Auctions in December

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Sloan2

Sloan- Lot 49, Bird’s-Eye View of New York in 1848


By Bruce McKinney

Who said fireworks are reserved for the fourth of July. In France the day for fireworks is July 14th. In China it's the Lunar New Year. At auction it's whenever serious consignors take a deep breath and quote Gary Gilmore, "let's do it." Then it's a race to organize, collate, photograph and describe, publish, post and circulate all with the goal of attracting sufficient bidding interest. In the hands of gifted men and women the process can be magic. What with market uncertainty rampant commitments to sell this year have been down but bucking the trend are a group of sales with very good material reaching the rooms this month. They will provide a test of a market that has been seeking a new direction since summer. In these sales the line between real objects and objects of desire blurs to indistinguishable.

Books, manuscripts and ephemera at auction have been busy this fall [60 sales in November, 45 this month] but consignors reluctant to send their best material into the rooms. Since August the market has been improving and the consequences three important auctions to be sold in December that may signal the year ahead: The De Orbe Novo Collection of very Early European Americana on the 3rd, the William A. Herz Library of Important Voyages and Travels at Christies on the 9th, and Dorothy Sloan's Auction Twenty-Two featuring high spots of Texas, the West, Borderlands & Mexico on December 11-12. If these sales do well there is certain to be renewed confidence. The market is poised, many hopeful. Two thousand and eight has been a difficult year.

The de Orbe Novo Collection at Bloomsbury in New York on the 3rd and has been discussed elsewhere in AE Monthly. The focus of this article is the Herz and Sloan sales. Both should draw wide attention. The Sloan sale extends the definition of presentation to encompass meticulous detail, elaborated description and extensive photography. Auction houses, for a decade have been inching into ever more elaborate online presentations while maintaining strong catalogue presences. For Sale 22 Ms. Sloan reverses the approach. While maintaining the printed catalogue at her always high standard she provides a further elaboration online - an extensive photographic presentation that, if the sale is successful, will be quickly emulated. For buyers the online presentations can be downloaded into purchase records to become the rock solid compliment to book ownership - spotless, easily transported and transferred descriptive record. The sale itself is appealing and will be discussed later in this article, the methodology a step into the future.

The Herz sale at Christie's is a throwback to collections of two generations ago when collecting was broad and intense. In the hands of Christie's, who set new standards for book auction performance with the Frank Streeter sale in 2007, they wave their descriptive wands over a collection that will have appeal to all elements of the travel and voyages collecting community. The material is diverse and extensive. Wolfgang A. Herz was an inveterate collector for whom books were a stage he lived through from 1971 into the mid 1980s. He later devoted himself to works on paper, drawings and prints as well as paintings.