Christie’s

You are currently browsing articles tagged Christie’s.

Sven Becker, a specialist in Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts at Christie’s has sent me this email:

IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING CHRISTIE’S AUCTION OF FINE PRINTED BOOKS, 13 JUNE 2011:

Lots 291-401 were sold prior to the auction and have been withdrawn.

Christie’s are pleased to announce that this fine collection (Vladimir Nabokov: Books and Objects from the Collection of Dmitri Nabokov) was sold prior to the auction by private treaty to an important collector who appreciated the great cultural significance of this group of books and objects, and the unique opportunity of acquiring en bloc the last substantial part of the Nabokov family archive. The price paid was in excess of £500,000, which reflects what a rare opportunity it is to obtain a collection of such scope and quality by one of the great masters of Russian and American literature.

This may or may not clarify the original report from mysouth.su. There, the original report stated that the price was “500,000 pounds higher than the overall estimate for all lots”. That means to me £500K more than some sum of the estimates (the high ones?). That could be as much as £734,000 (with the house’s 25% premium thrown in). Or maybe after all it’s “only” £500,001.

Tags: ,

A rumor I recently picked up: Brad Pitt is a Nabokov collector.

Is there the least bit of truth to it? I have no idea. I wonder if that Russian oligarch I was imagining is really a Hollywood movie star.

Nah.

Tags: ,

What’s going on?

My speculation is that a Russian oligarch, for reasons of pride, patriotism, and prestige, approached Christie’s or DM and began negotiating. If I understand the one news report, the buyout is £500,000 over the high estimates of the 111 lots. Is the 25% commission in the original book costs with the £500K added on? Or does Christie’s get its 25% out of the £500K. I can imagine other ways of calculating who gets what.

The high estimates of the 111 lots adds up to £187,200. Christie’s premium, in a standard auction situation, would then be £46,800, for a total of £234,000 ($384,663 at the 6 June exchange rate). So this mysterious oligarch is paying either £687,200 (more likely) or £734,000. So the least being paid is probably $1,127,548. That’s £6191 per item. The average pre-auction high estimate is £1686 per item.

Conclusions: Signed, inscribed, lepted, or whatever VN items just became more dear. By a lot. Dealers won’t be offering any of those books because they will end up in a museum/library or the private stash of a probably very private person. The deal implies high four-/low five-figure valuations on special VN items.

One thing I don’t understand. It is now 11pm on Tuesday. This deal was revealed early this morning, around 5:30am. Why no Google hits, other than the one? (Bing/Yahoo didn’t pick it up at all.)

Another point: I wonder why this Russian oligarch, or whomever he/she is, didn’t buy the Laura manuscript at auction at the end of last year. Maybe because it was in English. It was ultimately won by an Italian dealer.

Tags: ,

The Nabokoviana auction at Christie’s on June 13 is off. All items have been withdrawn.

“A private collector” has preempted the sale by scooping up all 111 lots for “500,000 pounds higher than the overall estimate for all lots”, whatever that might exactly mean, according to “World News – Russian opinion”, an English language website located in the Russian Federation.

My speculation is that a Russian oligarch, for reasons of pride, patriotism, and prestige, approached Christie’s or DM and began negotiating. If I understand the one news report, the buyout is £500,000 over the high estimates of the 111 lots. Is the 25% commission in the original book costs with the £500K added on? Or does Christie’s get its 25% out of the £500K. I can imagine other ways of calculating who gets what.

The high estimates of the 111 lots adds up to £187,200. Christie’s premium, in a standard auction situation, would then be £46,800, for a total of £234,000 ($384,663 at the 6 June exchange rate). So this mysterious oligarch is paying either £687,200 (more likely) or £734,000. So the least being paid is probably $1,127,548. That’s £6191 per item. The average pre-auction high estimate is £1686 per item.

Conclusions: Signed, inscribed, lepted, or whatever VN items just became more dear. By a lot. Dealers won’t be offering any of those books because they will end up in a museum/library or the private stash of a probably very private person. The deal implies high four-/low five-figure valuations on special VN items.

One thing I don’t understand. It is now 11pm on Tuesday. This deal was revealed early this morning, around 5:30am. Why no Google hits, other than the one? (Bing/Yahoo didn’t pick it up at all.)

Another point: I wonder why this Russian oligarch, or whomever he/she is, didn’t buy the Laura manuscript at the end of last year. Maybe because it was in English.

Tags: ,

The VN market is actually very young and very small—the demand of a few dozens of people (can any institutions afford the books?), at the most, chasing after a few fluttering dozens of supply. The marketplace has its distortions, hiccups, and surprises. Dmitri has, in a sense, a corner on his father’s lepidopterized books. But what does a corner mean in such a small market? I don’t know. And I don’t know an economist who can parse this out for me.

I don’t take the “high estimates” as marketplace valuations. They are simply a scheme by Dmitri and Christie’s to make the books attractive to the largest audience possible, to get people to bid, and to move as many of the books as possible. Dmitri has learned his lesson: He can’t ask, as he and his dealers have in the past, five figures minimum for each of the books. He may need the cash, wants to move the inventory (as does Christie’s; an unsold book nets them nothing) before he himself moves on. So he figures that he’ll let the books rise to their own values. This is what he did the second time he offered the index card manuscript of The Original of Laura at Christie’s in London last year. And lost about $100K compared to what it was bid up to in the first auction at Christie’s in 2009 before it stalled under the reserve and was bought in.

