Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

Taking Stock

Isaac

Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz.


By Renée Magriel Roberts

I would like to wave a magic wand and turn every unlisted book in my shop into a database entry before it's too late, before my home and my books become a story on AmericanaExchange. Miriam Zobel's experience (see A Specialist Inventory to be sold as a Single Lot at Auction in last month's issue of AE Monthly) is certainly a moving story, as well as a cautionary tale.

Spend a working lifetime building up your inventory, especially in some more important but not particularly valuable areas like education and psychology, and in retirement open your shop to the cherry-pickers (I don't know how much Miriam sold her better books for), and finally, at public auction, sell the rest of the your 90,000-some-odd inventory for $1,000, just slightly more than 1 cent.

Of course, she did make a few mistakes along the way. First of all, she actually owned the books she was selling, unlike the myriad "sellers" who fabricate listings, steal other people's listings, or create hyper search engines that appear to be searches of existing inventories, when in fact they are multiplying other dealers' prices by a considerable factor and then presenting them for sale to the unwary buyer. She bought quality books as a service.

She was also a dealer with a clear social conscience, not just catering to a few. People who specialize in fields like education and who develop a service to assist Ph.D. candidates are not looking at books in the same way as others who might be attracted to more superficial aspects of books.

When I look at the boxes and boxes of general stock books not yet listed for sale, I feel like I've created my own Zobel-like environment. The life (and in many cases the value) is draining out of my storage boxes, and I don't have the time and energy to stop the flow. I'm choosing to devote the energy I do have to maintaining my life and my energy, rather than that of my good used stock.

On the other hand, as Bruce McKinney pointed out last month (see The Declining Value of Inventory (AE Monthly)) really good stuff not only sells, but increases and will increase in value. We are seeing strong sales in the Cistercian choir books, printed with the Plantin/Moretus presses, that we took on this month. Nothing stopping modern first editions, collections of 19th century political pamphlets and letters and 19th-century biographies -- these are all going strong. And it is certainly a lot less work to sell one book for $2100 than a bunch of books for $22 each, even factoring in photographs and increased customer contact.

So, with this in mind, we're continuing to improve the value and the quantity of our truly rare stock and have all but ceased buying general stock. We're also buying in the specific areas in which we are familiar, rather than interesting items in which we have a thin coverage. What this means is that there are more conversations, and consequently more networking, among collectors and dealers in our chosen fields, and more interesting assignments. Over the next few months, for example, we will be inventorying and then placing a collection of early materials related to the abolition of slavery, a relationship developed entirely via word-of-mouth.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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…
  • <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.

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