Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2003 Issue

Here Be Dragons: Navigating the Terra Incognita of International Book Sales

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No boundaries: A world full of appreciative customers ... and well-read international thieves.


By Renee Roberts

October 17, 2003. Harwich Port, Cape Cod, MA. The Internet has been touted as opening up the global world of sales to individual retailers, and this is certainly true. What “normal” bricks-and-mortar bookseller would routinely receive orders from such remote corners of the world as the Australian outback, Central Africa, or the island of Mauritius (the address was “Mauritius, Indian Ocean”) in a single day? However, the novelty of international sales is somewhat counterbalanced by a bag of complexity and danger worthy of the Perils of Pauline. Sometimes I long for the days when customers — many of them old friends — would amble into my little hole-in-the-wall storefront in search of dusty treasure. More often than not the end result would be a long chat, a mug of tea, and the wrapping of a few carefully chosen volumes in brown paper for the voyage home.

My first experience with “questionable” international sales was on eBay. I had posted for auction a nineteenth-century travel book on Constantinople with lovely old engravings, and it was won by a buyer from Turkey. He immediately sent me a courteous email — and payment via BillPoint, the credit card system eBay used for its sales at that time. He requested and paid for expedited shipping. I mailed the book; he sent me an email thanking me for it and posted complimentary feedback, which I reciprocated. All seemed right with the world for about a month and a half.

That is, until I received the dreaded notice from eBay saying I had received a chargeback. I was a novice at online sales, and this was my first experience with one of the more aggravating, stress-inducing by-products of international sales. When I inquired as to why eBay had gone into my bank account and deducted the funds I had received for the Constantinople book, they told me that the customer claimed he had never ordered it.

Arguing with large companies over chargebacks is, in my opinion, a little like dealing with the government of Massachusetts on excise tax issues (another personal sore point.) Basically you are forced into a serve-and-volley game with a nameless, featureless bureaucracy where nobody takes responsibility for the decisions that have been made, let alone admits they have the power to make decisions. In this strange, through-the-looking-glass world one could wander for weeks without encountering a single person within the merchant/customer (dis)service hierarchy who is capable of arriving at a logically-reasoned, equitable resolution of even the most open-and-shut disputes.

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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