Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2004 Issue

Profit & Pleasure: The Bookseller as Publisher

We recently reprinted George Witton’s Scapegoats of the Empire (1907) in all three formats


By Renée Magriel Roberts

Cape Cod, Harwich Port. About a year ago I was selling a very hard-to-find copy of Britt-Mari Näsström’s Freyja, Goddess of the North to a customer and found the book — how should I describe this? — sticking to my hands. You know the feeling — you’re happy to have the sale, but you realize that you’ll probably never see the book again. I expect that any closet bibliophile/bookseller who has ever dealt with rare books has had the same twinge, felt the same mixed emotions.

Profitability in our area of bookselling usually hinges upon locating truly rare books. There is always a buyer for these books, especially if they are in very good condition. It is always nice to stumble upon these titles at public sales, but with the proliferation of new and amateur buyers who are using the Internet, such finds are becoming ever more scarce. We routinely buy books to upgrade the quality of our inventory, but we see the cost of such investment steadily rising.

In any event, while handling that book on Freyja I experienced a bit of an epiphany: I realized that there were buyers out there who would certainly be interested in the book’s content, and would actually prefer a lower price to a first edition. The more I thought about it, the more attractive the prospect became — isn’t it a bookseller’s dream to have a monopoly on a particular book, as one would have if working with a live author? In the case of rare books, why not copy them before letting the only existing example out of one’s hands? In any event, we contacted Näsström, who (as it happened) had a revised MS in preparation, and we are now the publisher of her book.

For a bookseller selling exclusively over the Internet, the beauty of combining publishing with sales is also obvious. While publishers have to deeply discount books to distributors to get them in retail bricks-and-mortar stores, an Internet bookseller can sell the book at retail, while buying (printing) it at cost. And it’s like printing money; when you need more books to sell, you can just print them.

We made some other decisions critical to our particular clientele and product mix. We decided to focus on high-value scholarly non-fiction in areas where I had some experience, interest and familiarity — history, mythology, literary criticism, religion, the arts, etc, and avoid such fields as the hard sciences. We decided to avoid mass market areas, like popular novels, exposés, and mysteries — books that require a good deal of marketing to create demand. Because our space is very limited, we also decided to publish books in very small quantities, depending upon a higher than usual retail price, rather than having more moderate pricing, but much larger quantities to warehouse and handle. We are not quite print-on-demand, but we’re close to it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000

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