Bruce Lisman’s Unique Collection of Rare Books and Literature Texts Auctioned for Over $3million

Discovering, exploring and poring over literature texts and books of different forms is as exhilarating as bungee-jumping for the most dedicated book-lovers. Similar to art collectors, some book lovers become book collectors that go to great lengths to discover and pore over their specific tastes. 

Individuals like Bruce Lisman collect and stack pieces and books in private collections that are often home to some of the world’s rarest books. Collectors like Lisman have the pull and resources required to curate rare pieces like handwritten letters by authors, memoirs, death notices, death poems, and even sketch books.

Bruce Lisman’s Unique Collection of Rare Books

Bruce Lisman’s passion for American literature was cultivated by his father, a teacher that read to his sons in a bid to impact on them. Alas! It worked, as Lisman became a successful executive and bibliophile. Thanks to his Wall Street wealth, he began to read and collect rare books in the 80s.

Piece by piece, he grew his collection until it became home to hundreds of masterpieces, amongst them countless early editions of pieces by the likes of Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Poe, and Washington Irving. The crème of his collection is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s handwritten corrected page proofs for his 1850 piece, The Scarlett Letter, which is every bit as rare as it sounds.

It’s not uncommon for us humans to get bored once we achieve what we set out to do. This was the certainly the case for Lisman, who eventually grew bored of the collection he’d labored to grow, and therefore put it up for auction.

a brown books on a wooden shelves
Bruce Lisman’s Unique Collection of Rare Books

The collection was valued at $4.5 million by Christina Geiger, a rare book auction expert. Despite her decades of experience with auctions like this, she’d never seen a collection of American literature like Lisman’s.

Although the Bruce Lisman collection was valued north of $4 million, it only brought in $3,851,568 once the auction was completed. Despite the slight variance in the total auction value, several pieces in the collection ended up fetching more than their estimates at the end of it all.

Phillis Peters’ Death Notice

This mysterious piece is essentially a death notice for Phillis Peters, formerly known as Phillis Wheatley. It was printed in the Massachusetts Centinel in the 17th century, and has remained in excellent condition considering its age. 

The notice talks about Phillis, who, in the 17th century, married John Peters, a Black man.  She was a talented poet that wrote a number of books of poems but struggled to get them published. Buried with only newspaper notices, this piece that was formerly in Lisman’s collection was one of the earliest notices of her passing.

It fetched around $3,000 at auction, which is right in the ballpark of the $3,000-$5,000 estimate for it.

Farewell to America

Phillis Wheatley is the star of the show once again in this piece, which is one of her most well-known poems. This one was printed right after she arrived in Boston, and it is addressed to Susanna Wheatley. Thanks to works like this, Wheatley fraternized with prominent people like the Mayor of London.

A Voyage to the Spanish Main

Written by Washington Irving in 1806, A Voyage to the Spanish Main is an English version of Depon’s South American travel narrative. It is an interesting and remarkable expose on the people and geography of Venezuela, including details such as the cultivation of tobacco, cocoa, coffee, sugar, and cotton.

This was a well-known book that was good enough to be translated and published simultaneously in London and New York at the same time so it is quite famous. It’s therefore not altogether surprising that it fetched $1,638 at auction.

Lionel Lincoln; or, the League of Boston

This piece was the first American edition of the book written by James Fenimore Cooper and published in 1825. Cooper was inspired to create a new brand of historical fiction but he halted those plans after this piece received was poorly received.

This is one of the most famous pieces in Lisman’s collection, but with an estimated value of $1,000, it’s far from the priciest.

Bruce Lisman’s success on Wall Street enabled him begin and grow an uncommonly stacked collection of masterfully preserved books and texts from several centuries ago.

Several decades down the line, he’d grown it into a unique collection home to writings that he believes hold crucial lessons that remain relevant in today’s modern world. Yet, once the thought of moving on struck Lisman, he didn’t hesitate to give it all up for $3 million.

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