Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2012 Issue

Free or Nearly Free: Great Finds that Cost $0 or Next to $0 & Sell for a Great Deal More


The ethics of good fortune

Quite a few sellers had comments on the ethics of good fortune:

Wrote one California on-line bookseller, “I really liked (and copied) one suggestion way back when I was new – ‘if you find something really great at a library sale then go ahead and add a ‘donation’ to the amount you pay for it (which has the side benefit of offsetting the sometimes negative opinions FOL volunteers have of book dealers).”

In her view, “As professionals, our goal should be to pay a ‘fair price’ for our inventory - that is, one that allows us to make a good profit, but not one that takes undue advantage of less knowledgeable people ....”

“The same thing is true in bookstores,” she went on, “a seller whom I considered a friend sold me something cheaply - he was trying to give me a good deal; but it was just too good.

“I tried to pay him more when I realized the current market value. He refused. I gave him some reference books; he gave me a bigger discount on my next purchase. I bought more books; he gave me a still bigger discount.

We basically spent the next two years trying to give each other something to balance things out.”

An ephemera specialist on the West Coast had a similar sentiment: Not only does she “split the take” if something she acquires inexpensively sells rapidly, she recommends going even farther: “If someone just gives me a bunch of books that they need to unload and don't want money for it, I cook them a meal, take them to dinner (or in one case, throw a party for departing friends), or otherwise reciprocate appropriately. No good deed should go unrewarded.”

Don’t kiss and tell

At least a few sellers weren’t too keen about discussing this subject at all. Their sentiments were, in the words of one Oklahoma specialist: “One doesn't kiss and tell.”

Another New Englander sounded the same note. He wrote: “First off, it gets peoples’ hopes up, and suddenly every piece of c--p old book which should be sold for a nickel becomes a valuable treasure, and that's just plain hopeless. Secondly, every single bookseller worth his salt has dozens, if not hundreds, of stories like this. A lot of these stories involve books bought from other booksellers. It's not always the brightest thing to brag about buying a book in someone's shop for ten bucks and then selling it for $20,000.”

The final word

The final word went to a gentleman in Chicago: “Not being a bookseller it seems to me that these ‘great find’ stories are a form of pep talk - a little motivational oomph to spice what can be a fairly routine job. I wouldn't worry too much about the occasional great find story serving to alert ‘civilians’; "Antiques Road Show" has already done that. There is enough talk of disappointing sales, one cent booksellers and unfair competition that a bit of morale-boosting war story sharing isn't out of place.”


AE writer Susan Halas can be reached at wailukusue@gmail.com.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
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    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
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