May 15, 2018

Autograph Appraisal & Value

I am often asked if I can offer an appraisal or an evaluation of an autograph.   The short answer is yes.  And, of course, we do buy autographs and signed documents in the regular course of our business.   While the fields of autograph collecting and rare books and manuscripts are separate, they often do intersect.   Generally, I shy away from 20th century sports autographs (just too many fakes), and prefer to concentrate on autographs of historical and literary importance.

I was recently was offered a charming album containing the signature of our illustrious 16th President.  There is something poetic, at least in my mind, about just the signature of Abraham Lincoln sitting isolated and dead center on a barren single page.   I enjoy contemplating it-  staring at a the modest hand, in keeping with the character of  the President, and knowing that 150 odd years or so ago, his hand rested with a quill on this very page.

Cut signatures of Lincoln from documents can be had for reasonable sums.  Here, as an example, is a record culled from the manuscript sales database in American Book Prices current (an excellent reference for evaluating autographs)

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – Cut signature, [1861 to 1865]. On .75 by 3.75 inch strip of vellum. Sgd as President. Minor smudging to his last name. Left edge touching the extreme beginning of the first “A”. Mtd at right & left edges. – Swann, Nov 3, 2011, lot 187, $1,100

Of course that is towards the very bottom of the price range, and prices can quickly escalate:

Full autograph letters of interest can command $10,000+ such as this one:

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – ALs, 15 Dec 1862. 1 p, 8vo. On bifolium. To Sec of the Navy Gideon Welles. Regarding a request for an appointment from controversial congressman Alfred Ely. With 3-line holograph postscript sgd (“A. Lincoln”) & dated 16 Dec 1862. Soiled & creased with some marginal tears (1 into text & signature of postscript). Signature of letter slightly smeared. Not in Basler. – Sotheby’s New York, Jun 13, 2017, lot 97, $11,000

And of course pieces of great historic importance in the history of our nation can bring staggering sums:

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – Ds, [June 1864]. 1 p, 16.25 by 9.25 inch copy of the “Authorized Edition” oof the Emancipation Proclamation, printed to benefit the United States Sanitary Commission. Sgd by Lincoln as President. Countersgd by William H. Seward as Secretary of State & by “Jno. G. Nicolay” as the President’s Private Secretary, who additionally certifies that this printing of the Emancipation Proclamation is “A true copy, with autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State”. Several inches of blank margin trimmed from original sheet. With mat burn at edges touching the Nicolay signature but not affecting other signatures or text. Foxed & spotted. – Illus in cat – Sotheby’s New York, May 25, 2016, lot 78, $1,800,000

Naturally, the first step in evaluating an historical autograph is authenticity.    Lincoln is a frequently forged autographed, given the nation’s reverence and his consequent desirability.  Perhaps the most notorious forgers of “Lincolniana” were Joseph Cosey and Charles Weinburg.  However, there are many less famous but still accomplished forgers as well- so one must always be wary.

It is imperative to study the handwriting and to determine if it is correct-  to make sure it is in keeping with the President’s known hand at that date and that it possesses the small ‘tells’ of a fluidly written signature that are hard to copy without evidence of hesitation.

Besides the signature itself, it is importance to look at the paper, the ink, and whether it makes sense that it is a document that the President would even sign.   Provenance is very desirable as well, but not always obtainable as documents often pass from hand to hand through families and collectors without record kepts.

In the example we were offered below, the authenticity is without question.   If the leaf were seen only in isolation, one may not be certain of this, but our example is bound in an album filled with many of Lincoln’s cabinet and contemporaries and was compiled as a courtship gift for a woman by a Washington gentleman of means and access.  I would love to relate the full provenance and story here of the album, but don’t want to steal the thunder of the Institution that will likely acquire it.

 

FreeAutographAppraisal

posted in: Appraisal Manuscript, Free autograph Appraisal, Free Autograph Evaluation, We buy autographs

March 19, 2018

American Revolution – Autograph Appraisal

Early American autograph material can be complicated to properly appraise.   First of all,  there are questions of authenticity as it is significantly easier for forgers to fake an autograph or manuscript than a  full printed book.   I won’t address authentication in this post, except to stress it is the first step in an evaluation.

Once the hurdle of authenticity is overcome,  the next question is importance.  In manuscript and autograph material,  this essentially boils down to a question of  not only whose autograph it is but the importance of the content and its historical context.

Recently at an estate in the Upper West Side of New York, I bought a small collection of autographs that contained the following 18th century manuscript page.

