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Monday, April 16, 2012

Brilliant thoughts from Bruce McKinney, the Oracle of the Rare Book World

Bruce McKinney graced our gallery with his presence on Friday afternoon. While we sat and talked, several relevant points came to the forefront on the following topics:

The Collector:
The collector, he mentioned, has a wish to be guided
. Following the age of a collector is interesting and there are trends we can notice. Collectors who are in the peak of their personal earnings are around 40-55 years old. In order to establish a collector for life, it helps to get them in the infancy stage - then you have them in your embrace; when they have come into an inheritance is also a good time, as well as when they are disposing of collections. When a collector is 75-80 years old, the collecting can still be intense. They want to finish their collection and tie up loose ends and will pay good money to do so.

The Internet:
It is redefining collecting but it takes time to build up a presence and see results. Bruce noted that you had to be in the game early to see results now (10-15 years ago).  While the internet is a positive resource for so many things, when it comes to clients, it lacks personality and face to face interaction and drama. You cannot just pull your fantastic volume of Ptolemy's atlas and show it to the client then and there. You have to rely on the intuition of the browser to know what to click on and what to take seriously. The internet is light. It takes an attentive ear to appreciate it and it still lacks a formula. Bruce did mention that electronic catalogs are important, and that printed catalogs are a dying tool, with the exception of special catalogs that clients come to know and expect - ie, yearly Christmas catalogs. SUCH special catalogs are keepsakes - clients want to collect the books/materials that are within their pages - items are more special, and provenance is added, when they come from a groundbreaking catalog. This brought us to a discussion of the importance of images in catalogs and images in general. The entire field of collecting is going much more visual. An emphasis is placed on images unlike ever before. The images we put out in catalogs and on the internet must be top notch to sell the material and to compete.

We also spent a portion of time analyzing the Nebenzahl sale at Christie’s which took place on April 10, 2012. It was stated that competition is competition. If it is done fairly, it
drives the market and it is ok. Nebenzahl was the king of the 20th century and an exceptional figure in the industry. He had tremendous good will and influence in shaping the field of map collecting and scholarship. Bruce and our rare book curator mentioned that some of the material in the same was extremely good while some was not nearly as spectacular. As they also mentioned, the sale was a 'retail' sale - made up primarily of dealers (mostly American, some European) and very few private clients with the key exceptions. What Christie's did exceptionally well was crafted the audience and created the 'magic' of the event by hosting an evening sale. Every detail was thought out ahead of time. The top 80 buyers were treated exceptionally well - he referenced lines of credit being exceedingly important. The flexible terms people could take advantage of made them more eager to participate. As Bruce stated, the material in the sale was almost secondary to the treatment of the clients that participated.

Something Bruce also mentioned was overhead. It limits flexibility. He
gave an example of a dealer in NYC having the same map as a country dealer in England. The price of the piece will be reflected in the amount of overhead that the dealer has to take into consideration. However, he mentioned several times that someone who wants to collect in a 'collectors' environment, so to speak, will be heavily drawn in by his or her surroundings if they are truly special and unique.

Some other key advice Bruce gave: the lowest price wins and the best
example of a piece wins; he also said that material is almost secondary to the treatment of clients. Like with the Nebenzahl sale, you have to create your event with what your audience needs in mind. You have to listen to the requirements of particular buyers to be successful.

Another point he stressed was that under 5k, it is beneficial to be
the lowest cost producer no matter what. Relating to value, a dealer cannot hold his inventory all at the same value - in order to turn the lesser valued works he has to be aggressive in terms of pricing and his best material should be considered as more rare and valuable.

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