On April 7th at Bonhams in New York the next disposition of important material from The Caren Archive will be sold. This is the third and highest-valued auction in the series and the first one at Bonhams. The Caren Archive is the passion and brainchild of Eric Caren, who has collected highly important ephemera for more than forty years, and literally invented the category at auction. Three hundred and five lots are offered.
Aptly named Treasures from The Caren Archive: How History Unfolds on Paper, the sale encompasses a truly significant amount of history, covering a good proportion of the most important human events of over four centuries. Broadsides, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other items of historical paper make up the sale that ranges in dated material from 1513 to 1970. Normally, items with such a wide date range might seem fragmented, but here, they come together in a depiction of history from the perspective of the people who experienced it as it happened. It flows well, without categories based on era or subject needed to separate the lots. The sale is decidedly American, with other items interspersed where they fit. With the huge diversity of subjects present, there is likely to be an interesting item for virtually all collectors of printed or manuscript material, especially Americana. Keep a careful eye when browsing the catalogue.
One star of the show is a particularly significant $1 bill. Dollar for dollar, it might be considered one of the worst exchanges of currency as it’s estimated for $8,000 – 12,000. Dollar for history, it’s a great chance to own a piece of it. The bill in question is the first dollar earned by the Edison Electric Light Company, a forerunner of GE, for the sale of electricity. The deal for which this bill was a portion of the payment was done in 1882, but customers were not charged until Thomas Edison was confident of continued and uninterrupted service. The company began charging its customers in January 1883, and Ansonia Brass was the first to pay in the amount of $50.40. The bill is endorsed and signed by Charles L. Clarke, the Chief Engineer of the EELC, and reads in full: “This bill is one from a total amount of $50.40 which was the first bill collected for the sale of Edison Electric Light in first Central Station District, New York City. Jan. 18 / 1883. Ansonia Brass & Copper Company. 17 & 19 Cliff Street. This light was furnished through a Meter. Chas. L. Clarke.” The bill is available as lot 232 in the sale.
Other gems from the sale depend on your collecting focus. There really is something that will appeal to almost everyone. For items pre-dating American colonization, there is material related to the crusades, Henry VIII, Martin Luther, and Sir Francis Drake—including a very fine portrait of him. By the time the auction gets to lot 10, Americana becomes dominant beginning with the 1590 first Latin edition of the first volume of de Bry’s Great Voyages, being Thomas Hariot’s Description of Virginia. From there, the lots progress chronologically and relate to subjects like King Philip’s War, William Penn, the Salem Witch Trials, Blackbeard, the French and Indian War, Paul Revere, Bunker Hill, the Declaration of Independence, the Surrender of Cornwallis—the flow of items from one to another is superb, and all of these subjects listed come within just the first 82 lots. Another 223 lots follow and present history in a fascinating way that must be seen for yourself. You can do so at the Bonhams website. The PDF version of the catalogue is also available.
If you’re in New York, viewings of the auction will be taking place beginning Thursday, April 3rd and continue every day until the day of sale. Please refer back to Bonhams’ auction page for specific times.
Also advertised is a collection that will not be sold at auction but which is available directly from Mr. Caren. It is a group of more than 200,000 ephemera that is intended for private sale as a single group and is probably headed for a major research institution. Already three institutions have expressed interest. Two, Columbia and the University of Arkansas, need an angel to make the purchase. A significant amount of the material is believed to be unique. As James G. Neal, the Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University puts it, the Caren Collection is “a resource that is unparalleled in content, providing historical reference material covering the American experience as well as international history as it was first reported in the newspaper.”
Here is a link to the Bonhams auction on April 7th.
Here is a link to the Caren Collection of 200,000 items to be sold by private treaty: Caren Archive.
Mr. Caren’s now four-decade pursuit of original and important documents continues to bear fruit. He was once one of the very few who understood such material would eventually be prized. Today the world understands this very well.