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.
The Caren Archive