Books | January 15, 2022 5:48 pm

What Goes Into a Book Collection Worth Eight Figures?

An upcoming auction gives us an answer

What makes a rare book worth millions?
Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash

In June of 2018, bookseller William Reese died at the age of 62. Reese was best known for his work as an antiquarian bookseller and as an expert in the field of rare books. Upon hearing the news of his death, Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library memorialized him as “an extraordinary friend and collaborator with the library” and hailed his work as “a bookseller, collector, advisor, and supporter.”

Later this year, Christie’s will auction off Reese’s private collection via a series of events slated to take place between May and September. The auction house’s announcement notes that the sale will encompass 700 lots, with a value estimated at between $12 million and $18 million.

What, exactly, goes into a book collection like that? Christie’s notes that the full contents will be revealed over the course of their Americana Week, running through January 28. But the information they have released so far offers a few tantalizing glimpses for bibliophiles and history buffs alike.

Arguably the highlight of the auction is an early broadsheet copy of the Declaration of Independence, which is estimated to sell for between $1 million and $1.5 million. A New York Times article about the auction offers more details, including the fact that rare works by the likes of John James Audubon and Herman Melville will also be up for sale.

The copy of the Declaration of Independence won’t be the only item on hand dating back to the 1770s. An engraving by Paul Revere, titled The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated In King Street, Boston, On March 5th 1770, By Party Of The 29th Reg. Boston, was also part of Reese’s collection. All told, it makes for a fascinating collection of works from one of the most storied collectors of our time.