Timing is Everything
From eBay to Christies in 81 days
By Bruce McKinney
Timing is everything. In the December issue of AE Monthly we wrote the improbable but true story of a book posted in September to eBay for $2332 [BP1,299] by an English bookseller. It was then purchased by Michael Burnley of Los Angeles who sent it on to Christie's in New York who accepted, catalogued, composed, printed and distributed its description as lot 267 in its December 5th sale: Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana. The lot brought $52,500. The entire cycle of discovery, purchase, discussion, posting, acceptance, description and sale took 81 days. It was a remarkable demonstration of skill and determination all around. The story in AE Monthly was the most widely read article of 2008. In the dark days of economic uncertainty that the world now passes through, the discovery and disposition of such an important book conveyed a hopeful message.
For those who missed the December article here is the item as listed in the Christie's catalogue "LEDYARD, John (1751-1789). A Journal of Captain Cook's last voyage to the Pacific Ocean and in quest of a North-West Passage between Asia & America. Hartford, Conn.: Nathaniel Patten, 1783. Estimate $50,000 to $70,000." Copies of the book come up from time to time. Copies with the map do not. This copy had a highly acceptable copy of the map.
There were many other interesting items offered. The difficult to obtain first edition of Oviedo's 1535 history of the new world [La historia general de las Indias] brought $23,750. It lacked one leaf.
A second edition of the first dictionary printed in the New World, Alonso Molina's Vocabulario en lengua Castellana y Mexicana, Mexico  was estimated at $800 to $1,200 and brought $21,250. A copy of the first  was offered by H. P. Kraus in their Catalogue 185 in 1991 for $350,000. This was an exceptional value even at 20 times the estimate.
Good fortune of the wholesale variety descended upon Profiles in History of Calabasas Hills, California that had the challenge of selling the remaining contents of the Collector's Book Store in Hollywood. They created an excellent full color catalog, a collector's item in its own right. There were three thousand lots and three days to sell them. Most were estimated $200 to $300 and offered without reserve. The average lot contained more than 1,000 examples of Hollywood books, photographs and ephemera. Most lots were purchased by dealers. One high profile collector remarked, "I buy objects, not inventory." He wasn't a bidder. One high profile dealer, 48 hours after the sale, said "I bought well and now wish I bought more." Such opportunties do not come often. In the days leading up to the event a snip about the sale cycled through the CNN ticker.
All but a few lots sold. The total realized, including the buyers premium, was $4,469,690.00. That works out to about $1.30 per item.
Even in the toughest times there is money to be made.