Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2008 Issue

Hunkering Down

Crowd

Crowd gathering on Wall Street, 1929.


by Renée Magriel Roberts

With all of the craziness going on this week, I was thinking about doing a review of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929, but instead I decided to share what we've been doing and thinking about doing to insure that we don't go down the tubes along with everyone else headed in that direction.

Keeping It Simple and Small

First of all, we decided to keep our business simple and to keep it small. By simple, I mean that basically two people can do everything. We resist exponential growth - growth that may force us to rent additonal warehouse space, or hire additional people. Instead we have automated everything that can reasonably be automated, we review our stock on a regular basis so that we are not carrying junk that is taking up space, and when and if we do need people, we work with them as consultants or as skilled professionals who have businesses of their own.

Good Stuff Sells

Good stuff sells and continues to sell. Really rare material that is of interest has held up very well, even in what might be viewed as a "soft" market. Instead of buying huge lots of books and looking for those needles in the proverbial haystack, we buy only selectively and with purpose. We buy to increase our holdings in certain targeted areas, or we buy because we know we have a customer ready at the other end. By narrowing our focus to say, Americana, or British politics in the early nineteenth century, we can buy with knowledge. We have virtually given up going to library book sales, or buying huge lots of books randomly.

Keeping an Eye on Profitability

You have to either increase your sales or decrease your costs to become more profitable, or to hold your own in a soft market. We've done a lot of research on shipping domestically and internationally in order to trim the costs (and provide better service) in this area. We currently use FedEx international, Pitney Bowes, UPS and the USPS, as well as variants of the above. We use less expensive recycled materials for packing when possible (something, by the way, appreciated by our environmentally-conscious customers).

On the sales side we've worked for several years now to expand our sales safely to foreign marketplaces so that when the dollar is weak we get stronger foreign sales.

Reducing the Cost of Overhead

We used to have two bricks-and-mortar computer stores and they cost a fortune. We are now set up with an interwined bookstore/home, keeping the rarest items off-site securely. This allows us to partially expense many items as the cost of doing business, while avoiding the overhead of rent and maintenance of a separate space.

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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