Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

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


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>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <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
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <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>

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