Women author scarcity

by Liz on November 12, 2019

Women Authors

Women Authors by Chunga

The women’s liberation movement during the 1960’s propelled feminist intellectualism which brought us wonderful modern women writers, such as J.K. Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.  The boys’ club definitely was broken, and is even more apparent when looking back!  Critic Sarah Weinman, argues in an essay published by the Library of America that the rise in the 1950s, of the mass-market paperback, brought about a kind of publishing-industry segregation: “Male authors went to the paperbacks, the quick advance, and the gigantic print runs, which were marketed to a predominantly male audience who viewed books as disposable. With rare exception, female authors kept to hardcovers, their books geared to libraries and book-of-the-month clubs with smaller print runs.”

Historically, and may I add quite incorrectly, from Aristotle to Boccaccio, the prevailing misogyny message on the female condition was that “women are morally wicked and intellectually inferior”. Aristotle philosophized that the masculine element brought life to an inert, passive female element. Boccaccio’s disappointments in love caused a change in his writing style which resulted in the Italian literary work, Il Corbaccio, or The Crow. The protagonist tells the story of his unreturned love of a widow and his love to the spirit, who warns him against women who with their lust and “female wickedness” endanger men.

In Japan, prior to the Heian era, (794-1185), there was no native written tradition. The male educated elite wrote in Chinese, while women were forbidden to write in the Chinese language. Heian women developed Hiragana, a cursive syllabary with a distinct writing method that was uniquely Japanese, and thus gave written expression to the spoken word. Three late 10th and early 11th -century women presented their views of life and romance at the Heian court in the books: Kagerō Nikki, by the author “the mother of Fujiwara Michitsuna”, (Her true name is unknown), The Pillow Book, by Sei Shōnagon and The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

Persuasion, which was published in 1818, after Jane Austen’s death, revealed her true feelings about gender inequality, and articulates and criticizes late 18th century English views of courtship and marriage. The novel’s moral, seems to be, that young people should always marry according to their own inclinations and upon their own judgment. Central to Jane Austen’s book is a longing for civility in an age of coarseness, meanness and cruelty against women. The hardness of life for a woman was laid bare. The feelings and experiences of the novel’s central character, Anne Elliot, were understood and shared by the women of her time and beyond.

Patriarchy prompted the dissatisfaction which was common among young women in the early 19th century. In the fall of 1847, Emily Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which, under the guidance of Mary Lyon, the school was known for its religious predilection. Emily’s stay at Mount Holyoke was for a single year; a decision she attributed to her father, but said nothing further about his reasoning. Edward Dickinson’s reputation as a domineering individual in private and public affairs suggests that his decision may have stemmed from his desire to keep his daughter at home. When well-known writer of the time, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, invited Emily Dickinson to an event in Boston, she declined with a phrase that, (like many sentences in her letters), falls into the rhythm of her poetry: “I do not cross my Father’s ground for any House or town.”

Up until recent years, women authors geared towards the genre of romance and steered away from the sanguinary genre, comics and graphic novels, which skewed heavily toward young men, with emphasis on superheroes, fantasy and science fiction. Lately, women authors’ success in these predominately male audience genres, underscores how much the audience has broadened, and how very capable women are to excel in all genre!  Graphic-novel sales are outpacing the overall trade-book market, and their audience has expanded to include more women and younger readers. Women are too realistic to romanticize violent worlds in which they are, far more often than not, the victims. Small wonder that when authors such as Dolores Hitchens, Dorothy Hughes, Vera Caspary, Patricia Highsmith, Charlotte Armstrong, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, turned to writing crime novels and themes of violence, they focused instead on marrow-shriveling terror.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which focuses on forced breeding programs and female enslavement, hit close to home on the struggles women have been confronting throughout history. The book’s theme centers on an alliance between radical feminists and religious fanatics who aim to control the women and the population in the fictional republic of Gilead.

The far fewer than men, successful women authors in existence, should be every rare book collector’s pursuit. The scarcity created due to some of the factors outlined here, are hopefully a thing of the past. Since its inception at the beginning of last century, the controversial Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to no more than 5 women, prior to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960 and 70’s. The number has more than tripled since then at an accelerated rate. Still, rare books by women authors are becoming scarcer.

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courtesy Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which will take place in London on the 3rd of October 2019, will offer a Jean-Michel Basquiat acrylic, silkscreen ink and oil stick on canvas titled “PYRO”, signed and dated 1984 on the reverse. This is the highlight of the event and is estimated to sell for …….., “Estimate upon Request,” which means you will have to contact Sotheby’s directly.  A dynamic estimate, perhaps, which may fluctuate, based upon the buyer interest shown, is part of this event’s marketing plan. Nevertheless, we will not have to wait too long before the price realized is revealed.

Auctions are supposed to help us figure out the valuation of a unique collectible at any given time through the winning bid amount placed by the high bidder. Most of the paintings brought to market at events such as the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, are at auction for the first time, and yet, through some algorithmic evaluation, an estimated range is determined and posted in the catalogue. Often times the range proves to be on the low or high side, but, it is printed for potential buyers to consider.  

Similarly, the bookseller who sells through an auction without a reserve may or may not have an approximate range that a particular collectible is expected to trade. Besides auctions, in most other channels, a bookseller is required to provide the ask price for a particular collectible in order to bring it to market. If the asking price is too low, then money is left on the table. On the other hand, a price set too high carries the risk of remaining unsold. The other variable in the evaluation is time. As time goes by, the market conditions of supply and demand usually tend to shift, affecting the price higher or lower. In order to increase the chances of a book being sold in the short term, the asking price should be set at the low end of the estimation, while longer timeframes offer the luxury of being able to test the market at the high end of the estimation. Time allows for the price to be lowered.

Given the particular conditions in which a sale is brought to market, it is always a good idea to assess the price estimate as accurately as possible. A good evaluation makes use of comparables, factoring in any differences between each of the comparables and the book assessed. As such, the rarer the book, the more the price becomes a matter of opinion for two reasons: First, there is not adequate information available to accurately evaluate, and second, books that are scarce and extremely desirable do not stay in stock because collectors are willing to pay any price for something they want. For some considerations on pricing rare books, please read our prior post, “Pricing your rare books to market” by data scientist, James Sekkes.

Works of Jean-Michel Basquiat have been sold at auction before, but nothing closely resembling the dynamism and vitality of PYRO on such a medium. The literatures referenced by Sotheby’s, that include this work are quite scarce as well, and are selling for over $1,000, no matter the edition:

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Vol. II, Paris, 1996, p. 124, no. 8.

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat,  Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris 2000 (3rd edition), p. 224 (Vol. I) and p. 198, no. 8 (Vol. II).

courtesy Swann Galleries

Books signed by Basquiat are extremely rare and desirable due to high demand and the artist’s early death from a drug overdose in 1988, when he was just 27 years old. The most famous signed book is a hardcover catalog that accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, (Bischofberger was Basquiat’s European representative from 1982, and was his most consistent dealer until his death), published in Zurich in 1985. The trade edition consisting of 1,000 copies carried Basquiat’s scribble signature. One such copy sold at Swann Galleries in April of 2018, for $2,500. An additional 100 copies signed by Basquiat with his full name were also released. The “a.p. 2/100” copy is currently valued at $19,000 – $24,000 and this seller will entertain offers at the high end of the price range.



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Fast Forward 50 Years

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Another year is upon us with the usual hoopla about the abnormalities of current times. As 2019 makes its debut, many of the values and beliefs we hold dear are being questioned throughout the world. Truthful facts, science, humanity, diversity and equality are a few on the top of the list. In the US, denying […]

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