Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2008 Issue

A New York Weekend Ph.d in Book Collecting

A chance to acquire both knowledge and material


By Bruce McKinney

There are many recent reports of slower sales in the book business and few sellers are exempt from the downturn. The February book fairs in California underperformed and the upcoming fairs in New York will be conducted in an environment of uncertainty. As a person interested enough in books and works on paper to be reading this article you are potentially one of the those attending. There are many good reasons. Let's consider them.

  1. There are three shows occuring within blocks of each other with more than 270 dealers participating. One is the ABAA's annual New York fair, its most important event of the year, another the West Side Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair, the third the New York Autograph Show. The ABAA fair takes place at the Park Avenue Armory, on Park between 66th and 67th, the WSAB at Hunter College two blocks away at Lexington & 68th. The NYAS is at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel at 36 Central Park South between 5th and 6th. For one trip you have several opportunities to meet dealers and find material.
  2. Many dealers do not list their best material online until they have first offered it at shows. Rare books are hard to find, serious collectors harder to find. Dealers bring great material in search of great customers. For exceptional and the unusual material shows are often the only place to see a dealer's best things.
  3. A minority of dealers simply do not list on line in any significant way. They are often show-dependent. The only way to know of their material may be to meet them.
  4. Most people live in one place. Book dealers have a base but are often in motion. They take their best material across the country and around the world to exhibit at antiquarian events to show it to you. For the dealer the interaction with potential clients is that important.
  5. Dealers price everything, they negotiate some things. They are unlikely to reduce their prices on exceptional material if they feel it is fairly priced. There are two general rules. The best material will change hands during the first day, the best prices will be achieved on the final day. The best collections are built upon the best material. There is an insatiable demand for great things.
  6. For many, even most, collectors shows may be a stage but they are a necessary stage. Think of them as required courses needed to earn your degree. At these events you are looking for contacts, for evidence of knowledge, for clues to the type of material a dealer sells be it premium or impaired, exceptional or simply nice copies. On the spot comparisons between how an item is described and a visual examination of the piece are very useful. Sellers come to shows to sell. You go to a show to learn and sometimes to buy. Often you will do both and be satisfied with the outcome.
  7. To become a collector you need to experience the material. You may not buy but you need to learn. There is no better place to learn.
  8. So there you have it. The chance for an intensive weekend course in books, manuscript and ephemera. If you are serious, or would like to become serious about collecting and have access to New York, this is your chance.
[1] New York Antiquarian Book Fair April 4-6, 2008;
[2] WEST SIDE ANTIQUARIAN BOOK & EPHEMERA FAIR April 4-5, 2008
[3] Professional Autograph Dealers Association April 6, 2008;

Here are directions and a map to travel between the West Side Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair and the ABAA Fair. Here is another map for travel between the Autograph Dealer's Show and the ABAA Fair.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Closing Time, Advance Readers Copy of Uncorrected Proof with a letter from Heller on his personal stationary
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Gates, Bill, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, N Y: Knopf, 2021; first edition, with a handwritten note from Bill Gates
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Something Happened, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, first edition, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000

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