An Interesting Sale in Vermont
Burgoyne's 1780 State of the Expedition brought $5,000
By Bruce McKinney
Once or twice a year William Parkinson of Hinesburg, Vermont conducts an old time book auction. On October 27th Mr. Parkinson held his second sale of 2007 and his third of this type since 2004. It included material from the University of Vermont as well as contributions from other consignors, in total 504 lots of Americana and Vermontiana. It was a sale distinctive for its positioning as geared to the knowledgeable.
For starters you will not happen upon Mr. Parkinson's sales by chance. They aren't advertised in the regular trade publications, neither are they listed on many public sites. Literally everyone in the auction business in New England advertises their sales in Maine Antique Digest and the Newtown Bee. Mr. Parkinson does not. Rather he mails and emails to a list of about 800 buyers and prospects, posts details to ABAA members and contacts selected libraries.
Neither does he charge much for his auction catalogues. Six dollars will get you a hard copy. Better yet, he provides an excellent downloadable version that can be easily keyword searched. Neither does he charge a buyer's commission. In a world where buyer's commissions have begun to exceed 20% his sales are a throw-back to the 1950's when auctions did not charge and did not even yet contemplate charging buyers a commission. At his recent sale if you bid $90 and won you paid $90.
Neither does he provide estimates. Estimates potentially serve three masters; the consignor, auction house and market and at auctions generally you can't tell which one is the driving the estimate. Mr. Parkinson's perspective is "the market will decide." So, in this sale, for $20, the auction's minimum bid, you could buy items that brought $1,000. That is, of course, if you knew the actual values and no other bidder did. On Saturday however, the lights were on, even in the attic.
Succinctly stated, Mr. Parkinson is a contrarian.
In the sale just concluded the lot descriptions assume you know what you are doing. Bibliographic references are included but for most only citation numbers, not the citations themselves. To go more deeply you have to know the sources and have access to them. As well, collectors tend to buy single items and a significant number of these lots were anywhere from two items to many running feet. Lot 19 was 11 almanacs, lot 30 4 early auction catalogues, lot 38 "10 titles on U.S. relations." Lot 51 was 65 issues of the Bellows Falls Gazette [1843-1845], lot, 58 20 booksellers' catalogues, lot 109 five bound volumes of Congressional speeches dating from 1808 to 1840. Other lots were even more complex. For dealers this type of material makes sense, for collectors less so. It can keep a body and soul busy through a winter figuring out how to turn single Congressional documents from 1814 into an interesting description with an attractive price. This is what dealers do. Doing the research is work, finding the material luck.
An Interesting Sale in Vermont
The Brassier Map of Lake Champlain brought $3,750
In this sale the luck was running with the winners who will now be busy all winter wrestling with their bounty. It should be fun. For collector's the spring will bring a raft of fresh items, divided by importance and relevance, identified and explained. The prices will be higher but the work will have been done. The collector will then only need to read and decide.
One such bidder was Leigh Stein of Eveleigh Books & Stamps. Of the 504 lots in the sale he bought 52. He bought lot 283, a fine example of Carrigain's New Hampshire map. He also acquired several of the large lots - the weekend discovery packages. "I had a great time and bought some great material." You could tell he was smiling as we spoke by phone.
The 504 lots brought $141,030 or $279.82 for each lot offered. Four lots were withdrawn and 5 failed to find an opening bid at $20. Subtracting these nine lots the average realized price for the 495 that changed hands was $284.91. Twenty-eight items made at least $1,000, representing half the total sales. These lots are linked at the end of this article with their full descriptions and realized prices.
This is, as already mentioned, not Mr. Parkinson's first sale. On his website he posts several others that have come and gone. The past of course is not prologue in the auction business, or anywhere else for that matter, but it suggests both the type of material he likes to handle as well as the reception it receives. If you find your temperature rising as you graze the lots and realized prices you may be setting yourself up to be a bidder at a future sale. In the auction business, which tends to be formulaic, this sale is a reminder that a fresh approach is appreciated. Many lament the declining state of the book business. I think the hundred or so who traveled to Vermont for this sale will not agree.
Click here to search all 504 lot descriptions and realized prices in the sale just concluded. For the price of a Ben & Jerry's Sundae you can also access for a week both this complete auction in a more flexibly searchable format and another 1.65 million auction and bibliographic records in the AED. The cost is $7.95 and we credit it against a continuing subscription if you upgrade during the trial period. A research subscription, by the month is $14.75 or $141.60 by the year. Click here to sign up.