I’d like to imagine people go to old collectibles auctions because they have a passion for the art and the topic. However, when the sale item is a nearly three-hundred-year-old apology letter for fornication (yours for the generous price of around £400-£600) I’ll be a bit less weirded out if I can believe the buyer is in it purely for the re-sale value.
I added a post a while ago about the auction market for commonplace books and ‘ephemera’. It’s a shame that these letters, journals, diaries, etc are so ubiquitous and easily stored/shipped, that they become perfect items to trade, since the contents are then out of the ‘public’ eye.
This example from Invaluable.com is a good one – “Description: Fornication etc.- [Examples of legal and religious agreements, orders etc.]”. Probably an interesting bit of social history there.
Or, a treasure from the annals of quackery – a Homeopathic Physicians Commonplace Scrapbook and Ledger by Dr James Grant Gilchrist – on www.read-em-again.com (online Americana and ephemera site) for $1,250.00. I’m sure there is some juicy history in there but the discovery will depend on both the expertise and inclination of whoever wants to fork out the $$.
That’s why I love when I find online scans that show more than a few teasing images (pun intended). If you are interested in commonplace books, even for the artistic value (like me) if not for historical or academic research, check out the list of links to online scanned texts via my Read commonplaces online page. These links are gold for the average hobbyist, and most of the sites are well-curated with gorgeous HD scans (please send me a message if you know of any more!).
The one down-side of these links is that – naturally – most of the content is heavily copyright protected, even if it’s freely available to search. I have a list of commonplace books I’d like to review and delve into and – although I am sure my posts would come fairly squarely under ‘fair use’ – I want to respect the institutions who make their stuff so freely available by playing fair and asking permission as much as possible. How they react is yet to be seen.
Is there a fair middle-ground? If there’s no $ market for this ‘ephemera’ we probably wouldn’t have the quality and quantity we have now, but having a $1,000 text is the same as a book being hidden away (and un-scanned) in a dusty corner of a locked university archive. The supply side seems to be well covered, but how do you increase the (fair and open-source) demand?