Conversing with Mr. Americana: Talking Books With Bill Reese
Working with and Advising Clients & Collectors
AT: Approximately how many steady clients do you have? Are they individual collectors, other dealers, or a mixture of all of the above? How has your client base shifted over the years?
BR: It’s very difficult to put a number on what you mean by steady clients. I sell to hundreds if not thousands of people each year. In cash terms, approximately 50% of our business comes from private collectors, 25% from institutions, and 25% from other dealers. In 2001 approximately 45% of our invoices were written from online sales, which amounted to roughly 7% of our revenue. Most of the online sales are of relatively inexpensive material. I find that higher end sales and customers are made through catalogues and through personal contact.
AT: How do you work with your clients in terms of trying to groom them to be more effective collectors?
BR: Our primary educational tool is our catalogues. We try to explain the import of all our material in our catalogues. We also try to be available to talk with people who have questions and talk them through their questions. I think that’s a very important aspect of book dealing and a model that sites like Alibris and Abe defeat. The old model of book collectors was that those on the high end were more sophisticated. We often find ourselves explaining things such as foxing to online collectors. We encounter a very broad spectrum on what people want and expect. Some want advice – others don’t want it. With my best collectors I try to suggest books they ought to have.
AT: When you look at older book catalogues you see items listed that seem to rarely be available today. It gives the impression that there is a diminishing supply of collectable Americana – certainly for the period before 1875. Where has this material gone and is it gone for good?
BR: The material has gone into institutions and by and large the material is gone during our lifetimes. Institutions do deaccession from time to time, which is a fact that feeds the market now. However, the institutions that are buying are very committed to their rare book collections. It is very unlikely that that material will trickle back into the marketplace.
AT: For collectors interested in Americana, how do you suggest they get started? Can they collect with a budget of $1,000 a year?
BR: First of all, I’d think in the 20th Century, not the 19th. Try to find an area that appeals to you and hasn’t been collected a lot. Try to slice the pie in a different way. This is relatively easy to do in Americana and you guys [AE] are providing numerous tools for doing this. There are a myriad of opportunities out there.