Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2008 Issue

An Extraordinary Americana Auction at Bloomsbury Nov. 19

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Lot 208. A Thomas Birch image


By Bruce McKinney

The upcoming November 19th single owner sale at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York of the Jay T. Snider collection of early and important Americana with a strong emphasis on Philadelphia will provide an important test of market interest and financial capability at a time when the United States and Europe are experiencing the most significant economic downturn in a generation. The market is divided between those who see deflation or inflation ahead. Ultra premium collectibles will soar in an inflationary environment and fair poorly in deflation. For committed collectors however the tough timing may be less important that the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire spectacular material. For much of this material there may be no second chances.

Bloomsbury has spared no effort or expense to create both an exceptional printed catalogue and online presentation. See the links at the end of this article to access the catalogue. To the extent that emotion plays a role in bidding the lights have been turned low and the orchestra is playing "Smoke gets in your Eyes." Long gone are the days when buyers were almost exclusively dealers who knew more than the auction houses. Today collectors, often represented by dealers, dominate the bidding. The transition from books [intellectual] to images [emotional] is also in evidence. Mr. Snider's exceptional collection of Philadelphia images he acquired in part from Martin Snyder in 1997 is included.

In broadest outline this is a sale of works on paper and can be characterized as manuscripts, printed books, maps, prints and plate books. Much of the material is exceedingly rare. According to Jeremy Markowitz, who catalogued it, the estimates are reasonable and the reserves relatively low. In prior sales Mr. Markowitz has achieved a 90% sell-through while the field on average has completed 74%. This suggests that in the complex alchemy of presentation and estimate Mr. Markowitz is a particularly astute judge. The uncertain economy however is simply an unquantifiable factor. The highly important Frank Streeter book auction, that brought $16 million in 2007 for Christies in New York, had significant European support at a time when the dollar was tanking. The Euro is now collapsing and the material, in any event, lacks a European focus so this time the market will depend more exclusively on American interest. The aggregate low and high estimates are $2.8 and $3.9.

Here are some of the highlights:

Lot 51. Bound volume of Partly-printed Pennsylvania General Loan Office Mortgage Forms issued for the Paper Money Act of 1729. Click here.

Lot 87. An East Prospect of the City of Philadelphia; taken by George Heap from the Jersey Shore, under the direction of Nicholas Scull... c.1756. Click here.

Lot 96. To the Honourable Thomas Penn and Richard Penn Esqrs. True & absolute Proprietaries & Governours of the Province of Pennsylvania & Counties of New-Castle Kent & Sussex on Delaware This Map of the improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania. Is humbly Dedicated by Nicholas Scull. 1759. Click here.

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.

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