Disposing of a research type ‘engine room’ art library is difficult and kindest if not left to others even if they are benefitting in other ways from your estate. It is also better for the collection.
For the collections that remain — I suggest having a disposal plan to be enacted or recorded.
I have seen rooms full of books that involve a huge effort even to send to Lifeline. Staggered disposal or sale can and will take years. Were they really worth amassing at that scale?
In looking back at my own shelves. The extent of the library came from needing to spend time at home rather than evenings in a library and because topics were outside the scope of the available libraries and references I needed. Numerous titles were given to me as well by others.
But in honesty many titles, huge reference tomes and monographs were looked at once or not at all after purchase. Reference libraries can be an indulgence and or part of the long diagnosed problem of addictive collecting known as bibliomania — in which obsession takes over.
Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1st Baronet (1792–1872) suffered from severe bibliomania. His collection, which at his death contained over 160,000 books and manuscripts, was still being auctioned off over 100 years after his death
To begin any disposing, question your own activity and be brutally honest. Did I really even use/read this book — will I really need it again? Recognise that there may be emotional reasons why you can’t deal with taking action other than inertia or laziness.
In my own case a decision to concentrate on Australian topics has meant that all my South and East Asia libraries went with sales or donations of related art works, and only a small part of my Southeast Asia remains — but even that is questionable.
At the very least consider the disposal of your library and record your thoughts on where it might go after your lifetime. See if a quality book dealer or auctioneer thinks parts are suitable for sale or auction.
Better still start negotiations with any likely recipients and best of all make some sort of catalogue even if as basic as photographing the shelves so that the spines can be read.
A bit of cataloguing can also throw up surprises for eg an early monograph appears to be worth USD 2000 on abebooks but would I be able to sell it?
The hardest part for holders or inheritors of expensive art books is that you have paid retail price for your titles. Unless you set up as a seller yourself on ebay or abebooks etc, you will not be offered that price. The sale would more likely be as little as 10% and rarely more than 30% as a reseller has to then apply their usual mark up.
Books don’t grow in value like houses or other investments — unless particularly rare or special.
Perhaps the hardest thing for collectors of anything is that most have paid retail prices and won’t live long enough to see any kind of return. Too often with clients I have calculated what the money they spent would have earned if left in the bank at the simplest of bank savings interest – the bank wins.
A very small percentage of strategic collectors do spectacularly well buying ahead of a market as did many who took up the neglected field of art photography in the 1960s-70s and sold great collections decades later.
the Big positive for people like us!
You have had your use value of the collection and the pleasures of acquisition. Unless it was a strict business investment with creditors to repay, treat what you can get for your collection as new money.
Far harder is parting with treasures knowing that the receiver doesn’t actually understand the works. So be ready to donate to kind souls, to organisations with people who will cherish your treasures and to collectors who will have a wonderful day when they receive your gifts/sales.
For me it is no longer about the money. I see this as finding good homes for my friends (my books) and I am prepared to pay to assist that to happen if necessary.
For more on Parting With Your Art — - click here