Free Autograph Appraisal

The interesting manuscript concerns the appointment  John Laurance (1750 -1810) , the prominent American lawyer and politician from New York.   Laurance was a veteran of the Continental Army who served throughout the American Revolution,  and among other notable achievements served in the Continental Congress.  Additionally, he was named Judge Advocate General from 1777 to 1782.” Among the cases he handled were prosecuting at the court martial of Charles Lee for insubordination in 1778, and the 1779 court martial of Benedict Arnold for corruption. He also served on the 1780 board that convicted John André of spying and sentenced him to death by hanging.” [Wikipedia]

With such an illustrious name,  we can begin our search of other Laurance related manuscripts and autographs that have sold at auction in the ABPC Database.  Plugging in his name brings up at least three records of  sold documents connected with famous Americans that underscores his importance in the 18th century.

  1. Washington, George, 1732-99 – Ls, 1 Mar 1797. 1 p, 8 by 10 inches. On bifolium. Circular letter, this copy addressed to New York Senator John Laurance, inviting the recipient to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential swearing in ceremony of John Adams & Thomas Jefferson in the Senate Chamber. With conjugate self-envelope with address. Repaired. – Illus in cat. David A. Spinney Collection – Skinner, Oct 30, 2016, lot 31, $19,500
  2.  Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804 – ALs, 17 May 1798. 1 p, 10 by 8 inches. To Senator John Laurance of New York. Expressing his displeasure over the defeat of President Adams’s proposed bills for defense. With franked integral address leaf & postal stamp dated May 16. Address leaf with fold separations. – Illus in cat – Sotheby’s New York, Dec 11, 2008, lot 130, $13,000
  3. Continental Congress – Manuscript, fair copy of the journal of the Continental Congress, June-July 1776. 4 pp, folio. In the hand of John Laurance, Senator from NY. – Bonhams New York, Jun 20, 2007, lot 5293, $3,500

It is easy to get excited at the high prices in the database. However, one must keep in mind that only important material comes to auction as single lots and this can artificially skew prices toward the higher end.  Less expensive material is often sold in lots or at minor houses that are not included in the databases.

Additionally, if we read the document at hand carefully, it is clear that it is not signed by Laurance himself but is actually a 1781 copy “true copy of the Record lodges in the Secretary’s Office of the State of New York”  So, while it refers to his 1775 appointment, it is actually written six years later in 1781 as an administrative copy.

As such, it is necessary to reduce of expectations in terms of salability and value.   As an interesting document connected to an important American, it is certainly worth something, but most likely less than $500.  Still, it is an interesting piece that yields insight into Colonial government and  an excellent starter manuscript for someone who wants to begin collecting in the field but cannot yet afford the bigger prizes.

If you have any American autographs (or historical or literary autographs in general) in general, please email me and I will be happy to provide a free evaluation and relevant and comparable auction records to support it.

posted in: American Autograph Value, Free autograph Appraisal, Handwritten Document Value, Old Manuscript Appaisal

November 28, 2017

Appraisal of a Colored Plate Book : Auction vs. Retail comparison

We recently purchased a lovely copy of  Smith’  Antiquities of Westminster published in Folio 1807.  Nevertheless,  a glance through the auction records reveals very modest prices.  Perhaps this is partly explained by a lack of connoisseurship.  Years ago,  there were more perhaps more appreciative everyday collectors that delved into the nitty gritty of printing history. Indeed, the book is recorded (see plate on p. 48 below) as being the first use of lithography in an English  book (cf. Lithography: 200 years of art, history & technique, NY, 1983, p. 224)

The other colored plates below – engraved and hand colored by comparison- also possess a remarkable charm.  The shattered specimens of stained glass from St. Stephen’s Chapel have an explosive and modern aesthetic, and are beautifully rendered by John Thomas Smith.    The shards, among with wall paintings and sculptures,  were discovered during a restoration of Westminster in 1800 that revealed part of a 14th century wall.   The author was very eager to record these discoveries for posterity before they were lost again to time.

So, like the glass, it is shattering to see that a copy at auction in 2016 at Dominic Winter only achieved a paltry 84 GBP! (approx $120).  This compares to a retail copy on line marked at $1200.  That is quite the disparity – a full 1000% between what a copy achieved at auction and what a book dealer (and colleague)  is asking for it.

Perhaps, a not unreasonable retail price (if one indeed wishes to sell it within some reasonable time frame) is no doubt somewhere down the middle at $500-600, but still, the beauty of the book and its significance to book illustration and English antiquarianism, does support a retail price at the higher end in my mind.

If you have a fine book with colored plates, I am happy to evaluate it – just send photos to our email address or text them to 646 469 1851.   Do kindly remember that the value of colored plates books is very sensitive to condition, and it is best to include photos of any defects such as foxing or browning.

