Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2003 Issue

Dr. Frank T. Siebert: Requiem for a Heavyweight

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Dr. Siebert


Third in a series on important book auctions

By Bruce McKinney

It is first by perseverance and then by luck that book collectors succeed twice. Most do not succeed even once. First you must collect well and then you must sell well. Most collectors today might as well buy lottery tickets as collect books with an honest expectation to succeed on the first count. The gods, dealers, auction houses and luck then determine the small percentage that succeeds when they sell. Dr. Frank T. Siebert, who died in 1997 at age 85 and whose books were sold at auction in 1999, was one of those that succeeded twice. He would have been bemused by his "success." He didn't want to sell his books, either to a dealer who wouldn't pay retail, or at auction, because "they would make a mess of it" according to Bailey Bishop. “He would have preferred they be kept together, but didn't have enough money to endow a library, and knew that if he gave them to an established collection, they would get lost or their condition suffer.” Mr. Bishop, retained to evaluate Dr. Siebert’s books, appraised the collection at more than five million dollars, a surprise to Dr. Siebert’s estranged daughters who didn’t know the collection was so valuable. Mr. Bishop suggested dispersal by auction.

Dr. Siebert's books sold in two auctions at Sotheby's four years ago. The first sale took place on May 21st, 1999, in a high ceiling-ed well-lit room at 1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street, in New York, where at most forty anxious and apprehensive dealers and collectors plus an unknown number of telephone and order bidders gathered to hear the last rites administered to one of the finest collections of rare and important books in the Americana field to be assembled in the final fifty years of the 20th century. The official title was "The Frank T. Siebert Library of the North American Indian and the American Frontier." The books that sold that day had a long history. Dr. Siebert's part in it begins in the late 1930s.

Dr. Siebert was an opinionated and reclusive collector and he made an early decision to know his field rather than to rely on any one dealer. It was a brilliant and unusual decision then and it remains a rare decision today. Attend a book collectors' group these days and most book collectors you encounter will be disciples of one dealer or another. Dr. Siebert was his own man and he had the first class mind to make it work.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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