Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2009 Issue

Objects of Desire

Objects.1

You can judge a book by its cover


By Bruce McKinney

The human mind is a fabulous and sometimes disordered mechanism. It recognizes the red and green of traffic lights, registers differences of temperature sufficiently to keep us from plunging into icy waters unprepared. It recognizes sunlight when it's too intense and we avert our eyes and it recognizes sirens and flashing lights in the rear view mirror, increasing our blood pressure and instantly organizing our pretexts and excuses into a hopefully convincing narrative while averting our eyes in a way that recognizes authority in an accepting way. We do all these things because we are human and human beings are intelligent.

When we apply this intelligence to the buying of antiques, old books, curios and collectibles all bets are off, at least for some of us. The issue is emotion. I was reminded of this when I recently read Objects of Desire, a book recommended to me as an inhale-able non-fiction account of three antiques' migration from obscurity to the top tier. The book, first printed in 1993, is by Thatcher Freund. Copies are available around the net in paper from $1.00, in hard cover from $3.00. Don't let the prices fool you. It's a great telling.

Every collector will recognize the story in a general way and I'll quote the description given on the bookjacket.

"Among the many desirable objects on offer during the 1991 Americana Week in New York - the annual high point of antiques sales - are three prized pieces. One stands in a spotlight at the Winter Antiques Show: a pine blanket chest made for a farmer in the 1750s and still wearing its original coat of robin's egg blue paint. The asking price is $250,000. A few blocks away, on display at Sotheby's, is a rare Chippendale card table, created in Philadelphia in 1759. The auction house is hoping that bidding for the piece will reach one million dollars. Also on display at Sotheby's is an inland sofa table from the Federal period, valued at $100,000, one of the prized possessions of a collector forced by circumstance to sell his cherished objects.

How these three pieces came to be at the apex of the American antiques market is the story of the evolution of the world of antiques: a world of bold enterprise, canny deal making, consuming aesthetic vision, and obsessive pursuit - all fueled by a passionate attraction to objects."


Exactly. "By a passionate attraction to objects." All of these items survived in very original condition into the modern era where "original condition" emerged as the linqua franca of the quality-phobes. It turns out there are lots of antiques around because nobody throws them out. To then differentiate between run-of-the-mill antiques and exceptional examples the standards adjusted, in my opinion, into a self-serving approach of difficult to explain [or duplicate] judgments and feelings dependent on having a professional eye that no amateur can attain. Except...

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Les Cigarettes Mekka,</i> 1919. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Plinio Codognato, <i>Cicli Fiat,</i> circa 1910. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> L.N. Britton, <i>Warning! Consider the Possible Consequences,</i> c. 1917. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonardo Bistolfi, <i>Première Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Modernes,</i> 1902. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Paquet Pernot / Biscuits Pernot,</i> 1910. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Francesco Nonni, <i>Font Meo / Acqua Minerale Naturale,</i> 1924. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, <i>American Crescent Cycles,</i> 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> <i>Be a Tight Wad! Own Something!</i> designer unknown, 1925. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Candido Aragonese de Faria, <i>Chamonix–Mont–Blanc,</i> c. 1910. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> W.E.J., <i>Irishmen Avenge the Lusitania,</i> c. 1915. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Maitres Affiches by MUCHA - Papier a cigarettes Job. 202. $5,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> De Bry - Map of the West Indies (including Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas, Parts of Central & South America, Sea Monsters, Ships). $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gould - Short-billed Toucan (Ramphastos Brevicarinatus). $5,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Redoute, Folio - Pale Iris - Iris flavescens. 375. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gillray - Light Expelling Darkness or The Sun of the Constitution. $200 to $500.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gerard - Wild Hemp or Weed, Cannabis. 708. $150 to $450.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Shaw & Nodder - Head of The Dodo. 165. $100 to $300.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Tarot de Marseille. Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Pair of gold wedding rings. £6,000 to £8,000.

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