Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2002 Issue

Showtime In Boston: Booksellers Look At The State Of Their Trade And Offer Advice To Collectors.

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Noted Americana Bookseller Bill Reese at the Boston 2002 ABAA Book Fair.



While most exhibitors were booksellers, there were a few exceptions. The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) had a display of their facilities. Asked why the AAS would choose to display, Vincent Golden explained that the Society likes to build public awareness, and to maintain a presence among collectors and dealers. The AAS is also always on the lookout for items not yet in their collection, and hoped to come away from the show with a few “new” items. The AAS maintains an amazingly extensive collection of Americana from 1640-1877. But, that’s a topic for another time, or to be more specific, for next month’s issue of AE Monthly when the American Antiquarian Society will be featured in depth.

The ABAA naturally had a booth, and Liane Thomas-Wade said that they were “very pleased” with turnout at the show. When asked what the aim of the ABAA is, Ms. Thomas-Wade pointed to the first sentence of the “Objects of the Association,” which says “…To encourage interest in rare books and manuscripts and to maintain the highest standards in the antiquarian booktrade.” When asked what about the ABAA is most important to collectors, she immediately said their code of ethics. She pointed out that anyone not satisfied with a purchase from an association member can file an appeal with the ABAA.

Another bookseller who felt business was all right at the ABAA fair, but who also said that many of the regional fairs were not doing as well, was Melissa Sanders of Ken Sanders Rare Books from Salt Lake City, Utah. A dealership that specializes in Western Americana, Ms. Sanders explained that the eastern book shows were very important to them. “We have a huge market in the East,” she explained. “It’s like Europeans collecting Americana. The West is Easterners’ version of the New World.” Asked her advice to new book collectors, Ms. Sanders recommended “Buy a book in good condition that is scarce and you genuinely love.”

Another bookseller who felt the book fair was going well was Bill Reese of William Reese Company, New Haven, Connecticut. Mr. Reese is in a better position than most to make comparisons. He’s attended all 26 ABAA book fairs in Boston since they started in 1976, and has for many years been one of the most important dealers in Americana. Sales for Reese Company for the first half of the year have been comparable to the first six months of 2001, 2000, and 1999, although he did note there has been a little softness in the market so far in the second half.

Mr. Reese forthrightly addressed some of the concerns that are on everyone’s mind, even if not often spoken. Major declines in the stock market have evaporated billions of dollars in personal wealth, but Mr. Reese noted that most of his clients were reasonably well diversified and are still better off financially than they were ten years ago. Add to that the fact that people no longer feel, as they did a few years back, that they “can’t afford not to have money in the market,” and that low interest rates makes putting money in the bank less than appealing, and Mr. Reese stated that the book market and many types of antiques have actually done quite well. As Mr. Reese explained, “The best of the best continues to do very well. First rate is always saleable.”

Questioned about the proliferation of bookselling sites on the internet, Mr. Reese looked at this as something that requires certain adjustments by the bookseller, but is not a threat. “In some areas,” he noted, “the immediate effect is to lower prices.” But, this isn’t always the case. The bookseller needs to “be responsive to prices online, which means sometimes prices are going down and sometimes going up.” A major problem with books being sold online, he feels, is that the quality is highly variable. Bookselling websites have allowed many people to become booksellers, and while they may do their best, not all have the experience to fully understand such things as condition. This in turn can make it hard for the collector to know exactly what is being offered. One of the results is what he described as an “unsettling diversity of prices.” If you search a title on “ABE” that has several listings, you are likely to see Mr. Reese’s point. Prices can be all over the place without their being any clear understanding from the descriptions as to why. Mr. Reese joked that his ideal would be to be able to put up 10,000 titles on “ABE,” each of which was completely unique.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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