Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

Old Books On-line, The Words of an eBay Bookseller

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Vincent Pannequin

Vincent Pannequin is a professional bookseller who closed down his physical bookstore, Dioscures, in 2013 to sell books exclusively on eBay.fr. A good move, as the last year of exploitation had been quite disappointing. Nowadays, his pseudonym Amaterasu55 (more than 3,000 sales and 99.8% of satisfied clients) is known among buyers, as his selection of books from the 18th and the 17th centuries is regularly updated with interesting books in good to very good condition. Though a touchy topic among booksellers, eBay is one of the best places to buy books in France. Indeed, the offer is important and the prices usually reasonable. Far from the “eBay craze” of the early years—when common books sold for unexpected prices— the market has regulated itself. But eBay.fr has just changed its classification and it might cause an important change in the business.

 Vincent Pannequin, when did you start selling books on eBay? I had an eBay account, Amaterasu55, before even opening my physical bookstore in 2002, but I was only buying with it. The name comes from a trip in Japan. “Amaterasu is the goddess of the Sun and “55” is a lucky number. At first, I only sold incomplete or defective books on eBay, those I couldn’t list in my catalogues. It took me a few years before I decided to sell nicer books.

How is the market on eBay today? The eBay market is good, better than a few years ago. But on the other hand you have so many new sellers, who list hundreds of books. As a result, the site is overcrowded and the good dealers are losing visibility.

What’s the difference with a physical bookshop? Ebay still has a very bad reputation among a few “regular” booksellers in France. How would you explain that? There is less and less difference. Of course the buyers can’t touch the books, but pictures make up for that. And I may add by experience that sometimes I prefer not to be in a bookstore to avoid unfriendly colleagues (laughter). Joke aside, I have the feeling that the book collectors who buy on eBay also go to the bookstores. And I think that eBay doesn’t have the very bad reputation it had few years ago when many booksellers saw it as unfair competition. Now I think they see eBay as a place to buy books between two auctions.

You told me that eBay is a touchy subject. Why? Maybe that was an old reflex...But somehow it is true that “regular” booksellers do not like to be known as buying on eBay. Maybe they consider it a less noble way to do business. But it changed a few years ago when some of them started to sell their stock on eBay under their real names, and that was a small revolution

What do you think of faked sales, or “disguised reserve prices”, on eBay? It does exist, I won’t deny it; but it is usually so obvious that you can see it right away. And I honestly think it doesn’t happen more on eBay than at physical auctions, where so many books are being sold over and over again...

It seems like prices on eBay are far lower than in “regular” bookshops. Do you agree? Do you think some books belong on eBay while others should be sold elsewhere? Yes, I do agree but only for the most common books, which booksellers refer to as the “small books.” For the others, I’m pretty sure that they sell for very good prices, such as the 1762 edition of Lafontaine’s Fables by Les Fermiers Généraux, which is always an eBay star. But for sure, books costing dozens of thousands of euros are not the most salable there, and I wouldn’t propose them myself. But it is a personal opinion and I know some dealers who do not hesitate; good for them, they are bold enough to do it.

It seems like eBay is growing less efficient as far as selling old books is concerned. Do you think it will stop being an interesting selling point one of these days? On eBay France, which in my opinion is the most important eBay place for rare books, I didn’t think it was less efficient until recently. Yesterday, the 13th of October, eBay France decided to regroup all rare books in a unique category and it is clearly a regression. (Indeed, it’s no longer possible to select books by centuries. Consequently, one has to go through hundreds of “books printed before 1900” before finding a book from the 18th century. Many buyers and sellers are currently urging eBay.fr to go back to the old formula but the website is not known for paying much attention to its users – editor’s note). This is no good news, and they took the decision without consulting anyone. I know a lot of people are already complaining as books have become quite hard to locate now.

What is your recipe to have a “good sale” on eBay? I always try to give the best description possible, or at least to point out all defects so that when the buyers receive their books, they think they look better than described. And of course I download a lot of pictures for each book; and good ones. I don’t mean artistic but informative ones. It takes a lot of time, but it is necessary in order to build a solid reputation.

What are the required skills for an eBay bookseller compared to a “regular” one? I do not think there are more or less skills to work on eBay.

You’re based in Ireland today. Is it a matter of taxes? Is it still interesting when you probably have to “import” your books, and then ship them back to France—with more expensive shipping fees? Nothing to do with taxes: my companion is Polish and was already working and living here; that was my main motivation. Life is less stressful here so I have no regrets. I do import most of my books from France, indeed, but it has become quite cheap and easy to work with online sites that discount couriers. For example a 20 kilos parcel costs 30€ only. Shipping fees are more expensive for my sales, yes; but the quality of my books makes up for it and buyers know it.

Is France your main market? Is it a specific market? France is my main market, indeed, as I mostly sell books written in French. It includes de facto Belgium and Switzerland. It is a specific market in the way that France is the place in the world where you will find the most book auctions—a few ones every day—and the largest number of book collectors. But eBay France attracts collectors and booksellers from all over the world and the USA is my second best market.

What do you think of Paypal? Paypal is a very useful tool as you are paid instantly but it has quite a cost (4 to 5% of the sales and shipping fees). And the downfall is that their customer service almost always sides with the buyers when there is a problem. They advertise a warranty for the buyer but it only consists of taking back the money from the seller.

What could eBay do to be more efficient as far as old books are concerned? EBay France should come back to the old system they had with sub-categories, where you could properly list your books. But if they come back to it—and nothing is sure, since they are well known to ignore their customers—they should clean all the rubbish like magazines or cheap modern books, that pollute the “rare books” section.

Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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: 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>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Copper Printing Plate for "Marshall's Household Engraving of Washington." $500 to $1000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Important Documentary Painting Showing Baseball Great Ty Cobb in Cuba. $1,000 to $2,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> <i>Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age</i>, Inscribed by Bill Wilson. $500 to $1,000
    <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), <i>Prise à l'hameçon.</i> $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Maurice Dufrène (French, 1876-1955), <i>Rayon des Soieries</i>. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> William Pope.L (American, b. 1955), <i>Intimacy Project</i>. $2,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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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