Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2013 Issue

Slow Auction

Slow auction

More reasons to be online. A Clipart illustration

For many reasons books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera get sold.  In the collectible field we tend to think of single items but there are reasons for selling larger quantities too.  It can be someone who is narrowing his or her focus or a dealer preparing to retire.  For collectors it’s the material personally appreciated but outside the current collecting scope or already passed over as other items have been sold or been consigned, in other words; the residue.  For material in all these categories and, inevitably others I simply haven’t thought of, there comes a time when the need to dispose becomes pressing, even necessary.

Such material isn’t necessarily unimportant but it probably has become difficult to sell.  There’s money in it but no liquidity.  As an example many, and I assume most, dealers have material they acquired for a song or perhaps for real money with the expectation it would sell but simply hasn’t.  The best dealers look ahead buying the next big thing that sometimes never becomes the next big opportunity.  Sometimes it becomes the forgotten thing.  Eventually such material will be sold or given away.

The same is true for the collector who sold his high points easily and has been left with the residue he still believes has value.  Libraries too have material that never make it into the stacks and now won’t.  Such material too needs a path to the exit, one providing a fair prospect for an adequate price and a high probability of sale.

My suggestion to achieve this is a process called Slow Auction.

Auctions are events, the material selected, described and advertised.  This is what auction houses believe will sell.  In selecting 500 items they considered thousands of others.  They use rules and experience and make, because they have to, categorical judgments.  This leaves interesting, if sometimes a bit too common or marginal, material out.   These rejected things stay on the shelves or are placed in boxes, their day will come but never did.

In a Slow Auction they will have their chance.  Here is how it works.

Most dealers have their inventory on line.  For those that do they simply select what they propose to sell.  It’s already priced.  Let’s say they select 1000 items to post.

The entire sale will take 63 days and the timing is important.  Auctions are intense events built around well-researched and illustrated catalogues and plenty of advertising.  Slow sales lack most of these attributes but they do have two things regular auctions don’t, a long time for interest to build and software that captures buyer interest [and bids] in a convenient way.  Here is what the auction schedule looks like -

Day 1 to day 7:                      $100 [the listed price]

Day 8 to Day 15                    $  80  [less 20% discount if still unsold]

Day 16 to day 21                  $  60  [less 40% discount]

Day 22 to day 28                  $  40  [less 60% discount ]

Day 29 to day 35                  $  20 [less 80% discount]

Day 36 to 42                          $  10 [less 90% discount]

Day 43 to 49                          $    5  [less 95% discount]

Day 50 to day 56                  $    1

57 to 63                                 Free to a good home

Each item has a “I’d like to follow this item” link as well as a “submit my offer if this item becomes available at $--.”  Thereafter, whenever there is a change, be it a sale or price reduction, the person following receives an email or instant message updating the status.

I think there should be various statistics for each item:

1.     the number of times an item has been seen;

2.     the number of people following;

3.     the number of bids pending

4.     the history of the listing from first posting through to any announcements of outcomes such as “Lot 341, Lefevre’s History of New Paltz, second edition.  Sold for $60, initial price $100, sold on the 22nd  day.

If hosted on AE there would be a nominal starting fee.  If the outcome is reported, half the listing fee would be credited against further listings.  The listing fee would be a percentage of the starting price so those posting may feel a desire to start lower.

Such a service can be provided on any listing site.  I’m describing what I believe has become necessary to help the field clear the accumulating millions of books.  Any site can do it.

If you have a response, questions or suggestions post them to this story.  I, and other readers, will read your comments and respond.

And personally, I can’t wait.

Posted On: 2013-07-01 00:00
User Name: Gene

Bruce, this is a terrific idea. I'm 70, still selling via catalogue & on standard internet sites; also still buying when I find interesting material --

Posted On: 2013-07-01 00:00
User Name: tweney

Some years ago, we had a small bookstore in a small town. We used a similar schedule, starting at 80%, moving to "free to a good home" over the course

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
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