Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2013 Issue

Selling the Collection - No Easy Answers

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This is a small portion of the holdings of one older collector who finds “letting go is the hardest part.”

This month’s article is the outgrowth of a query to an on-line list-serve populated mainly by book dealers. No long ago the following post was received:


“Suppose for the moment that you are a "civilian" with a large accumulation of books, gathered over many years. Now it's time to dispose of the library. How would you go about doing it? What actions on your part or features of the collection would be most likely to make it salable or attract the attention of knowledgeable dealers?

 

“What should a seller do to dispose of a collection at reasonable prices?

“This is not entirely a rhetorical question,” the writer continued. “A neighbor of mine has spent his career as a professor of philosophy. He is now in his mid-80s. He has hinted that he might want me to give him some advice or help him dispose of his library ‘when the time comes.’ He has never been a real ‘collector’ but has been a prodigious accumulator of books for more than 60 years.

 

“Most of his house is stuffed with books, almost all non-fiction; I would estimate 8,000 - 10,000 volumes. It's heavy on philosophy, mostly ethics and esthetics, only a little epistemology or political philosophy. … He has never attempted to catalog his books -- as he says, ‘I know where everything is.’ All volumes are neatly shelved, and readily accessible. His books range from as-new condition to heavily-used.

“We have no used/rare/antiquarian dealers within 100 miles, except for a Half-Price Books store which is completely unable/unwilling to deal with this volume of books, especially in these categories. What do I tell him? That his books are worthless, or that dealers will offer him pennies (or less) on the dollar for his library? ….


“Although I have couched this inquiry in terms of my neighbor's books (a real case), the same or similar questions will eventually apply to my own collection. I have more volumes, and have focused more on acquiring rare and collectible items, but the same difficulties apply.

 

“There are no nearby dealers. Most of the specialist dealers with whom I have worked over the past half-century are dead, retired or trying to retire.”

 

The writer of this post, turned out to be a 70 year old professor emeritus at a large American university, who asked to remain anonymous. He estimated his own holdings in “Western Americana” from the Coronado Expedition to the 1840s might be 12,000-18,000 volumes. Though he is in good health and people in his family lived to “their 80s or 90s,” he knew the day would come when he’d need to sell.

 

His situation is far more common than might be expected. AE receives similar inquires quite frequently. Almost immediately he made several comments we’ve heard before including:

 

* “Letting it go is the hardest part.”

 

* “Don’t tell my wife how much I spend on books.”

 

* “What I’d really like is a good home, a place that will take good care of it.”

 

Like many who face the prospect of selling he’s torn between conflicting emotions. On one hand, he really doesn’t want to sell at all, on the other he hopes both to recover a good portion of what he’s spent and at the same time place it with “another individual who cares for it as much as I do… someone I could pass it on to ….sooner or later it’s got to pass.”

 

How much is his collection worth? Well that depends. This collector gave an estimate in the low six figures, but whether he will be able to realize that amount, or even a fraction of it, remains to be seen.

 

Probably nobody hears more stories like this one than AE Monthly publisher Bruce McKinney. McKinney is an ardent collector himself who has successfully sold some of his earlier holding. As such, he is frequently asked for his advice. He outlined the usual options: sell it all to a dealer, find an auction house that will take it, put it out on consignment or work with an institution.

 

He then proceeded to give a variety of reasons that all of these possibilities might be less than ideal from the seller’s point of view.

 

Looking at the auction option he observed that many sellers experience what he termed “auction anxiety.” The theory is, he said, “that a book is a book is a book,” and at least hypothetically the same item should bring a similar price if offered in a comparable setting, but, he explained, it seldom works that way. “A book that brings $800 in one auction can bring $2,500 at another.”

 

This kind of variable combined with a long time line and the unknown outcome create a tense situation. And then the auction houses can be very particular and selective. It may be hard to place your material, and the chances of all of it going to one place, in his opinion, were unlikely. He observed that auction houses seldom want the whole collection, only the highlights. It’s often the case that the majority of the value is found in only a handful of items.

 

Turning to institutions he noted that here the time lines and process can take years and that today’s special collections are often reluctant to commit to acquisition and care of materials where there is significant duplication of what they already own. That’s before we even get to a discussion of price.

