A Sale in the Fall to Test the Market
Present State of New England. 1677
By Bruce McKinney
In a few weeks Bonhams will announce they are handling my second sale - The American Experience - 1626 - 1850, the second auction of books, manuscripts and ephemera from the collections I've built over the past twenty years. The December sale is to be held in New York. The auction follows, by one year, The De Orbe Novo sale - Exploration of the New World 1492-1625 that was organized by Bloomsbury and raised $3.5 million. For the second sale the cataloguing of more than 330 lots of Americana including Central and South American material, is underway. Sources, purchase dates and prices paid will be included in the descriptions as they were in the first sale. I believed then and know now that provenance and pricing history are an important, even essential part of the story of material.
Books in their own right can be enormously appealing. When their history is attached they become something more; connections linking collectors, dealers and institutions across decades and sometimes centuries. Often for the serious and sometimes for the emerging collector the history of individual copies become the thread that binds disparate volumes into collections that matter. I know that for me it has.
Building collections of specific copies that others have valued is difficult to achieve. Most books these days are bought and sold by harried people consulting online descriptions and generic bibliographies to complete listings and post quickly. In the rush, tell-tale evidence is often lost or ignored and books then slip silently from firmly identified to probable to possible to invisible. Such volumes often have passed through important collections but their ownership details disappeared into the successive retellings of a book's description.
Later reconstruction of provenance becomes a difficult job with an uncertain reward. For other reasons as well provenance is always disappearing. Sometimes sellers remove bookplates because they are embarrassed. Other times buyers wish to eliminate ownership history to obscure sources as well as what they paid. Other cataloguers simply ignore bookplates and signatures. Provenance is in fact always endangered, always subject to removal as a foreign object. So it is marvelous when this information survives. In this second sale the material will be thoroughly explained, its connection to the past documented to the extent we know it, its present value substantiated at auction, its future secure so long as future buyers do not tear away the bookplate that links each book to its past.
In building collections with the help of Bill Reese I have done so with someone who is entirely committed not just to these books but also to their history. This is not to suggest that all or even most of the material has a clear history. What is known, at minimum, is my source, date and price. Where material was purchased at auction I have these auction descriptions. Where Bill Reese has been able to identify copies I include that. When material was purchased at either the Siebert sales in 1999 or the Laird Park sale in 2000 we have the complete cataloguing. Taken together Mr. Reese represented me in the purchase of 78 items at these sales and sold to me or participated in another 135 +/- items that are included in this sale; altogether 2/3rds of this entire collection. The material will be broadly understandable, the upcoming auction important for its clarity.
A Sale in the Fall to Test the Market
New England's Prospect. 1635
The documentation will provide perspective on the current state of the market by making it possible to compare purchase details over the past twenty years with estimates today and realizations once the sale is complete. Such information will provide clear comparison and no doubt be the subject of analysis by many with an interest in collectible books.
This said, the material is Americana, one of the strongest categories of book, manuscript and ephemera collecting over the past two decades. Whether the material has increased in value is an open question. With reserves to be set generally at 60% of what I paid more than a decade ago prices will not achieve current levels unless there are multiple bidders.
This second sale will also make it possible to add a factor to the equation; extended time to pay. When I bought at major sales I was extended this privilege and it was always a factor for me. In organizing this sale I requested and Bonhams agreed, to provide buyers the choice of a 2% discount for immediate cash payment or alternatively, up to 6 months in installments interest free. Lines of credit will be established by the house. At my request, because many items in the sale will bring modest realizations, Bonhams will provide credit lines from $2,500. Scale should not be a requirement for credit. In my 20s the opportunity to have a modest line of credit to bid in a major sale would have been a wonderful thing.
It will be 90 days before the catalogue is finalized. In the meantime it is not too early to sign up for a copy of the free catalogue. Readers who register with Bonhams will receive hard cover copies, everyone else a soft cover edition.
If you would like to receive the catalogue simply click here to be added to the list.
Come December we will have taken the measure of the marketplace by sending some very fine canaries into Bonham's very fine coal mine. We'll then know much about the present and have a better sense of the future, not a bad outcome for the 330 lots that have in some cases been preparing for this moment since they came off the press almost four hundred years ago.