Books, maps, and globes are all areas that generate emotion for any interested buyer and Daniel Crouch is keenly aware of these connections. He invests an incredible amount of time creating experiences for his clients that will invoke a reaction or recreate a memory. When his gallery exhibited at The European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht in 2019, they brought virtual reality glasses and every person felt the elation of jumping into a map of Amsterdam or Paris. It’s not a gimmick; it makes this world breathe before a viewer’s eyes, creating more excitement and evoking further thought. Daniel relishes the opportunity to bring this to viewers and either open those feelings or start making new ones.
Daniel Crouch Rare Books is known for pushing the boundaries of the traditional galleries operating in this field. Why do you think that it is important to present your inventory in such an original way?
We are map geeks. We think that maps, atlases, and globes are great fun and have, traditionally, been neglected as art forms. We are evangelical about this, and so we try to bring others with us by taking cartography out of the tweed-and-leather-elbow patch corner of the antiquarian book world to make them more accessible.
We like maps and atlases that tell a tale, so it’s cool to think of different ways to tell these stories. Our catalogue descriptions are detailed, and we go to great lengths to make them entertaining and didactic. But, beyond this, we also have a lot of fun introducing virtual reality, video, and animation into our marketing to offer different channels into the material.
Combining Artefacts With Modern Interior Design
Our storytelling also informs our style of display at fairs and in the gallery: maps, books, and globes are enduring artefacts that stand as evidence of the stories of their creation – we like to show this. Our displays and catalogues, therefore, emphasise the three-dimensionality of these objects and we show bindings, sheet edges, the natural contours of paper, and we minimise anything that detracts from this. Our frames, displays and boxes are very functional and minimalist. This approach chimes nicely with modern preferences for interior decoration, and so makes our old paper look quite at home in your Starkitecht home.
Maps and Rare Books is a sector of the art market that ranges in price, so a potential collector can not only explore a wide range of subjects, but truly grow into collecting. How do you advise clients who are approaching this field for the first time and does that guidance ever change as a client expands into other price ranges?
First, select one or two dealers with whom you like working with and don't be shy about asking questions. A dealer who compliments your interests, personality and enthusiasm will add to your enjoyment. Part of enjoying a collection is sharing the experience with people you like and who share your interests. Not all dealers are alike. No matter how large the dealer's inventory, all have special interests and strengths.
Second, focus on what interests you. It may take a while, but most collectors develop collecting themes. Whether your theme is regional, historical, genealogical, or an artist or author, finding a theme that you like will help you to focus on creating a collection, not just buying stuff. Don't worry about getting locked down. Most collections evolve over time, so don't view this suggestion as restrictive, just a good starting point.
Building Your Personal Collection
Third, buy a few good reference books. Even in the internet age, it is hard to build a collection when you don't know what is out there to collect. 50 years ago, there were very few good reference books. Now, there are books covering many general and specialty topics that will help provide context and a sense of what is out there to be collected. In choosing dealer relationships, working with someone who has a wide selection and knowledge in your area of interest also helps.
Also, don't be locked in to other people's ideas and lists of "must have" maps in your area of interest. For a true collector, the only thing more exciting than finding a map you have always wanted is discovering one you didn't know existed. If you constrain yourself to someone else's list, you are missing a chance to personalize your collection. Ultimately, however, the same guidance applies to all our customers – buy what you like and in the best possible condition. For those customers that wish to build a serious collection, we advise that they think long and hard about a focus – the best collections are tightly defined and concentrated. Having said that, not all customer are collectors – many of our buyers are shopping for a one off piece for decoration or for a gift.
Many people feel true connections with books with memories of beloved childrens’ books and timeless stories. How do you help clients manage their expectations (and emotions) when looking for something that will create new memories and eventually become heirlooms?
We don’t! We encourage such behaviour! Like a drug dealer, we like to start our customers off with a small sample and then gradually lead them on to a serious habit!
One of my favourite “origin” stories of a collection is that of a Scottish customer of ours. We first met 20 or so years ago when his wife was pregnant with their second child. He wanted to buy a pair of globes so that he could tell his kids stories based on these globes, and the two kids could have one each in their inheritance to remember their parents by. He came back a couple of years later to buy a world map (they were then expecting a third). On his way out of the shop with the aforementioned world map, he spotted a copy of the first atlas of Scotland by Willem and Johannes Blaeu and asked me to draw up a proposal for a Scottish map collection. The seed was sown, and his addiction began that day. He has some 400 or so items now and we have persuaded him to extend the collection to Scots abroad and Scottish colonies.
Sourcing And Curating Map Collections
Designed by Woulfe has noticed a trend that clients are interested in creating a connection between themselves, or their families, and collecting maps. For example, finding maps done in the year that someone was born or collecting different maps of someone’s birthplace. How do you advise collectors find the best map in order to achieve that truly personal connection?
Give us a call!
In the past, Designed by Woulfe has had clients who have incomplete sets of maps, either from their own purchases or inheritance. What resources do you recommend to start the undertaking of completing a set?
Again, please get in touch. We can help to identify the map and can then suggest avenues to pursue.
As globes are very difficult to restore, are there any steadfast rules about maintaining a globe’s quality that you would recommend and how should someone go about finding the right restorer?
Globes are a bit of a nightmare – basically globe restoration is a three stage process: first, the varnish needs to be removed, then the object needs to be treated as a piece of paper restoration, before the whole is re-varnished. This really wasn’t possible until 30 or so years ago, and there are very few people with the requisite skills to do so. The identity of good globe restorers are closely guarded secrets!
You are always present at major international art fairs including The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Frieze Masters in London, and the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. How optimistic are you about the way that these fairs will operate in the future and whether clients will have to re-learn how to buy in the ‘new normal’?
I suspect that it will take a little while for people to feel warm and fuzzy about getting into a big air-conditioned box with a couple of other thousand people, and it may be that 2021 is a write off. My guess is that there will be a, perhaps overdue, thinning out of some events in the calendar, but we will all be so desperate to get out and about in 2022 that the big fairs that you mention will all be monster.
Much to my surprise, the book business has been remarkably buoyant during the pandemic, and we have been doing “old normal” levels of selling online - It would appear that my addicts need a fix regardless of the economic climate! The upshot of this though is that we will probably re-evaluate our willingness to hop on an aeroplane and sit for a week in quite so many big air-conditioned boxes as previously.
Who is your ideal client?
Designed By Woulfe has invited Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management to interview a range of art world personalities. Her fifteen years' experience working in this sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight into the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.