Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2003 Issue

Dr. Frank T. Siebert: Requiem for a Heavyweight

Jesuitrelations

Jesuit Relations


In the first half of the last century there was a changing of the guard both by collectors and dealers, and by the 1930's, specialization was a trend that was clearly established. In Boston, Goodspeed's was the established history and genealogy shop and an important source of material, while in New York, dealers such as Edward Eberstadt, Peter Decker, Lathrop Harper, Charles Heartman and Argosy found success providing rare materials to Thomas W. Streeter and others who were building important collections of Americana. In Philadelphia there was Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach. Among these men Frank Siebert appeared as a new and serious collector. In 1945, for the first time, Dr. Siebert's name appears in the ledgers of the Rosenbach Company with the purchase of David Cusick's Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, the rare second edition printed in 1828, for which he paid $135.* His final purchase, from the Rosenbachs in 1953, was a two-page letter from Andrew Jackson to William B. Lewis for which he paid $285. These items realized $4,025 and $46,000 respectively when sold in 1999 as lots 234* and 611. From the fall of 1945 through 1953, when the firm's business wound down, Dr. Siebert made forty purchases from Rosenbach. Many of these purchases were H. V. Jones' copies.

It takes nothing from other collectors to say that Dr. Siebert's approach was unique among the strongest collectors of that time in that he needed to substitute intelligence and guile for money as he had the former but never enough of the latter to satisfy his collecting ambitions. When prices were right and his funds and credit ample he simply bought all that he could so long as the book or books in question were already known to him and had earned a place on the lists he prepared and continuously edited to both identify and prioritize the material he wanted to acquire. Compare that approach to the collector today who, with only the vaguest concept of what he wants, contacts his dealer to find out what they have. In his time he was close to unique in his obsessive approach to the material he collected. Today it is clear that such a focused approach was the key to Dr. Siebert's rarest of the rare double victories in book collecting. This is not to say that other important collectors of the period did not do well, even as well. Thomas Streeter, Lilly, Bernardo Mendel, Holliday and DeGolyer all obsessively pursued their collections with exceptional success. They generally had more money to spend. Dr. Siebert's principal tool was his intellect.

Mr. Siebert did not have a personal or family fortune. His investments were substantial enough in his day that he would have been considered wealthy, although he saved his wealth for his books and apparently hid it from his family to invest in his collecting passion. He was well-to-do, a doctor and both brilliant and obsessed. He was also that rarest of collectors who, with a goal emerging early in his collecting, could understand that he would both have to employ a highly disciplined approach to his collecting and not be dependent on dealer advice. "He sought opinions only from those few experts he respected and his opinions were highly valued by others" according to Bailey Bishop who prepared the first draft and reviewed the final drafts of Sotheby's catalogues for the 1999 sales.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. The Rocky Mountains. Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in English]. <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English.</i> Rheims, 1582. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in Latin]. <i>Biblia latina.</i> Venice: Franz Renner of Hailbrun [Heilbrunn], 1483. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P. B. S."), to Charles Ollier. Florence, Italy, 15 December 1819. “MY PROMETHEUS IS THE BEST THING I EVER WROTE.” $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> RAMSAY, David (1749-1815). <i>The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina…</i> Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BINDINGS]. MUIR, John (1838-1914). <i>The Writings of John Muir.</i> Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916-1924. 10 vols. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [CHICAGO] -- <i>Park & Guide Map of Chicago.</i> Chicago: Jas. Van Vechten, 1873. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [ALLEN PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). <i>Romeo and Juliet.</i> Greenbrae: Allen Press, 1988. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BEMELMANS, Ludwig (1898-1962). Pencil drawing on paper. 247 x 198 mm, sight, matted and framed. Showing a child shooting at a baby's balloon. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [LOGAN ELM PRESS]. HARVEY, Rebecca. <i>Any Number of Things.</i> Ohio State University, 2013. Single sheet paper scroll. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BINYON, Laurence (1869-1943). A small archive of letters and pamphlets. $200 to $300.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Travel, Atlases, Maps<br>and Natural History<br>Online Auction<br>27 April – 13 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>Daniel Giraud Elliot. <i>A Monograph of the Phasianidae, or Family of the Pheasants,</i> 1870-1872, coloured plates. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>Georg Braun und Franz Hogenberg. <i>Civitates orbis terrarum.</i> Cologne, 1597-c.1606, 5 volumes, hand-coloured, calf. £140,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Qianren Huang. "Blue Map" of China. [Daoguang, 19th century]. £60,000 to £80,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Travel, Atlases, Maps<br>and Natural History<br>Online Auction<br>27 April – 13 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Abraham Ortelius. <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum,</i> 1595. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Maxime Du Camp. <i>Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins Photographiques.</i> Paris, 1852. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>China, Canton School. A superb album of 141 watercolours, c.1800. £70,000 to £100,000.

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