• <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Kingsborough, Edward King. <i>Antiquities of Mexico: Comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics…</i> London, 1831-1848. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Paul Revere. <i>The Bloody Massacre perpetrated In King-Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Reg. Boston, 1770.</i> $150,000 to $200,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Battle of the Alamo. <i>Suplemento al Diario del Gobierno de la Republica Mexicana.</i> (Núm. 326. Tom. IV.). Mexico City: Imprenta del Aguila, Dirigida por José Ximeno, 1836. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> The Declaration of Independence. The first book-form printing of the Declaration of Independence. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Treaty of Paris, Ratification. By the United States in Congress Assembled, A Proclamation … Annapolis, [Ca. 16-17 January 1784]. $800,000 to $1,200,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Declaration of Independence. The only known privately held copy of the celebrated William J. Stone facsimile for which provenance can be traced back to a direct ancestor who received it in 1824. $600,000 to $800,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Crockett, David. Autograph letter signed ("David Crockett") to George Patton, announcing his intention to travel to Texas. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Wytfliet, Cornelius. <i>Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum, Sive Occidentalis Notitia Brevi Commentario Illustrata.</i> Leuven: Johannes Bogaerts 1597. $35,000 to $50,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Schedel, Hartmann. <i>Liber Cronicarum cum Figuris et Ymaginibus.</i> Nuremberg, Anton Koberger for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> New York Mets. Baseball from the first victory of the New York Mets. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan 24:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph letter signed ("R E Lee") as Confederate commander, to Rabbi Max Michelbacher, declining to furlough Jewish Confederate troops for the high holy days. $150,000 to $250,000
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Rare Books & Works on Paper. January 23, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Rossini (Luigi, artist & engraver). <i>Le Antichità Romane, ossia Raccolta della piu interessanti Vedute di Roma Antica,</i> 89 plates. £2500 to £3500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Four original hand-painted propaganda posters, (550 x 770 mm.), North Korea, 2009. £1200 to £1800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Plinius Secundus (Gaius). <i>Historia Natural,</i> 2 vol, Spanish translation, woodcut arms of Philip IV of Spain, Madrid, 1624; 1629 £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Nasmyth (James) & Carpenter (James). <i>The Moon,</i> FIRST EDITION, frontispiece and 24 plates, 1874. £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Rare Books & Works on Paper. January 23, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> A group (12) of large size Chinese Cultural Revolution papercuts on red paper presented on white paper backing, featuring various slogans and images of General Mao. £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Coronelli (V. M.). <i>Tran-Siselana,</i> copper engraved, hand-coloured, title cartouche with four winds and four monkeys, coat of arms, Venice, c.1692; and 8 others. £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Jan 23:</b> Pouchkine (Alexandre). <i>Contes populaires Russes… traduits … par Alexandra de Holstein et René Ghil,</i> FIRST EDITION, n. 165 of an edition of 270 copies. £400 to £600
  • <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> KNIGHT, HILARY. The Original Portrait of Eloise that Hung at the Plaza Hotel. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> WARHOL, ANDY. "Iced Lemon Delight," an Original Watercolor Presented to Hilary Knight's cat, Phoebe $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SENDAK, MAURICE. <i>Where the Wild Things Are.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED with drawing to Hilary Knight in the month following publication. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> NOLAND, KENNETH. Original circle painting, untitled, acrylic and ink on cloth, for cover of monograph $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. <i>Histoires Naturelles,</i> 1899. With 22 original lithographs. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>A Collection of Poems,</i> [1711]. The first authoritative and complete collected Sonnets.$15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> LONDON, JACK. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> 1903. First edition, first state jacket. $2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> FROST, ROBERT. Autograph Manuscript of "Build Soil," 12 pp, 1932-1936. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> GOULD, GLENN. Glenn Gould's extensively annotated copy of Bach's Goldberg Variations $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> PLATH, SYLVIA. EARLY Autograph Letter Signed, about her beginnings as a writer, Northampton, MA, 1951. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> HOUDINI, HARRY. A collection of 11 cast iron shackle and lock items from Houdini's personal collection. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> M4 ENGIMA MACHINE, with very rare RARE HYDRA KEY ENVELOPE. $400,000 to 600,000
  • <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> Fine Illustrated Books. 50 illustrated works across a range of subjects.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> Present Perfect. Books & works on paper including Literature, Children’s & Illustrated, Sports & Pastimes, Modern Prints and more.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> The House of Romanov, marking the centenary of the tragic demise of the Romanov dynasty.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> CHAGALL & GOGOL. Les âmes mortes, 1948. Chagall’s first major illustrated book.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> GUSTAV KLIMT, eine nachlese, 1931. An important early monograph on Klimt.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> ELLIOT. Birds of North America, 1866. One of 200 2 vols sets, folio.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> PURCHAS. His Pilgrimes/Pilgrimage, 1625-26. 5 vols. Probably the greatest collection of voyages ever published.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> HUXLEY. Brave New World, 1932. Exceptionally fine first edition.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> KELMSCOTT PRESS. Poems of Shakespeare, one of 500, publisher’s vellum.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> LEROUX. Phantom of the Opera, 1911. First UK edition in fine S&S binding.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> INDIANA, Robert. The American Dream, one of 30 AP copies, 30 screen prints.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> BENOIS. Tsarskoe Selo during the Reign of Elizaveta Petrovna, St Petersburg, 1910. Deluxe issue.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> CORONATION ALBUM. Description du sacre et du couronnement de leurs Majestés Impériales, 1883. One of 200.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> IMPERIAL FAMILY. Signed original photograph of Tsar Nicholas II’s 4 daughters.
    <b>Shapero Rare Books:</b> Souvenir du Couronnement de Leurs Majestés Imperiales a Moscou, 1896.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2019 Issue

