Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

The Debate and the Dilemma:  A Field in Transition

Dandw

DeWolfe and Wood; brick and mortar bookselling, shows and the web

Prices in the books, manuscripts, map and ephemera markets have generally been falling for some time and there is widespread agreement among dealers that their competitors' books are in trouble.  Their own books, thank God, have been spared the battlefield indignities others are apparently suffering.  Or so it seems.  Sales and prices are randomly falling.  It’s a problem and not easily resolved.

To get perspective I spoke with seven dealers.

The world first divides between the unique and valuable and everything else.  This article is about the everything else.  The unique and valuable are doing fine and about this broad agreement and consistent auction confirmation.  Unfortunately there is plenty of the “everything else."   

About this material there are two perspectives.  The first is that prices always recover and therefore reducing prices is somewhere between unnecessary and foolish.  The other advocates adjustments to maintain sales volume and cash flow, these adjustments taking two forms – changes in how we sell and how much we ask.  Adjusting prices becomes complicated when, to maintain cash flow, it becomes necessary to sell at prices below one’s cost, something that seems to be happening with increasing regularity.  As one dealer said, “the market doesn’t care what I paid.”  Advocates for adjustment differ among themselves whether cost or current value should be determining.

A lot is at stake, for some success or failure.

 

For those wrestling with these questions there are four possible actions.  [1] wait it out.  [2] reduce prices, [3] adjust the ways I sell, and/or [4] change what I sell.

Auction houses have a substantial advantage in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera category because they do not generally own what they sell.  They can begin to less like what is slow to sell and learn to love what does.  They cannot move too far from the constituencies they serve but can and do lean.  Dealers on the other hand have to deal with what they have and that’s a predicament when it isn’t selling.  They got into the field because they liked it and for years their material seemed to sell itself.  Today it requires better marketing and fresh strategies to sell, even at lower prices, what used to sell regularly. 



Posted On: 2013-06-01 00:00
User Name: Jacjacjac

The article distinguishes between "...the unique and valuable and everything else." It would probably take an additional article to do it, but it w


Posted On: 2013-06-01 00:00
User Name: Jacjacjac

Shouldn't reply to your own comment maybe, but I owe mentioning that this article provides excellent information on the very question I asked. Just


Posted On: 2013-06-01 00:00
User Name: AE244154

The easy but not entirely accurate answer is that the difference between the "unique and valuable and everything else" is whether an item, group of


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

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions