Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2008 Issue

A Discussion of Book Auctions with PBA's Justine Berkeley

Justine

Justine Berkeley of PBA


By Karen Wright

While in San Francisco for the Antiquarian Book Fair in February, we had lunch at Café Claude with our friend Justine Berkeley, Logistics Manager at PBA Galleries on Kearny Street. PBA Galleries is the largest specialty book auction house in the United States. They hold approximately twenty-five gallery auctions in a calendar year and continuous live online auctions of rare books, manuscripts, autographs, maps, atlases, prints, and photographs.

We asked Justine how she got into the book business.

"It was more like the auction business. I never really feel as though I'm selling books, but that I'm providing a service. I really like it," she said with enthusiasm. "I was a biology major in college and we were doing spotted owl surveys and river water surveys in the Pacific Northwest. It was very, very wet and cold. I decided I was not cut out to do field work. I had worked for another book auction company that was in the PBA space before PBA acquired it in 1992. I've worked at book auction jobs for fifteen years now. I started at PBA in 2001, just a few days after 9-11. I had a friend at PBA who knew about a job in the shipping department. It was just part time and so I was holding down two jobs. One was as the retail shop manager for the San Francisco Giants at the ball park. I love baseball and the Giants, but I hated retail so when I had the opportunity, I went full time with PBA."

Justine is a San Francisco native and she still lives in San Francisco, which she loves. She didn't own a car until she was nineteen years old. "You don't really need one here in the city," she noted. "I can walk just about everywhere."

She would like very much to travel more, she says, but she just doesn't have time. Her life companion is a chef so she says she works out two hours a day at the gym so she can go home and eat. She loves food, dogs, cats, and baseball. I asked her if she is an avid reader, but surprisingly she said she likes to read, but hardly ever has time.

Justine is extremely friendly, good-natured, and full of energy. We liked her the minute we met her several years ago, and if I have any questions about anything at PBA she's the gal I call. We asked her if she likes her work. She loves it, she says, and claims to be a workaholic (it's true; I've seen her in action). When we go there for an auction -- or just to see her -- we sometimes find her in the well-appointed auction room setting up displays, polishing the glass cases or hanging prints, or running books up and down in the elevator from customers' cars. If a book doesn't sell, she makes sure it gets back to the seller, carefully wrapped and shipped. She is a definite Justine-of-all-trades.

Justine quickly moved up in PBA, learning everything she could about the business from schlepping books in shipping to inventory control. As she worked, she improved some of their procedures and kept being promoted. She's heavily involved in inventory control and says that the only aspect of the day-to-day business she doesn't really work with much is the cataloguing department.

"They are pretty specialized," she notes, "But I hold them in very high esteem, They work really hard and some of them can actually research and catalog up to a hundred books in a day."

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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