Talking Books and Manuscripts Auctions With Darren Winston From Freeman’s
Freeman’s is offering its mid-spring Books and Manuscripts Sale on May 3, 2023. This curated event features a comprehensive selection of century-spanning literature, artwork, and ephemera. Auction Daily spoke with Darren Winston, Head of Department, Books and Manuscripts at Freeman’s to learn more about this important sale, some of the outstanding rarities on offer, and what it takes to produce a top-tier auction.
Auction Daily: Give our readers an overview of this sale. What categories are strongly represented?
Darren Winston: Our May 3 sale consists of 170 lots, about 80 of which are children’s and illustrated books, and 70 of those are a single collection from collector Nick Wedge who was a big Rackham fan as well as Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, and Harry Clarke. We have a single lot of the full run of Beatrix Potter’s 23 Tales, all in first edition, as well as a set of the Pooh books, also all in first edition. About 55 lots are Americana related—the American Revolution, the Civil War, signed presidential material, maps, etc., including a book from George Washington’s library, signed by him. We have a first edition of the King James “He” Bible, London, 1611, so called for a famous typo, and a few other important early religious works. I could go on and on but I’ll stop with a lovely and very rare Irish needlework specimen book from 1833, the earliest example we can find of such a thing, it’s really remarkable.
Auction Daily: How long did it take you and your department to assemble this group of consignments?
Darren Winston: Virtually all of our sales have started to be put together before the most recent one even goes live. It’s an endless stream of consignments that we try and place in the right sale, at the right time, for each individual item. We want to present the best collection of things—books, documents, etc.—at any one time. If you can avoid it, don’t have a random children’s book in an Americana-heavy sale. Don’t have an American Revolution item in a poster-heavy sale. Try to put like with like. When you feel or know you have the most eyes on a particular theme, then everyone really wins—the buyer sees the biggest selection, the consignor’s things are together with similar things, and we can offer coherence in a sometimes incoherent landscape.
Auction Daily: How many and what type of specialists were required to catalog such a diverse offering?
Darren Winston: I am part of a team of three. We have our main cataloger who normally does the lion’s share of the cataloging. If time is tight or if one of us has a particular strength in a topic then we’ll spread it around, but mostly everything falls on him. We always discuss what comes in so that we all know what we have. I bring in 99% of the consignments so the choosing mostly happens in the client’s home, by me. I may look at 100 books or 10,000. I choose what I think we can sell then pack up what will go back to the office to help build the sale.
Auction Daily: The top lot in this sale is #167, a first edition of the King James Bible, also known as the “Authorized Version.” What was it like to handle and catalog such a sacred and rare publication?
Darren Winston: Handling a book like that is always an amazing experience. Almost everyone is familiar with “The King James Bible,” it’s in our everyday language, but to have “The” “King James” “Bible” in your hands—or lap, since it’s very, very large—reminds you how books can so directly tie you to the past. A past felt by virtually everyone who will have read from the KJV, as it’s commonly known, and now you have a first edition of it, from 1611, 412 years ago, and it’s sitting on your work table, next to an iPhone or a laptop, it really makes you stop and think how enormous human history was and is.
Auction Daily: Why would an owner of such a distinctive item choose to sell it?
Darren Winston: People choose to sell things for the most obvious and the most unlikely of reasons. What I find so often in the auction world is how frequently consignors come to us at some sort of crossroads in their lives—a death, a move, a divorce, children moving on, parents growing old, changing tastes, changing fortunes. You can find yourself in a delicate situation that on the surface can look very straightforward but just as often is freighted with a story that you should and we do listen to. Most of us know you can’t take things with you and some decide to be in charge of that transition—I will sell my things so my children or those I leave behind don’t have to. If it’s a lateral move in this world, the consignor often acknowledges that they found and bought the item and they will now arrange to sell it—part of the shepherding aspect that all collectors share.
Auction Daily: Based on your experience selling holy books, what type of person or institution would be interested in purchasing it?
Darren Winston: The beauty of this business is that anyone can be the buyer—a collector, an institution, someone buying it as a gift for a friend or loved one, or it might be bought as a gift to an institution in honor of someone else. It may also be bought to be resold elsewhere if the buyer feels there’s money to be made. Much like flipping houses but much more manageable size-wise!
Auction Daily: This sale features four original drawings from Harrison Cady. Who was this artist and what is his legacy and contribution to early-20th-century illustration?
Darren Winston: Harrison Cady was an American artist who flourished in the early to mid-20th century and is most closely associated with author Thornton Burgess. He is most known for his depictions of the animal and insect worlds but also illustrated books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, with beautiful images of people. That part of his style was very much of the time, very St. Nicholas Magazine in tone, but his drawings of animals and insects were done with a whimsical touch that was really unique to him. One of the original illustrations of his in our sale, lot #119, My, My! what’s the Trouble Here?, is a perfect example of that whimsy—the focus is a large spider web, spun into a crossword layout with the rest of the image filled with so much information, subtle and not so subtle, that just keeps you staring, looking for more. That one is a personal favorite of mine.
Auction Daily: Tell us a bit about lot #122, a collection of 23 first editions of all the tales of Beatrix Potter.
Darren Winston: I have sold Beatrix Potter books for all of my now-28 years in the rare book world and I haven’t seen the entire set offered together before. I’m sure it’s been done, but I haven’t seen it. She of course wrote other books but this group of 23 are really her legacy. These are the books the world knows her for. Some may know all of her work, some only one, but having the chance to offer all 23 together is really special.
This set, as well as the original Harrison Cady illustrations, come from the collection of Susan Kilgore Wiley, a devoted collector who found the books one at a time and built this group—as well as a much, much larger collection of related things—out of her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. We were lucky enough to get the call to help sell her collection and I was delighted to find this group on one of her shelves, lovingly kept and meticulously recorded. We don’t always get to meet our consignors and in this case Susan’s lovely daughter Bettie was tasked with placing her various collections. I told Bettie—because I couldn’t tell her mom—what an honor it was and is to handle her things that were so carefully put together, so beautifully kept, that it really is a special joy to work with material like that. I never got to meet Susan, but after spending several days and many hours in her home going through her things, we did meet, several times.
Auction Daily: And finally, of all these remarkable lots on offer through this sale, which one or two really catch your eye, and why?
Darren Winston: That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite! My best answer is that I’m lucky enough that every item we offer—every last thing—is chosen or found by me from a much larger group of things—sometimes ten books from a collection of 10,000, sometimes one item chosen from two that a consignor wrote about. When I put my sales together, they always consist of however many items that spoke to me in one way or another from all of the noise of our everyday lives. They stood out among their peers for many different reasons, and I was able to say “I can sell that for you.” That perk of my job is one of the best.
For more information about this sale, visit Freeman’s. For a previous conversation with Darren Winston about children’s books, visit Auction Daily.
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