Rare books gifted to NHIA as part of the Teti Collection hit the auction block this week

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Edward Steichen’s Personal Set of Camera Work, Vol. 1-50 is expected to fetch $250-350,000 at auction. Photo/Skinnerinc.com

MANCHESTER, NH – On Monday 120 items from one of the largest, most significant collections of rare photography books in the country goes on the auction block at Skinner Auction House in Marlborough, Mass.

From November 1 to November 12 the selection of rare books and manuscripts that were part of the John Teti Rare Photographic Book Collection at the New Hampshire Institute of Art will be offered for sale to the highest bidder. View the items for sale here.

The collection of 6,000 rare books and prints was given to NHIA by photographer and businessman John Teti in 2007 and 2011. The items donated in 2007 were estimated to be worth $1 million and a second donation, made in 2011, was estimated at $400,000. 

In 2019 New Hampshire Institute of Art merged with New England College and all of NHIA’s assets became the property of New England College. New England College has decided to sell Fuller Hall at 156 Hanover Street, where the Teti Collection was housed, and has moved the library to French Hall on Concord Street.  Selected items from the Teti Collection will be offered as part of Skinner’s November Rare Books and Manuscripts Auction.

New England College released the following statement regarding the decision to part with a portion of the collection:

“After careful deliberation and consultation about the John Teti Rare Photography Book Collection, New England College has decided to sell a portion of the Collection at auction.  Concerns about the cost of preserving and caring for some of the books was a factor in what was selected for sale. The College will retain a significant portion of fine and rare books from the Collection for students, faculty, and visiting scholars to use for the purposes of research and to expand their knowledge of fine art photography. Skinner Auctioneers will handle the sale of the books from the Collection via online auction.  We have informed Mr. Teti of the sale and have no plans for additional sales at this time.”

Thom Adams, who studied photography at NHIA after he retired, and became a member of an advisory board that oversaw the Teti Collection, said that it was meant to be a pillar to support research and scholarship for students across all disciplines and a way to attract students to the school. 

“The Last Men of the Revolution. A Photograph of Each from Life, Together with Views of Their Homes,” estimated value $2,000-$2,500.

“This collection was unique to NHIA. It was the largest collection held by any private art college in the country,” said Adams. “It is a shame that the collection is being split up because the whole was worth more than the individual pieces.” 

Items from the collection that are being offered include books and publications by pioneers of photography like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Eugene Atget, and Edward Curtis. There are also significant rare editions of books featuring the works of important 20th Century photographers like Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, Lewis Hine, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

The item expected to garner the most interest is a complete set of Alfred Stieglitz’s quarterly Camera Work, which was published between 1903 and 1917. This particular set belonged to renowned American photographer Edward Steichen, who designed the cover and had 65 of his images featured in the publication. The 50-volume set is expected to sell for between $250,000 and $350,000.

Adams also donated some items to the NHIA collection, but he did so with a codicil that required the school to offer them to other colleges or museums before being sold. No such restrictions apply to the Teti Collection. 

In a press release issued at the time of the gift Teti said  “I made this donation because I wanted it to be accessible to students. One of my personal goals is to support artists and art students. I have been fortunate to be able to do this and it pleases me that the Institute can be a first-rate educational resource for its students.”

Martin Fox taught Art History at the school from 2007-2015. He used the Teti Collection extensively with his History of Photography students. “We would visit the collection 3 or 4 times as a group and then the students would go in on their own to work on their research projects.”

“The librarians did an amazing job caring for the items and teaching the students how to use them,” he added. 

NHIA alumna and photographer Katie Zapatka attended the school from 2013 to 2017. According to her, the “White glove room,” a climate-controlled section of the library where the collection was stored, was considered “sacred land”. She enjoyed visiting the collection as part of her classes taught by Gary Samson and as an individual student conducting research.

Unlike a lot of other photography programs that focus only on current photographic techniques, the NHIA program also taught students about the history of photography and the evolution of the medium. “Being able to handle a work that was made by someone you were studying about made an impression. You felt the importance,” said Zapatka.

Among the works that made a profound impression on her were The Yosemite Book, published in 1868 by Josiah Whitney and  Rev. Elias Brewster Hilliard’s The Last Men of the Revolution published in 1864. Both are being sold.

Decades before Ansel Adams photographed Yosemite, geologist Josiah Whitney trekked into the area with the task of surveying the area for the State of California. He carried all the equipment he needed to photograph and develop the pictures he took. The Yosemite Book is remarkable because it was among the first American books devoted entirely to photographs of landscape.

“The Yosemite Book,” estimated value $6000-8,000.

The Last Men of the Revolution highlights photographs of six men who were the last surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War. For Zapatka handling that book was like time travelling. “Not only was I connected to someone in the 1860s who took the photos, but it also gave me a direct  connection back to the Revolutionary War.”

According to Adams, this is exactly what was intended with the collection. “It was not intended to be used just by the photography students, but also by students of history and literature, and other liberal arts disciplines.”

For Zapatka’s part she is struck by the irony of the situation. “The school worked hard to impress on you the value of your art, then they turn around and sell a donated gift. What does that say about your appreciation of art?” 

Photographer Gillian Barnes attended NHIA from 2006 to 2010. She fondly remembers her time spent with the collection. “It was where I learned how to handle a rare manuscript. The temperature in the room was regulated. You wore white gloves. The books had cover sheets. It was a very intimate and immersive experience to be in the room.”

She is disappointed that New England College has chosen to break up and sell the collection. She is disheartened that something that was meant to be shared is likely to end up in private hands where it will not be available to scholars and researchers.  

“It would be nice, as an educational institution, to donate it to an art institution like the Currier Museum,” she said. She has started a thread on her Twitter page hoping to draw attention to the situation, so that some of the pieces will be acquired by public institutions. 

Fox also would have liked to see the collection remain in New England at another institution or museum. He recognizes that things are not easy for colleges right now, particularly with the impacts of the COVID crisis. “But once it is dispersed, it’s dispersed.”

Editor’s note: The original headline was adjusted to reflect that a selection of books and documents from the Teti collection will be auctioned.