"An Upstate New York State of Mind"
Most AE Monthly readers know Bruce McKinney as founder of the American Exchange and its impressive database of book auction records (AED); but the 66-year-old bibliophile also has an impressive record as a collector. In 2009 and 2010 two of his personal collections of early Americana sold at auction for a combined total of over $7 million.
McKinney calls his current collecting focus “An Upstate New York State of Mind.” It comes from the days when America was “tall and narrow” and the emerging nation clustered along the East coast. A small portion of his extensive holdings was on view recently at his home in San Francisco in conjunction with the February ABAA Antiquarian Book Fair.
Attending the special event were about 40 members of the Grolier and the Roxburghe Club of northern California who took a self-guided ramble through three floors of interesting and visually unusual materials consisting not only of books but paintings, maps, broadsides, prints, flags, models and ephemera of all sorts. McKinney estimated he has collected upwards of 3,000 items. “And,” he added, “When I say I have two hundred watercolors by a particular artist, well, that counts as one in the inventory.”
He dates his interest in collecting to 1955, when at the age of 9, his mother advanced him $4 to invest in book acquisitions (“That was a lot of money for a kid back then.”) and sent him on a visit to local historian Bill Heidgerd who advised that there was a future in local imprints.
A native of upstate New York himself, McKinney was a successful businessman both at home and abroad. His many ventures have been as diverse as publishing the Orange County (NY) Free Press in the early 1970s, organizing several firms to act as Asian trade broker in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea; the development of Tradex Orient in Hsinchu, Taiwan as an important Disa-based source for quality castings, the building of Consolidated Dutchwest in the United States into a national woodstove retailer in the 1980s. The financial rewards of these enterprises enabled him to take early retirement. Since, after becoming an asset manager, he has invested some of his resources in his enthusiasms for a variety of subjects. He identified “the last fifteen years, since the advent of the internet” as banner years for collectors.
In his opinion, those with a very specific focus, such as the Hudson River Valley – have been able to access a much broader spectrum of material besides the printed page on sites such as eBay. He finds these new tools “encouraging.” And of course it doesn’t hurt the quest at all that he keeps millions of book auction records in the basement. For his own interest and the interest of other collectors he reiterated that the AED (Americana Exchange Data Base) is the largest source of pricing and valuation for the field ever undertaken. “I’ve built and continue to build the database I need to collect intelligently.”
It was clear to visitors that he’d put a significant amount of time and effort into the display. The entire home served as a gallery for prime examples from his holdings and guests had the benefit of an 87 item dated checklist to use in the self-guided tour.
Asked to comment on a few of the remarkable items on display McKinney put the period in context. “There was a moment when the Hudson River was the Broadway of American commerce,” he said pointing out that the area has some of the most continuously occupied real estate in the country. In the early 19th century, before the advent of the railroad, the steamer and canal boat were the dominant modes of transporting goods and passengers. Though the display included items both earlier and later the focus is on this era.
"An Upstate New York State of Mind"
In this period no image was more striking than the several lithographs depicting the 1845 Swallow disaster. This was a notable a steamboat explosion captured in a variety of early views by Currier and Ives and other masters of the genre that made topical news into a new form of art.
McKinney also singled out a 1929 painting of the town of Rondout looking east by artist N. Luici. Rondout was once the terminus for coal mined in Pennsylvania to move East by barge to provide heat and light to Manhattan. But he said by the 1880s and the emerging dominance of railroads the town disappeared, merged with neighboring Kingston in 1884-86. Despite its early prominence, he said, visual reminders of Rondout were few and far between.
An image with quite a bit of personal significance to McKinney was a large illustrated 1856 broadside for Liberty Stove Works. McKinney, once the owner of America’s largest wood stove firm, noted he owns about a dozen antique broadsides featuring early wood stoves.
He was also keen on the work of George Bellows whose 1922 painting of Woodstock is displayed in the living room.
A large map of New York State published by Paraclete Potter of Poughkeepsie in 1815 was among many items spread out on the dining room table for easy reference.
