Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

Changing Hats in the Book Business

Winter

The store is open winters by appointment only so they can shovel the walk.


Now, I'm afraid to pay $5.00 for a book as I will probably find it online for 50 cents. Once in a while, I used to find a copy of a good book in a thrift store or yard sale for $1.00 and actually sell it for $50.00 to $100.00. That is getting to be a very rare way to get my kicks anymore as there are so many book dealers that haven't a clue about what is a good book and what isn't that they just buy everything they can get their hands on as cheaply as possible, automatically mark them up fifty cents or a dollar, and undercut those of us who have some serious training. Do I sound like I'm whining? Sorry, I guess I am. At this juncture, I have decided it is time to make yet another change.

In the past two years, I have shifted my business from selling many low to mid-priced books, to weeding out all my less expensive books and going for higher end books. Now, I am being incredibly selective when I buy books. I whacked my old inventory in half, sold a bunch at a flea market, gave many to the thrift stores so they could overprice them, and though I did lose money on some of them, I probably broke even or made a small profit on most of them.

I finally feel as though I have enough experience (and a laptop) that I don't often get burned on books I buy anymore. I don't believe I have enough experience yet to appraise true antiquarian books such those from the 17th and 18th centuries, but I have shifted in a major way to doing a lot of appraising of personal libraries and collections, and selling those books on consignment. One exciting thing about appraisals is that one never learns it all, and I do love a challenge. To do competitive pricing, I check the Internet, going to the web pages of several very good bookstores that I have done business with in the past, to see where they have something priced, but I still check my reference books, as well. It is much more profitable, not as much work, and a lot more fun. I find all kinds of nifty stuff stashed in boxes and barns and on old bookshelves in people's houses (of course, there is a lot of dreck, too.) If, after a period of time, they haven't sold, I pat them on their little spines and send them back to their owners. No more giving away books for which I paid too much.

There are a few drawbacks to appraisals, of which I'm sure most of our readers are aware. There is the guy who has had the books stored in boxes in a dirty garage, they are covered in car grease and dust, and maybe they are moldy. They belonged to his Old Aunt Ethel (who was a chain smoker, which you can tell with one whiff of the books) and from the look of them, she probably stole half of them from the local library. "But," he says, "they are old, they must be valuable." If someone has a first edition of John Grisham's latest book, they think it must be worth a fortune and they get a bit pissy if I have to say, "Sorry, it's not anything special. They printed 50 million of these." If they have a book from 100 years ago, they just KNOW that it must be priceless. I feel badly when I have to say, "Sorry, Mr. Jones, not necessarily." By and large, when I get to someone's home, I give them the "old-is-not-necessarily-valuable," pep talk right up front so they are prepared to some extent to be disappointed.

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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