AE Monthly

Articles - December - 2009 Issue

We Shall not Pass this way Again

Deorbe77b

Hakluyt: The Virginia map


By early August it became clear, from the general results at auction, that the market was holding, stabilizing if not recovering. By the end of the month, when major sales for the fall season were committed and many announced it became apparent consignors, many unconvinced, had withheld some or all of their commitments. What the market then needed was a collection of significant material with low reserves to be sold at public auction to establish the current valuation.

At that moment, looking at the shortage of premium material and statistics suggesting an emerging market recovery, I decided to send the de Orbe Novo Collection into the rooms in December.

As to where to sell I gave some consideration to selling in England but the material, though of European interest, was clearly American. I thought initially about sending $250,000 each to Sotheby's, Christie's, Bloomsbury and Swann but, when the discussion opened with Bloomsbury they quickly sent two experts, Tom Lamb and Richard Austin, to San Francisco to spend two days evaluating material. Within a few hours they offered a single owner sale in November [later changed to December].

In consigning I requested, and Bloomsbury subsequently agreed, to provide in their online version the full text electronic footnoting we have developed on AE - to directly link items offered with substantial portions of their auction history.

As the consignor I could insist that reserves be set low enough to engage multiple bidders. Consistent with this I asked E. M. Granger of 42 Line to create a bookplate specifically for the eighty-one items in the sale. It reads simply Liceat Decernere Foro which translates as "Let the market decide."

In keeping with my belief in clarity I set one further requirement: that purchase information for each book be included in the description. The source, be it dealer or auction house, the year purchased and the price paid be given. I bought this material from the best sources, often with the advice of others. I believe their involvement adds substantially to the appeal of the material.

Providing this information also invests in this sale a sense of drama. Whether a collector, rare book librarian, dealer or bystander the inner workings of the world of books at the highest level, will for a few hours, be on public display.

I believe, because of the clarity provided, that this sale will be written about, discussed and ultimately remembered as a benchmark. When any of the eighty-one items in the years to come return to the rooms, auction houses will invariably note and auction scribes pay attention to how such copies have fared through time. They'll pull out their abacus, slide rules and calculators and exhale a hummmm. What the hummmm will mean I don't know. But if you live long enough you will.

For myself I expect a future footnote in auction and dealer catalogues will from time to time raise the questions "what's this and who was that?" In that way this story will come to light again. My name isn't on the book plate although my illegible signature is. It will be only the most diligent that look and an even smaller group that acquire the facts to recreate the story generations hence. But it will happen and it will be the very people, who in life I most admired, who will sort the facts from the distance that passing times provides, and render a verdict that I will accept.

AE Monthly


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