The auctioneer hammered down the lot at $12 million. That’s around $13.6 million after the seller’s commission, far more money than most make in a lifetime. Last week, the Rothschild Prayerbook, the Flemish manuscript from the 16th century, confiscated by the Nazis and later returned by the German government, broke the record for an illuminated manuscript at auction. Itedged out its previous record set 15 years ago, when it sold for $13.4 million.
The last few years have truly seen impressive numbers in the book and autograph world. Just months ago, the most expensive printed book sold for $14.2 million to David Rubinstein of the Carlyle Group. The Bay Psalm Book is the earliest printed work in British North America. Rubinstein also set the record for the most paid for a newspaper when he bought the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence for more than $630,000. A few years earlier, he paid $21.3 million for the Magna Carta. More recently, someone set the record for the most ever paid for a copy of Abraham Lincoln’s signed Emancipation Proclamation, when a copy formerly belonging to Robert Kennedy sold for approximately $3.8 million.
As this last example shows, David Rubenstein’s presence in the market is not the only one. Private collectors and institutions have helped drive prices higher. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association bought George Washington’s annotated copy of the Constitution for around $10 million. And a private collector paid $3.4 million for a letter about slavery signed by Abraham Lincoln.
Recession? What recession? The appetite for books and historical documents, two collecting interests often treated as companions, has certainly changed since the market crash. But although the middle and lower ends of the market are generally considered to have weakened, the better material continues to sell and sell high. What’s more, an influx of buyers from emerging markets, newly wealthy and looking to spend, has invigorated not only the art market, where sales to Russian billionaires have made headlines, but also other areas. It has touched the book and manuscript world and will continue to. Our business, The Raab Collection, saw our emerging market business greatly expand in 2013. Other firms are also expanding abroad. Christies opened an India office recently amid great fanfare. This is not a coincidence. It is a reflection that is universally true: people with money collect, and they pay for the best. READ FULLL ARTICLE