A Case for Buying from Dealers
A prospectus for the Jersey City and Albany Railway 1875
Buying books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera is no great task. There are millions of items available today. Finding material that is highly relevant to a collecting strategy and requiring that price roughly equal value is oh so much more difficult, buying from dealers who most often have such material - at prices that provide a reasonable chance to someday sell for a profit - even more of a challenge.
Locating common material is often easy and does not require the help of knowledgeable dealers. For run-of-the-mill rarities listing sites and eBay provide thousands of opportunities. Learning to differentiate between common and uncommon rarities and to sort them by relevance to your collecting focus however is an art learned slowly. As a collector I’m focused on material relating to the Hudson Valley, in particular to people, places and things on both sides of the Hudson River between New York and Albany, an at once difficult to collect subject and also the subject of thousands, invariably tens of thousands of items. Finding the right material is the challenge and experienced dealer perspective very useful.
For help I turned recently to two dealers, Bill Reese and Peter Luke, who routinely encounter the material I want. Bill is of course the New Haven dealer and leader in the Americana field in the United States. Peter, doing business as Peter Luke Antiques, Ephemera, Old and Rare Books, is a long experienced, deeply knowledgeable dealer whose home in the Hudson Valley in New Baltimore an hour south of Albany, gives him a window on the flow of the local material I most value. Both have a practiced eye.
The easy logic is that dealers are often expensive and some sellers on listings sites and many sellers on eBay cheap. Following that line of thinking I would buy more from the inexpensive sources and I in fact do. This however ignores the value of dealer perspective. What is rare? What is important, what is “good condition for issue”? Dealers see a great deal of material and some develop a sense of ‘relative condition’, an important criteria when it’s necessary to pay up. Paying them for this perspective is part of the calculation in making them offers, deciding what to offer or accept often a tough call. For these calculations I rely on the AED’s current value and probability of reappearance calculations as the basic measure of value and rarity and its very effective.
My collecting focus of course also needs to be on target. An unfocused collection I build will sell but may disappoint just as a laser-like focus on an out-of-favor area may also fail financially. Of course choosing a subject exclusively for its potential for profit may meet financial criterion but be unsatisfying. Every collector has to balance these factors. I long ago came down on the side of collecting passion and have worked hard to have my collection make sense and do this by considering every possibility and rejecting most. If this sounds like I’m denying myself my wife will be quick to say “I haven’t seen that yet.” My collection of early and interesting material relating to the Hudson Valley approaches, and probably exceeds, 3,000 items.
The collection is large because I’ve been open to the possibilities the Internet has provided. When speaking with dealers I explain that I collect narrowly and deeply. As to minutia I consider it all. And it turns out only institutions and very focused collectors want the deep detail I pursue so I’m constantly considering appealing material that few others want. Items I want may start on eBay at $200 but 4 or 5 unsuccessful auctions later I buy them for $40. This keeps prices within reason.
This may also limit the collection’s ultimate value because if there is no market now for much of what I buy, who is to say there will be a market for it in future? I’m certain there will be but am less certain when. Why so? Because such focused collecting becomes important often only when it becomes very complete and has been explained. Most collections are never complete and many of them fall into the hands of heirs who view such hard to understand aggregations as impediments to selling the real estate and therefore dispose of them quickly for a small fraction of their actual value. In other words such collections are a little bit dangerous. They can become important, and valuable, when complete. They are otherwise often indistinguishable from the boxes of rubble that every collector, dealer and library has.
A Case for Buying from Dealers
Material purchased from Peter Luke
Taken together, when building an original and complex collection of material generally beyond the standard collecting focuses the following criteria are in play:
1. The subject needs to be narrow and the well of possibilities deep.
2. The search terms and phrases for following the flow of material on listing sites, at auction and on eBay need to be relatively unique. Otherwise the effort to sort through matches will exceed the benefits of finding interesting material. Efficiency is very important.
3. Dealers will play a consistent role. You will pay them a premium but gain from their perspective; learn of material and connections that enrich.
