An Extraordinary Americana Auction at Bloomsbury Nov. 19
Lot 208. A Thomas Birch image
By Bruce McKinney
The upcoming November 19th single owner sale at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York of the Jay T. Snider collection of early and important Americana with a strong emphasis on Philadelphia will provide an important test of market interest and financial capability at a time when the United States and Europe are experiencing the most significant economic downturn in a generation. The market is divided between those who see deflation or inflation ahead. Ultra premium collectibles will soar in an inflationary environment and fair poorly in deflation. For committed collectors however the tough timing may be less important that the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire spectacular material. For much of this material there may be no second chances.
Bloomsbury has spared no effort or expense to create both an exceptional printed catalogue and online presentation. See the links at the end of this article to access the catalogue. To the extent that emotion plays a role in bidding the lights have been turned low and the orchestra is playing "Smoke gets in your Eyes." Long gone are the days when buyers were almost exclusively dealers who knew more than the auction houses. Today collectors, often represented by dealers, dominate the bidding. The transition from books [intellectual] to images [emotional] is also in evidence. Mr. Snider's exceptional collection of Philadelphia images he acquired in part from Martin Snyder in 1997 is included.
In broadest outline this is a sale of works on paper and can be characterized as manuscripts, printed books, maps, prints and plate books. Much of the material is exceedingly rare. According to Jeremy Markowitz, who catalogued it, the estimates are reasonable and the reserves relatively low. In prior sales Mr. Markowitz has achieved a 90% sell-through while the field on average has completed 74%. This suggests that in the complex alchemy of presentation and estimate Mr. Markowitz is a particularly astute judge. The uncertain economy however is simply an unquantifiable factor. The highly important Frank Streeter book auction, that brought $16 million in 2007 for Christies in New York, had significant European support at a time when the dollar was tanking. The Euro is now collapsing and the material, in any event, lacks a European focus so this time the market will depend more exclusively on American interest. The aggregate low and high estimates are $2.8 and $3.9.
Here are some of the highlights:
Lot 51. Bound volume of Partly-printed Pennsylvania General Loan Office Mortgage Forms issued for the Paper Money Act of 1729. Click here.
Lot 87. An East Prospect of the City of Philadelphia; taken by George Heap from the Jersey Shore, under the direction of Nicholas Scull... c.1756. Click here.
Lot 96. To the Honourable Thomas Penn and Richard Penn Esqrs. True & absolute Proprietaries & Governours of the Province of Pennsylvania & Counties of New-Castle Kent & Sussex on Delaware This Map of the improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania. Is humbly Dedicated by Nicholas Scull. 1759. Click here.
An Extraordinary Americana Auction at Bloomsbury Nov. 19
Lot 51. An Early Franklin printing: rare
Lot 161. Postscript to the Freeman’s Journal, Oct. 24. How are the Mighty fallen! [Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 24 October 1781]. 1 p. broadside newspaper extra (405 x 312 mm). Click here.
Lot 208. Thomas Birch. The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800 consisting of Twenty Eight Plates. Click here.
Lot 251. James Madison. Important autograph letter signed to Peter S. Du Ponceau, asserting that the Common Law has no bearing on the laws of the United States, discussing the Framers’s original intent in drafting Article III of the Constitution, and maintaining his Jeffersonian ideals. Montpellier, VA: 14 August 1824. Click here.
Lot 272. John Reubens Smith. A View of Fairmount and the Water-Works. Taken from the Veranda of Harding's Hotel, Schuylkill. Philadelphia: c. 1837. Watercolor, pencil and gouache on paper, mounted on linen (380 x 560 mm). Click here.
While Bloomsbury expects collectors to buy across the five collecting disciplines represented in the sale these categories will probably not perform equally. Maps have been, and continue to be, the single strongest sector while books have been the weakest. In particular the manuscript material in the sale is so specific to Philadelphia that it may not attract broad support. Generally the estimates reflect the weaker expectations.
Mr. Snider was a significant buyer at the Siebert sale at Sotheby's in 1999 and seventeen items in this sale will provide a head to head comparison of the change in market sentiment over the past nine years. The Siebert sale ushered in an orgy of rising prices that doubled dealer expectations. The market has since struggled to maintain those gains. Head to head auction comparisions are useful for providing a mark-to-the-market opportunity.
Clarence Wolf of George S. MacManus Company of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania who played an important role in the development of the Snider collection recently had this to say about it: "You can make the case that this collection, while narrow in focus, is the most important of the Snyder collections to be sold. Single owner sales of this caliber rarely occur. The timing is difficult but the material is outstanding."
Of the 17 items in this sale that also appeared in the Siebert sale most are the same copies. A few are simply the same titles. Here is a comparision of the aggregate low and high estimates. They indicate that Mr. Markowitz believes the market has increased over the past 9 years at a compounded rate of 9.5%.
| ||17 Items Siebert May 1999||The Same 17 Items in the Upcoming Snider Sale||Increase in Low Estimates from 1999 to today||Compound Annual Rate of Increase|
Aggregate Low Estimate||96,500 ||221,500 ||2.3 times||9.70%|
Aggregate High Estimate ||129,500||309,500||2.39 times||10.10%|
|Realized Prices including Buyer's Premium||165,198||??|
What may be established in the upcoming sale are:
 The relative strength of the five sectors;
 The appeal of very strong material in a potentially weak market;
 The importance of innovative cataloguing.
Auction houses have increasingly cut credit to even their best customers. Bloomsbury is an exception. For this sale highly qualified clients are encouraged to discuss extended terms with the house.
AE's Global Auction Search.
 The Jay T. Snider Auction Catalogue.