Lost in the Moment
This book was common in its time and very rare and important today.
By Bruce McKinney
The December book auctions offer this year, as in past years, an extraordinary array of books, manuscripts and ephemera for the collector to reward him or herself with something for the holidays. Twenty-four sales are scheduled in the United States and Europe offering, in total, more than 14,000 lots. Thirteen of them are at Sotheby's and Christies. The hammer prices will fall in the range of $50 to $1.0 million. Somewhere between these two numbers you should be able to find something to pursue, if not actually acquire. If you want to buy every lot expect to pay at least $25 million or if you want to spend this much without having to handle so much material simply wait for the next Gutenberg Bible. It's going to bring $30 million although I don't know when.
As you read this the curtain will be falling on Old World Auctions' sale of maps #109. The sale concludes on the 1st. Use our auction keyword search at the top of this page to identify material of potential personal interest in this and all other upcoming posted auctions. There are 818 lots. If you don't read this until December 2nd don't despair. No auction house succeeds in selling every lot in every sale. If you find something of interest contact them. It may be unsold and available at an attractive price.
On the 2nd there are 6 sales. PBA offers an angling library and other sporting material. Swann offers early printed and medicine & science books. Eldred offers ephemera. Christie's has 20th century books and manuscripts as well as a collection of material relating to Napoleon. Sotheby's is selling original oil portraits of Indians by George Catlin and, at a separate sale, important baseball memorabilia. If you plan to use your lottery winnings to pay for all you buy make sure you take the lump sum payment. You'll need it. A few Catlin portraits would brighten up any Americana collection and the kid in every grown man would like to have something from the golden age of baseball.
On the 3rd Sotheby's is holding three sales: fine books and manuscripts including Americana and Judaica, highly important manuscripts of Sir Isaac Newton and property from the library of the late Mrs. Insley Blair. The Newton material looks particularly interesting. There is also a Poughkeepsie item. This is a personal weakness. It's a Clement Moore autograph transcript of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" estimated at $200,000 to $300,000. The connection to Poughkeepsie is circumstantial. We'll see. The question of the day will be: can the Newton manuscripts defy gravity? These items are expensive but undoubtedly exceptional and they may not be seen again.
Lost in the Moment
At Bloomsbury on the 14th, lot 446 is a rare Oscar Wilde New Haven ephemera.
On the 6th there is the Important Medical and Scientific Books from the collection of Irwin J. Pincus at Christies in New York.
By the 9th if you haven't yet won any lots Waverly welcomes you to their December sale. Children's books are the largest part. For Dr. Suess fans and collectors there are 229 lots. If you are a large-hearted Dr. Suess fan you are at the right place. Grab a Who-pastry and buy everything right down to the hooks and wire. Then rush home to carve the roast beast.
On the 14th we begin to run the December auction gauntlet, eleven sales between Tuesday the 14th and Friday the 17th. If you plan to attend all of them I want to wish you lots of luck. You'll start the 14th in London running between Bonhams and Bloomsbury and then jet to Boston, or Worcester if it's a private jet, where in either case you'll need a motorcade to arrive on time at New England Book Auction's sale which begins promptly at 6:30. Then it's back to Europe on a night flight for three sales on Thursday, the 15th: Dominic Winter in Wiltshire, UK, the Dorotheum in Vienna and Sotheby's Books and Manuscripts in Paris. On Thursday the 16th you may end up wishing you left bids yesterday for Dominic Winter's second sale; Modern first editions, children's and illustrated books and Sotheby's London sale of English Literature, History & Children's Books and Illustrations because you are now facing a flight to San Francisco where PBA's sale of The Golfing Library of Hal Gevertz will be getting underway. Fortunately, at PBA, you can bid online but you'll still have to convince the pilot it's important. Just tell him you are a book-eccentric. Please write down what he says. We'll all want to hear it. After the sale, take a peek at the Golden Gate Bridge from the air as you head toward 30,000 feet because, although you are tired, you need to fly to New York. Before you doze off you'll need to ask the pilot to patch you through by air-phone to Christie's Rome for the Libri e Stampe sale because you are not going to make it in person. This is quickly becoming auction triage but it is both honorable and acceptable. No one else has ever tried to do what you are now doing [and perhaps for good reason!]. Now, between midnight and 6:00 am, is the best time to get from the New York airports into the city. During certain daylight hours the drive in can take longer than your flight. Stay at a nice New York hotel to prepare for Christie's Friday sale. It's the appropriate finale to a wild week: Rock & Roll and Entertainment Memorabilia. If you can remember please place a bid for me on the Buddy Holly biology test. The sale starts at 10:00 am. It's all do-able: barely.
Don't forget to keep your receipts. Have the auctioneers at each sale sign your catalogues. Keep them in pristine condition. After the sale all the material will be bound in sumptuous uniform leather. All newspaper articles and magazine articles about your saga should be laid in custom glassine folders. All bidding notes and purchase receipts should be included.
Lost in the Moment
Christies R & R sale on 12/17. Lot 362: George Harrison's guitar.
Over the next year the complete collection of material should be displayed at appropriate venues: book fairs and book clubs. A small "Memoir" of 75 to 125 pages should be prepared and printed in a tasteful quantity of 250 copies. All copies should be well bound and 40 more printed on better paper and completed in outstanding bindings. The final ten will each be bound by a different binder in a manner of their choosing but "meeting the highest standards of the trade." There is one more copy. It is yours. It has your personal notes inscribed in the margin.
Now, like a fine but still fresh wine, you must wait. For a French Bordeaux it could 4 or 5 years. For this piece de grande epoche it will be at least ten. The individual copies of your book will slowly come to auction rooms and the market will assign a value. In perhaps twenty-five years your personal trove will come to the market. "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we offer…." You'll be dead, and out of the country so to speak, but your grandchildren will be saying you weren't so dumb after all.
All right, I'll admit to getting carried away but isn't this what the book business and book collecting are all about? Excess. To outsiders book collecting is excess. To those on the inside it is reality finally taking hold.
Now what? The holidays are approaching. There is still time to find interesting material. Let's check the yellow pages. AA Books, Aardvark Books, Abacus Books, Where do I start?
There is an alternative of course. View all lots on line at AE and leave absentee bids. Your spouse won't even know you are surreptitiously in London. And remember what comes after December: January and a new group of auctions.
Link to the AE Auction Calendar.