Here then is the outcome of two purchases from Bill and Peter. Might they have shown up from other sellers? Possibly. At better prices? Not necessarily because both dealers discounted to sell their groups.
A list of what they offered, and I subsequently bought, goes a long way to explain why dealers play an important role in the building of focused collections.
Peter Luke offered me the following:
The Parish Will Case. Argument of John K. Porter on behalf of the respondents in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, January 10, 1862. Munselliana indicates 600 copies were printed but the item seems more uncommon than that. A nice copy of this 72 page pamphlet.
Two pamphlets: Facts and Suggestions Relating to the New-York and Albany Railroad, 1832 and The New-York and Albany Rail-Road [with map], 1833. Exceptionally rare pamphlets printed at the dawn of the age of railroads.
Picturesque Catskills. The Wonder of New York State. Printed by F. A Gallt, Kingston, New York, 1924. 64 pgs. Plus printed wraps. A very clear commercial perspective.
Address to the Public of The Lake Mohonk Conference held at Lake Mohonk, N. Y., October 1883 in behalf of the Civilization and Legal Protection of the Indians in the United States. For many years these conferences were held at the mountaintop resort and after each a pamphlet or two would be issued to note the events and publish speeches and reports. One of the founding brothers of Mohonk Mountain House, Albert K. Smiley, was a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners.
Greene County Almanack for the year of our Lord, 1828. Published at Catskill by N. Elliott, Book-seller, printed by A. Stoddard, Hudson. A fragile and well-worn 32 pg. ephemera meant to disappear in 1829. The printer was probably the initiator of this project and N. Elliott, one of probably several publishers who in exchange for the printing of their indicia on the title page agreed to buy some specific quantity. Such almanacks were printed for many years.
Prospectus – 1st Mortgage Preferred Bonds of the Jersey City and Albany Railway Co. Whole Issue, $100,000 being at the rate of $4,000 per mile. Interest 7 per cent. [with map] Printed by George W. Dickson, Jr., Printer, 100 William St., New York. The JC & A was a short-lived stage in the building of a Hudson River west shore railroad system linking New York to Albany and points west. This is a prospectus for hearty investors buying into a murky future. The map is priceless, showing the Wallkill Valley Railroad, at what history now tells us, was its paramount moment. A gem.
Van Loan’s Catskill Mountain Guide – 1890. Published by Walton Van Loan, Catskill, N. Y. 136 pgs. plus printed covers. A worn copy of a priceless perspective.
A Discourse of the Life, Character and Services of Daniel Webster, pronounced in the Reformed Dutch Church of Saugerties on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25th, 1852 by C. Van Santvoord. Senator Webster died at Marshfield on October 24th, 1852. 30 pgs, lacking covers and disbound.
Dedication – Monument – 20th New York State Militia at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, October 4th, 1888. A monument in stone to remember the blood and courage of local men. Including a poem, The Ulster Guard at Gettysburg, by Henry Abbey, of Kingston. 48 pgs plus printed wraps.
A 32 pg. pamphlet – Saugerties Evening[Steamboat] Line to the Catskills – new and elegant steamers, The Steamer Ida and the Steamer Ulster, for the 1907 season. Schedules, advertisements and illustrations – life before the automobile would alter so much.
A Case for Buying from Dealers
Material purchased from Bill Reese
From the William Reese Company:
[American Newspaper]: The New-York Packet, and The American Advertiser. Thursday, September 11, 1777. [No. 70]. Fish-kill [N. Y.]: Printed by Samuel Loudon, 1777.  pp., printed on folded sheet. Folio. A scarce Revolutionary war newspaper mentioning a resolution to adopt the U. S. flag, executed by Congress on August 27, 1777.
The Riddle-Book for the Amusement of Boys and Girls. Troy: F. Adancourt, 1825. 23pp. A rare survival, a scrap of local printing history.
[Paper Mill in Saugerties, N. Y.] Manuscript daybook kept by David Grieve of Saugerties, New York, detailing the accounts of the paper mill there. Saugerties, N. Y. 1827-1828. Industry, such as it was, was primitive and uncommon and their records important.
