Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2017 Issue

Eric Caren: Satisfied Seller at Christie's


I am not known to mince words.  I give 100 percent and I expect 100 percent back.  On June 15th in New York, some of my best material came up for sale at Christie’s and my expectations were exceeded in every way. The realized prices were fabulous (all in, approximately $1.3 million for my one hundred lots) and the single owner special catalog they issued for my 100 plus lots was splendid.  I worked hand in hand with Christina Geiger (for the third time) and Peter Klarnet on the catalogue and they were supervised and assisted by Sven Becker who is the proverbial gentleman and scholar. The descriptions were concise yet informative and appealing. The previews were professional; and the videos, both in house and on Instagram, were handled beautifully by Christie's Social Media Dept. My decision to let Peter Klarnet narrate the videos was rewarded in spades and I later teased him that he should get an Oscar. His voice was sharp and his observations sharper still.  [I believe they can still be viewed on Instagram by doing a @christiesinc search for them.]


The auctioneer was as good as the one Dennis Holzman and I employed (Dale Stulz) when we started HCA back in the 1990's to replace Brian Riba Auctions. I was a friend to both Brian and his former partner Bill Mobley (one of the founders of The Ephemera Society).  I think that Dale had done auctions for either Christie's, Sotheby's or both.  Whichever, wherever he was good but not better than the auctioneer who called this sale.


For the event I was offered a skybox view but I had more buying to do while in New York City and afterwards in Massachusetts. For those who know me, this will not be a shock. In just the week following the sale, I added a Henry VIII tract condemning to death one of his wives and also containing the first English language law on Witchcraft, a run of London newspapers printed in 1693 and containing the Salem Witchcraft trials.  And there is more - a splendid and famous Einstein letter to a soldier about his reasons for being an atheist, an unrecorded variant American Bunker Hill broadside, an illustrated 1620's European Americana broadside and a letter group including one from Ft. Defiance and another from Libby Prison (with the guy's GAR kepi)! Obviously, my passion for this wonderful "Lifestyle" has not diminished since I started a half century ago (ouch that hurt to say) when I was 7.


One very special moment of the sale touched me deeply. I heard the auctioneer refer to someone in the room as "young man" and knew he would only do that if he was talking to a young man and he was...13! Apparently, this young man was there bidding with his young friend (rumors are that he/they won a lot or two). I was so moved, that I subsequently gifted 2 original 17th century items through Christie's to them with the hopes that they too will continue until they are old enough to do the same for their next generation.


I was equally moved by a preview brunch attended by fellow members of The Grolier Club, etc. Unfortunately, I was not present. But then I had a special visit from two of the great wordsmiths of our time; both friends of mine. Sir Harold Evans and Will Shortz met me at Christie's and I gave them a private tour of my sale. They have a lot in common. Sir Harry was a table tennis champ back in the 1940's and Will has one of the largest private table tennis clubs in the nation in Westchester, NY where I have had the "pleasure" of being trounced by Will. I really appreciated their support and we had some laughs together. Will got his original first ever Crossword puzzle printed (1913) decades ago from me.


I have never lost my childhood sense of wonder and I am grateful that Christie's made every moment of the experience memorable. I dedicated my catalog to Chris Coover, for over 35 years a Christie’s specialist, and I dedicate this article to Christie's and their fine staff. Christie’s auctioned my first "big sale" when I was 15: a 19th century Italian painting for which I paid $100, then returning my investment 10 times over.


There are lessons from this and indeed every sale. Many of them I have known for a long time. Many of you will know them too, but I hope that these lessons will be helpful to others.


Lesson #1- You never know at an auction which item(s) may take off (Star Spangled Banner lots, Jack the Ripper Handbill and Laus Deo Banner Headline on Cornwallis' Surrender)


Lesson #2- There are bargains to be had at every auction, even and perhaps, especially, at the highest level. The illustrated broadside on the Death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 1519, the King Philip's Indian War manuscript, the Edison Lab drawing of the Light Bulb and the Zenger newspaper from prison, to my way of thinking, fall into this category.


Lesson #3- Buy what you love! When I started with rare newspapers they hardly ever made it into any auctions much less Christie's. Now many sell for 6 figures and many more 5 figures and I believe they still have a long way to go!


Lesson #4- All that is Gold does not Glitter! My material tends to be rather dull aesthetically but boy do they shine brightly when you read them and consider their historical significance!


Lesson #5- Stick with people who treat you well! Christie's treated me well 40 years ago and again last month.


Lesson #6- Historical paper is still unappreciated when compared to Contemporary Art, Coins, Watches, etc. So the savvy buyers should take notice...


...And I hope that they will also take notice on September 8th when Cowan’s holds my 7th "How History Unfolds on Paper" auction. Wes got into the auction business at the same time that Dennis Holzman and I did and for the same reasons. He is legendary now and recently said to me "Eric, Just imagine if you and I had teamed up!" I replied, "Wes you didn't need me at all!" From Historical Paper, he spread into many departments and has become famous on "Antiques Roadshow" and "History Detectives."


To sum this experience up I’ll simply say:  I’ve been fortunate and am grateful for this complex field.


Eric Caren

The Caren Archive

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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