Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Alibris Visited

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Sorting books at Alibris


Ken Aaron runs the Catalog Section. These are the books that are in Alibris's stock in the warehouse. And a vast, vast number of books there are! There is row upon row of used books standing like sentinels to literacy on six-tiered, gray metal shelves. These are what Mark calls "common" books; in other words they are low-priced books of every ilk, valued at $5 to $20 or more. They are of a type that one finds in just about every used bookstore. They occasionally buy small numbers of remainders from a remainder house, sometimes they buy stock from estates or sellers who are closing their book businesses, and some of the books are from orders gone awry and returned to Alibris by a customer. These books come into the cataloging department and are put into their online inventory, then they are shelved until an order comes in, at which time a staff member pulls the correct book and fills the order. It runs pretty much like any other bookstore except for the volume.

This immense catalogue of books, however, is not their central focus. The books that we booksellers have in our inventories are where they get their primary stock. As Mark Nason pointed out, Barnes and Noble bookstores sell coffee, but they are not coffee experts. Alibris sells books, but they are not book experts, we, the booksellers are, and for the more valuable books, there is no substitute for our expertise. He made another comparison: That Alibris is the lumber company that puts the trees through the sawmill and makes the planks, it is their online booksellers who are the woodcarvers that make the planks special.

We walked through the steps taken by a book that isn't sent directly to the customer by an Alibris bookseller. These are generally books that go overseas, or that were ordered through Borders and will be sent to them to distribute to their customers. It also includes volumes that will go to libraries and schools and the like. The book arrives by mail from the bookseller. It is opened by the first line of defense, the Receiving crew. They unwrap the books and send them to another staff member who checks the books for condition, and invoices and sorts the books by destination. The volumes then go into large plastic totes that are placed on a snakelike conveyor belt. The totes are marked with a bar code that is read by the conveyor belt and spit into the proper shipping area by automation.

The books are then packaged and sent out. As Mark pointed out, they don't ship each book separately. If they have a number of books to go overseas, they save up a large crate full and ship them all at once. If they have twelve copies of Catch 22 from 12 different dealers to go to one school or library, they collect them all and send them all together in one package, thus saving themselves and their customers a great deal of postage.

I mentioned to Mark that I always wrap my valuable books in brown paper or bubble wrap before I send them out. A couple of times, I have received emails from Alibris telling me not to wrap the books so heavily. Mark said that one pet peeve in the Receiving area is over-packaging books. I argued that the books needed to be well protected as the Post Office does not always treat them tenderly. He said that unless it is a valuable book, say over $50 or $100, it is not necessary to pack them in any more than a protective envelope or small box, and puleeez, no peanuts! I warned him that if I felt it necessary to heavily wrap a fragile or expensive book, I would and his receivers would just have to curse me. He noted that with 8,000 books coming in each day, perhaps three books might sustain some damage. I thought that was a pretty good average, as long as one of the three wasn't one of mine.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <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. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.

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