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Tuesday, 27 November 2018


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I bought and enjoy his books, (thanks to your recommendations), but I wouldn't pay for those prints. I just don't find them interesting enough to have them framed and hang on my walls.
OTOH I consider the pittance that I paid for your Gordon Lewis print to be money well spent. I enjoy looking at it, and automatically smile just a little.
One man's ARBUS is another man's MAPPLETHORPE.

You mentioned Edward G. Robinson as an art collector, and it reminded me a funny scene with the abstract painting from The Little Giant (1933):
"This is genuine Ka... Kaputsevich!"
"Who's he?"
"The guy who painted this."

Sorry, couldn't find it on Youtube.

The WSJ article Mike mentioned is here:


(Some WSJ articles are free for non-subscribers)

What began as a hobby turned into a compulsion, so much so that he and his first wife and son sat in 1939 for Édouard Vuillard, who did a pastel portrait of them. “It is short of a masterwork,” Robinson cheerfully admitted. “Paintings on commission usually are. But it beats hell out of a Kodak snapshot.”

Mike's hundred dollar portrait story calls up ...

Cecil Graham: What is a cynic?
Lord Darlington: A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
Cecil Graham: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.

― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan

A little note on how you might fall into book collecting by accident.
Back in the early 1980's Mrs Plews spent some time working for a local fine book dealer. Part of his business was distributing the work of Harry Duncan who printed hand made letterpress books of poetry at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Before this I hadn't given a thought to book design or typography. Seeing Harrys work was a revelation. We were dirt poor at the time but found enough to put ourselves on the standing order list for his work and started buying what we could of his earlier stuff.
Harry only printed between 150 and 250 copies of any book and they were both affordable and infrequent enough that we were able to keep getting the them until he passed away.
One of my favorites was his printing of Charles Martins translation of the poems of Catullus which I believe is also out there as a trade book.
If Harry Duncan still does not ring a bell here is his obituary.


In a way being on the standing order list was a little like what TOP is doing with prints. It made it possible for us to have original works of a very high quality without missing a house payment to do it.

"One man's ARBUS is another man's MAPPLETHORPE"
They seem like pretty close neighbors in the universe of photographers, and I'd be happy to have a print by either.

Anne Geddes on the other hand...

My most expensive (and I have to say, beautifully printed and bound) books are the two-volume set of "The Complete Far Side" by Gary Larson, the cartoonist. Impressed even a good friend of mine who once ran a snotty bookstore.

I've accumulated a nice little (definitely well over 100) photo book collection over the years, some are even worth a coupla bucks. I just buy the ones I like (and can afford), don't care if they are signed, first addition, whatever... General rule of thumb- they must have at least 20 images I love!

Re. Bruce Rogers, in the early '90s I stumbled upon a copy of The Centaur Types, being sold as new, in a Borders bookshop. Knowing a bit about the Centaur typeface and its history, I assumed the book was a reprint 'til I cracked it open and noted the ever-so-slightly yellowed paper and musty smell. Turned out it was among the 1000 (or so) copies printed when the book was published in 1948. A book buyer for Borders had discovered copies were available from Perdue U. and so had bought some to sell in a few select stores.

Ah, would that I could get $350 for one of my prints, unmatted and unframed. In a good year I might sell one (1) signed 11"x17" print on 13x19 paper matted archivally and framed for $250 minus a 35-40% gallery fee. In a fantastic year I might sell two such prints. In 2018, none (yet).

I have been all over on pricing. In art school, I, like you, was told to charge a lot with the result that I sold nothing so I tried the 'affordable' route and sold... next to nothing. So I have come down to where I'm at which is a 'craft' pricing under which I figure the cost of producing the print multiplied by 4. 25% goes to production, 50% goes to gallery fees, transporting work to galleries for shows, entry fees (paid whether it sells or not), web presence, etc. and I end up with 25% (roughly). I am priced competitively in the area I am in but most of what I create does not sell so I have bins and boxes full of prints as does every other photographer I know. For that matter, the same is true of all the painters I know.

Selling art sucks as a business. Most businesses research the market, create a product that they are sure will sell and have it mass produced as cheaply as possible to sell by the bazillion. Artists produce unique individual works then hope that someone will like them well enough to buy them at a price that will allow them to more. It's more like religion than business, a lot of faith and hope.

I don't buy prints in your sales not because I consider the prints too inexpensive to add to my collection. Rather, I'm already up to my ears in art, not just my own, but work I have swapped with other artists whose work I like and the occasional bargain under $100. And then there's the "I can't afford to pay $350 for a print I'm not totally blown away by" thing. I'd have to borrow the money and I'm not that dedicated a collector.

For my sins, I used to work for a large IT consultancy firm. It was well known and had a global reputation, so clients would often retain us as a form of reassurance (misplaced) or to prove to their peers that they could afford the best (misguided).

I was actually negotiating the price of an engagement with the CTO of a bank, who told me that the bid was too low. He then explained that he was only responsible for procurement sign offs in excess of a million dollars, and would have to get some operations manager to sign off, which would delay everything.

Needless to say I offered some 'value added' (meaningless) additional services to get the price up to £1.2m and he signed right away. We both knew it was a sham, but the money was largely immaterial. It was practically leaking out of the faucets in the executive bathroom.

Later on, myself and several colleagues joined a boutique company set up by our former boss. Our rates were considerably lower, but we ended up haggling for every cent. Clients were getting the same (or better) service for a fraction of the cost, but our perceived value was lower and we were bidding to less affluent clients.

We still did OK, very well in fact, but you certainly don't get what you pay for in this world.

