Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2013 Issue

A Day at the Races

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Books are part of our background

A day at the races

 

I took a week off to think about the future of book collecting and was reminded that a week is not a very long time.  Oh well, it was what was possible.  This isn’t going to be a Ph.D. thesis, just a think-through about both the status of and future of the collectability of the printed word.

 

Printing is an old idea and from its beginnings a small portion of the production good, interesting or unusual enough to merit some collector’s or institution’s interest.

 

Much of what is thought to be worth keeping is ultimately not.  Evidence of this is found on the shelves, in the attics and basements of people who believed random books would someday pay out big.  They haven’t and we face a deluge of these I thought they were valuables over the next twenty years that will tax eBay, dealers, second hand shops and library fairs to dispose.  Fixed price approaches probably won’t work as well as auctions but the fixed price guys will adjust as we descend into what may become, for a year or two, the ultimate buyers market.  After all, there are only so many auctions you can run before you burn out the audience.  In truth, nothing in this field changes without the discernable scent of desperation.  What will trigger sufficient desperation is unclear.  I have thought that living longer might force some to dispose.  After all, an extra year of life has a cost and there has to be sufficient money to pay the bills.

 

I’ve also thought the prospect of declining value might encourage some to sell, to get x rather than ½ x five years later.  But I had an interesting conversation with an octogenarian dealer and his younger wife and they are prepared to wait out the decline.  They have something well north of 10,000 items, probably 40,000, have been in the business for two long generations, been through the depression and three wars and always seen better days materialize.  I did say I thought the downturn would last another five years and see common and unimportant material falling 80%.  Their response:  we’ll wait it out.  They have had a great eye and I think expect their discernment will be appreciated by future generations.  They are right but it will be, to quote the Beatles, “a long and winding road.”  In their resolute commitment to carry on they are very much in the minority.  Most people are already trying to sell significant quantity and with only limited success.

 

A walk through Greenwich Village reminded me that, while old books may be a hard sell, collecting of almost everything else you can think of continues to prosper.  On almost every corner were collectibles stacked up or framed.  Art seemed to be everywhere.  Sculpture as well.  The signage in stores was smart and looked like it too should be on walls.  Altogether, the material put out to sell seemed a celebration of the present, the era we are living in with images and symbols drawn from world and current events, social trends, television shows and movies – thousands of objects that portray the buyer as hip, aware of the world we share.

 

Books were there but not so much and some of what I saw was books in the images as symbols of something slipping by.  Greenwich is very much about the moment and books not a significant part of it.

 

Comics are more so.  If your taste runs to comic graphics you’ll find choices here – they seeming more to celebrate the movies than the comic strips.  And so what, it shows the problem isn’t with paper but rather what’s on it.

 

While here I could see that newspapers continue to be important although all the media seems to be starving.  The news is still around to be reported but the advertisers seem to be spending their money elsewhere and everywhere you turn people are staring intently into what used to be phones but are now computers in their pockets.  The New York Times, long the epoxy that binds New York’s five boroughs as well as liberals from coast to coast, still sells but more and more printed media is fading. 

 

History has its place but people aren’t having any of it.  Make the trains run on time while a revolution in expectations and at least here – acceptance of every shape, color and age unfolds.  Gay and straight, hip and hippo, erudite and barely civilized and between them a celebration of the moment in which they live.

 

For the printed word to be relevant in this world it needs to be in the picture, not just in the paintings, and it seems, to quote Broadway lingo, exiting left.

 

The battle isn’t over but we have been through Pickett’s charge and we are the intruders, the guests that won’t go home.  You can hear it in the voices, you’ve had your chance and yes we know what you are – buggy whips in the age of the automobile, road maps in the era of Google maps.  Hey old timer we don’t do that anymore.

 

Yeh, I’ve noticed and I just want to figure out how to put the printed word back into the conversation and make what has long been appreciated interesting and relevant to this and future generations.  Experience matters and books ultimately introduce a broad range of characters and experience.  Today, in their place are twitter feeds, text messaging, videos, and 500 channels of cable, all to tell you what’s happening.  As to why, well you’ll probably need to read a book and not so many are inclined to do that, buy an old book or visit a library anymore.

 

So we have our work cut out for us.  And it seems like a substantial undertaking.

 

So some will wait it out, many will give up, and some will fight it through.  I’ve got no quit in me and I know many in the rare paper field that feel the same.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €
  • <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Harriet Tubman Cabinet Card by H.S. Squyer, Auburn, NY, 1892. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Scarce <i>Events of the Tulsa Disaster,</i> First Edition, 1922. $4,000 to $6,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Unpublished CDV of Frederick Douglass by Benjamin F. Smith, 1864. $3,000 to $5,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> California Imprint of <i>President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation</i> Broadside, 1864. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> John C.H. Grabill Cabinet Card of Buffalo Soldier Wearing Buffalo Coat, ca 1886. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking,</i> 2nd Cookbook Published by African American. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Frederick Douglass Walking Stick, 1888. $3,000 to $5,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Only Known Slave Narrative Published Independently in California, <i>Life and Adventures of James Williams.</i> $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare First Edition of History of Black Literature, Abbé Grégoire <i>De La Littérature des Nègres</i>. $2,500 to $3,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> African American Soldier and Medal of Honor Winner Christian A. Fleetwood CDV, PLUS. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries Pennant, 1910 Reno, Nevada. $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Joe Gans Photograph at 1906 Goldfield, Nevada Fight by Percy Dana. $600 to $800

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