Lots 354/5 – Inconsistent description by Christie’s. A25b is as much a first edition as A25a. They are two variants, not issues.

I’m still studying the stuff and haven’t made any decisions yet on what I’m really interested in. But my initial criteria are: fill a hole; upgrade; something unusual, like one of those drawings (but no glasses, clocks, drawing sets, chess sets, or typewriters); an American first with a colorful butterfly dedicated to Vera. Of course all predicated on some budget I haven’t yet decided on.

Tags: ,

Yes, the Christie’s website is poorly designed. Striking? Yes. But with terrible navigation. Some (most? I haven’t counted) of the books had been put up for auction before. Yeah, those prices will draw bidders and then the results will probably suppress the prices of those books already in dealers’ and collectors’ hands.

Thoughts about the stave and notes in the Field book (lot 395). Realize that in the technical sense I am essentially immusical: Instead of f-e-f-g with the bottom line of the stave missing, could it be d-c-d-e with the top line missing? Or instead of the treble clef, is this the bass clef? Is it a code? A bar from an aria Dmitri, the bass, sang?

A Dutch Nabonut friend, Martin Kaaij, who is also a professional musician, wrote me:

You are right about the clefs. There are three kinds ( the third is called tenor) and you can put them anywhere on the stave. They only indicate where the g, f or c is and then you go up and down from that point. So the code may be any three letters with the same relative positions in the alphabet. agab, babc etc. A bar from an aria by Dmitri is possible as well. Or it might be Dmitri’s name in music: d mi=e (do re mi = c d e) tri=c, or something a bit less far fetched. Or the missing line on the stave might be a pun on Field’s sloppy work. There are simply too many possibilities to find a conclusive answer. And what’s more, if it is a riddle the solution should be an elegant one.

Tags: ,

There’s a real chance there will be some bargains. But how to sniff them out?

Some of this stuff—I don’t know how much—has been in Glenn Horowitz’s hands several times. I remember seeing some of it many years ago when he had a small office near Grand Central Terminal. Many of those were non-VN books from VN’s personal library—books presented to him or which he had bought and sometimes marked up. Later, after Glenn moved uptown to a brownstone at E 76th St off of Madison, he had many wonderful VN pieces. That was when he put those labels into the volumes, the labels that say “From the library of Vladimir Nabokov…” By my count, 46 of the lots in this auction that comprise only one book have that label. And the lots that comprise several books have some volumes with the labels. The labeling happened in 1999 in conjunction with the issue of Horowitz’s Vera’s Butterflies catalog.

The point is that Glenn has tried to move many if not all of these books several times. He succeeded with some. I know that Cornell got the sole copy of Dva puti at the same time it bought several others. Sometimes dealers went to Montreux and bought copies directly from Dmitri. One was Ralph Sipper.

So nobody wants all of these books. That’s like trying to eat a meal of only rich, gourmet chocolate desserts. The constitution, in this case the book-buying Nabokovians, can digest only so much. And that’s why I think that dozens of these books won’t sell. But, again, how to determine which are the least appetizing and affordable?

Tags: ,

There are many things VN I haven’t seen, including a copy of the 1920 Entomologist offprint. But, based on how scientific journals in those days worked, I was pretty sure that there had been some offprints. And so I said in my bibliography, “…most probably this item exists.” And I was right. Sometimes you shoot semi-blindly and actually hit the target.

My copy of the catalog arrived. I made a preliminary pass through it and that lot #344 is one I am interested in. There are a dozen others. I’ll have to email some questions of clarification to the curators.

I’m in the same quandary all of us with limited means are in: how to decide what to focus on, how to follow the action, how to most efficiently place bids. I don’t know what I’ll do.

Is the Nabokov book-dealing/collecting/buying world ready and willing to buy some 150+ artifacts of VN’s (signed/lepidopterized/inscribed/corrected) personal life all at one time? I’m thinking that a collector will think, “I might be able to afford to buy one, maybe two lots. But that’s it”. And a dealer will think, “If all of us dealers buy several lots, who are we going to sell them to? The serious collectors will have already bought at the auction. And I’ll be sitting on these books for years.” So, my first consideration is, “What can the world absorb?”

Tags: ,

How to bid? Stay home and do it over the internet? Or by telephone? Or fly to London for the action? Let’s give that last one a few seconds’ thought: airfare, hotel, meals. $2000 for a couple of days? Nah! I’d rather put the money into a book I don’t yet have. Maybe, if I’m lucky, one with a butterfly.

Tags: ,

It’s an intriguing situation. Dmitri and Christie’s have decided to start out low (at about half what they would get at retail), to draw us in. So, I think, most of the lots will sell. This is a total turnaround from the Tajan sale in Geneva in 2004 when Dmitri consigned too many books at extremely high estimates and absolutely nothing sold, as far as I can tell. A complete fiasco and embarrassment.

I’m certainly going to consider bidding on a few of the lots. But I’ll have to go into family financial consulting mode first.

Tags: ,

« Older entries