Rare Book Monthly
Business as Unusual: the Frank Streeter Sale
Two other aspects of the sale are worth noting: the presence of so many grey-haired mavens juxtaposed with the invisible online bidders. Just as Frank Streeter was a very traditional collector, the dealers in the room are just as traditional. They may not always like change, the passing of time, the market's inexorable push into a future that is leaving many of them less certain about how things will be than how they have been. This did not however, over the three sessions of this sale, deter many. Give them their due: a brave and in many cases canny performance. A handful of dealers dominated, often buying for one or more collectors. This was how it was at the Siebert sales and the pattern continues.
As did everyone else in the room, they heard "on the internet I am bid....", certainly the sound of the future, the faceless invader sending bids into the room with the click of a mouse. In this sale the room stood strong but in time, it's inevitable; bidders on the net will start to walk away with the biggest prizes. It's only a matter of time. For dealers, this will be a major loss, because they rely on contact: to see who bids, what they bid on and how they bid. Without this contact information finding the next generation of emerging collectors will be tougher. As if to confirm this, dealers around the room were tracking every paddle number and buyer they recognized or could deduce. Among dealers this information is currency: the knowledge of who buys as important as having the great book to sell.
Many lots stood out. The Lewis and Clark, lot 325, brought $288,000; Bourne's A Regiment for the Sea: Conteyning most profitable Rules,..., lot 61, $102,000; lot 101, Champlain's  Les Voyages del a Nouvelle France... $264,000 against its high estimate of $120,000; Chloris'  Voyage Pittoresque Autour du Monde $156,000, Copernicus'  De revolutionibus orbium coelestium $180,000 Des Barres'  The Atlantic Neptune $779,200, Dudley's [lot 167] Arcano del Mare $824,000. In fact 37 lots brought at least $100,000.
Beyond setting many individual records this sale presented the opportunity to compare the reappearance of specific copies at auction. Forty years ago the son, Frank, purchased more than 40 items at his father's, The Thomas W. Streeter sales: these books the first acquisitions of what would become a long collecting career. Frank also purchased four items at the Boies Penrose sale in 1971 and these outcomes too can be compared.
For both comparisons complete spreadsheets are attached. Forty one items purchased in the Thomas W. Streeter sale for $58,140 brought $1,305,640 in the sales just completed, an increase of 22 times over about 38 years. In one case the book passed through other hands before the son obtained it. In any event the comparison is unaffected. [Streeter comparison] Four items Frank purchased in the Boies Penrose sale for $10,680 brought $186,000, an increase of 17 times [Penrose comparison]. The results from both sales seem quite similar when the difference in time, three years on average, is figured in.
Here is a link to the entire auction, the descriptions and the outcomes.
I went to New York to film the auction and it turned out I caught on tape the changing of the guard, not that participants will necessarily agree though in time it will be proven true. For those who would like to see a film presentation of the auction including some comments on Frank Streeter click here (hi) or click here (low). It was a great sale.