It's in the Mail
By Bruce McKinney
Shame steals into town in the dark of night, pride and ambition strolls down Main Street at high noon. And then there is the Floyd E. Risvold Collection - American Expansion & The Journey West, a collection of Postal History and related materials that over three days in New York in late January brought $8,128,264. This one was an open top Duesenberg with Miss America holding roses and waving to the crowd on New Year's Day. This doesn't happen often. The sale was organized by Spink-Shreves Galleries and held in New York.
Floyd Risvold was a serious collector of the American Westward Expansion who saw that postal history, the envelopes, postal cancellations and the letters sent- together contained an emerging portrait of America that collectors would someday value highly. That the someday would be January 2010 is probably surprising to some, given the difficult economy. While he was buying [1970 to 1990 roughly] the field was nascent, the buds in April that become the fruit in September. He was a prescient collector with good taste, his judgment reconfirmed 1,296 times as all but one lot sold.
He did not live to see his collection sold for he passed away at 97 a year ago. But he wrote two books late in life: Minnesota Territory in Postmarks, Letters and Covers, and A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865 that now trade in the used book market.
The sale makes it onto the pages of AE Monthly and into the AED as part of the permanent search because about a hundred lots were books, most bought for reference, some collectible. Mr. Risvold wasn't a skilled book collector but his judgment about stamps was exceptional.
The sale was interesting because it was marketed as postal history. The promotion was extensive and finely tuned to stamp collectors and those interested American history. It was not pitched to book collectors mainly because the 149 lots of books and ephemera [of 1,294 lots in total] were almost an after-thought, not the focus of the sale but rather an adjunct. Ultimately the books and ephemera, 11.5% of the lots, would amount to only 7.3% of the outcome, or $589,958. In the postal history portion, which included both rare cancellations and important manuscript content, single items brought a third as much.
By dollar volume pride of place went to lot 330, a letter written in 1836 from Stephen F. Austin, at that point in Tennessee, to Gen. John McCalla to raise troops for Texas. The letter has a portion torn away but never mind. It is an important Texas artifact and brought $207,100. Three other lots brought more than $100,000.