The market for collectible books and manuscripts is heating up.
Christie’s of New York recently auctioned George Washington’s annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (of 1789). The 223-year-old book, which contained Washington’s marginal notes, sold for nearly $10 million—a new global auction record for an American book or historical document.
Not every collector is interested in Americana, of course.
An attractive feature of book collecting is that such a collection can be highly personalized, according to Francis Wahlgren, Christie’s International Head of Books and Manuscripts in New York, in an interview with AdvisorOne. “(The) unique thing about book collecting is that people can collect and form their collections based around subjects that they choose,” he says.
This means the collection can focus on travel, American history, illustrated books, art, biographies or literature. It’s almost limitless, because it really depends on what you see as the subject that you pull together,” Wahlgren said.
Consequently, the dealer and auction markets for books and manuscripts are also segmented, the expert notes. Popular categories include historical texts, first-editions literature, sporting books and biographies.
Some collectors focus on books that have unique illustrations. “There are books that we call colored-plate books that have lovely hand-colored plates inside,” says Wahlgren. “They have, obviously, intrinsic value because their plates themselves sometimes can be worth thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands in the case of an Audubon Birds of America.”