Showtime In Boston: Booksellers Look At The State Of Their Trade And Offer Advice To Collectors.
Bill Reese sees the online phenomenon as one that is now entering a maturing phase. When eBay appeared, it began shaking a lot of old books out of people’s attics. But now, much of that long hidden material has moved on to new buyers. What happens now with the pricing for this material “is more in the hands of the people who bought it.”
Asked where he finds his books, Bill Reese said that he has several sources. Sometimes he will buy an entire library from a collector, others he buys from fellow dealers and from auctions. Some books are brought directly to him by their owner, and in some cases they come from “book scouts” who roam around the countryside looking for small sales with the aim of buying a book and quickly turning it over to a dealer who specializes in the field. He noted that he had just picked up a book from another dealer who bought an entire library which had one title in Americana.
As for his advice to the new collector, Bill Reese recommended that they “think imaginatively. If you want to collect Hemingway you should, but it will cost a lot of money. Think outside the box. It’s not going to cost you that much money.” He cited a show he had recently viewed at the Grolier Club, “Quack, Quack, Quack,” featuring Bill Helfand’s collection of printed material of medical quackery. As someone who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Helfand became interested in this rather obscure material, and over the years, developed an outstanding collection. (Editor’s Note: please see the AE Monthly archives for the article entitled “An Adventure in Medical Hyperbole” for a complete description of Mr. Helfand’s exhibit and an interview with Mr. Helfand about his collecting techniques in last month’s AE Monthly.)
For Mr. Reese, the most exciting type of collecting is to collect in areas where the boundaries are not so obviously defined. For example, with Hemingway you can very quickly learn precisely what is available. For his own collection, Mr. Reese explained “I buy books before 1900 with at least four color plates.” When he finds a new item, “it’s usually something I’ve never heard of. That’s exciting.”
Of course the average new collector is not going to start with 19th century color plate books, but that doesn’t matter. Mr. Reese said one of the first subjects he collected was trick horses, those ponies that are trained to do things that horses normally don’t do. It was not a field of collecting where he had a whole lot of competition. As he recalled, the most he ever paid for an item was $25, but he still had a lot of fun collecting them.
For those of you who missed Boston, the ABAA will be holding its 36th annual California Book Fair from February 7-9, 2003, in San Francisco. It will be worth the trip, and since you probably don’t often have a legitimate excuse to visit San Francisco, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. There will be booksellers in all sorts of specialties who can assist the experienced collector in strengthening a collection. These same booksellers can also help the novice get started on what will likely be a lifetime of great excitement building a personal and totally unique collection.