Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2003 Issue

A True Rarity:An Owner Organized Auction

Thompson2

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attributed to the low number of reserves. Only around twenty items had any reserve price, and these were below the low estimates. Reserves were mostly placed on railroad items containing maps where Thompson was concerned the bids might not reflect the individual value of each map. While a few items sold at disappointingly low prices, this was more than offset by the majority of sales. The sum of sales was just about equal to the sum of all the high estimates, a very good performance in Thompson’s view.

The highest priced item proved to be Moses Greenleaf’s first map of Maine. From 1815, it was the most authoritative map of Maine of its time. The price, including commission, was $26,450. Next highest was Fitz Hugh Lane’s lithograph of Castine which brought $19,550. Also bringing in five figures was Moses Greenleaf’s 1820 map of Maine, hammered for $13,800.

The vast majority of items were sold to auction attendees. No online bidding was offered. The auction wasn’t sufficiently sophisticated to handle it, but this was fine with Thompson. He pointed out that he didn’t really want to be selling $10,000 items to people who hadn’t seen them. There’s always a risk that a blind buyer of an expensive item will be dissatisfied. There were about twenty absentee bids with around half successful. There were also a few telephone bids, and while most were unsuccessful, one phone bidder did walk off with seven items.

One unusual statistic from this auction was that sales tax was paid on over 40% of the items. Sales tax indicates a retail or collector buy, while no tax is a dealer buying for resale. Normally, the auctioneer only collects sales tax on 20% of the sales. Thompson estimates there were 40-50 separate buyers, with five or six of them buying around fifteen items each.

How does an owner putting on his own auction go about promoting it? The first step was creating the catalogue. It’s hard to imagine a better catalogue, in terms of descriptions and images, than the one Edward Thompson created. The one-word description for his catalogue is “thorough.” For the next step, as a bookseller, Thompson had a distinct advantage. He had a list of clients who had previously purchased Maine items from him. Also, his occupation gave him access to the ABAA list of booksellers. On top of that, he advertised in the Maine Antique Digest, and the auctioneer advertised in various publications such as the Newtown Bee.

The catalogue is still available. The price is $45, including postage, or $35 for dealers looking to resell. While the items can no longer be purchased, the catalogue now comes with a complete price list, an essential piece of information for anyone who collects printed Maine. Thompson originally printed 250 copies, but when these ran out, he reprinted another 150. Fifty of these remain, so don’t wait too long if you want a copy. You can order a copy from Stillwater Press by sending an email to dthompsn@prexar.com. The full text of the sale, with estimates and realized prices, will be available in the Æ Database shortly.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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