Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Appraisal, A Surprising Discovery in My Library, Yves Tanguy, Surrealism

Appraising the value of a book is often an adventure and sometimes very surprising.  When less than fully engaged in productive activity I waste time searching for books I'd love to own but know I can't afford.  Today, while trying to motivate myself to write, I became distracted after reading a review of a recently published biography of the 20th century artist, Modigliani, and wandered into a search for books involving my favorite surrealist artist of all time, Yves Tanguy.  The search results gave me pause! 

Yves Tanguy Photo by Man Ray
I start such a general search by simply searching for keyword "Yves Tanguy" and rank the list from highest to lowest price.  I am always amazed by the high ticket items and after carefully browsing the 1st thirty or so entries beginning at $45,000 I descend to the $3,000 level, where I start to recognize some of my forever wants.  There, I see a cluster of copies of  Four Poems of the Occult, Yvan Goll, illustrated by Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy, first English edition, with color border decorations and initials by Malette Dean, hand typeset and printed, The Allen Press, 130 copies printed, 100 for sale to the public, 1962.  This is a longstanding want and I check periodically to make certain copies are still available, the price is stable and if there just so happens to be a bargain copy for sale (not yet).  Once I confirmed that Four Poems of the Occult is still waiting for me, I return to browsing.

Continuing my descent down the list I noticed a book I do own, Yves Tanguy and Surrealism, Edited by Karin Von Maur, with essays by Susan Davidson, Konrad Klapheck, Gordon Onslow Ford, Andreas Schalhorn, and Beate Wolf, 252 pages, 318 illustration, 162 in color, published by Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, hardcover with dust jacket, 2001, listed for sale in the $700 range. This is a wonderful book and provides not only a significant catalog of Tanguy's art and complete bibliography of all books associated with Tanguy, but also interesting biographical essays.  I consider this a must own book and a fine foundation for a Tanguy or surrealism book collection. 

Yves TanguyThe Rapidity of Sleep (one of my all time favorites!)

That book listed at $700 was a surprise and I quickly did a search on just that title and only that one copy was for sale.  I decided to check Amazon (see link above), to see if by chance I bought my copy there, which I did, and to see if copies at the original price are still available, they are not.  I bought the book new on July 1, 2002 and paid $31.50 plus shipping.  Amazon does list three more copies for sale, priced from $600 to $2000! I decided to try searching a larger rare books database which aggregates results from numerous sources and discovered additional copies listed for sale between $600 and $1300.  I also learned that the hardcover was actually preceded by a softcover edition to accompany the exhibition celebrating Tanguy's 100th birthday at the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie.  The softcover carries a 2000 copyright date and is available for about $35. 

Via my LibraryThing catalog I know that 14 other members own a copy and via WorldCat, I can deduce that there are approximately 256 copies of the English language edition and 13 copies of the German language edition held by libraries throughout the world.  I would guess that the Publisher probably started with a print run of 1000 hardcover copies in German and 5000 hardcover copies in English so this really does not merit categorization as a rare book but it does merit collectible status.  It does make sense to me that there are few copies available today since anyone who loves Tanguy would own and cherish a copy.  The only reasonable explanation I can offer for the price is simple supply and demand.  The available copies are priced to attract a certain buyer who truly needs this book to complete a general surrealism or specifically Tanguy book collection.   The pricing seems fundamentally crazy to me, but then again, I simply collect and never sell so pricing is sometimes a mystery.

Yves Tanguy Through Birds, through Fire, but Not through Glass , 1943
As a book that will live in my collection forever, I appraise the value at $400.  It may take 10 years or more for the copies priced $600-$2000 to sell, if they ever do and I bet I could make a $400 offer to any of the sellers and they would agree, so I'll value mine at $400 as a replacement cost valuation.  I also bet that this value drops over time as more copies turn up in the rare and collectible book market!  Rare and collectible book appraising is more an art than a science and this surprising valuation confirms a general rule of book collecting--collect what you love not what you think will rise in value.  I had no idea in 2002 that this $35 investment would appreciate as it has, I simply wanted the book for my library.

My research on Tanguy and surrealism also alerted me to an annoying situation, I own a copy of Surrealism and the Sacred:  Power, Eros, and the Occult in Modern Art, Celia Rabinovitch, Basic Books, New York, 2002, and I can not locate my copy and must now start searching my library because it too, is more expensive now than when I acquired my copy upon publication.  I really hate it when I lose track of a book!  

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