I used to collect albums, focusing on just a few artists for the most part. And I never spent more than US$25 on any one particular item. So a few decades later, I’ve accumulated stacks of 1970’s Bowie albums, five different pressings of the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks, and Nirvana’s first Sub Pop single, which my roommate gave me for free back in 1989 (he had two other copies, and at that time, who knew…fortunately not him).

Selling is not in the future, although it’s nice to know that some sort of favorable rate of return exists.

The collector bug diminished over the years, and no desire exists to adorn my shelves with pretty but effectively dormant cameras. To be sure, having a 1960 Leica M2 Luftwaffe edition would be all the rage. Retentive paranoia, however, would thwart usage, posing a Catch 22. And my current camera and lens set up is perfect.

Anyway, aside from photographic supplies, most of my money goes to photography books, which serve more for viewing than for financial appreciation. For one thing, moving too much militates against mint condition. But even on the unintended collector’s side, I reckon I have done well with some of Mike’s recommendations, most notably Edward Weston’s Life Work (Lodima).

Oh, and should I start selling prints, I’ll remember now to shoot for US$5,000, but of course, be happy for a fraction of that.

A good friend of mine (who I used to buy nudes from for my web site) shoots landscapes and wildlife. He is not a name as art photographer, and yet he sells prints for 3,000 to 5,000 bucks in loads, to collectors, businesses, hotels... (They are half-metre to metre prints.)
He says he would not sell many more prints if he charged only a fifth for them.

Steve Jacob wrote:
“We both knew it was a sham, but the money was largely immaterial. It was practically leaking out of the faucets in the executive bathroom.”

It is revolting the way money is mishandled and misdistributed in this world. And it never seems to have anything to do with actual value.

Modern editions of books published for the purpose of demonstrating fine book-making tend to be very expensive. I instead sometimes try to get early or signed editions of books whose text means something to me, or where I have some connection with the author. So I've got lots of signed copies of first editions from people I know (the most valuable being probably the American first edition of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, signed by both authors -- worth quite a few hundreds, but cost me about $25 plus having it with me when I had them both in the same room), and first editions (from the 1950s) of all Edward E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series and such. No signed Heinlein, my photos of him that are on various book covers and web sites came from using my brief access to him for more photos rather than autographs.

I do have a number of Easton Press editions of SF books, which are modern and aimed at relatively high quality, but they sell to subscribers for under $100 usually, and often less on the used market, so they're not competing with your $800 specials (these are not hand-typeset or anything, though they are leather bound and gilt-edged and so forth; but the mass-production level of fancy book production, not the super-expensive by-hand fancy book production).

David Kieltyka-
I also stumbled across a copy of Bruce Rogers' book The Centaur Types at a Borders bookstore back in the day. It's a beautiful book, not least because it was written and printed by Rogers himself. Ironically it has some historical inaccuracies, as Rogers was quite aged when he produced it. Purdue was Rogers' Alma Mater and holds his archives.
You may be interested in a newer book about the Centaur type, Kelly & Beletsky's The Noblest Roman: A History of the Centaur Types of Bruce Rogers. It's very nicely printed using a new digital reproduction of Centaur.

For what it's worth, I've bought prints from the sales before and been very happy. For this one, I'm going to pass, though. I made myself a promise that the only shopping I was going to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year was for essentials. Groceries and gas. Maybe a few toiletries. I guess band-aids would be ok, too. Books? Nope. New gear? Nope. And alas, new artwork? Also nope. Sorry.

If you want to see some serious GAS take a look at this guys equipment. I had seen him on DPR and written to him as he lives near me. Turns out that he only collects stuff and does not shoot much. Bet he has over $150,000 of stuff here. Check out his Leica lens list! Why someone would own all this and not use it is beyond my understanding. https://www.dpreview.com/members/8130622742/gearlist

HBO is currently running the documentary "Price of Everything"- it's a SMH but worthwhile piece to watch.

[SMH means "shake my head" —Ed.]

I have a Sinn. Great value for money. If only it would stop there. But no. I have 10-15 others...
My only excuse is that I have way more cameras than that.

Your article was good, but I think that it's the comments (like these) which forces me to read your blog (nearly) every day.

We have an eclectic and low budget art collection, and I like it, even though it looks partly like an expanded display of the posters we had after college (we still have a few of those, like the Paul Klee I can see right now). We mostly stick to buying the occasional local work, and that tends to keep things affordable for us, maybe in the $50-$500 range. It also means we don't buy much, because most art, generally, is bad.

Many painters and other graphic artists these days, when they get modestly popular, seem to make a good bit of their money selling good quality inkjet copies of their work, which I appreciate. I have no problem "collecting" a nicely produced copy instead of the original. Not so different than getting a nicely bound book, when you think about it.

Seems to me it's best collecting digital works nowadays. Easy to store, backup, move, pass along, etc. Just make sure you go with a decent standard and keep up to date with the software needed to enjoy them.


The Vogels built an art collection with basic knowledge, improved on through the years and seeing good work while buying the work they liked from young Artists.

Geoff Wittig, thanks for the link to The Noblest Roman. I'm vaguely familiar with the Halberstam version. :)
(Also, musta had the ethics of chicken farming on my mind re. "Perdue U."

I guess I'm a collector. Not prints, however. I have several bookcases overflowing with photography books, some quite valuable I understand. But I don't intend to ever part with them. I've run out of space at present so I've forced myself to stop looking at new releases and used books for sale.

I've also had an on-again/off-again fascination with pocket knives for a very long time...since I was a child actually. I have a couple of hundred (maybe more) squirreled away in boxes and cabinets around the house. None are particularly valuable and I my buying habits are democratic to say the least. If I like it and can afford it, I'll buy it.

Some people accuse me of collecting cameras as well. I do have quite an accumulation of them but I wouldn't call it a collection.

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