Book Selling: 40 Years Later

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Watching the liquidation of Serendipity Books in 2013.

Looking back at almost 40 years as an independent bookseller I’ve been thinking about what has changed. It isn’t the money; though I do know a few dealers who’ve built a profitable business, for most of us it’s been a cross between a downward spiral and an uphill struggle. Yes, there are several of my contemporaries who cashed out rich, but more often the wealth came from the sale of real estate, rather than any financial wizardry in the intellectual pursuit departments. Ignoring fame and fortune, what seems to have shifted the most is the personal relationship that the dealer often built with clients.

 

I can still remember many of the people I met when I was starting out in the late 70s. They were travelers on holiday, collectors referred to me by my parents, fellow dealers I’d run into at book shows, librarians and academics, or folks shopping at the local swap meet where I sold inexpensive books and prints with the hope it might lead to larger sales. What those customers all had in common in the pre-internet years was I met them live-and-in-person or via catalog. If we hit it off we often developed a personal relationship that endured for years. In fact, some of them are still customers to this day.

 

I got to know their taste, what they had, what they wanted, who to offer what and they in turn seemed to trust my judgment on value, condition, desirability. In those days selling books didn’t seem so much like the sale of a commodity as a service designed to help the customer find what was interesting, relevant and good value. In many ways it was more about the people than the books. To me the ideal customer was a person whose taste I understood and could anticipate. It was not only a search for the delicious morsel, but just as often helping people with wants in a particular area -- and hopefully the means to afford them.

 

But most of all, the customers from that era were repeat customers; they came back again and again. It never occurred to me that the time would come when selling books would be much like selling ladders, or brooms or any one of a thousand other categories: it would be impersonal, strictly about price and merchandise and very little about taste or friendship.

 

While the internet made many things more widely accessible it did not make the customers any smarter. They still didn’t know most of the basic terminology or what made one book a better value than another, that still had to be explained. But as we moved into the 21st century there was a marked change in attitude. Where the dealer - client partnership was at the core of the old business model, coming into the new century it was almost as if the person on the other side of the transaction, “the buyer,” didn’t matter, because you almost never saw, or met or more importantly, rarely had a second sale to that person.

 

The internet made it easier to find the customer, but for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, very few of those customers turned into a durable reliable clientele that once formed the core of the book business.

 

By the late 1990s, the giddy early days of eBay, when practically everything put up for auction would and did sell, the technology seemed like a wonderful assist. But 20 years later the technology often deliberately created barriers to personal interaction. The powers that be who run the listing services make it difficult for buyers and sellers to communicate directly. No matter which listing platform is used, in the end they all tended to behave alike. Book selling, once a wild and crazy, not to mention sprawling and hard to compartmentalize business, became by stages locked into a rigid predetermined format set by people who knew little and cared less about books.

 

In the old days the customers who had the means and inclination to build a collection usually had a genuine desire to learn. And the dealer was there to teach. Of course that is the gratifying part of the trade, providing not just the book, but the guidance, back story, thrill of the hunt and exchange of knowledge.

