Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

The Facts on the Ground

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After over 250 years in business, Sotheran's has learned to adapt to change (from their website).

This is  the second of three articles on changes in the field.  Dealers adapt.  They are canny and need to be.

 

The book business is not going away but neither is it going to remain the same.  Virtually all things that can change do.  Elsewhere in this issue of AEM there’s a piece on a San Francisco Public Library’s Friends of the Library program that is converting discarded material into the two fuels that power libraries, a sense of purpose and money to support San Francisco’s Public library system.  Their project is the remarkable conversion of what, just a decade or so ago, looked like a local failing used book field – now experiencing a fresh incarnation.  Such stories will probably never be common but neither will they be rare.  Changing circumstances encourage innovation.

 

For rare book dealers the challenges are different but equally compelling because, as in all things, their only constant is change and they are living in a seismic era.  For San Francisco Public the catalyst has been price.  What once cost something often now costs next to nothing.  For dealers their seismic changes are availability and transparency, their determining factors rarity and relevance in an electronic world too often reduced to electronic contact.  Those dealers who long preferred to make their cases in person no longer have so many opportunities.  By some estimates 70 to 90% of all bookshops have closed over the past 30 years.  Human contact, it turns out, is possibly the Internet’s greatest casualty.  Today’s new normal places the written description-story-telling capability second only to the Svengali-esk capacity to find great material.  We know from the SFPL experience that there are lots of books out there.  They are handling 1 million volumes every 74 weeks.  Successful dealers handle perhaps a thousand a year, selling to collectors and institutions that rely on them for expert advice.  There is the great mass of material and then there are the gems.

 

Many booksellers years ago sensed that the internet would in time shift the setting of prices from the hands of the sellers to the “show of hands” of buyers.  Rarity is a much over-used term and the stacking up of unsold copies over the past ten years conclusively shown that this word and its meaning has been so misused as to be almost irrelevant.  Rarity now requires a third party reference.

 

However dealers do it, to succeed they have had to shift their focus to the highly uncommon where the defining issues are relevance and importance.  This trend has helped dealers with the intellectual chops to explain their material while forcing the sellers of the more common material into the “let’s make a deal" environment that listing sites have drifted into.

 

In this changing environment the periodic re-authentication of price in the auction rooms has loomed large in importance because prices on the listing sites have proven surprisingly inflexible.  The theory has been [1] "if I cut my price others will cut theirs and I will then gain nothing,” and [2] “the market always recovers so I will get my price.  I just don’t know when.”

 

These attitudes, now widely known, are encouraging buyers to look more closely at auctions because they reflect changing valuation, sometimes lower prices, and in any event “market certification.”  If an item purchased at auction is later sold its earlier auction authentication becomes very important for it provides a pricing history that fresh buyers often take into account.

 

For dealers fresh and special have long been important attributes of what they invest their money and time in.  Those who have made this transition can expect to continue to do well.  Those who have become bogged down with rank and file copies of the too frequently copious examples may find themselves having to send an increasing percentage of their stock to 438 Treat Street or other similar triage centers.

 

The old rules simply don’t work anymore.

 

The final article in this series considers the role of auctions today. Click here to continue.


Posted On: 2014-06-02 10:05
User Name: tenpound

Bruce:
An article about "dealers" that encourages "buyers to look more closely at auctions" reveals AE's anti-dealer, pro-auction bias. Despite your excellent work compiling the AE database - one of the most useful tools to arrive on the scene in recent years - you are clearly not a friend to the trade.
Greg Gibson
Ten Pound Island Book Co.


Posted On: 2014-06-03 19:21
User Name: Fattrad1

Bruce,

I have to challenge your growth rate projections for auctions, I believe you are interpolating. That is using past statistics and drawing lines into the future, Wall St. is often guilty of this.

Having just completed one year of business with an open used bookstore, I am projecting a stabilization of prices for scarce works, the type of inventory that most dealers thrive on. We have been rather disappointed with the two auction houses we have bought/sold from, poor description of condition for purchases and a complete failure with a sale attempt on a RARE book.


Posted On: 2014-06-07 21:45
User Name: AE244154

Dear Greg,

I am committed to dealers. They are the lifeblood of the market but they too are living through the transformation that is changing collectors and libraries’ approaches to their collections. The increasingly unified market simply re-values and re-prioritizes material in ways no one could have predicted ten years ago.

