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>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28: Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 5: African-American Fine Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 7: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 16: Contemporary Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 5:<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 14: Illustration Art</b>
  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…

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