Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2005 Issue

Pacific Book Auction - A good place to do business


Books on display at PBA

There are several ways that folks can bid on their books. The first and most fun is to attend the live auction at their San Francisco auction house. There are two ways to bid online, passive and active. You may offer a maximum bid ahead of time and then forget about it until the auction is over or you may actively bid online during the auction through an intermediary staff member. They also offer pre-arranged bidding by telephone through a staff surrogate during the auction. Once the fast and furious bidding is done and the auction is over, the lucky high bidders are efficiently and courteously aided by staff to collect their prizes and pay their fees, or their purchases are shipped in a timely manner. I can attest to the fact that when they ship, their books are wrapped in such a way that they come to you in excellent condition. But, don't forget to factor in the rather considerable shipping costs.

"How about prices," I asked, "do people realize what they hope to?" Bruce explained that because their staff is so knowledgeable about what prices to put on the books in the first place, "the final selling price is often less than the upper limit of a winning absentee bid. Detailed descriptions in our catalogs mean that items do not have to be examined for one to be able to bid on them with confidence. About 70% of the books sold at PBA go to buyers who do not see the books until we send them." It seemed to me that this also has a lot to do with the fact that they are very clear about discussing what a consignor might expect to net and very discriminating about what books they offer in the first place.

"Well," I said, "I guess the internet has made a big difference in high end book auction bidding, has it not?" "Yes," replied Bruce, "To be successful, we couldn't afford to ignore the internet. The 'better' books or what we once considered 'rare' may now be 'medium rare' since there are so many more books available. Some books that we never saw more than one copy of in a year or more, are now much more available, thus bringing down the auction prices. This is both good and bad. It makes it possible for more people to get into collecting the more unusual books; the thrill of seeking thing; but it does lower the prices somewhat." I asked about competition from places like eBay. He said that "PBA is better at book auctioning than eBay because collectors and dealers trust our descriptions. We are professional book sellers, so we know how to describe books accurately and we also guarantee the books to be as stated. We will actually give the customer's money back if it is not as described."

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