Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2013 Issue

Can Secondhand Dealer Legislation Ensnare Even the Collector?

Hillbill

Proposed California law relating to secondhand dealers.

The devil is in the details. California, a leader in legislating things, has long tried to regulate secondhand trade. It is not that they are looking to complicate the world for small sellers who trade in used goods. The problem relates to stolen merchandise. The way one sells such merchandise, or using the proper term, “fence” such merchandise, is generally through the secondhand market, a place where people are frequently willing to buy goods for an unusually low price, no questions asked. One category of goods frequently associated with the trade in stolen merchandise is books. Legislators are aware that libraries provide a ready product source for those who like to sell without first buying their books.

Earlier legislation was mostly focused on pawnbrokers. In another era, thieves generally would bring what they stole to a pawnshop, the most notable seller of secondhand merchandise. However, it is no longer so easy. Flea markets, thrifts shops, eBay and the like have become viable markets for fencing goods. Undoubtedly, law enforcement (and consumers) often see things for sale in such venues and wonder how can they be so cheap. The law probably knows very well. The problem is devising tools that can catch the guilty, while leaving the innocent alone. And that is where the devil arises in the details.

A Los Angeles book collector, Richard Hopp, sent us a copy of a letter (it's actually more like a legal brief) he sent to California Senator Jerry Hill, sponsor of a new round of legislation. Mr. Hopp is particularly concerned about what constitutes a “secondhand dealer.” This is not clearly spelled out. He is concerned about such vendors as garage sales, church and library sales. Will they be ensnared in the licensing, customer tracking, and various other requirements the law would impose on secondhand sellers? Or how about a simple purchaser? Could he be tangled in the definition of a “secondhand seller.”

That last case may sound absurd to you, but Mr. Hopp was himself hauled before a court in Los Angeles in one of the more bizarre of cases involving a city secondhand book dealer code. The city argued successfully in court that Mr. Hopp was an unlicensed book dealer despite their having no evidence that he had ever sold, or attempted to sell, a book. He was a collector who the city determined was a book dealer because he bought books. That conclusion could be enough to strike fear in the heart of every book collector and librarian in Los Angeles, but Mr. Hopp fought city hall and in time he won.

In the Los Angeles case, the law provided that anyone engaged in “the business of buying, selling, exchanging or otherwise dealing in secondhand books...” constituted a book dealer. Richard Hopp was not engaged in the business of “buying and selling,” but he was engaged in “buying or selling.” Since the “or” in the statute only requires one or the other, and he was a buyer, he was deemed a book dealer.

Mr. Hopp conducted his buying in an atypical way for a collector – advertising to buy books and setting up a “buying booth” at shows. The city evidently concluded that someone who bought in this manner must be buying for resale, not for collecting. The problem was that they had absolutely no evidence he ever sold any books, and Mr. Hopp explained that this was the way he filled his collection, giving away or discarding books purchased in bulk he did not want.

Ultimately, Richard Hopp prevailed in court on appeal. The higher court did not focus on the buying and/or selling issue. Instead, it focused on the word “business” in the statute. The court concluded that a business requires some sort of service to the public, and so why he was certainly “buying” books, he was not engaged in the book “business.” Therefore he was not a book dealer.

It's no wonder Richard Hopp would be a bit gun shy about new secondhand dealer legislation, particularly laws such as this that could make book collecting a “criminal profiteering activity.” He suggests making the definition of a secondhand dealer to be “conjunctive and comprehensible and no longer disjunctive and ambiguous.” In other words, for starters, define a secondhand dealer as one who engages in buying and selling used merchandise, not buying or selling it. He concludes, “This proposed change is to protect the collector in his/her hobby, low income person, the disadvantaged, occasional seller, and bargain shopping public so as to no longer classify them as potential criminals. Amendment of the existing codes is needed to achieve their intended purpose, e.g., curtail the sale of stolen property to a 'fence', yet still allow a widow to buy a teapot.”

The problem that Senator Hill and others are trying to fix is a serious one. A readily available market for stolen goods encourages people to steal more. Collectors or buyers can make the situation worse by buying merchandise they have reason to believe is likely to be stolen. Perhaps buyers need to be regulated too, though it is certainly preferable to limit the burdens to those who make a business of trading in used merchandise. We will leave the fashioning of proper legal remedies to the legislators.

However, it is worth noting that this issue never would have arisen had Los Angeles officials applied even the minimum of common sense. They may have suspected that Mr. Hopp was engaged in a secondhand business, but convictions must be based on evidence, not suspicions. Since they had no evidence Mr. Hopp was violating any laws, they tried to twist the law to cover innocent behavior. So now, someone needs to find a way to write needed statutes not only to protect society from the criminal, but to protect the innocent from society, in the form of overreaching law enforcement. No wonder our statutes become such a jumble of incomprehensible legalese.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000

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