Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

Old Books On-line, The Words of an eBay Bookseller

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Vincent Pannequin

Vincent Pannequin is a professional bookseller who closed down his physical bookstore, Dioscures, in 2013 to sell books exclusively on eBay.fr. A good move, as the last year of exploitation had been quite disappointing. Nowadays, his pseudonym Amaterasu55 (more than 3,000 sales and 99.8% of satisfied clients) is known among buyers, as his selection of books from the 18th and the 17th centuries is regularly updated with interesting books in good to very good condition. Though a touchy topic among booksellers, eBay is one of the best places to buy books in France. Indeed, the offer is important and the prices usually reasonable. Far from the “eBay craze” of the early years—when common books sold for unexpected prices— the market has regulated itself. But eBay.fr has just changed its classification and it might cause an important change in the business.

 Vincent Pannequin, when did you start selling books on eBay? I had an eBay account, Amaterasu55, before even opening my physical bookstore in 2002, but I was only buying with it. The name comes from a trip in Japan. “Amaterasu is the goddess of the Sun and “55” is a lucky number. At first, I only sold incomplete or defective books on eBay, those I couldn’t list in my catalogues. It took me a few years before I decided to sell nicer books.

How is the market on eBay today? The eBay market is good, better than a few years ago. But on the other hand you have so many new sellers, who list hundreds of books. As a result, the site is overcrowded and the good dealers are losing visibility.

What’s the difference with a physical bookshop? Ebay still has a very bad reputation among a few “regular” booksellers in France. How would you explain that? There is less and less difference. Of course the buyers can’t touch the books, but pictures make up for that. And I may add by experience that sometimes I prefer not to be in a bookstore to avoid unfriendly colleagues (laughter). Joke aside, I have the feeling that the book collectors who buy on eBay also go to the bookstores. And I think that eBay doesn’t have the very bad reputation it had few years ago when many booksellers saw it as unfair competition. Now I think they see eBay as a place to buy books between two auctions.

You told me that eBay is a touchy subject. Why? Maybe that was an old reflex...But somehow it is true that “regular” booksellers do not like to be known as buying on eBay. Maybe they consider it a less noble way to do business. But it changed a few years ago when some of them started to sell their stock on eBay under their real names, and that was a small revolution

What do you think of faked sales, or “disguised reserve prices”, on eBay? It does exist, I won’t deny it; but it is usually so obvious that you can see it right away. And I honestly think it doesn’t happen more on eBay than at physical auctions, where so many books are being sold over and over again...

It seems like prices on eBay are far lower than in “regular” bookshops. Do you agree? Do you think some books belong on eBay while others should be sold elsewhere? Yes, I do agree but only for the most common books, which booksellers refer to as the “small books.” For the others, I’m pretty sure that they sell for very good prices, such as the 1762 edition of Lafontaine’s Fables by Les Fermiers Généraux, which is always an eBay star. But for sure, books costing dozens of thousands of euros are not the most salable there, and I wouldn’t propose them myself. But it is a personal opinion and I know some dealers who do not hesitate; good for them, they are bold enough to do it.

It seems like eBay is growing less efficient as far as selling old books is concerned. Do you think it will stop being an interesting selling point one of these days? On eBay France, which in my opinion is the most important eBay place for rare books, I didn’t think it was less efficient until recently. Yesterday, the 13th of October, eBay France decided to regroup all rare books in a unique category and it is clearly a regression. (Indeed, it’s no longer possible to select books by centuries. Consequently, one has to go through hundreds of “books printed before 1900” before finding a book from the 18th century. Many buyers and sellers are currently urging eBay.fr to go back to the old formula but the website is not known for paying much attention to its users – editor’s note). This is no good news, and they took the decision without consulting anyone. I know a lot of people are already complaining as books have become quite hard to locate now.

What is your recipe to have a “good sale” on eBay? I always try to give the best description possible, or at least to point out all defects so that when the buyers receive their books, they think they look better than described. And of course I download a lot of pictures for each book; and good ones. I don’t mean artistic but informative ones. It takes a lot of time, but it is necessary in order to build a solid reputation.

What are the required skills for an eBay bookseller compared to a “regular” one? I do not think there are more or less skills to work on eBay.

You’re based in Ireland today. Is it a matter of taxes? Is it still interesting when you probably have to “import” your books, and then ship them back to France—with more expensive shipping fees? Nothing to do with taxes: my companion is Polish and was already working and living here; that was my main motivation. Life is less stressful here so I have no regrets. I do import most of my books from France, indeed, but it has become quite cheap and easy to work with online sites that discount couriers. For example a 20 kilos parcel costs 30€ only. Shipping fees are more expensive for my sales, yes; but the quality of my books makes up for it and buyers know it.

Is France your main market? Is it a specific market? France is my main market, indeed, as I mostly sell books written in French. It includes de facto Belgium and Switzerland. It is a specific market in the way that France is the place in the world where you will find the most book auctions—a few ones every day—and the largest number of book collectors. But eBay France attracts collectors and booksellers from all over the world and the USA is my second best market.

What do you think of Paypal? Paypal is a very useful tool as you are paid instantly but it has quite a cost (4 to 5% of the sales and shipping fees). And the downfall is that their customer service almost always sides with the buyers when there is a problem. They advertise a warranty for the buyer but it only consists of taking back the money from the seller.

What could eBay do to be more efficient as far as old books are concerned? EBay France should come back to the old system they had with sub-categories, where you could properly list your books. But if they come back to it—and nothing is sure, since they are well known to ignore their customers—they should clean all the rubbish like magazines or cheap modern books, that pollute the “rare books” section.

Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE Typed letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Important archives related to the development of fashions for Mrs. Kennedy… $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Detailed ledger of the Kennedy White House years… $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KELLY, GRACE. Four autograph letters to Oleg Cassini. $5,000 to $8,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Group of Kennedy-era original fashion sketches. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE. Autograph letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Fashion sketch titled “Mrs. Kennedy-Palais de Versailles-State Dinner.” $800 to $1,200
    Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini: [CASSINI, OLEG - KENNEDY, JACQUELINE.] Group of approximately 130 original fashion designs… $800 to $1,200.
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930
  • <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Pushkin, Alexander. <i>Evgenii Onegin. A novel in verse.</i> A first edition of the most important work in Russian literature in its original parts, 1825–32. £120,000 to £160,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Gogol, Nikolai. <i>Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka.</i> A rare first edition of Gogol's first masterpiece, 1831–32. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Darwin, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> First edition, owned and read by two contemporaries of Darwin. London: John Murray, 1859. £140,000 to £200,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Galilei, Galileo. <i>Sidereus Nuncius.</i> First edition, announcing the first astronomical discoveries made with the telescope. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, [March] 1610. £300,000 to £500,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> The seal of Wulfric. England, first half 11th century. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Bible, <i>Ezechiel</i> in Latin. [Northern Italy, 5th century]. £120,000 to £180,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Blaeu, Jan and Willem Blaeu. <i>Grooten Atlas [Atlas Major]</i>. Amsterdam: Johannes Blaeu, 1664. £450,000 to £650,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Petites Heures of Charles VIII use of Paris, in Latin. An exquisite Hours illuminated by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse. [Paris, 1490s]. £300,000 to £500,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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