April 15, 2008

Wow! Would / Could You Spend $156,000 For a Civil War Book?

There are plenty of folks out there with a ton of discretionary money... That was my immediate thought when I saw the final sale prices for the April 1 Bloomsbury auction I discussed in a previous post. Leading the charge was a unbelievably rare two-volume, first edition, first printing set of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, which was published in 1865 along with a slightly altered version in 1866. Each oblong volume consisted of fifty albumen print photographs, each with a descriptive caption, generally thought to have been written by Gardner himself.

Historians estimate that no more than 200 sets of the Sketch Book were produced. According to the Cornell University website, "the small print run was due primarily to the difficulty of mass-producing photographically illustrated books in the 1860s, before the advent of simple, reliable photomechanical processes. The original photographic prints were pasted onto boards, which were then bound together with letterpress-printed text." The set of two volumes originally sold for $150, a princely sum in those days, but one that reflected the laborious production methods necessary for this work. 200 sets were ultimately published, but many did not sell. The 100 images contained within are some of the most famous and recognized photographs from the war's eastern theatre, and appear chronologically starting from early 1862 to after the war's end in 1865.

The book seems to be technically out of print, though the title along with its original images and text can easily be had by the casual reader or student in the secondhand market. As for this auction, the presale estimate for the set in question (not pictured) was $130,000 - $150,000. The final hammer price was $130,000. Add in the buyer's premium of 20% and the lucky winner ended up forking over a cool $156,000. Like I said, wow....

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