 

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Colored Plate Book Value

 

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posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare Colored Plate Book

August 26, 2017

Rare Book Auction Prices vs. Retail Prices

I am often asked “What is this antique book worth?”   The adage that “something is worth what someone will pay” is not a satisfactory or helpful answer.   In the antiquarian book world, when giving a professional opinion of value, it is often helpful to consult actual action records in the databases for comparable copies that have sold, as well as other retail copies on the market (primarily through collectible and out of print book search engines like Abebooks.com).  It is also particularly important to assess the actual copy of the work at hand to look for any distinguishing characteristics that can increase the value such as provenance, binding, condition etc.

Here is a copy of a work I was recently asked to evaluate.  The book is an 1810 copy of Henry Fuseli’s Lectures of Paintings.   Fuseli’s style had a considerable influence on many younger British artists, most importantly William Blake.

When examining the auction records, one can easily find that a copy sold at Bloomsbury Auctions  in London 2013 for 69 GBP.  Certainly that can be used as a benchmark evaluation for the book since that is an actual sales price.  Perhaps if this copy went into auction, it would receive only scant attention from buyers and a cursory examination,  and achieve a similar price.

Nevertheless, the book appears increasingly scarce in commerce.  There are no copies at present listed on the major book search engines for purchase at the touch of a button.  This gives one, as they say in retail,  some pricing power (at least some limited pricing power as it assumes demand).

What is lovely about this book is that there is an  engraved vignette at end (“Ancora imparo: Mr Angelo Bonarroti”) by Blake.  This engraving directly  links two of the world’s greatest artists:  Blake and  Michelangelo. In a Blake Dictionary, S. Foster Damon writes that  “Michelangelo was to Blake’s painting what Milton was to Blake’s poetry.”   To a buyer that may be unfamiliar with Fuseli’s book,  the possibility to own an original Blake engraving at modest cost – and one that depicts his own  interpretation of the image of Michelangelo-  certainly raises interest in the book.

Additionally, this copy features a rather fascinating  “CLD”  in gilt on the black morocco spine (in attractive contract with the earthy pebbled marbled papers).  The CLD ares the initials of  Caroline Lucy Scott, Lady Scott (1784–1857), the Scottish novelist.   A known 18th century woman writer’s provenance is quite interesting, and I don’t recall seeing a similar placement of initials or a monogram on the side of a spine of a book,  perhaps a parallel to the way a monogram might be placed on the clasp of a diary.   It makes a delightful example of a bookbinding and personal ownership and that certainly raises the value in my eyes.

It would therefore not be inappropriate, given its scarcity in commerce and the attractiveness of this particular example, to put a price of $450 on it.  Whether someone will pay that is, as always, another story.

 

rarebookauction - 1Rare Book Auction

posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, sell rare books, selling rare books, We buy Rare Books

May 4, 2017

An Interesting Deed Indeed

Title and land deeds survive in abundance.  They are often large sheets of particularly sturdy parchment that have escaped the ravages of time that destroy a lot of other early paper counterparts and ephemera.    They are also quite attractive, filled with meticulous calligraphy  and generally remain a very neglected area of collecting.   I am often offered vellum deeds or asked how much they are worth.   Surprisingly, most have very little monetary value in the market unless they are signed by important people, are particularly early, or can shed some light on an interesting household.  Still, any old deed should be properly evaluated as some can fetch substantial sums. For example, a deed to Mohawk land at Schenectady, New York to Johannis Vedder, signed  by 3 Mohawks with their totem signatures, recently got $18,000 at a rare book auction.

This recently purchased 1694 New York deed is not in the high value category of Indian deeds, but it is of scholarly interest.  It conveys a water lot of Peter Sinclair, a mariner on the south side of Pearl Street.   Wait, but Pearl Street does not touch the water?   Well, it once did. In fact, it was the original eastern shoreline of the lower part of Manhattan Island, until the latter half of the 18th century when landfill over the course of several hundred years has extended the shoreline roughly 700–900 feet further into the East River, first to Water Street and later to Front Street.

Besides affording a lesson in early Manhattan geography, if not urban planning, it also gives insight into early immigrant communities. According to Joyce Goodfriend’s “Before the Melting Pot” (1994): “Religious persuasion may also have influenced the marriage choices of British immigrants to New York City. Because of the doctrinal similarity between the Presbyterian church and the Dutch Reformed Church, dissenters may have found it relatively easy to marry into Dutch families. Three Scottish men, for example, married Dutch women in New York City. ”  One of those Scotsman,  Robert Sinclair, married Mary Duycking in the New York City Dutch Reformed Church in 1683. “Sinclair‘s life history shows how a British newcomer was incorporated into a Dutch kinship network in New York City.”

 

 

17th Century Vellum Deed

17th Century Vellum Deed

posted in: Handwritten Document Value, NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, Old Manuscript Value, old paper, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Uncategorized, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books