 

But as years went by the customer didn’t seem to get any smarter, perhaps because although they were given a great many more choices than ever before, they still began with a very limited exposure to the basics of buying and selling books. Yes, there was a much bigger range of material available, but there was seldom anyone there to fill in the knowledge gaps.

 

In the current crop of buyers I’ve noticed the bigger the wallet, the more desire to haggle or in some cases to go around the dealer altogether. The old customer looked at the dealer as a colleague, a scout, a guide, someone who supplied a lot of missing information, and usually had some specialized expertise to share, in short a friend. It was never a secret that we sold to customers for more than what we paid. That’s what made it a business and not a philanthropy.

 

I think the end came for me in 2013 watching the liquidation of the stock at Peter Howard’s Serendipity book shop in Berkeley. At this series of sales and auctions there was an endless array of wonderful inventory and by the final, final, final sale in the winter of 2013 it was going out the door by the carton at absolute rock bottom prices. Dead, gone, finished.

 

I still encounter sellers like Howard, who knew it all, had seen it all, and had it all within arm’s reach (and what’s more remarkable could usually find what he was looking for if you’d give him a chance to look in the piles, bags, rows, cartons of unsorted inventory); yes there are still people like that around, but not very many. Peter Howard seemed like the last of the breed: he took it all in on a handshake, and he settled up when he sold. Following his death one of the biggest headaches for those who had to neaten up the edges was to determine what was really his and what had he taken in as a favor on consignment. In the end it was all sold for lower and lower prices, and to no one’s surprise, there don’t seem to be many bookstores like that any more.

 

Today’s seller operates in a much more impersonal world and sees a larger and larger portion of revenues going to the techies in the middle: fees and commissions, and fees for money transfer services. In the early days all of these costs seemed within bounds and it was a joy to sell quickly and the nominal fee for the assist, seemed both reasonable and mutually beneficial.

 

Now that’s changed a lot. Today it seems like I am working for eBay; they are not working for me. They are thinking of new ways to suck up my revenue, to clutter up my selling platform, to make peremptory design and tech changes to the site or protocol without explanation in order enrich their share even further. It really galled me when they started taking a commission on shipping cost. That action alone made it clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore. How is it possible to charge a commission on an expense?

 

The place where I see this most clearly is who has the customer? When the internet started, it brought the buyer and seller together. In recent time the focus is in keeping them apart; eBay no longer includes the buyer’s emails when the transaction is complete, because eBay thinks it’s their customer, not my customer. I just happen to have something that person wants however momentarily. But the customer, let’s be clear, they think it’s their customer. I’ve been listing on eBay for many years and I have various designations like “power seller.” But the truth is I no longer like or trust them, and frequently contemplate cutting the cord and going back to the old ways of doing things, or wishing the gods of tech would create a better newer way to go back to the future.

 

Remember, Amazon, which changed the entire landscape of global retail and started the death cycle for the physical store, began with books. Amazon killed the traditional way of selling books and then proceeded to gobble up everything else in sight. I hope I live long enough to see the next major technical innovation or disruption bring back the personal relationships to the business side of books.


Posted On: 2019-01-01 13:43
User Name: davereis

I thought I had seen it all with internet greed, but that one blew my mind also. Ebay commissions on shipping charges!


Posted On: 2019-01-01 15:00
User Name: billbluesky

I love your article and all the takes on how the biz has changed, but surely you know that it was Peter Howard, not Martin, who owned Serendipity. Senior moment? Bill Mooney, Blue Sky Books


Posted On: 2019-01-01 16:12
User Name: theoddbook

Thank you for this. I believe charging commission on shipping (ABE does too) was initiated to thwart sellers who were listing a $40 book for $5 + $35 shipping. Jim Gow, The Odd Book


Posted On: 2019-01-01 19:08
User Name: markholmen

Amazon is a predator. In the Christmas season of 2010, they told their customers that if they would go to a brick and mortar bookstore and scan a book, then buy it from Amazon... they would be given an additional 5% off the price. A year later, Borders Books closed their doors, much to the glee of Jeff Bezos. I am a book dealer myself and believe in free enterprise but I refuse to list or buy from Amazon. I hate hearing folks say "yea, I know they want to own the world but it is so easy to buy from them". We will all regret that some day.


