[Read parts 1 and 2]
With our absentee bidding already taken care of, we drove from Alexandria, Virginia to the northern Baltimore suburbs on a lovely Friday afternoon, June 3. We checked in to the local Comfort Inn, then headed north into the countryside to tiny Sparks, Maryland, to the newly-renovated old stone barn where Crocker Farm Auctions is quartered. A small crowd was wandering around for the afternoon preview for the next morning’s auction. Tables were filled with items of pottery and stonewear that would later sell for hundreds each, along with various items of furniture, decoys, knick-knacks, a large safe, etc. Lots of casual conversation and lifting up of items for inspection.
We discovered our quarry lying in an unlocked case with glass doors, where we could pick them up and inspect them sion to our heart’s delight, without supervision. No one else seemed interested in books. The Ulysses and its slipcase appeared to be in perfect shape. Six completed Matisse drawings were included (all the publisher could afford, according to lore), and the preliminary working versions of each drawing were also bound in. Very exciting. Worth $10,000? Certainly. Well, maybe. Although nervous, we avoided dropping the book or otherwise damaging it. (Does the “you broke it, you bought it” rule apply at an auction preview?)
Next we inspected the Lysistrata. Unfortunately the very plain slipcase was damaged,
looking a little worse that we expected from the picture in the auction catalog. The book itself was also protected by a sleeve that looked like an extra decorated book casing (referred to as a “chemise”) that made the slipcase less important than for most LEC volumes. The chemise and book were in beautiful condition, and the pencilled “Picasso” signature at the back reminded us that were handling a very desirable item of art and publishing history.
The six framed Picasso signed etchings were nest to the book. While originally sold only with to LEC subscribers together with the book, the etchings are sold separately from the book, often singly rather than as a set. According the auction catalog, the two books and the prints were owned by the consignor’s uncle who had bought them as an LEC subscriber in the 1930’s, and had not been offered for sale since then.
After a good night’s rest, we returned for the Saturday 10 a.m. auction. The front parking lot was full so we parked on the grass behind the barn. The crowd was dressed casually and appeared to be regulars. We took a seat early to have a good view.
The first 23 lots offered were of minor interest to us: some went to absentee or telephone bidders, and some to bidders present at the auction, usually at or above the auction house’s estimate. Lot 24 was the illustrated Ulysses/Matisse we coveted. Telephone and absentee
bidding drove the price up in $500 increments. We were still in the race! Then a $10,500 bid ended our hopes, and the bidding continued to rise until sale to a winning $13,000 telephone bidder.
Next up was the illustrated Lysistrata, with bids rising in $250 increments. The bidding started nearing our $3750 maximum. Then bidding ended, and the auctioneer announced that absentee bidder #717 had won with a winning bid of $3250. Was that us? Or had we messed up the Internet bidding process somehow? All of the auction house employees seemed occupied with following the ongoing bidding on other items; there was no one to immediately available to ask.
We stuck around for the bidding on the six Lysistrata/Picasso prints, which yielded the highest winning bid of the day for a sales price of $20,000. While the bidding continued on the rest of the 400 lots, we headed down the road to Baltimore to donate five boxes of unwanted books to The Bookthing (http://www.bookthing.org) . Bidding was still going when we returned around noon.
A representative of the auction house confirmed to us that yes, we were the high bidder on Lysistrata. We paid by personal check (with 15% “buyer’s premium” added to the bid price vs. 20% if paid by credit card.) No ID requested; no questions asked except for our name. Everything seemed very informal. We grabbed our book out of the unlocked case where it remained from Friday. (The Ulysses which had lain next to it had already been removed, so we were not tempted to take it instead “by mistake”.) We took our purchase to the car, and returned for our share of a catered lunch that Wegman’s had delivered appeared when we were in Baltimore.
A good day. Mission accomplished.
[Our purchase is not available for sale through Book Bank, but will remain the personal
property of the individual bidder. The book can be seen at http://www.crockerfarm.com/antiques-auction/2011-06-04/lot-25/Lysistrata-Illustrated-and-Hand-Signed-by-Pablo-Picasso/.%5D