Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2009 Issue

Daniel in the Lions' Den

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Dr. Belanger in 2007


By Bruce McKinney

The history of libraries and rare books came to San Francisco in the person of Terry Belanger to deliver a talk at the California Book Club on Monday evening, October 5th. Seventy-one souls, many fire breathing advocates of the world as Mr. Belanger sees it, came away rewarded with a strong dose of humor and perspective. Who ever said or thought that old books are dry has not seen them through Dr. Belanger's eyes nor heard them parsed and phrased into pauses and bon mots in the Belanger manner. He is himself a work of art. This is his fifth talk in San Francisco since he began his speaking tours in 1983.

Mr. Belanger's career has roughly ghosted the rise and now uncomfortable transition that institutional libraries, as the paramount collectors of works on paper in the United States, find themselves in today. In the heady ascent of books in the twentieth century from open shelves to open envy, locked doors and controlled access, Mr. Belanger years ago emerged as honorary mayor of rare book librarians by delivering, in a clear and consistent voice, perspective and advice. To the village of rare book libraries, their librarians and the dealers whose livelihoods have improved as budgets and institutional collecting have become, to quote auction description, highly significant, he is the important voice. In addressing a nice crowd at 800 Powell Street in San Francisco he spoke on the subject: Eating the Seed Corn: Reflections on Institutional Sales of Rare Books. He directly confronted the issue of deaccession, cautioning against short term thinking in a field judged long term.

Mr. Belanger's prepared remarks were 45 minutes and his after-speech Q & A another 55. In his talk he spoke of the role and responsibilities of institutions that receive books and related materials. He did so in a general way and in the follow-up question period called upon Father Stephen A. Privet, President of the University of San Francisco, to apologize for selling material from the University's Donohue Rare Book Collection to pay for improvements to the physical plant. For those unaware of the earlier controversy hell was raised giving Father Privet the opportunity to see Dante's Inferno up close. Dr. Belanger, in his remarks five months after The University of San Francisco's disputed sale of library material, called upon Father Privet to repent and publicly apologize for forgetting or ignoring the institution's obligation to keep that which it received as gifts, in perpetuity.

Dr. Belanger is perhaps today's foremost advocate in the United States of the rule that material, once gifted to a library, becomes subject to a higher standard than even the donor may have imposed. In his view material may later be deaccessioned only after careful review and then only in a prescribed way. To paraphrase his thinking, for material to enter a library is voluntary, to exit requires consideration of importance and access across the universe. Even for libraries themselves this is a potentially tough standard.

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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