The business of antiquarian book selling and the publishing industry

by leslierankowfinearts

I AM ALWAYS INTERESTED IN HOW BUSINESSES WORK AND  THE ANTIQUARIAN BOOK BUSINESS IS AN UNKNOWN TERRITORY FOR ME. DOUG FLAMM, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS AN EXPERT IN THIS AREA, AS AN ENTREPRENEUR/COLLECTOR ORIGINALLY AND FOR TEN YEARS, AN INTEGRAL FIGURE AT URSUS BOOKS. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MEET DOUG IN PERSON AND GET A TASTE OF THE NUANCES OF ANTIQUARIAN AND ART BOOK COLLECTING, VISIT HIM AT THE UPCOMING ANTIQUARIAN BOOK FAIR AT THE PARK AVENUE ARMORY IN NEW YORK IN APRIL.

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS ABOUT THE BOOK BUSINESS, PLEASE POSE THEM HERE AND I KNOW DOUG WILL CONTRIBUTE AN ASTUTE ANSWER.

DOUG, I KNOW YOU HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL CLIENT BASE. HOW DID THAT DEVELOP AND HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN IT?

Ursus publishes catalogues of available books which we send to clients in the United States and throughout Europe. We also have had many Japanese na Korean clients but haven’t developed, as yet, the rest of the Asian market. The Asian customer tends to buy books on the art which he collects: Picasso, Matisse, Miro…in other words, the great modern masters. There is also great interest in the contemporary art market.

THE ANTIQUARIAN MARKET FOCUSES ON A RANGE OF THEMES, INCLUDING ARCHITECTURE, MEDICINE AND SCIENCE, NATURAL HISTORY, LANDSCAPE GARDENING, AMONG OTHERS. WHAT ARE THE COLLECTING HABITS OF CLIENTS WHO AMASS A RARE BOOK COLLECTION? WHAT IS THE PRICE RANGE OF RARE BOOKS AND WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE BOOK URSUS HAS EVER SOLD AND WHY?

The range is huge, from art reference books under $100 to books that sell for six figures. There is a cycle of taste. Many more books on contemporary and modern art are selling at present and books on Impressionism, for example, have taken a backseat. It follows the art market. Young collectors that we see, in their thirties and forties, are more interested in books about the second half of the 20th Century and the present, areas that are relevant today.

ARE PUBLISHERS PRODUCING LESS EXPENSIVE BOOKS OR IS THIS A RARIFIED MARKET THAT IS ECONOMY-PROOF EXCEPT FOR THE GENERAL CYCLES OF ECONOMIC PROSPERITY AND RECESSION?

A book is still a wonderful object and publishers such as Steidl, Hatje Cantz, and even Yale University Press, believe in what they are producing – the sum is greater than the parts. There are many advances in printing techniques that are always evolving that enhance the final product: the quality of reproduction now is very high, thanks to technological advances, and it is so much less expensive to produce a color book. The first books were hand-colored.

This is an extremely specialized market. So many books are produced and published. We help in guiding the art gallery, art collector, or auction house specialist in assembling a strong reference library.

ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY DEVELOPMENTS THAT, FOR ME, IS A WORK OF ART AS WELL AS A BOOK IS THE LIVRE D’ARTISTE OR ARTIST’S BOOK.

HERE IS A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL  LIVRE D’ARTISTE:

The livre d’artist [French: artist’s book] is a genre developed in 20th-century France and taken up in German as the Malerbuch. The term designates books illustrated with original prints by well-known artists. The artist’s contribution is not just illustration but should be regarded as his or her free interpretation or the way he or she has rendered the text in visual terms. A commission for a livre d’artist is usually given by a publisher. The work itself is then published at great expense and in elegant typefaces on hand-milled paper in a limited edition. Among the best known publishers of livres d’artiste were A. Vollard, H. Kahnweiler, A. Skira, E. Tériade und A. Maeght. Some of the most beautiful livres d’artiste are Pablo Picasso’s “Histoire naturelle” (1942), Marc Chagall’s “Fables de La Fontaine” (1952), Max Ernst’s “Une semaine de Bonté” (1934), Georges Braques’s “Si je mourais là-bas’ (1962), Joan Miró’s “Parler seul” (1950), Salvador Dalí’s “Les chants de Maldoror” (1934) and Fernand Léger’s “Cirque” (1950).

NEXT TIME, I WOULD BE SO PLEASED IF YOU WOULD EXPLORE THE INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE WAYS THAT THIS GENRE HAS DEVELOPED AND EVOLVED.