Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2007 Issue

The Swami Speaks

Dad

Bruce McKinney


By Bruce McKinney

Change is the order of the day not only in politics but also in book selling; the reactions and responses just as emotional and visceral. For those who became booksellers to avoid the froth there is plenty of heckling to make you wonder if you chose the right profession. The pastoral expectations of a life among books, for some time, have been giving way to an emerging market along the lines of the Chicago stock yards.

For fully ten years the world of books has been shifting online. With this transfer has come awareness of the vastly larger quantities of many books and editions that "are out there." This in turn has brought a recalibration of rarity that increasingly looks not only at availability but interest.

It has created an emerging worldwide and increasingly visible inventory that is easy to see and everyday understood by more people. It has forced dealers to decide whether to price material according to what a specific individual will pay or to what the market says it is worth. Just a few years ago it was unlikely collectors were seeing the larger picture. Today many more are, the evidence of this is in the volume of material moving through eBay and traditional auctions. Buyers of all persuasions increasingly trust competitive bidding more than asking prices and so are bidding rather than outright buying.

The disconnect between the old market of prix fix and the new market of demand established prices has been possible only because collectors have been slow to grasp the emerging transparency of the market. This has left the dealer to decide how much to disclose, a difficult decision with no right answer. Sellers of course have the right to obtain the best price and so do buyers. If one side is asleep the other will prevail but these days few collectors are entirely unaware of their options. For years the dealer knew much more but the gap is quickly closing and it's increasingly common for collector knowledge to decisively trump dealer awareness.

For collectors with some awareness of the extensive market information now available this has meant acquiring access to the tools that empower bidders. Of course to acquire or access them you need to know what they are and while some dealers have embraced such tools as part of the emerging future of bookselling and collecting and share this information with their clients, others have responded in anger, disbelief and frustration. Ultimately, it is the collector who must be satisfied and they are embracing such tools.

With eBay and auction houses playing increasing roles in the exchange of books, manuscripts and ephemera the logical next step is for dealers to edge into the auction market themselves. Traditionally, this would have been verboten. Booksellers sold at retail prices they set, and a bidding process would have undermined the logic of their pricing. However, the overwhelming number of listings and increasing buyer preference for market derived prices is making this necessary. Better to adapt to a new pricing strategy than be left behind.

This is not to say we expect dealers to stop selling by traditional means. They will not and should not. What we expect to see is their offering some items through a bid and ask process. The first such offerings are likely to be their slowest-moving inventory. That said, we expect to see one or more of the bookseller organizations lead the way to organizing a booksellers' auction site. With the high commissions of other auctions, both online and traditional, plus the tendency for books to get lost among the hundreds of items they sell, a bookseller run online auction just for books appears the logical next step. If such a step is logical, then it probably will happen.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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 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, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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