Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2003 Issue

Book Business Past in Head-on Collision

Janebay1

Uncle Tom's Adventure in a Hollow Log. Poughkeepsie, New York. $5.00 on eBay


By Bruce McKinney

Books are sold in many places: in book stores, through book sellers on line, through auctions and dispersals. Collectable book buying has been for several centuries a matter of luck and cunning that has favored the highly educated and those with elephantine memories. It has always been like gold mining. You had to find the vein. Few people had the knowledge, fewer still the luck. Everyone believes the great material is out there but there has been no easy way to find it. Better organized dealers and collectors have been using online selling sites for most of a decade. But the only “cash” market for most collectors has been auctions and they are limited in the types of material they sell. For the much broader market of sellers there is eBay.

For decades there has been no easy way to dispose of books accumulated over a collecting career. They have been acquired from dealers and second-hand shops, at library fairs, auctions, rummage sales and flea markets and over time become collections. They are the reminders of summer trips across the mid-west and free afternoons in the dust bins of New York’s used book shops. Their common thread is often only apparent to the collector who bought because they looked interesting, were cheap, might make a gift (but were rarely given away) or occasionally actually had a solid connection to a “collecting” theme In many cases, these accumulations became, in time, collections – disparate and constructed with uncertain glue – but nevertheless collections. Pretty bindings, 19th century fiction, signed copies, all of them interesting debris. And they have never been easy to re-sell. Buying the right material at the right price was difficult: selling it for its fair valuation almost impossible.

eBay and the listing sites have changed this equation for both buyers and sellers. eBay in particular makes it possible to offer material that, while not necessarily perfectly described, is relatively easy to understand. Part of the beauty of eBay is that there is room for innocence. They make a large enough market that great material is generally identified by potential buyers whether or not it is understood by the sellers. Then of course there are occasional fireworks and realized prices to make the buyer blush and the seller smile. And there is always an ocean of material. Pieces large and small, old and new, rare and common all crowd eBay’s selling aisles. It is in fact the never-ending electronic garage sale. It is the garden in which ten thousand collecting seeds germinate, a hundred thousand collectors are nourished and in time, many collectors’ blooms harvested: all in a single place over the continuum of time.

eBay speaks to the careful accumulator, who now becomes a seller, in terms they understand – a few percent commission, relatively small listing fees and a display format that makes amateur descriptions understandable. It may have taken years to build the collection but until recently such collections could rarely find the thin but appreciative audience that might value them the way the collector/accumulator does. Books, that in the past that were often consigned to the attic, now find willing buyers across town, across the state, across the country and even around the globe – more often than not – through eBay. It is the “everyman’s” cash market. It’s not the only way to sell but for consignors it’s a good way to sell. They don’t need to be a book dealer to do it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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