Yesterday, it was my great pleasure to view the books and maps coming up at Sothebys on June 17th in New York City. With me were four of the five Summer interns working at Arader Galleries.
A number of the lots (89 to 98) in the sale were sold to Doctors Dorothy and Melvin Lewis during my Senior year at Yale. It will be interesting to see how they do almost 40 years after they were sold. Back then the concept of maps with "original" 16th or 17th century color or an Altas in an "original binding" was completely foreign.
My prediction is that they will net a 600% return on their money which is pretty terrible for 40 years. They trusted my judgment and are not going to do that well. Usually a return of 400% every ten years is a reasonable expectation. They will not realize a result anywhere close to that. Dorothy and Mel were incredibly kind to trust me but they made a mistake dealing with someone who had no idea of what he was doing. It was lucky for me to have found them but not so good for them to have dealt with a 22 year old amateur.
Here is the story of how Arader Galleries started:
In the Fall of my Senior Year my father, then Secretary of Commerce of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, decided that my best course of action was to become a lawyer. He put a great deal of pressure on me and somehow found a way to be involved with the disbursement of State funds for Dickenson College. He arranged for me to visit the campus. It was incredibly humiliating since all the professors giving me the tour knew that my powerful father was gaming their system for the benefit of his son.
My revenge was that my score on the Law Boards for 200. My pen stayed in my pocket for the duration of the test.
When my father found out my score, he was furious and told me he was cutting me off and then said, "Why dont you sell some of your precious maps that you love so much?"
In desperation to pay my bills, the idea popped into my mind of going to Merwin's Frame Shop in New Haven and asking for the names of all the people who had framed maps with them over the years. As one of their good clients, they decided to give me a break and gave me the names of some of the Professors of the Yale School of Medicine who were map collectors.
Yale and a very few other lucky schools in the United States had been the beneficiary of the great Jewish Professors that had fled from Hitler in the late 1930's. These giants made huge contributions to the faculties and changed some schools from being "B" schools to "A" schools notably the University of Michigan, Washington College, Emory and Tulane." And Yale went from being an "A" school to being an "A++++."
Thus many of the Professors who became good clients of mine had European backgrounds and loved the maps that now were being offered to them. This was during a time when physicians could make decent money and had not yet been enslaved by the HMO's. So they spent money with enthusiasm. Most of them were in their late 60's and 70's and were well off. Using my dorm room in Wright Hall, my business thrived.
Sadly, my knowledge of quality simply did not exist. The leading dealer in the US then was Ken Nebenzahl and my father had built a fine collection with him. But understanding the difference between "good" and "better" and "best" was well beyond me.
So in this sale at Sothebys there is a full range of quality of items from the Lewis collection. Somethings are quite good but others are not up to the levels of quality that are acceptable to me today. But you can be sure that it will be my full intention to support the sale.
Right after looking at these lots, our group then studied lot 88 - Olfert Dapper's 17th century work on Africa with 31 folding engraved city plans.
It has the most amazing example of fake original color imaginable. We were all completely fooled - the greens oxidized through the paper almost perfectly. My first reaction was great excitement and lust for what looked like a magnificent book.
But it was not.
All the colors bunched up in the folds of the paper, the oxidation was not quite right and the crackling of the gum Arabic was completely wrong for a 17th century book. It was perfect for the crackling of the gum Arabic of a 19th century book but was completely wrong for a work 200 years older.
When the elegant, super honest head of the book department, Richard Austin, was queried about this, all he could do was roll his eyes. And true to the consistent honesty of Sothebys he did NOT say that the color was "original" in his description. All the description said was that is was "colored by an early hand."
Clearly the forgers and fakers have figured out that oxidation of the green is KEY to original color. And they have been doing whatever it takes to figure out how to duplicate the process of the oxygen molecules joining with the copper molecules in the color green. This cupric oxide is a wonderful aspect of original color and they have come incredibly close to duplicating this 250 to 400 year old process. It is amazing.
My first introduction to this process of faking was during a visit to the home of Frank Benevento in Palm Beach, Florida about 5 years ago. Frank is truly a genius and was terribly keen to find the cheapest source to build his amazing map collection. Finally he was able to find a firm called Sanderous in Belgium that sold him a great body of maps with color that was new but that looked amazingly good. When he was told by me that he had been taken, he strongly objected and fought back saying that he has looked at the color with an expect who brought along an ultraviolet light to test. He was wrong. He had been cheated.
The color was wrong. It was just unlike anything that had ever come on the market even though at times it was very close. It seems that there are a lot of rotten dealers in the Lowlands that make their living faking books with so called "original" color and making life impossible for me with prices that are lower.
There is no regulation in the field of selling maps and dealers can make all the fakes they want without any fear of government prosecution.
The only way to protect yourself is to look at atlases with original color in the great libraries of the world. Of course, getting into see these books is incredibly hard since so many of them have been stolen by dealers during the last 40 years.
My suggestion is that you make a donation of $1000 to places like the Clements in Ann Arbor, Yale, Harvard, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and LOOK at these books that have true original color. At Arader Galleries we have the finest stock in the world of complete atlases from the 16th through the 19th centuries and you are always welcome here to compare and contrast.
It is very discouraging that such blatant faking is going on. It is my intention to name names and hopefully one of these creeps will be lured into suing me so that we can use the courts to finally come to an answer.
I am on the warpath! Be warned.