 

As for dealers, McKinney pointed to an increasing reluctance to buy - i.e. spend their own money and an increasing trend toward consigning because “nobody really knows” where the market for books is going. And though consignment terms are negotiable, often time the seller ends up feeling “he’s been had” and because terms of consignment may not be well defined, the dealer sometimes shares those sentiments.

 

Add to the mix that the seller’s own ideas about the value of his holding is based on what things might have been worth in years past, but is often not realistic in light of the current market.

 

Said McKinney, “They can not bring themselves to believe they’re not going to get those prices today. Today’s price is often going to be lower. They’ve got to adjust their expectations.”

 

One new option he mentioned was a recently formed group called Collectorsfolio. This firm bills itself as a specialist in collection development. It also offers fee-for-service cataloging in digital format.

 

On the sell side it provides brokerage services for high end books - similar to the representation provided by a real estate agent. The present commission schedule quotes rates that in the book trade would be considered quite modest. One reason for that is the dealer has none of his own money tied up in the venture. McKinney sees this combination as “the new model.”

 

Jeremy O’Connor, 39 and Michael DiRuggiero, 41, are co-founders Collectorsfolio. It is an outgrowth of their firm Manhattan Rare Book Company (ABAA) in New York City which has been active in the trade since 1999.

 

According to O’Connor, Collectorsfolio is still in its early stages and came on-line this summer in a beta version. The concept, he said, “is a result of our conversation with our clients and their needs.”

 

On the cataloging side Collectorsfolio works with collectors to help create a digital file that can be converted to on-line use or can be printed. He said that charges to create these documents have so far ranged from a few hundred for inserting professionally taken photos into a Word file up to $5,500 dollars for a more soup-to-nuts approach for a catalog of Modern First Editions. The fee depends on the number of items, whether a basic list already exists, the complexity of the photography and a variety of other factors.

 

Once a digital document is prepared it can be a useful marketing tool for the seller, and give him “more leverage.” If desired Collectorsfolio can also act as a seller’s broker for a flat percentage which O’Connor quoted as “15 percent of items selling for up to $5,000 and 10 percent for books sold above $5,000.”

 

O’Connor thought that “the best owner for a book above $5,000 is a collector, with the dealer to act as agent for the prior owner.” Collectorsfolio always takes possession of the book before the transaction is completed. The difference between a dealer and a collector, he said, is ‘I never met a dealer who loved a book more the longer he had it.”

 

This writer, a dealer’s daughter and a dealer herself for more than 30 years, is only too familiar with the collector’s dilemma.

 

To realize top dollar takes planning, cataloging and usually a time line of several years. It requires realistic expectations and finding the right vehicle - be it auction, dealer, internet, institution or combination of any or all to achieve maximum value.

 

Asked for an opinion, I recommended first selling duplicates, then culling books that were no longer as interesting to the collector as they might have been in the past and selling those next, if only to get used to the idea of “selling.”

 

I also suggested using eBay as a very low cost vehicle to showcase attractive items as bait to find buyers who shared similar interests and had the financial resources to afford them.

 

The worst scenario is to do nothing and let time take its course. When a collector dies, the wives and families are seldom equipped to handle the disposal of the books that have been so lovingly accumulated.

 

Then the collection goes from being a treasured asset to a burden that needs to be liquidated and rapidly. The distress model yields the lowest prices and frequently brings turmoil to the heirs who in most cases know little or nothing about books or how to sell them.

 

----

 

Reach writer Susan Halas at wailukusue@gmail.com

 


Posted On: 2013-09-01 12:18
User Name: knathan

"When a collector dies, the wives and families are seldom equipped...."

Or husbands. I know we're in the minority, but women collect books as well!


Posted On: 2013-09-01 16:34
User Name: blackmud42

When I retired as a history professor, I donated my books to my university's library. As my collection was nothing special, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a charitable donation receipt that gave me a $14,000 tax deduction. I think such donation is an option any collector might well consider. You get a modest financial return, save a lot of bother, and have the satisfaction of knowing your books will be put to good use.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000

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