Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

Highs & Lows of a Small Antiquarian Seller - Robbery & Retail Both Learning Experiences

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Bryant Neal experimented with a pop up exhibit and sale.

I’ve been writing from the seller’s viewpoint for AE Monthly for quite a while now. I've looked at various genres in the book arts, visited shows and fairs, profiled other dealers and sites and dispensed tips I’ve learned growing up in the trade and selling on-line on eBay.

 

This month's article is a summary of some of the high and low points of 2013 from my own business on the island Maui where I have been a Hawaii-Pacific specialist since 1979.

 

Burglary was the low point

 

There’s no question that the low point of last year came in April when there was a burglary at my property and many of my personal and business belongings were taken.

 

There’s no better wake up call about the need for better security than discovering your passport, client files, tax records and many valuables including a portion of my high end inventory had been stolen.

 

Yes, I had insurance and yes, they paid the claim promptly, but the experience left me shaken.

 

Next came changing all the locks, installing motion detector lights and moving what was left to more secure storage. It also meant closing my old bank accounts as well as notifying clients whose records were compromised by the theft.

 

As the police officer who came by a few days later pointed out -- one break-in in 30 years wasn’t exactly a crime wave -- still it was a painful reality check that reinforced the point that the days when no one knew or cared about old books in this part of the world, much less wanted to steal them, was over. Even on a little island in the middle of the ocean the need for improved security became a painful reality. To date nothing has been recovered.

 

Pop Up Retail Store an Interesting Experiment

 

The most interesting business experiment I participated in was consulting with a colleague who decided to try a pop-up retail antiquarian store at a local mall over the holiday season.

 

Though pop-ups have been popular for restaurants and food related events in this area I had not actually seen one done as a combination retail and exhibit venue. My friend Bryant Neal looked for a high traffic location and then pegged his exhibit to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He chose that theme because he had acquired a number of interesting maps, photos, books and documents that told the story of the WWII Pacific from the Japanese perspective. Hoping his material would find a market he signed a lease for 60 days at one of the island’s largest shopping centers. The terms were a relatively low flat monthly fee vs. 15 percent of sales.

 

The best part of the experience was working with him to select and display some of the original items he had acquired. Laying it out on the floor and trying to figure out how to display the fragile original material was challenging, especially in an environment not originally intended for this kind of event.

 

The store with almost 2,000 square feet of floor space did draw quite a few patrons. In December, during the height of the Christmas shopping frenzy, it turned out to be a good place for husbands to hang out while their wives shopped.

 

Working on the project I met many people and I learned quite a bit about the war years in Hawaii. Among the things I found out was the person that guarded Tojo before he was hanged in 1948 was from Maui. I also learned that the guard - now in his 90s - is still alive and living on my street.

 

It was reassuring to discover that lots of people are still fascinated by history. They still enjoy looking at maps, they still want to see the pictures of the voyaging canoes and learn about the Polynesian migrations as well as the story of other Pacific voyages.

 

In the course of December and January I watched the traffic develop and saw it was not quite a museum and not quite a store either, but rather an odd hybrid of unusual Japanese and American Pearl Harbor and WWII era memorabilia and vintage Hawaiiana mashed up with other kinds of goods, including giclee reproductions, arty travel souvenirs and low end nick nacks.

 

It did draw a crowd but it did not turn out to be a good way to make money. Even with high traffic and a bargain rent the hours were long and the overhead was high.

 

That said, my friend extended his short term agreement for another few months and is still evolving his sales strategy. For him the things that did well were reproductions of Pacific centered maps, nostalgia items like plaster figurines of ethnic types from the 1930s, decorative menus from the Matson line and almost anything that evoked the Hawaiian Monarchy period.

 

The year on-line

 

Watching how it worked out for him in a traditional store reinforced my conviction that future sales growth in my own business would be on line. In that respect 2013 was a better year than 2012.

 

In 2013 I passed the 1,000th feedback mark on eBay and retained a rating that was 100 percent positive. In 2013 I found it was easier to find buyers ready to purchase the more expensive items. I was pleased to make an increasing number of some bigger sales and my sales figures year over year edged upwards, not a lot but definitely in the right direction. The prices of items sold ranged from $7.99 to nearly $2,000, with most sales in the $40-$150 range. Despite being located in Hawaii and being in business here for more than 30 years, more than 90 percent of all my business came from outside the state and it looks like it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. None of my really good Pacific sales were made to buyers in the islands.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <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: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000

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