end of the sale the online bidders had earned some respect. And overall it was apparent Christies had successfully integrated all bidding constituencies into a cohesive whole; the room, the phones, the order bids and online bidders," all woven into a single outstanding sale. It was an exceptional performance.
As if to remind all present that information is essential, the room stood back as two online bidders pushed lot 142, Delano's Life on the Plains Among the Diggings,... to $2,880. The under bidder can now choose from seven copies listed on Abe priced in total at $3,100. A similar issue involved lot 366, the two volume first English Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi... by Mollhausen brought $18,000 against an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000 while three comparable, perhaps better copies, listed on Abe were available for $3,000, $3,200 and $3,252. About this Bill Reese said "When I represent bidders you are paying me to tell you when to stop and why." Enthusiasm does not trump knowledge, the reason many buyers seek advice from dealers as well as use AE collector research tools.