The Fort Braddock Letters, a Tale of the Old French War; or The Adventures of Du Quesne, Dudley and Van Tromp: with the Capture of Captain Kidd. Peekskill. 1832. Imperfect but very appealing.
[Panther, Abraham]: A Surprising Narrative of a Young Woman, who as discovered in the gloomy mansion of a rocky cave! Hudson: [Ashbel Stoddard], 1798. A rare but fictitious narrative of an escape from captivity in 1777. Such accounts were common in the era and are highly collectible today.
[Texas]: Head Quarters of the Army … General orders No. 18. West Point, N. Y. July 16, 1858. Issued at West Point. Relevant to a collection of the Hudson Valley only because these orders were issued there.
Address to the Independent Electors of the State of New-York. Republican Nomination and Address. Albany: printed at the office of the Argus, March 20, 1813. Chairman Abm, J. Hardenbergh [of Ulster County]. This is the nomination of Daniel D. Tompkins for Governor and John Taylor for Lieutenant Governor. Mr. Tompkins was Governor of the State of New York from 1807 to 1817 and also 6th vice president of the United States under James Monroe [1817-1825]
Memorial of the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Troy. Jan. 27, 1823.“ A document “read and referred to the Committee of Canals and Internal Improvements, in assembly February 23rd, 1823. The Erie Canal was officially opened on October 26th, 1825, its opening a signal event in Troy’s history.
The Dier’s Assistant in the Art of Dying Wool and Woolen Goods… By James Haigh. Printed at Poughkeepsie by Paraclette Potter, Main Street. P. & S. Potter, Printers. 1813. An exceptionally nice and original copy of one of the early and important books printed in Poughkeepsie.
[New York]: [Johnston and Sage]: Centennial Celebration of the Minisink Battle on the actual battlefield July 22d, 1879…Monticello, N. Y. 
[New York State Newspaper]: [Sampson, Chittenden, and Croswell (publishers and editors)]: The Balance, and Columbian Repository [Volume 1, Number 1 through Volume 2, Number 52]. Hudson, N. Y. 1802-1803. 2 vols. At a time when newspapers’ roles were evolving The Balance, and Columbian Repository were reporting local and national news and providing severe opinions on political questions. Important to understanding to the times.
The Sham-Patriot Unmasked. Hudson: from the press of Sampfon, Chittenden & Crofwell. 1802. It’s full title is The sham-patriot unmasked: or, An exposition of the fatally successful arts of demagogues, to exalt themselves, by flattering and swindling the people. It was first published in the Balance and later republished elsewhere.
The Life of the Boston Bard, written by himself. Mount Pleasant, N. Y. [today Hawthorne in Westchester County]. Published by Stephen Marshall. Roscoe, printer 1825.
The Infantry Exercise of the United States Army, abridged for the use of the Militia of the United States – third edition, corrected and improved. Poughkeepsie: Printed and Published by P. Potter, for himself, and for S. Potter & Co. No. 55, Chestnut-Street, Philadelphia 1819. Complete with the oriented chart of Battalion references.
A Case for Buying from Dealers
Material from both dealers
The History of North America containing a review of the Customs and Manners of the Original Inhabitants;… by the Rev. Mr. Cooper, embellished with copper plate cuts. Lansingburgh. Printed by Silvester Tiffany, for, and sold by Thomas Spencer, at his book-store, Albany 1795.
Keate, George: An Account of the Pelew Islands, situated in the Great South Sea, composed from the journals of Capt. Henry Wilson and his officers; who in August, 1783, were there ship-wrecked in the Antelope Packet. Stanford, N. Y. 1802. An unusual chapbook edition possibly done for the promotion of missionary activity.
For both dealers each item was individually priced, a discount for ‘all’ impossible to resist.
Day in and day out I tend to buy the grout that binds the bricks. Their material, with some exceptions, are the bricks and my collection of Hudson Valley history better today for what they have provided.
Altogether, an interesting group and confirmation of the importance of dealers in building deep and potentially remarkable, and perhaps someday re-marketable, collections.
The William Reese Company www.reeseco.com
Peter Luke: firstname.lastname@example.org