A Benchmark Auction of Americana June 21st
The Siebert-Snider copy of Entertaining Passages [Lot 30]
By Bruce McKinney
Jay Snider, one of the leading collectors of printed Americana, is changing his focus, intensifying his concentration on Philadelphia and releasing his broader holdings in American history. To accomplish this he is sending to auction an impeccable group of important and often rare material. In doing so he is providing an important test for the Americana field specifically and the book market generally as twenty-four lots are re-sales of material Mr. Snider bought at the Siebert sales in 1999. The Snider sale will be held at Christies in New York in two sessions on June 21st. Three hundred and forty-six lots, with an average high estimate of $18,000, are offered.
The material is divided into seven categories: Colonial Beginnings; The American Revolution and the Establishment of a New Nation; Almanacs; The Expansion of the United States East of the Mississippi; Slavery, Secession and the Civil War; Westward Expansion Prior to 1848; and Westward Expansion After 1848. About eighty percent of the material is maps, manuscripts and extremely rare and important books. About 50 of the lots will be up against direct comparables on ABE and other listing sites although often the Snider items are condition rarities or have important provenances that render comparison difficult.
Specific reserves have not been disclosed but generally the sale is described as being reserved one to two bids below the low estimate. An unspecified number of lots have lower reserves. It is a very interesting sale. Many of the items can be evaluated using AE's current value calculations that identify the item in prior sales, update and average the realized prices and provide a reasonably accurate idea against which to compare Christie's lot estimates. In a few cases there are no records, a strong indicator of rarity. In the majority of cases the AE calculations fall within the estimate ranges suggesting the reserves have been logically established. Many items of course have no close comparables as Mr. Snider's emphasis has been on unique material.
As is to be expected many of the biggest guns in the Americana field are present. Lewis and Clark, Patrick Gass and Pike reflect Mr. Snider's interest in the west as does an extensive collection of 19th century Indian treaties that are estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. Such a treaty collection, sold as a single lot, is an exceptional item for a western collector because it underpins region, state, event and period collections. A first edition of Reid's Tramp, lot 283, one of the two known copies of Eastin's "Emigrant's Guide to Pike's Peak," lot 286, and Hayden & Moran's "The Yellowstone National Park, and the Mountain Regions of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah," lot 322, are other valuable and important books that serious western collectors covet.
A Benchmark Auction of Americana June 21st
Lot 30, the Church binding
There are exceptional maps from the earliest collectible period of American history. Lot 10 is a damaged but unique map of New Jersey that also includes New York and the Hudson River as far north as Kingston. Dated 1677, this map will move quickly from the auction room on into a frame where it will be appreciated as an icon of early New York. It is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. Lot 13 is a finely detailed map of the northeastern states believed to date around 1684-1685. As with lot 10 there are paper faults that will deter some bidders but such early material is simply unobtainable.
And then there are letters across the American history spectrum. In lot 128 Henry Knox, President Washington's Secretary of War writes to Chief Cornplanter to conciliate the Seneca Indians. It is estimated at $25,000 to $35,000. In lot 174 there is a Meriwether Lewis signed document, estimated $12,000 to $18,000. Lot 319 is an autographed letter from Pierre De Smet, the Jesuit missionary, dated 1871 that discusses McKenney's History of the Indian Tribes of America [$3,500 to $5,000]. Lot 151 is a letter from John Quincy Adams in which he "ponders the place of heraldry in a republican nation" [$20,000 to $30,000].
The Siebert material is often highly important and consistently in original form and superb condition. These twenty-four lots [See attached spreadsheet 1] include many exceptional items such as Church's 'Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War' which leading Americana dealer William Reese describes as possibly the most interesting item in the auction. AE's present value index [the blue link on the right of the attached chart] places the estimated current value at $220,000, well above the Christie's high estimate. Clarence Wolf of George S. MacManus particularly likes Cadwallader Colden's 'The History of the Five Indian Nations....' which he describes "as a very important book in exceptional condition with an impeccable provenance." Given the extensive range of Siebert material this auction will be an important test of the Americana market. The Siebert sales, in 1999, ushered in a period of robust sales and surging prices. The return of a significant cross-section of important Siebert material to the auction rooms creates an opportunity for the market to confirm where it is today. This sale will be closely watched.
An additional factor in this auction will be online listings. About 50 of the items in the sale find the same title and issue offered on ABE and there are occasionally multiple examples. Because ABE is a listing of asking prices buyers will pay no more and can sometimes pay substantially less because sellers may consider an offer. Such discussions should ensue before the auction with arrangements made to buy the ABE copy if the Snider copy moves beyond a specified range. Here are several examples of material on ABE, most of which are matches against items estimated at $5,000 or less. [See attached spreadsheet 2]
A Benchmark Auction of Americana June 21st
Clarence Wolf describes lot 37 as a gem.
Lot 135 is Williamson's "A History of the Genesee." The title in the catalogue is misspelled Genessee. Drop the second s and you'll find one copy on ABE priced at $9,000. Lot 152 is The Columbus Business Directory for 1843-4. On ABE there are three copies, all with problems, all priced below the high estimate. The Snider copy also has problems. Lot 154 is Juliette Kinzie's Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the North-West published in 1856. There are 16 copies on ABE, 10 offered at or below the low estimate of $300. Lot 155 is John Collins' "The City and Scenery of Newport, Rhode Island" printed in Burlington, New Jersey in 1857. There are 3 copies on ABE, 2 offered at or below the low estimate. Where there are ABE matches they are worth considering. The high majority of lots in the Snider sale find no comparables on any listing sites although most have extensive priced histories in the AED.
Another title in this sale that is found on ABE is Jonathan Carver's Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America. However, the Snider example is several magnitudes better. In a field that values original boards and uncut pages this copy is remarkable. To that add the impeccable provenance of Hershel V. Jones, Frank T. Siebert and Jay Snider and this copy approaches gem status. It is estimated at $3,000 to $4,000. The same copy brought $7,475 in the Siebert sale and will bring a premium in this sale. Careful comparison is essential.
Another Snider copy that will be difficult to compare to ABE listings is Michel Guillaume St. Jean de Crevecoeur's "Letters from an American Farmer." Again the copy is in original boards and is uncut. A single rebound copy on ABE is priced at $5,400 suggesting the $5,000 to $7,000 auction estimate may be low.
Since the Siebert sale six years ago knowledge has increased and access broadened. The online listings have exploded into a firmament of 125 million items, each for sale and each at least minimally described. The antiquarian and collectible books portion is of course much smaller, perhaps two million items, five million using the broader definition of 50 years old and at least marginally collectible. In that same period AE has been building an extensive record of important and collectible printed and manuscript material offered by dealers and sold at auction. For the serious collector the tools have never been better. And with the exceptional material in the Jay Snider collection you have the opportunity, may I say obligation if you are going to be a bidder, to evaluate them first hand. Electronic charts of all Siebert items and selected ABE items are attached.
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It is going to be an exceptional sale and serious collectors should do their homework.