Book Auctions in the Bay Area
Bonhams & Butterfields auction 2.15 catalogue
By Bruce McKinney
In February, when the ABAA holds its every-other-year book fair in San Francisco, there will be two local book auctions. They are Bonhams & Butterfield's Fine Books and Manuscripts on Sunday February 15 at 9:00 am and Pacific Book Auctions' Rare Books and Manuscripts, on Thursday February 19th beginning at 1:00 pm. The ABAA fair is the premier book-collecting event on the west coast and attracts thousands of dealers and collectors.
Bonhams, for its sale, has prepared, per usual, a visually appealing full color presentation. The material is divided into categories:
Early Printed Material & Illuminated Manuscripts [1000-1002]
Maps & Travel Literature [1003-1036]
Science & Natural History [1037-1047]
Art, Illustration & Fine Press [1048-1058]
World Figures & Events [1104-1117]
Western Americana [1152-1199]
The estimates seem appealing. Here are a few of the lots.
Lot 1136 is John Boo's Collection of Personal Accounts of Lincoln. This is over 125 letters and manuscripts [autograph and manuscript], annotated signatures and statements, mostly uniform 8vo, bound into 5 thematic volumes in the 1930s including material from the 1860s and 1910-1930. This material was later published as Rare Personal Accounts of Abraham Lincoln, a copy of which is included in the lot. Together 7 volumes. Estimated $25,000 - $35,000.
The next lot, 1137, is an autographed letter [ALS] from Mary Todd Lincoln dated May 22, 1865 and written to a supporter on behalf of Lizzie Clephane, her dressmaker who was destitute of funds. Mary Todd's husband, President Abraham Lincoln, was shot on April 14th and died the next day. This is a rare letter from period immediately following his death. A carte-de-visite of the widow is included. Estimated $15,000 - $25,000.
For people who think of everything there is lot 1165, the perfect photo album for a trip to San Francisco, - 139 +/- silver print photographs of the San Francisco earthquake. These are original to the event and appear to have been taken by a surveyor who added notes. The auction cataloguer adds one more comment: "The most interesting 1906 earthquake album we have seen." A 45 rpm record of Jerry Lee Lewis' There's a whole lot of shaking going on is not included. The estimate is not earth shaking: $700 - $900.
Lot 1168 is A view of San Francisco Drawn on the spot in 1849... and later printed in New York between 1849 and 1868. The scene, looking north from San Francisco across the bay, captures an idyllic moment in 1849, apparently after gold has been discovered. In the distance the bay is full of ships. 13.25" x 32" Estimated $2,000 - $3,000.
Book Auctions in the Bay Area
PBA has a strong internet presence
Do you think that life is complex? Lot 1082 may provide clarity. It's the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, one of the original run of 1,000 copies printed in Paris. This is the book that everyone recommends and no one reads. To warm up to the subject first give yourself Richard Ellman's biography of the master - James Joyce. It is an oldish book [printed in 1959] but a spectacular account after which you will want the first edition of Joyce's masterpiece. It's estimated $20,000 to $30,000.
For photography collectors there are 26 early photographs. They begin at 1161 and run intermittently through to 1199. Two are by Eadweard Muybridge, one by Frederick Starr and more than 20 by Carleton Watkins. The subject is nature.
The PBA sale on Thursday February 19th offers some interesting material as well and resolves the age-old question "what happened to the title page?" We'll start by answering this question. Anyone who spends time around old books runs into copies that lack title pages. Have you ever wondered where they went? Lot 57 is a collection of approximately 330 engraved title-pages, dedication leaves, etc. Edward Scissorhands' great, great, great grandfather it turns out was a perverse collector. Well, we know that some people these days cut out maps. Four hundred years ago it was title pages. For an estimated $1,000 to $1,500 you can have hundreds of old guilt-free examples.
If you would like a second copy of Ulysses lot 91 is the Limited Editions Club edition. It was printed in 1935, illustrated, and signed by Henri Matisse. It will still be a difficult book to understand but this one has pictures.
You can drink the 100 year old cognac or sip the first pressing of the grape. Among books "A Confederacy of Dunces," first printed in 1980, although quite new, is already a classic of perverse wisdom. You can find a reader's copy for a few bucks. The very first pressing is estimated $2,000 to $3,000. Read the $2 copy for pleasure. If it connects then buy the "is it really a first edition" copy. It is and it's lot 141.
Lot 153 is another Pulitzer prize winner: A Streetcar Named Desire. A copy of the first edition, first state is also estimated $2,000 to $3,000. It's a chance to connect with your inner Blanche, Mitch or both.
If the economic downturn, swoon and collapse has you in the mood for something darker consider lot 28, The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, An Orphan Boy, Sent from the Workhouse of St. Pancras, London, at Seven Years of Age. This opaque story predates Upton Sinclair's The Jungle  by 84 years but tells a similarly grim tale.
So there you have it, an amuse bouche to encourage you to click the links at the end of this article to peruse the full catalogues of these sales. The book world is sitting on the edge of their collective chairs as a world of Robert Blincoes ponder their fate. Are we all going to the workhouse?
These auction houses have pared the reserves. They have prepared first-rate catalogues. They will be courteous and answer every question and have only one in return. Will you stay the course and be a bidder? These two sales make it worth your while to venture in.
Bonhams & Butterfields February 15th.
Pacific Book Auctions February 19th.