Immortality has a Price

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Don-a


By Bruce McKinney

At Bloomsbury New York on December 3rd the hammer will fall on a single owner sale, a small group of exceptional early printed books and other items relating to the new world I acquired between 1992 and 2002. Some people build monuments in cemeteries. I chose to build mine with books. With this sale and its catalogue I hope to leave something both less substantial but more certain than a marble stone, a footprint that future generations may chance upon from time to time to note my ownership. In that way my connection to book collecting may continue long after I've turned my last page.

The sale will be unusual in one respect. Information on source, date purchased and price paid is included. Auctions, in the modern era, are almost always silent on purchase history. This sale will be among the most transparent on record, certainly the most transparent in modern times. As well, for anyone interested in how auctions work this sale will present an extraordinary view, the chance to observe how a collection does as an investment over more than ten years.

For the field of collectible books it is also a signal moment as the market struggles to right itself after the Wall Street collapse. Traditionalists hold that all downturns are aberrations, variations from the norm which is 3 to 7 % year over year price increases. The market that swoons recovers. On the other side is a smaller group, perhaps 10% of all dealers, who measure their business in sales every day and lower prices to restore volume when it slows.

I'm of an in-between view that the category of highly collectible has been narrowing but remains relentlessly strong for material inside its shifting borders. New material is of course always fighting its way into the category. Other things long disdained are rediscovered and of course old friends sometimes abandoned. The material I'm consigning is mostly heartwood.

In less certain times all auctions of important material loom large. This fall, for early, rare and important material relating to the age of discovery this sale is a signal event. If it does well it will confirm values in the category and project optimism to the market-at-large. To use stock market parlance, I believe the market is over-sold and due for recovery.

If there is gathering stability and possible recovery it will be evident in the prices because for them to achieve any positive significance there will have to be multiple bidders. The estimates are low and every item available at 80% of the low estimate. The estimates are also often much lower than what I paid and in every case well below what many believe is current value. Here are some examples.

3. Dati, Giuliano [1445-1523] Il Secondo Cantare dell 'India.

Rome [Between 11 August 1494 and 10 August 1495]
First edition of Dati's description in verse of the East Indies, issued to meet
demand for news of Columbus's discoveries. An important and rare incunable.

Acquisition: purchased from Librairie Thomas-Scheler [2000] $110,000

Estimated at $50,000 to $80,000

5. [BERGOMENSIS] Jacobus Philippus FORESTI (1434-1520). Nouissime historia omniu[m] repercussiones, nouiter [editae]… que Supplementum supplementi Chronicaru[m] nuncupantur.
Venice: Albertinus de Lissona Vercellensis, 4 May 1503.

Acquisition: Lenox / New-York Historical Society sale, Sotheby's New York, 29 January 1995, lot 51, $2,587.50.

Estimate $5,000 - $7,000

9 SCHOENER, Johann (1477-1547). Luculentissima quaeda[m] terrae totius descriptio: cu[m] multis utilissimis Cosmographiae iniciis. [A very clear description of the whole earth, with many useful cosmographic elements].
Nuremberg: Johann Stuchs, 1515.

The earliest major treatise on the globe and its manufacture by the pioneer of globe-making in Europe, advancing Waldseemüller's concepts of the world in spherical (globe) form; this, the only edition, complete with the original errata slip. An essential source book for the early production.

Acquisition: purchased from H. P. Kraus, cat. 185
1990 (but 1998), item 20, $37,500.

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000