Auction History - Recreating Important Sales

- by Bruce E. McKinney


When you consider buying or bidding on examples of printed history often your first sense is to get into its commercial history. Why?  Because printing creates identical examples and over time some of them appear at auction.  When those records have been retained over decades and the centuries, the serious minded study them to develop an educated impression about their ever adjusting current value.  Our primary database, Transactions+, is based upon two aspects of auction history.   The first has been based on original auction documentation over the past 175 years.  The other of course, has been to capture the present-day flow of material entering in the auction rooms.  When these two flows meet present value is confirmed.


Over the past few months we have been adding auctions from the relatively dark ages of auction history, events that were staged in New York and Boston between 1850 to 1885.  It’s compelling reading to read through lots that have since seen significant swings of relative value.  Early printings of American material used to occasionally appear in the rooms and brought substantial sums while recent reprints [created between 1850 to 1870] brought good money too.  The reprints have turned out to be dead money while the originals have gone through the roof.  Who knew and predicted their very different outcomes?


During those years the American appreciation of England was reflected in both the extensive offerings and their prices.  English cultural supremacy was a given, while American cultural values were emerging.  Until their own values were enshrined, Americans they were willing to camp out under the English tent.  That would diminish over time.


Today pamphlets and ephemera bring serious consideration and big money.  Back then such material struggled in to get into the rooms and when they did, they arrived as bundles of multiple copies.


Manuscript material was shown deference but picking the winners and losers was an uncertain process.  Some collectors early on cried “I want it all” and actually did it.  Then years later they sent their treasures to the rooms as 2,000 to 4,000 item sales.


Whenever I see such excess, as a collector I can only applaud and moan. I can only imagine how these collector’s families felt.


If you would like to reimagine what it was like in those amazing times in the world of collectible paper, use your subscription and log-in.  Select Advanced Search to the right of the Keyword Search.


On the lower right side select click on the field under Source.  Then select these actiion houses by name


Leavitt & Co.  23,144 records

Leavitt, Strebeigh.  18,343 records

Leonard & Co.  3,436 records


It's best to adjust the field size to 500 lots.


More new files are being edited and added.


It’s a wonderful experience.