Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2021 Issue

The Literary Way of Death


Covid-19 has changed everything. The losses are deep and personal. We lose friends and family, we also lose some of our own possibilities. 


Yet as history shows, disaster often invites an explosion of ingenuity, creative ways of managing loss.  Thanks to endless online platforms and options, literally at our fingertips, we can transform sad testimonials, memorials, and funerals into Celebrations Of Life. And, yes, some of these homages have now entered the commercial book market with what can only be called In Memoriam auctions. A whole new approach here -- let’s take a look:


Consider Graham Arader’s offering this past fall. He reoriented his important map auction, scheduled in early October, by rewriting it as a memorial to Seymour Schwartz, the legendary map collector who left us on August 28th.  It would become, by dollar value, one of the largest sales in 2020: USD $18,610,968.  So it appears that a new tack, a new modus operandi, has been introduced by sellers: they’re folding into their sales an attractive layer of emotional resonance, so that buying becomes a gesture of respecting the deceased, a way of participating in the final good-bye. Is this the new gold standard in 2021 selling? Is this the clever new marketing approach, a new psychology for sellers to plumb and mine? From my perch at the Rare Book Hub, where my staff and I see a steady, daily stream of sales literature and auction notices, facts and feelings are now connected in fresh, inventive ways. 


Covid, its wicked spectre, puts me in a sentimental mood: it makes me confront my own mortality. And I see that it is no coincidence that sales are up these days in death literature – widow narratives by Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, et al.; reflections on death by Christopher Hitchens (Mortality, 2012) and especially by Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, 2011). As I move into my seventh decade (dear friends, it’s been a joyful run!), I have many to thank. Certainly it’s both appropriate and possible to celebrate those lives whose career or preoccupation with the printed word has captured them and shaped their destiny. Let us not let those occasions slip by. For my part, I am grateful to acknowledge:


Contemporary Writers: Their material often appears randomly in dealer catalogues, at auction, or in online databases. Remembering them, as their related objects change hands, is simply confirmation of talent well used and appreciated. All hail, writers!


Collectors: Their acquisitions, spares, and duplicates at auction and in special dealer catalogues are a way to remember and connect.  When you pursue subjects seriously, it’s logical to learn about and appreciate kindred spirits whose collecting ambitions mirror your own.  And in time, you’ll notice that the best cataloguers emphasize provenance, because the history of ownership, particularly when it extends over decades and centuries, adds considerable value, as well as historical gloss, with references to sequential ownership by storied collectors. Yes, the collectors: they, too, should be thanked and remembered.


Dealers: Far from salesmen, these individuals often play an outsized role because of their knack for discovery. Their challenge these many centuries has been to find the prize copy: the great copy. And to that end, they skillfully craft the item description; if necessary, they gussy up their pitch. They set a price and terms. They wait for the promised payment(s) to arrive and hopefully clear the bank. And all the while, only the dealer – the critical interface between the item and the buyer -- knows all the secrets, all the details.


Librarians! Our colleagues, our guides in so many instances. Their contributions and accomplishments merit grateful attention. Why, a knowledgeable librarian can save a writer, a collector, a dealer, and a potential buyer hours of fruitless delving, not to mention serious printed errors and pricey missteps. Collectors tend to think that dealers and auction houses determine the boundaries of collecting, but I suggest it is the  librarians and those who adopt their practices and methods who identify the historical significance and timely relevance of an item. It is the librarians who keep up with the material and the bibliophilic vogues. It is the librarians who often bring early attention to new directions in book ownership, reading habits, and so on. My favorite is Callimachus, librarian of the great library at Alexandria; we thank him for devising organizational methods of accessing information, such as the bibliography! Yes, Librarians: let us acknowledge our gratitude.


Ne’er-do-wells: An amusing, if necessary, species. This curious miscellaneous set of all-purpose, unfulfilled geniuses, makes a career swinging at the ball, often missing -- but always out there trying. Every dealer and librarian accepts their calls, hoping as much as they do that they have found the Holy Grail. Keep swinging!


Our Associates: All the long-suffering partners, spouses, friends, and support staff. They, too, should have their day of celebration. They have lived with the victories, crises, resolutions, failures, and grab-bag of final results. They bear the battle scars, too, and are often unrewarded when Fortune smiles. But they endure, hopeful as we are for the cry, “Whale ahoy!”


Many are the opportunities for us to say thank you and congratulations to all of these individuals who have assisted us in these dire, uncertain times. They have helped us pragmatically in our buying choices and financial investments; but well beyond that, they have lent a human dimension of care and support to what we continue to do.


We offer this in gratitude.



Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 54. Fanciful engraving of earth's interior with magma core and errupting volcanoes (1682). $1500 to $1800.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 165. Rare state of Jefferys' influential map of New England in contemporary color (1755). $8000 to $9500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 177. Mouzon's foundation map of the Carolinas (1775). $10000 to $13000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 183. Very rare first state of De Fer's map of the Lower Mississippi Valley (1715). $20000 to $25000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 253. Scarce Scottish edition based on Ellicott's plan of Washington, D.C. (1796). $2400 to $3000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 313. Stunning view of Philadelphia by John Bachmann (1850). $3250 to $4250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 338. Rare Civil War map based on Bucholtz map of Virginia (1862). $9500 to $12000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 667. First map to accurately show Luzon in Philippines (1590). $6000 to $7500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 682. Rare map of Shanghai International Settlement published just after WWI (1918). $7000 to $9000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 738. Coronelli's superb map of the Pacific showing the Island of California (1697) Est. $2400 - $3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 743. A cornerstone piece in the mapping of Australia and New Zealand (1726) Est. $6000 - $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 781. An uncommon signature during Jefferson's Governorship of Virginia (1779) Est. $9500 - $11000

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