Bloomsbury Offers Mid-Range Americana on March 5th

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Adams

An appealing portrait


By Bruce McKinney

Bloomsbury Auctions, whose Normandy is New York and who came ashore late last summer, is up and running and laying out an aggressive schedule of sales for the balance of the year; 16 from now through the end of the December. In hand is their catalogue for New York 7, their 7th sale to date and first of 2008: Bibliophile Americana & Literature. It's scheduled for March 5th and is well worth a look.

The high quality printed presentation is out-of-keeping with the estimates. They are low so the reader confronts a disconnect between presentation and price. My guess is the prices will be well up from the low estimates and most lots will sell. Across the entire universe of auctions last year 75% of all lots sold. When north of 80% sell it suggests esimates are low. When less than 70% of the lots sell it suggests both the estimates and reserves have been set above the market. In spite of the uncertain economic environment I expect this sale to do well.

The aggregate low estimate is $545,480 for the 594 lots, $800,870 for the aggregate high estimate. This works out to an average low estimate of $916 and an average high of $1,345. Documented sales tend to approach these levels without the great catalogue this one has. For the first six auctions held at Bloomsbury in New York in 2007 the median lot realization was $2,160, the London parent's $534, the Italian division $665. The percent of lots sold in New York was 66%, about 10% below the industry average. The lower estimates for Auction 7 suggest Bloomsbury is estimating material to sell. For buyers, this makes the sale interesting to evaluate.

Jeremy Markowitz has prepared the material. In his previous life, he did the same for Swann where he regularly achieved sell-throughs in the high eighty percents.

As to the material, images, perhaps the strongest part of the works on paper field today, are interspersed with books, manuscript material, autographs, pamphlets and maps. Here are a few examples:

4. AMERICAN REVOLUTION - ADAMS, Samuel. Mr. Samuel Adams. [Newport, RI:] printed by and for Charles Reak & Saml. Okey, April 1775. Mezzotint portrait by Saml. Okey after J. Mitchell (sheet size: 346x247 mm). Condition: cut to the edge of the image on three sides and within the plate-mark at the lower margin, with loss of imprint.
very rare american mezzotint of a revolutionary hero.
In this portrait Adams is standing in front of a table with a paper in his hand, engraved with the words "Instructions from ye Town of Boston" -- probably referring to his famous Circular Letter. Below the title are eight lines of verse in two columns celebrating Adams's opposition to the Intolerable Acts: "When haughty North impress'd wth proud Disdain, / Spurn'd at the Virtue, which rejects his Chain; / Heard with a Tyrant Soon our Rights implor'd, / And when we su'd for Justice sent the Sword: / Lo! Adams rose, in Warfare nobly try'd, / His Country's Saviour, Father, Shield & Guide, / Urg'd by her Wrongs he wag'd ye glorious Strife / Nor paus'd to waste a Coward-Thought on Life."

The painting by J. Mitchell after which the mezzotint was designed was based on J. S. Copley's portrait of Adams now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Samuel Okey had only a very short working life in the Americas: he engraved and published in Newport from 1773-1775, and had returned to London by 1778. Only one other example of this American mezzotint has appeared at auction, selling in 2005 for $13,800. Another example of this print is in the Emmet Collection (EM 495) in the New York Public Lilbrary. Cf. Bulletin of the NYPL, vol.I, p.163; Grolier. Early American Engraving upon Copper1727-1850 (1908) cat. # 181; Shadwell 46; Stauffer 2370.

$4000 – $6000