Dealers have had opportunities to adjust and many have adjusted because the world in which they built their businesses is no longer the world we live in. And other formulas, that once worked better, now work less well.

I believe we know the issue is not whether there are enough collectors. Auctions are selling more lots each year while maintaining a consistent sell-through percentage.

In an article in the July issue of AE Monthly I’ll examine both the current state of the dealer trade and options for the future.

There’s a future. It just isn’t the one most expected.

Bruce
Bruce McKinney
AE


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Travel, Atlases, Maps<br>and Natural History<br>Online Auction<br>27 April – 13 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>Daniel Giraud Elliot. <i>A Monograph of the Phasianidae, or Family of the Pheasants,</i> 1870-1872, coloured plates. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>Georg Braun und Franz Hogenberg. <i>Civitates orbis terrarum.</i> Cologne, 1597-c.1606, 5 volumes, hand-coloured, calf. £140,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Qianren Huang. "Blue Map" of China. [Daoguang, 19th century]. £60,000 to £80,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Travel, Atlases, Maps<br>and Natural History<br>Online Auction<br>27 April – 13 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Abraham Ortelius. <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum,</i> 1595. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b> Maxime Du Camp. <i>Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins Photographiques.</i> Paris, 1852. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 27 Apr. to 13 May:</b><br>China, Canton School. A superb album of 141 watercolours, c.1800. £70,000 to £100,000.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. The Rocky Mountains. Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in English]. <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English.</i> Rheims, 1582. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in Latin]. <i>Biblia latina.</i> Venice: Franz Renner of Hailbrun [Heilbrunn], 1483. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P. B. S."), to Charles Ollier. Florence, Italy, 15 December 1819. “MY PROMETHEUS IS THE BEST THING I EVER WROTE.” $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> RAMSAY, David (1749-1815). <i>The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina…</i> Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BINDINGS]. MUIR, John (1838-1914). <i>The Writings of John Muir.</i> Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916-1924. 10 vols. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [CHICAGO] -- <i>Park & Guide Map of Chicago.</i> Chicago: Jas. Van Vechten, 1873. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [ALLEN PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). <i>Romeo and Juliet.</i> Greenbrae: Allen Press, 1988. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BEMELMANS, Ludwig (1898-1962). Pencil drawing on paper. 247 x 198 mm, sight, matted and framed. Showing a child shooting at a baby's balloon. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [LOGAN ELM PRESS]. HARVEY, Rebecca. <i>Any Number of Things.</i> Ohio State University, 2013. Single sheet paper scroll. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BINYON, Laurence (1869-1943). A small archive of letters and pamphlets. $200 to $300.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mariette (Pierre-Jean). <i>Traité des pierres gravées / Recueil des pierres gravées...,</i> 2 vols., 1750. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> [Bryant, Jacob & William Cole]. <i>Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus, [Marlborough Gems],</i> 2 volumes, [privately printed, 1780-83], £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Caylus (Anne Claude Philippe, Comte de). <i>Recueil d'Antiquités Egyptiennes, Estrusques, Grecques et Romaines,</i> 7 volumes, Paris, 1756-67, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Devonshire Gems. <i>Duke of Devonshire's Collection of Gems,</i> privately printed, c. 1790, [one of 8 copies], £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Goltz (Hubert). <i>Le Vive Imagini di tutti quasi gl'Imperatori,</i> Antwerp, 1557, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Manuscript. <i>An Explanation of Dassier's Medals, by Charlotte Hanbury,</i> c. 1795-1800, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Paoletti (Bartolomeo and Pietro). A collection of 300 plaster cameos presented in 7 leather-bound double-sided faux book boxes, Rome, c. 1820, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mayer (Luigi). <i>Views in Egypt, from the Original Drawings, in the Possession of Sir Robert Ainslie,</i> London: Thomas Bensley for R. Bowyer, 1805, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Blaeu (Willem Janszoon & Johannes). <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus, pars quarta</i> [England and Wales], Amsterdam: Johannem Blaeu, 1648, £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Reuter (O.M. & Mela, A.J.). <i>Finlands Fiskar. The Fishes of Finland,</i> 12 parts (complete), Helsingfors: G.W. Edlund, 1883-93, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Lunardi (Vincenzo). <i>An Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England,</i> 2nd edition, London: Printed for the Author, 1784, £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> North America. Jansson (Jan). <i>Virginiae partis Australis et Floridae partis Orientalis,</i> circa 1641. £400 to £600.

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