Posted On: 2019-01-07 18:22
User Name: Bkwoman

Hi Susan, Thanks for your great article. I almost cried when I saw the last days of Peter's Serendipity bookstore. It was such a goldmine. I've been in the business 28 years now and have seen the same changes and the same greedy "big box" listing services. I don't use EBay but do use ABE and Biblio.find, both of whom charge a commission on shipping and have no seller loyalty at all. I think we can also thank the $1 book folks for that as they make their money on shipping and so the big guys aren't making enough money on the $1 sales, so they siphon some of the profit on shiping. My other favorite is when someone comes into our store (we have one of the few book co-operatives in the U.S.), scans the books and then goes home and buys it for a dollar or two on Amazon. I don't list on Amazon, but I admit I occasionally buy a book for a customer and feel guilty the whole time. Cheerio, chin up, pip pip, and all that!!


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste: Books and Manuscripts. January 22, 2019</b>
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> [MAGGIOLO, Vesconte] <i>Carta nautica manoscritta, bottega di Vesconte Maggiolo.</i> Italy, c.1550. Previously unknown extraordinary portolan chart. €50,000 to 80,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b><br>LA PÉROUSE, Jean-François. <i>Voyage de la Pérouse autour du monde.</i> Paris: L'Imprimerie de la République, 1797. €6,000 to 9,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> PEREA Y ROJAS, Daniel. The preparatory watercolours to the renown album <i>A Los Toros.</i> €4,000 to 6,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste: Books and Manuscripts. January 22, 2019</b>
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> MELA, Pomponio. <i>Cosmographia, sive De situ orbis.</i> Venice, 1478 [Bound with] DIONISIO il Periegeta. <i> De situ orbis…</i> Venice, 1478. €6,000 to 9,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> DE FELICE, Fortunato Bartolomeo. <i>Encyclopedie, ou dictionnaire universel raisonne des connoissances humaines.</i> Yverdon, 1770-1780. €4,000 to 6,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> VECELLIO, Cesare. <i>De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo.</i> Venice: Damian Zenaro, 1590. €3,000 to 5,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste: Books and Manuscripts. January 22, 2019</b>
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> FALDA, Giovanni Battista; SPECCHI, Alessandro. <i>Il nuovo teatro delle fabriche…</i> [bound with] <i>ll quarto libro del nuovo teatro delli palazzi in prospettiva di Roma moderna.</i> 1665-1699. €4,000 to 6,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> FALDA Giovan Battista. <i>Le fontane di Roma nelle piazze e luoghi pubblici della citta - Le fontane delle ville di Frascati nel Tusculano…</i> Rome, [1691]. €2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> FERRERIO, Pietro & Giovanni Battista FALDA. <i> Palazzi di Roma de piu celebri architetti disegnati… [1655 – 1677]. €2,500 to 3,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste: Books and Manuscripts. January 22, 2019</b>
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> VON JACQUIN, Joseph Franz. <i>Eclogae graminum rariorum.</i> Vienna: Strauss Sommer, 1813-1844. €2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> Prayer book according to the synagogical Ashkenazy rite in an elegant and precious silver binding. €3,000 to 5,000
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan 22:</b> BOCCACCIO, Giovanni. <i>Ameto.</i> Venice: Nicolo Zoppino, 1524. €3,000 to 5,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Leonard Baskin, <i>Diptera: A Book of Flies & Other Insects,</i> Gehenna Press, 1983. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Georg Heym, <i>Umbra Vitae,</i> illustrated by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, first edition, Munich, 1924. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Edgar Allan Poe, <i>The Raven,</i> special copy for illustrator Alan James Robinson, first book from Cheloniidae Press, 1980. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b><br>W.B. Yeats, <i>Poems,</i> illustrated by Richard Diebenkorn, accompanied by a suite of 6 etchings, 1990. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Georges Rouault, <i>Cirque de l’Étoile Filante,</i> Paris, 1938. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> François-Louis Schmied, <i>Le Cantique des Cantiques,</i> Paris, 1925. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Frank Lloyd Wright, <i>Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe,</i> Berlin, Ernst Wasmuth, 1910. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Hans Bellmer & Georges Hugnet, <i>Oeillades ciselées en branch,</i> Paris, 1939. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Wassily Kandinsky, <i>Klänge,</i> first edition, Munich, 1913. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Charles Dickens, <i>The Nonesuch Dickens,</i> limited edition, 1937-38. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Rudyard Kipling, <i>Le Livre de la Jungle,</i> plates by Paul Jouve, engraved by F.L. Schmied, Paris, 1919. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 29:</b> Georges Lepape, <i>Les Choses de Paul Poiret,</i> Paris, 1911. $3,500 to $5,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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