Congratulations are in order
A reference for ephemera collectors
The sale of the Eric C. Caren collection: How history unfolds on paper, Part I was held on September 15th at Swann Galleries in New York and the well conceived sale succeeded. Eighty-seven percent of the lots sold and the sale over-all raised $657,108 against its aggregate high estimate of $791,750. In its aftermath Mr. Caren pronounced himself well pleased. An independent and original thinker, he years ago developed a fresh approach to collecting, seeking early and important materials, often ephemeral, that provided first evidence of new ideas. He has done this for more than thirty years and in September presented the concept at auction as a single owner sale. It was well received. His approach has focused on events and first evidences of them appearing on paper. Newspapers and broadsides, printed art, photographs and the occasional book fit within his framework and allowed him, when seeking to acquire, to graze broadly.
For the rare book field the paths to auction are well established, the conventions governing presentation evolving but more or less consistent with the bibliographic forms dating to the 1870s. At that time the emphasis was on books and to a lesser extent pamphlets. In the ensuing decades the field has adjusted to the increasing [and still occasional] presence of ephemera but the category been so thin and the appearances so infrequent that few standards have been consistently applied. Enter Mr. Caren with the concept of structuring an ephemera sale around importance and dates and seemingly random material coalesces into an understandable auction.
It was a daring step that will change the way ephemera is viewed by collectors and the trade. Swann handled the cataloguing, promotion and sale and Rick Stattler of their Americana department delivered a clear and cogent presentation, in the process creating a catalogue structure that will become a template for others. This is not to say that ephemera are not the subject of consistent sales. Ephemera have been and are being sold by others, in particular by Cowans Auctions in Cincinnati, Scott J. Winslow Associates in Bedford New Hampshire, on eBay and by others. But this was a substantial collection and it demonstrated that collectors, institutions and dealers are prepared to spend serious money for things that not-so-long-ago would barely have received a glance.
Congratulations are in order
Ephemera: visually appealing
That the sale succeeded endorses the collecting concept and may encourage collectors to pursue ephemera and auction houses to court such collections. Today the primary marketplace for ephemera is eBay where the knowledgeable pounce on under and often mis-described lots posted by sellers who have no idea of the importance and rarity of their random scraps of paper. Some day there will be databases, possibly employing image recognition, which let the larger market see such material as it emerges for sale. For the moment, patience, experience and high intelligence are the gatekeepers that keep trading at the ‘discovery level’, thin.
Once such collections are built their governing concepts, in the hands of skilled cataloguers, will become understandable to the world at large. As was the case with the recent Caren sale, random purchases over decades, when organized as a well-thought out catalogue, illuminate and confirm the concept: the process, as Mr. Caren would explain it, of creating history on paper. Without doubt, the concept will encourage greater interest in ephemera and random items on paper that have for years been a backwater in the collecting pantheon.
The immediate challenge for collectors interested in this category of collectibles is learning to develop a collection without benefit of substantial research resources. Ephemera are both more complex and obscure than books, the shear magnitude of possibilities hundreds of times greater than their more physically substantial brethren. The AED aggressively pursues auctions of ephemera but it will be years, and take roughly five million ephemera records, to provide the same type of clarity for ephemera that today exists for books, manuscripts and maps. In the mean time Mr. Caren and Swann Galleries have confirmed that ephemera are a substantial and rewarding category.
Congratulations are in order.
Link here to the sale results.
entire sale and separately the lots that brought the highest prices.