Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2010 Issue

Follow-up to Better World Books Article

Better World has both supporters and detractors.


By Susan Halas

November's lead story on Better World Books of Mishawaka, Indiana, not only attracted a greater than usual number of readers, but also evoked quite a bit of response both directly to AE and in the form of long running threads on various dealer and collector lists. We are following up with two unedited responses that we hope will help clarify the practices of the firm and the concerns of traditional book dealers.

We thank Better World Books for being kind enough to host our visit and also thank the many dealers, collectors and library patrons who wrote to express their opinion.

Susan Halas
AE Monthly Writer
Reach Susan at halas@hawaii.rr.com

Response to Article from Better World Books

By Tara Gilchrist
Head Antiquarian, Rare and Collectible Department

It was with pleasure that we welcomed Susan and AE readers to our warehouse, and we were happy to show her around and answer her questions. She was able to speak to executives and employees, to dig in our boxes and poke through our shelves.

Her viewpoint is that of a "bookseller", a traditional bookseller from the "old school". We understand and respect that tradition of knowledge and the craft of bookselling, and seek to keep the best of those traditions while using the book to make a powerful social impact. While Susan's article was fairly thorough, we appreciate the opportunity to clarify three points in particular.

It's not clear in the article that the tipper is only used for thrift books - not the books the libraries send us, or from campus book drives. It's used for the books that we purchase outright from the thrift stores, which arrive in big, unwieldy Gaylords. No client is losing any value with the tipper, as we outright own those books. The tipper makes it easier to sort the shoes, belts, and headless Barbie dolls from the actual books. No mention was made in the article of our improving that process, which has been underway for several months.

It was curious to read Susan's comment about the lack of intellectuals in our crowd; if it meant grumpy, tweed-jacketed, pipe-smoking, bushy-browed types, then that would be accurate. We apply our considerable intellect to designing the best programs for libraries, our customers, and those supported by our literacy partners.

As for the sensationalized headline of "Cultural Strip Mining": we are saving many books, every day, which may have otherwise been lost: from the $10 German-language 1940 agriculture report to Peter Force's Declaration of Independence to signed Picasso lithographs, we sell books to the curious, collectors, academics, libraries, and booksellers, at a fair price.

Calling out libraries for "letting these books go" without understanding where they are going is uninformed at best. The needs of academic and public libraries are constantly changing. Their primary directive is to provide relevant books and materials to their constituents, and they excel at this. They operate with a different definition of "value" than booksellers: libraries, without a doubt, value their culture and communities, and they are called to respond to those fluctuating needs in a timely manner. Booksellers value money. Librarians have a different skill set, and a different bottom line, than those of booksellers: they work hard to balance traditional needs with modern demands to best serve their public. Booksellers, on the other hand, work hard to generate the best profit: Susan has been selling books for over 60 years, and she's still learning new things, keeping up with changing markets and sales venues... every good bookseller is always doing these things, and cataloging books, and talking with customers... Librarians are dedicated to keeping up with the needs and values of an entire community; booksellers have other bottom-line priorities.

I believe we need to give the libraries a big round of applause. They are constantly seeking means to support their communities by providing them with a specific kind of immediate, cultural value, and finding homes for the books which no longer suit those needs. They do this under enormous pressure from their directors, under tight budget constraints, and with insufficient time to do the task. I suggest that Susan attend the summer ALA conference; I believe that Susan would do both librarians and booksellers a great service by writing a story about the choices and challenges of today's librarians, both academic and public; perhaps she will not be as critical after listening to librarians from all walks.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Bonhams, June 25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. De humani corporis fabrica libri septem. $200,000 - $300,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Gersdorff, Hans Von. 1455-1529. Feldtbuch der wundartzney. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Pare, Ambroise. C.1509-1590. La Methode Curative des Playes, et Fractures de la Teste humaine. Avec les pourtraits des Instruments necessaires pour la curation d'icelles. $25,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Reisch, Gregor. 1470-1525. Margarita Philosophica. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bright, Richard. 1789-1858. Reports of Medical Cases, Selected with a View of Illustrating the Symptoms and Cure of Diseases by a Reference to Morbid Anatomy. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Berengario da Carpi, Giacomo. C. 1460-1530. Tractatus de fractura calve sive cranei. $10,000 - $15,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Vicq D'Azyr, Felix. 1748-1794. Traite d'antomie et de physiologie. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Croce, Giovanni Andrea Della. 1509?-1775. Chirurgia libri septem... $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bruno Da Longburgo. 1200-1286. La cyrogia di Maistro Bruno: Expertissimo in quella. Tradutta in vulgare. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Schwann, Theodor. 1810-1882. Mikroskopische Untersuchungen uber die Ubereinstimmung in der Struktur und dem Wachsthum der Thiere und Pflanzen. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Cowper, William. 1666-1709. The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, with Figures Drawn after the Life… $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 25: Bidloo, Govard. 1649-1713. Anatomia humani corporis, centum & quinque tabulis, per artificiossis. G. de Lairesse ad vivum delineatis. $6,000 - $9,000
  • Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Keats, John] Spenser, Edmund: The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmond Spenser. $50,000 - $80,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: (Walton, Izaak): The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing. $30,000 - $50,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Thomas, Gabriel: An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of West-New-Jersey in America. $25,000 - $35,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Carroll, Lewis]: The Game of Alice in Wonderland. $2,000 - $3,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Athias, Joseph, et al.: Biblia Hebraica. $7,000 - $10,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Warhol, Andy, and Jens Quistgaard] Dansk Designs Salesman's Presentation Catalogue. $2,500 - $3,500.
  • Sotheby’s, June 26: Poe, Edgar Allan. Tamerlane — the most poignant rarity in American literature. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." 2,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: William Blake. “Poems with very wild and interesting pictures” 1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: Thomas Taylor [artist]. The original cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
  • Bonhams, June 15-25: 18th Century American Sea Captain's Journals of Voyages to Hawaii, China, and South America. $35,000 - $45,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Autograph Diary from Bolling Advance Base, Winter 1934. $40,000 - $60,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854. $4,000 - $6,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Cellarius, Andreas. Harmonia macrocosmica seu atlas universalis et novus, totius universi creati cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Nobelist George Stigler's Copy of Ricardo's Classic on the Science of Economics. $20,000 - $30,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris: F. L. Schmied, 1927. $15,000 - $20,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Fine Copy of Walras's Classic on the Theory of Marginal Utility. $12,000 - $18,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Arion Press Moby Dick. Melville, Herman. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Venegas, Miguel. Noticia de la California, y desu conquista temporal, y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente. $7,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Carelton Watkins, Yosemite and the West. Portfolio of 21 imperial albumen prints. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: An Unpublished Archive of Thornton Wilder Correspondence to F.J. O'Neil. $6,000 - $9,000
    Bonhams, June 15-25: Vesalius, Andreas. 1514-1564. Suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome. $100,000 - $150,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions