Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2010 Issue

Cataloging the American Experience: with text and video

Pass the popcorn, the anatomy of an auction is about to begin.


By Bruce McKinney

Bonhams has released the first of six online videos that will document, month by month, the steps leading to the December sale of a significant collection of Americana - The American Experience: 1630 - 1890. The final segment in January will reprise the sale.

Auctions do not spring full grown from imagination though it can seem that way. Keen observers may hear that something is coming but almost always it's the solid clunk of the heavy catalogue deposited at the front door or increasingly, searches of upcoming auctions online that bring one's first awareness of a sale. Such events, the almost 500 documented book, manuscript, map and ephemera auctions that are conducted each year around the world, are in fact centipedes of steps and parts. Most auctions are compilations, a subject heading embracing the consignments of many. Once in a while what's offered are entire collections, unified collecting wholes, a handful, an armful, a shelf and sometimes a library full of material acquired over time by a single individual to be dispersed in a few sessions.

Such sales are the gold standard of the works on paper field, for they are the opportunity for auction house scribes to understand both the individual items and the whole of the collection and so armed weave a tapestry of individual descriptions into a unified sale, often without the luxury of sufficient time or the opportunity to concentrate on a single sale. Cataloguers are asked to write War and Peace on a deadline every ninety days. Such sales, when they succeed, succeed for the consignor, the house and buyers. For the cataloguers there is something more, the satisfaction of altering both perception and value. And occasionally there is wider recognition for the well executed effort. Great sales produce, as a byproduct, much of the great documentation of the field that future dealers, collectors and libraries will rely on. For this we depend, to a great extent, on cataloguers. Some do yeoman work for a few years on the way to other jobs and other professions. Others rise to eminence, their judgments achieving importance and value over time, their enduring reward to be quoted as an authority, their words to count. Every catalogue offers this possibility, the single owner sales though most often the fertile ground from which new information and clever presentation, grow into lasting contributions.

For this collection that Bonhams will sell on December 2nd in New York the principal cataloguers are Christina Geiger and Adam Stackhouse, the overall strategy organized by Martin Gammon.

Auctions are the result of a thousand decisions and thousands of hours of preparation. Bonhams has prepared an initial 7-minute video that introduces the sale and the cataloguing effort underway in San Francisco. This is the first of 6 monthly installments culminating with the auction in December and outcome reported in January. The first installment was filmed and edited by Mike Noyes.

Many will find this series interesting. The inner-workings of auctions are almost always invisible. For those who may consign this is what the process is all about.

Catalogues will be distributed by early November. Material will be exhibited in the United States and Europe. If you would like to receive the catalogue simply click here to be added to the list.

Click for the Bonhams video: Anatomy of an Auction Episode I.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] DAVID BURLIUK WITH ORIGINAL DRAWING and Signed twice. David Burliuk Rare ACA Gallery exhibition catalogue, undated. CA$400 – 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] KAWS: COMPANIONSHIP IN THE AGE OF LONELINESS. Text by Margaret Atwood. National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, 2019. $CA400 - 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: SIGNED. LAWRENCE WEINER: POSTERS. Nova Scotia College of Art, Canada,1987. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: WILBUR SMITH: THE DARK OF THE SUN. Heinemann, UK, 1965. Signed First edition. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: ROBERTSON DAVIES: LEAVEN OF MALICE. SIGNED Clark, Irwin, & Co., Canada. 1954. 1st edition. CA$400 – 600
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [THE NOTABLE TRAILS LIBRARY]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: THE TRIAL OF DR. X; ROE V. WADE; THE GALILEO AFFAIR; THE TRIAL OF BERNHARD GOETZ… CA$300 – 500
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [MILITARY FICTION]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: Canada's Royal Military College. REVIEW, THE STONE FRIGATE, A HISTORY OF THE RMC… CA$300 – 400
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [WW1] CANADIAN (C.S.E.F.) SIBERIA 1918-1919 PHOTO ALBUM. With approximately 303 original official war photographs, photo-postcards, and personal photographs. CA$8,000 – 10,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: HANS BELLMER: THE DOLL. 1995, 1st Ed. CA$150 – 300.
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: FAN HO; HONG KONG YESTERDAY. ModernBooks edition, 2006. First edition. 4to. CA$300 – 600.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: TARYN SIMON: AN AMERICAN INDEX OF THE HIDDEN AND UNFAMILIAR. Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2012. Third edition. CA$600 – 1,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: BARBARA KRUGER PICTURE/READINGS. [Self-Published], 1978 First edition. CA$800 – 1,200.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Gonnelli:
    Auction 50
    Books, Autographs & Manuscripts
    March 6th-7th 2024
    Gonnelli: Cramer, [Picasso, Chagall , Miró], Trente ans d'activité. Starting price 4800€
    Gonnelli: Futurism
    Gonnelli: Avienus, Opera. 1488. Starting price 1200€
    Gonnelli: Vimont, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1642. Starting price 5000€
    Gonnelli: Goedart, Metamorphosis et historia naturalis insectorum. 1662.
    Gonnelli: Il Petrarcha con la spositione di M. Giovanni Andrea Gesualdo.
    Gonnelli: Poblacion, De usu astrolabi compendium.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions