Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2015 Issue

What is the “Rare Book Transaction History?”

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A first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin is valuable, though not very rare (click image to enlarge).

One of the tabs you will see at the top of the page is for the “Rare Book Transaction History.” The name may be unfamiliar. Here is an explanation of a service that no one who buys/sells (spends) a significant amount of money on books should be without. Buying or selling valuable books and ephemera without knowing their value is a fast track to big mistakes.

 

The Rare Book Transaction History is, for the most part, a database of transactions at auction in the rare book field. However, it is actually more than that. For one, the transaction (sales) history covers not just books, but related material – manuscripts, maps, broadsides, prints, and other ephemera within the “works on paper” field. Secondly, while the great majority of records are of auction sales, there are also historic bookseller catalogues and bibliographies within the database. However, the vast majority are auction records, including estimates, sales prices and full descriptions.

 

The Rare Book Transaction History now contains over 5.7 million records. Some records date back as far the 19th century, but the concentration is on more recent history. This site now tracks over 150 auction houses around the world for sales in the field of books and ephemera. It captures all of the lots from these sales, and when the sale is completed, the selling price. Once the prices are received, the record, including the auction house description and estimate, is immediately added to the RB Transaction History. The result is that this database of records is up to date and keeps growing, almost everyday. By the end of the year, it will likely be around 6 million records, based on the number of items in the field expected to be offered for sale.

 

The prices realized at auction are critical for understanding the value of a book as this is the one place where actual sales prices can be determined. Certainly, many transactions occur in private, whether through shops, personal contacts, or on listing sites. However, realized prices of such sales are private. Auctions are conducted in public, making them the one reliable source of what buyers are actually paying for books today, not theoretical estimates that may be correct, or off by miles. Listing sites can give you someone's estimate (or dreams). The Rare Book Transaction History will tell you what people actually paid. There is no other source with anything approaching the number of priced records you will find in the Rare Book Transaction History.

 

The database comes with a few other features to help understand the material and its value. There is a “Get Current Estimate” function that takes older auction records and converts them into estimates of current value. The estimates are based on overall appreciation/depreciation in the book market (naturally, some books will have appreciated or depreciated more than average, so it is an estimate). It also converts other currencies to U.S. dollars. This function additionally estimates a “probability of appearance.” It looks at how often the item has come up for sale at auction in the past and estimates how frequently it is likely to be seen in the future. This can help you decide whether to bid higher as a book will not likely come up for sale again soon, or bid more conservatively as you will likely get another chance soon enough.

 

Another feature, “Get Keywords,” allows you to select a group of lots and see which keywords are used most frequently in their descriptions. This can help you select keywords for searches for similar books, or if you write descriptions, what words should be included.

 

The database also has a “Track record” function. This allows you to keep a record of lots for future reference in an online notebook.

 

While most features on the Rare Book Hub are free, this one does have a charge. The cost of building and maintaining a database of this size is costly. It is incredibly cheap compared to other databases on a per record basis. Very, incredibly cheap. It will pay for itself if it saves you from overpaying for just one medium priced book, or selling one such book too cheaply, over the course of a year. The Rare Book Transaction History comes with any paid membership at any level, from Visitor to Folio. Here is where you can sign up: www.rarebookhub.com/pages/become_member

 

Here is a link to the list of sources within the Rare Book Transaction History:  www.rarebookhub.com/book_sources

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