Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2003 Issue

Dealer Catalogues: Future Shock

Rosenbach19

The Rosenbach material was consistently exceptional.


By Bruce McKinney

The principal art form of dealer scholarship has been the book dealer’s catalogue and many of these catalogues are prized by the cognoscenti for their research and definitive explanations, not to mention their judgment of value expressed in dollars, pounds, francs and pesos. Such catalogues are time consuming labors and they are after all about converting copies to cash. So although they are, for many dealers, their lasting achievement in the field, they are also a luxury because the internet has made it possible to find buyers without the investment of time and money it takes to produce catalogues.

This is not to say, or to suggest, that libraries, collectors and of course other dealers are any less interested in reading dealer catalogues. It’s only that the economics less justify their creation. There may, from time to time, be revivals in catalogue production but it seems the genie is out of the bottle on this issue and the primary selling role of the printed catalogue in permanent decline.

It is the shifting economics of book selling that are undermining catalogue issuance rather than a decline in reader interest. This makes it appropriate to look for ways to reprise the strengths of traditional catalogues in formats and employing methodologies that infuse the catalogue concept with the abundant strengths of the internet. If we can’t go back, let’s look ahead.

The printed catalogue is, for those involved in and with the book trade, an almost sacred form but it has its limitations. Catalogue-size (number of pages and page size), binding, use of images in color and or black and white, colored inks and occasionally colored paper and print runs are part of the complex algebra of catalogue production. The value and quality of the material to be sold is of course the common denominator and the material must carry the prorated catalogue cost with no apparent struggle. One does not see H. P. Kraus quality presentations for $50 books for no reason.

If the future of traditional book dealer catalogues is uncertain the emerging prospects for electronic dealer catalogues are not. Such catalogues, only in their infancy, will emerge overtime as extraordinary documents with hundreds of images, extensive descriptions and links and footnotes to references in places as diverse as the Library of Congress, important past shows at the Grolier, and direct access to the ÆD to confirm importance, provenance, price and selling history. In short, the electronic catalogue will make it possible to deliver a complex array of information and images and to do so in an almost timeless fashion. For electronic catalogues have the capacity to reflect sales and to allow amendments when necessary. They will be searchable by keyword, author, title, place and date printed and virtually any other criteria a buyer may wish to use to vet material.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28: Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 5: African-American Fine Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 7: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 16: Contemporary Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 5:<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 14: Illustration Art</b>
  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions