Addicted collectors sell periodically in order to continue their hunt. Eric Caren is one of them. He began collecting at age five and by age 11 discovered old newspapers and periodicals. After college he went to London to work for a book dealer and then came back to the U.S. in 1984 to start his own business of collecting and dealing in newspapers, manuscripts, broadsides, photographs, and ephemera.
He’s always been fascinated with how history unfolded on the pages, from the earliest days of printing through the 20th century. In 2001, Caren sold a collection 30,000 newspapers to the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., forming the core of its collection. In 2011 and 2012 he had sales at Swann Galleries in New York City. Now Bonhams will hold a Caren sale on April 7, an offering of 300 items including newspapers, broadsides, photographs, books, and manuscripts dating from the 16th century through the 1960s.
An engraved broadside celebrating Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe from the 1580’s has one of the few lifetime portraits of Drake. He stands surrounded by cannonballs, powder kegs, and a ship. It’s estimated at $50,000/80,000. A printing of the Declaration of Independence, published in the New England Chronicle, is the first Boston printing (est. $60,000/80,000). It is desirable because all of it appears on the front page, making it suitable for framing. (Most papers continued it onto a second page.) The sale includes the first dollar earned by Edison Electric Light Company (now General Electric); a manuscript deposition of a Titanic survivor; the first China-U.S. treaty (signed by President Polk); and an 1883 chromolithographed baseball poster. Caren expects the sale to bring around $1 million.
Why did Caren chose Bonhams and not Swann Galleries, which in two sales raised about $1 million? Caren said he likes Swann and it did a good job, but he watched Bonhams sell the collection of an eccentric San Francisco collector named Bruce McKinney, and it did very well. At the consignor’s request, Bonhams published the price he paid for every book and when and from whom he had bought it. The sale was sold without reserve, and the 300 lots brought approximately $4 million.
Caren will not publish his costs, but he said he was impressed that Christina Geiger, Bonhams director of books and manuscripts, bent over backwards for McKinney, and he thought she would do the same for him. “She is smart and passionate and has already created a buzz,” he said.
Geiger said, “The compelling thing about the Caren collection is that it demonstrates that our insatiable need for news is not particular to our own age. The same inclination to spread the word of important events inspired our forebears to publish newspapers and handbills and to take photographs even under the most difficult circumstances. You really get a sense of their fight to get the story out.”
The sale date that Bonhams chose (April 7) falls the day after the close of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The April 3-6 fair draws 200 American and international dealers, and collectors flock to it.
The Bonhams sale is not the only sale Caren is orchestrating. At the same time Caren is offering the Caren Archive of over 200,000 items to be sold en bloc via his Web site. Those items include papers and images from the 16th century through the computer age. There is a four-page prospectus in the Bonhams catalog, but Bonhams is not selling it. It is a Caren private treaty sale.
Caren expects to get a seven- or eight-figure sum for his archive. How did arrive at that figure? “I sold my first collection, about 30,000 items, to the Newseum for about four million dollars in 2001. This archive is much larger. Two-thirds of the newspapers are not at the American Antiquarian Society, which has the largest collection of early newspapers,” he said. “What makes this archive so special is the ephemera, the one-of-a-kind items that can be found nowhere else. When the Library of Congress acquired the collection of Marian S. Carson in 1996, they called it the most extensive existing private collection of early Americana. Carson had 10,000 early manuscripts, broadsides, prints, and drawings plus very early photography. My collection is much larger and more inclusive. It can never be duplicated.”
Why is Caren selling now at age 54? “So I can buy more,” he said. “On his deathbed John Jacob Astor, who owned most of New York, said [something along the lines of] my only regret is what I haven’t owned."
But aren’t newspapers, old ones and current ones, digitized today? “Yes,” said Caren, “but digitized images can be changed; photos can be changed by Photoshop. The digital age ensures information; my collection guarantees evidence and proof."
The Caren Archive is all stored in one place in upstate New York. It by can be inspected by appointment. Go on the Caren Archive Web site (http://thecarenarchives.com) to learn more. You can also contact Eric Caren at (914) 772-8212 or <[email protected]>.
“Boston Union Athletic Exhibition Company Grounds...Championship Games, Keystones vs. Boston Unions, Wednesday, April 30,” published by John B. Sage, Buffalo, New York (1883), chromolithographed poster (est. $15,000/25,000).