Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2020 Issue

Director Who Sold Institution's Book Collection Abruptly Resigns

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Salisbury House (picture from their website).

The Executive Director of Salisbury House, a historic house in Des Moines, Iowa, suddenly resigned her post a short time ago. This story would not have been of interest to a rare book related site except for the fact that Salisbury House had a large library, and the Executive Director had come under fire for selling its valuable book collection to pay debts and expenses. There may have been other factors involved, and Director Kit Curran has stirred up controversy in the past with attempts to reduce expenses. However, while this particular story may not be of great significance outside of Des Moines, it is reflective of conditions plaguing many libraries and related institutions today.

 

We first wrote about Salisbury House's issues in October 2019. At that time, it had been revealed that Salisbury House was in the process of selling its valuable books to nearby Grinnell College, whose financial status is much stronger. Salisbury House was built in the 1920s by cosmetics magnates Carl and Edith Weeks, local residents. It is a mansion, containing 42 rooms, including a 3,000-book library. Later, the Weeks sold the house to the Iowa State Education Association, and 45 years after that, they sold it to the Salisbury House Foundation. They conducted extensive renovations and opened it to the public. However, the number of visitors has dwindled in recent years, resulting in expenses that outstripped admission fees and contributions.

 

Ms. Curran was hired to administer the estate in 2015 and came to the conclusion that it was not a viable financial model as structured. This led to her eliminating several of the limited number of positions at the foundation. Not everyone agreed with the wisdom of this move, including some former employees. Whether this was the right move is beyond our knowledge, but even if necessary, laying people off is not the road to popularity.

 

Then, last year, she made another decision that upset some people. She decided to sell the contents of the library to nearby Grinnell College. Among those 3,000 books were some particularly notable pieces, a Gutenberg leaf, Shakespeare Second Folio, Kelmscott Chaucer, James Joyce's galley proofs for Tales of Shem and Shaun (later titled Finnegan's Wake), signed documents by French King Louis XVI, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Hancock, Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Grant, Queen Elizabeth I, Cardinal Richelieu, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and others, correspondence between Carl Weeks and authors including Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence, and numerous items of incunabula.

 

Outcry came from sources such the Iowa Museum Association. While acknowledging “deaccessioning is an accepted and routine practice," it continued, "collections should never be seen as commodities to be sold in order to balance a budget.” Rather, the IMA says, deaccessions should only be used to fund preservation and acquisition of collections. In this case, the funds are to be used for paying debts incurred in maintaining the structure and personal services.

 

Ms. Curran argued that the institution had no other way to pay off the $2 million debt it had incurred prior to her arrival. With the debt paid off and other changes, she believed Salisbury House would become self-sustaining. While the sale price was not revealed, it was said to be more than enough to eliminate the debt. Meanwhile, the deal with Grinnell allowed them to accomplish a few other important goals. It kept the collection together, found it a good home near Des Moines, which will provide greater access to it. Because of its value and fragility, the collection had been off-limits to Salisbury House visitors. Additionally, Grinnell has promised to digitize the collection, so Salisbury House visitors and others will now have virtual access to it.

 

As to whether this decision was the primary reason for Ms. Curran's sudden departure or something else was, we do not know, but it was undoubtedly a factor. It is part of what made her a controversial figure. It was certainly a difficult choice, but it is one more institutions will face in the years ahead. Smaller libraries and institutions without an endowment or sufficient generous donors will struggle to pay the bills. Meanwhile, the internet and digital access has reduced traffic to these libraries. The future for old books is changing, and in time these issues will resolve themselves, but there will be much sorrow and pain along the way.


Posted On: 2020-02-01 18:37
User Name: mikefromco

Sale of this collection was essential for its conservation, preservation, and use by scholars . As multiple RBH articles have illustrated, small institutions lack the resources (archivists/conservators/security/money) to safeguard valuable material. The pious preaching of the Library/Museum establishment have relevance to Harvard/Yale etc., but no relevance to this, or similar, small institutions. If Ms. Curran was pushed out for this sale, we should thank her because she took one for our culture!


Posted On: 2020-02-03 16:59
User Name: ursusbooks

The books went to another institution, so why the fuss?


Posted On: 2020-02-09 10:56
User Name: andrewnadell

Grinnell College is a distinguished and prestigious place, famous (among many other reasons) for its excellence on the old College Bowl television show. There is no loss to scholarship in this transfer. The collection is intact and secure.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Bolaños, Joaquín. La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte... (“The Portentous Life of Death”) México, 1792. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Tratado de Paz… entre la República Mexicana y los Estados Unidos. (“Treaty of Peace… Between the Mexican Republic and the United States”) 1848. $80,000 - $90,000 MXN / USD $4,444 - $5,000
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Fabregat, Josep Joaquín. Vista de la Plaza de México… (“View of the Square of Mexico”) México, 1797. $60,000 - $100,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $5,555
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel. Invitación al Coronel Narciso de la Canal… (“Invitation to Coronel Narciso de la Canal…”) 1810. $170,000 - $200,000 MXN / USD $9,444 - $11,111
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Gálvez, Joseph de. Real Cédula de Erección de la Compañía de Filipinas. (“Royal Notice of the Creation of the Company of the Philippines”) 1785. $40,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Colección de Constituciones de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (“Collection of Constitutions of the United Mexican States”) México, 1828. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Ruelas, Julio. Poemario Manuscrito Ilustrado, Dedicado a Lorencita Braniff (“Collection of Illustrated Poem Manuscripts, Dedicated to Lorencita Braniff”). 1903. $60,000 - $70,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $3,888
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Espinosa de los Monteros, Juan J. Aviso de la Junta Soberana al Público (“Notice of the Sovereign Meeting to the Public”) 1821. $60,000 - $80,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $4,444
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos... (“Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States”) México, 1824. $140,000 - $150,000 MXN / USD $7,777 - $8,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Alcaraz, Ramón. Apuntes para la Historia de la Guerra entre México y los EU (“Notes on the History of the War between Mexico and the United States”). 1848. $40,000 - $50,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $2,777
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €
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    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Neil Armstrong ALS on NASA Letterhead Regarding His X-15 Flights. $7,000 to $8,000.
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    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> "Damn the torpedoes!" Riveting 24pp ALS of Admiral Farragut's Steward Describing the "Battle of Mobile Bay”. $6,000 to $7,000.
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    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Napoleon DS Featuring Imperial Eagle and Enormous Great Seal Appointing Norman Politician Baron of the Empire. $4,000 to $5,000.

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