Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2015 Issue

Breaking Down Borders: London Bookseller Peter Harrington Reaches Into the American Market

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Peter Harrington's new website, with free shipping to the U.S.A., is primed for American customers.

The advent of the internet twenty years ago changed the centuries-old bookselling process virtually overnight. Books had been sold locally by a local book shop going back to antiquity, when they were produced by scribes, not printers. Advertising in trade publications, magazines and newspapers created a mail order trade in books to more distant locations, but that remained a small part of sales until the internet threw open the doors to commerce with customers who would never be able to visit the bookseller's shop.

 

However, even as sales through internet sites rapidly expanded and flourished, international borders still formed a barrier to sales. International telephone calls were prohibitively expensive, shipping costly and complicated. Concerns about the standards and integrity of merchants from another country were always present. Payment in foreign currencies, and constantly adjusting exchange rates, added the element of uncertainty as to how much you would end up paying for the book you purchased. Add to that the general unease of buying from someone so far away and national borders remained a wall to sales despite the international reach of the internet.

 

British bookseller Peter Harrington has been selling books in London since 1969. The firm is now in its second generation, operated by Peter Harrington's son, Pom Harrington. Over the years, they have developed into one of England's major booksellers, selling important material to discerning collectors. Clients for these sorts of books know no national borders. Interest in Shakespeare is not limited to the British, Joyce to the Irish, Twain to Americans. The very best of these and other authors have passed through Harrington's shop in London in recent years.

 

Recently, Harrington has sold a Shakespeare First Folio, almost unobtainable these days when even a Fourth Folio is beyond the reach of most collectors. A first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, one of only 100 copies printed on Dutch paper and in its original wrappers, has passed through the shop. Samuel de Champlain's 1613 Voyages, and the publisher's copy of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, "the first copy ever bound," with Clemen's handwritten, unused dedication, have also changed hands through Harrington's shop.

 

Harrington has long reached out to buyers in America through shows and a website, but has recently upped the ante in terms of reaching American collectors. Just as two decades ago, booksellers who resisted adjusting to the internet often fell by the wayside, the same may happen to top tier booksellers who are unable to reach out beyond their own national borders. We recently asked Pom Harrington about how bookselling has changed, its challenges, and what his firm is doing to reach out to new markets overseas.

 

"Change has primarily come around due to the impact of the internet," Harrington explained. "On one hand we have a much greater outreach and effectively a 24-hour shop window to the world, but on the other, specialist knowledge being shared means that trying to distinguish our knowledge from someone copying it in the marketplace is quite a challenge." Nevertheless, local sales remain important, and Harrington maintains two shops in London to reach locals and visitors to the city. "The biggest benefit of having a physical shop now is primarily as a meeting point rather than a place to browse. With this in mind, we opened up a flagship store in Mayfair with a selection of our stock in central west London for this purpose. We find that the website works hand in hand with a shop of this nature – customers browse online, then pop in to collect their books."

 

Peter Harrington still uses traditional methods of marketing overseas. "We still exhibit in new marketplaces, and have had moderate success meeting new clients over the years, but it’s a slow process. At American fairs you’re used to going, selling and coming home with sales. At other international fairs you can expect to take nothing and hope things come through in the next six months, which can be a bit hit-and-miss. Then there’s the alternative of exhibiting at antiques fairs etc. We have chosen Masterpiece as it’s local, held in London. It’s an interesting way to meet new customers, but there’s a very different atmosphere to get used to."

 

They have recently added a website targeted more specifically to America – www.peterharringtonbooks.com. The differences may be subtle, such as the use of a "dot-com" (.com) rather than a "dot-co-dot-uk"(.co.uk) to make it easier for Americans to find, and pricing in U.S. dollars rather than British pounds. That, Mr. Harrington has found, is a major consideration. "Being a UK company, we’re not as prominent in the U.S. as we would like, and a level of resistance or misunderstanding has come from the pricing of our books in pounds. We know that U.S. customers like to browse in their own currency and, importantly, pay in their own currency. The ability nowadays for a non-U.S. business to accept U.S. dollars and credit cards means transparency for the U.S. book buyer. We take on the currency risk, not the customer/client, which we hope is a way of overcoming barriers." Harrington also addressed a couple of other traditional challenges – postage and hours. "International postage is more than capable of competing with national delivery these days," he explained, "so that’s also not an issue for either party. Telephone hours have been extended in the shops to help work around time zone issues."

 

Overseas sales now form the largest part of Harrington's higher priced books. "At the lower end, the majority tend to be sold domestically, mainly due to the perceived difficulties in that market of ordering from abroad. When it comes to higher-priced items more than half are sold overseas."

 

International expansion is one way Harrington's has responded to the changing market. They will connect with collectors wherever they may be. Interestingly, while many booksellers see the changing market as a sign of decline, Pom Harrington does not see it that way at all. It is simply different today. "At the higher end, the number of dealers is reducing, mainly due to competition from the auction houses that have taken on a larger market share than in previous years. On the other hand, the market has grown and grown in terms of sale values, which indicates strength. At the lower end, ABE, eBay and the number of part time dealers has increased tremendously, which I think is actually very healthy. There’s a genuine market out there." Harrington continues to reach that market, just as they have done for the past 45 years.

 

Here are some links to categories specifically connected to America on Peter Harrington's website:

 

Americana - www.peterharringtonbooks.com/rare/americana

 

American Literature - www.peterharringtonbooks.com/rare/american-literature-literature-history

 

This is the link to the home page of PeterHarrington's American website - www.peterharringtonbooks.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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
  • <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.

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