For McKinney the high point of the morning was meeting the other collectors who flocked to enjoy his hospitality and provided “the intellectual sparks” as well as non-stop conversation as they exchanged comments on their respective collecting interests. Many roamed up and down the stairs while others congregated around the coffee in the kitchen. “To be with my own kind in my own house, was so much fun, just a wonderful experience…as good as it gets.”
Commenting on the genesis of the McKinney event Eric Holzenberg, head of the NYC based Grolier Club said, “The club organizes get-togethers every few months throughout our September-May events ‘season’ wherever there happens to be a major book fair: San Francisco/LA on alternate years in February; New York in April; Boston in November; London in June; and sometimes Paris.
“The roster of events for members includes visits to major institutional and private collections of rare books and manuscripts, as well as receptions, to which members are encouraged to bring guests. The purpose of these visits is to mix populations of local and visiting Grolier Club members,” he said, “and to expose prospective members to the benefits of membership.”
"An Upstate New York State of Mind"
“Last year in Pasadena for the LA book fair we visited the Huntington, and held a joint reception with the Zamorano Club. This year, in addition to Bruce McKinney, we visited the home of fellow member Bruce Crawford, and gathered for drinks with the Book Club of California membership. This year in June we are exploring visits to institutional collections in both Oxford and London as well as tours of private libraries in Hampstead and elsewhere.”
“The purpose of all this,” he continued, “is to involve as many of our members as possible worldwide in the activities of the club; to mix our various constituencies -- collectors, librarians, the book trade -- in mutually beneficial ways; and to attract new members. Of the 60-75 events we run every year, about 10-15 are held outside of New York City.”
The Grolier Club: www.grolierclub.org
Reach writer Susan Halas at: email@example.com
The items shown in the 3 slideshows are as follows:
17. Loss of the Steamboat Swallow April 7th, 1845
23. Rondout. A painting by F. B. Cramer circa 1932
30-31. Broadside. In the Committee of Safety… Fish-Kills, Oct. 9, 1776 & Broadside. In Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York. Fish-Kill, Dec. 21, 1776
33. Glens Falls. A painting by Henry A. Ferguson [1851-1911] painted around 1865
41. Map of the village of Auburn, 1834. Home of William H. Seward
45. Photograph. First locomotive in Ulster County, NY. August, 1868, on the Wallkill Valley Rail Road
40. Broadside. Price List. Abbott & Lawrence, Liberty Stove Works and Hollow-Ware. Feb. 1, 1856. One of about a dozen broadsides relating to woodstove manufacturing in my possession.
1. Building the New York Subway 1904-1907. By Ernest Lawson
10-11. Steamboat Isaac Newton. N. Currier & Burning of the Henry Clay near Yonkers. N. Currier
21. A painting of Rondout looking east by N. Luici circa 1929.
58. Benjamin’s New Map, Hudson River, 1845
61. Broadside. “Stage Office Removed! From T. Morris’s Hotel, to Navy Island. 1847. From Oxford via. Catskill, to New York in two days.” Oxford, April 1, 1847
78. Bound volume of the Poughkeepsie Journal and Constitutional Republican, 1810. Published by Paraclete Potter
79. Broadside. “Troy, Albany, New York and the West. –via the favorite Delaware & Hudson R. R.” 1888
80-81. Broadside. “Theatre Music Hall, Kingston. Grand Opening For a limited number of nights, by a First Class Dramatic Company.” Sep. 1, n.d. & Broadside. “Theatre! Military Hall, Kingston! Romeo and Juliet.” August 10, 1857
83. Broadside. “Theatre!! Kingston. Castle Spectre, or the Unnatural Brother.” August 13, 1857
51. Atlas of the Hudson River Valley, Section 22, Ulster and Dutchess, Kingston facing Rhinecliff [with] Esopus Creek near Kingston. Cruseman van Elten
52. Map of the State of New York. Jacob Willets. Published by Paraclete Potter, 1815. Engraved by James D. Stout
63. Looking south toward the Catskill Mountain House on the Catskill ridge line. Paul Weber, 1855
72. A painting by Anna Young of Marlborough, a niece of Samuel F. B. Morse
73. Pages 53 and 54 from the Ulster County Atlas, 1871. An image of the Office and Depot of S. & W. B. Fitch. The building survives. Later hand colored.
77. Assorted postcards of primarily Ulster County, circa 1894-1925