Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2003 Issue

An Interesting Americana Auction PBA Sale #264: Held May 29th

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By Bruce McKinney

Recently, (5/29/03), I attended an Americana Sale at PBA Galleries in San Francisco. It was an interesting experience. I was attracted by the large number of items in the field. In total there were 472 lots and perhaps 400 of them cleanly fit into the field. The estimates seemed about right. Books that on ABE might be selling for $80 to $250 were estimated $100 to $150. The bidding began at half the low estimate unless the consignor required a higher minimum and enough lots were sold at or close to half the low estimate to make it clear that the market rather than the consignors were determining the prices. Seventy-one percent of the lots sold.

As is often the case at auctions these days, many of the lots had condition problems. These issues were spelled out but it is nevertheless difficult to translate awareness of problems into decisions about whether to bid and then of course into specific bidding limits. Overall it was a very interesting and well described sale. Both the catalogue descriptions and the prices realized were ultimately consistent with the material offered.

This sale reflected the changing auction environment in the book trade. As with traditional book sales a catalogue was prepared. The descriptions were complete and in many cases extensive. For those who prefer to rely upon the written word, the catalogue was an effective guide.

The sale itself was conducted on four levels: in person, by order bid, by phone and on the internet. There weren’t many bidders present – by my count about seven. There were many order bids – that is, bids left on the book. Many of them, but not all, were relatively low. Then there were phone bids. Bidders, who had expressed interest in specific lots, were contacted ahead of these lots to give them the opportunity to bid. And finally, there was online real-time bidding that although it is still in its infancy looks to become a formidable power at auctions in the future.

Overall there was a good crowd. They just weren’t in the room.

This auction had the feeling I used to get walking into an arena an hour before the big game. Everything is ready. The staff is doing last minute stuff. There are already a few people sitting around. They’re taking the good seats now because they know the crowds will come. There is a sense of anticipation. If the future is now does not quite apply then the future is soon seems about right.

PBA also accepts credit card payments. They charge a 15% buyer’s premium but no additional charge for payment by credit card. This is a substantial concession to purchasers because it makes completion of the sale essentially automatic. For consignors it is also an advantage as it encourages bidding, thereby potentially increasing realizations.

PBA offers an in-house version of Æ’s Category and Keyword matching which, for buyers who only wish to buy at PBA, is useful. Æ employs these tools across the world to look at all auction houses. And we provide equal access to virtually all books on the net, in the belief that collectors collect books, libraries acquire copies and dealers build inventory and seek customers based on motivations that are larger than any single auction houses’ focus. Pacific Book Auctions is located in San Francisco at 133 Kearny Street. They maintain a website at www.pbagalleries.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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