Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2003 Issue

A True Rarity:An Owner Organized Auction

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By Mike Stillman

An unusual auction took place in the upper right-hand corner of your U.S. map on July 10. In Bangor, Maine, the collection of printed material from Maine of Edward Thompson was sold at auction. It wasn’t really a “collection,” as we’ll explain shortly, but it was one of the more complete compilations of Maine items you’re likely to find. While the “collection” is now dispersed, the catalogue remains, and is a must-have for anyone who collects printed Maine.

What makes the Thompson auction unusual is that the owner wrote his own catalogue and arranged for his auction. The auction was conducted by local auctioneer Robert Croul. And the material wasn’t really a “collection” because Thompson wasn’t a collector. He was (and still is) a bookseller. However, his business has moved on from its focus on Maine to broader material.

Thompson’s entry into the book, print, maps and ephemera business was very unusual. Most booksellers will have a story such as a love of old books as a child blossoming into a career. In Edward Thompson’s case, it was an eye injury. In the 1960’s, Thompson explains, he was a “birder” (birdwatcher). In 1971, he suffered a serious eye injury which took two years to heal. Bird watching was no longer possible. “I was a basket case mentally.” So instead, he began attending antique auctions, where he could sit in the shade, away from the glare. He started by buying prints of birds, but that quickly spread to other printed items.

However, Thompson never really became a collector. He quickly began buying and selling the material he found. Thompson does collect, but not the material he sells. He explains that if he collected what he sells, he would always be selling his second best material to his customers. “I’d resent that as a collector.” What does he collect? 10th through 17th century Islamic tiles. “That’s what I collect and I would not part with it. My heirs can sell it but I won’t.”

At one time, Thompson had a large business in Maine items. He used to do as many as twenty shows a year in Maine. In time, his business evolved to being more national in scope. “I used to brag I had the highest prices,” Thompson says. The result was that not everything sold. So, as his business shifted, Thompson still had an accumulation of Maine material he couldn’t move. He decided to hold an auction. However, rather than just selling what he had, he decided to complete the collection first. For the past two years he bought the missing pieces from his collection, so that when the auction was held a few weeks ago, it was complete. His most expensive purchase to complete the collection was a $20,000 map. Thompson expected to lose money on the item, but when the hammer came down, the final bid was $23,000 (plus auctioneer’s commission).

As to what led him to putting on the auction himself, Thompson noted that many collections are sold after the owner dies, when, obviously, the owner can’t personally conduct an auction. “I decided not to die first.” As for the massive task of putting together the catalogue (it’s 519 pages), he comments that he enjoys writing. The hard part was the editing, which Thompson was stuck with.

Holding the auction in Bangor was an easy decision. Thompson felt that the collection was not large enough for the major auction houses. He thought of holding it along the Maine seacoast, as many wealthy people summer there. Ultimately, he concluded that people who were interested in his material would buy wherever he held the auction, so he decided to stick with his home base. Besides, there was more room available for the 260 linear feet of maps that were put on display. Based on the results, the choice of Bangor was fine.

“We’re very happy how it worked out,” Thompson says. “The only people happier are the IRS.” Of the 445 items in the catalogue, only six were passed. Three of these were sold shortly after the auction. Two other items brought in late were also unsold. Thompson explains that the nearly complete sell through can be

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books<br>June 23, 2022
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> James Hamilton Young, <i>A New Map of Texas, with the Contiguous American & Mexican States,</i> Philadelphia, 1836. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Common American Skunk. Plate XLII,</i> Philadelphia, 1844. $700 to $1,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> Nicolaas & Jacob Cruquius, <i>T Hooge Heemraadschap van Delflant,</i> Delft, 1712. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> William Birch & Samuel Seymour, <i>The City of New York in the State of New York, North America,</i> Bristol, 1803. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann June 23:</b> Karl Bodmer, <i>Sih-Chida & Mahchsi-Karehde. Mandan Indians. Tableau 20,</i> Paris, Coblenz & London, 1839-42. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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