Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2009 Issue

USF: Collecting Dust


William J. Monihan, collector of collectors

Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University, in a message to the head of the university wrote,

"In my view, to diminish the collection [by selling material] not only violates the faith of those who have donated, as I have in a minor way, but verges toward vandalism and philistinism."

Terry Belanger, University Professor, Honorary Curator of Special Collections and Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, visits the consequences such sales may have.

"I think a central point here is what actions like those taken by Father Privett [President of the University] do to future gift-giving - not only to USF, but books generally to institutions generally. I suspect that a great many more donors than is now the case will begin to add disposition conditions to their gifts to institutions [e.g. if at any time in the future the institution no longer wishes to undertake care of my gift then it is to be sold at auction for the benefit of the Red Cross/SPCA, home for unwed mothers [choose one]."

What has been a gentleman's club of understandings and courtesy could become a dogfight over regulations and requirements.

An assessment of the Donohue Rare Book Room, issued several weeks after the recent sale, made essentially the same points. Issued by two well-placed and well-regarded rare book library advocates, Susan M. Allen and Mark Dimunation, the report damns the University for shortsightedness, raises ethical concerns and openly questions the appropriateness of future gifts to an institution that is not demonstrating a commitment to maintaining its collections.

At the center of this maelstrom stands Father Stephen A. Privett, current President of the University of San Francisco and recently appointed to a third 5-year term. He is both responsible for his institution and responsible to a 42-member Board of Directors. Perhaps the structure of a Jesuit institution affords him a bit more latitude than the typical university president, where powerful faculty senates, boards, alumni and contributors can tie up virtually any controversial action forever. While responsible to those above him, it does appear Father Privett was able to act without consulting the various constituencies below or outside of his authority that usually tie a university president's hands. He acted, and his failure to consult these constituencies led to even greater resentment by those who felt left out of the process.

The rare book staff and supporters of the library in general, not just at San Francisco, but at libraries across the land, are deeply troubled. They realize that once material locked in the security of institutional collections is opened to public bidding, it may be lost forever. That is a nightmare of the first order to those who have devoted their lives to the preservation of cherished rare books. Add to this the fear that this may be just the tip of the iceberg, and their sharp, even harsh criticism becomes understandable.

Additionally, the various constituencies each have their own particular concerns. For those who have built their careers in the rare book rooms, there is the obvious concern about job security and the very purpose of their lives. The closing of a rare book room may take not only their livelihood, but their identity as well. The same may be said for the booksellers who supply the rare book rooms. Some may see them simply as merchants, but their role is much more complex than that. Dealers do more than provide books. They build collections. They frequently provide the research and intellectual perspective that determines what belongs in a collection. Oftentimes, they even steer donors to the library, for they are the ones who know the collectors. What they do may seem easy, but it is not. It's valuable, important and often under appreciated.

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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