• <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Silver Binding.- [Torah], German 13 Loth silver binding, hinged clasp, 12mo, Sulzbach, 1805. £2,500 to £3,500.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Picasso (Pablo). Minotaure vaincu, plate 89 from La Suite Vollard, etching, dated 29 May 1933, pencil, plate 190 x 265 mm, Paris, A. Vollard, 1939. £5,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Dali (Salvador) & Alighieri (Dante). <i>La Divina Commedia,</i> 6 vols, NUMBER 478 of 2,900 copies, 100 numbered colour lithograph plates by Salvador Dalì, folio, Verona, 1963-1964. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Miniature Sepher Torah Nevi'im U'Kethuvim, prepared by Menachem M. Scholz, original cloth, housed within original gilt tooled metal case, with magnifying glass inset, 33x25 mm, Warsaw, c. 1880. £1,200 to £1,800.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Scarfe (Gerald). ‘Men of Snow’ [Tony Blair, William Hague & 'Robin' Cook], original ink, watercolour & gouache drawing, signed, 600 x 435 mm, n.d. with 2 others (3). £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Francklyn (Gilbert), Paine (Thomas). <i>Rights of Man…</i>, FIRST EDITION [and] <i>Rights of Man. Part the Second…,</i> Printed for J. S. Jordan, 1791-92, [and 1 other]. £700 to £1,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Chagall (Marc). Le Jeu des Acrobates (Acrobats at Play), HORS COMMERCE PROOF, lithograph, from The Lithographs of Chagall, 320 x 240 mm, André Sauret, 1963. £1,800 to £2,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> [Harris (John)]. <i>The History of The Old Woman who had Three Sons Jerry, James, and John…,</i> 12mo, J. Harris, 1815. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Royal Binding.- Staël-Holstein (Germaine de). <i>De la littèrature considerée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales…,</i> 2 vols, second edition, Crapelet, Paris, [1801]. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Ancient History.- La Baune (Jacques de). <i> Panegyrici Veteres,</i> Paris, 1676. [with] Wesseling (Petrus, ed.). <i> Vetera Romanorum itineraria…</i> £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Edward (Gibbon). <i> History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire…</i> Multiple editions and languages [English and French]. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Curtis (William). <i> Flora Londinensis,</i> FIRST EDITION, 2 vols in 3. 119 hand-coloured plates of 454. £500 to £700
  • <b>Arenberg Auctions: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper. March 29 & 30, 2019</b>
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> QUAST, Pieter Jansz. - [A Quack doctor on a market square.] €3.500 to €4.500
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b><br>"Il Callotto resuscitato. Oder Ne¸ eingerichtes Zwerchen Cabinet." €6.000 to €7.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> MELLISS, Mrs. John Charles - 135 compositions of which 66 used to illustrate John Melliss' work on Saint Helena. €9.000 to €10.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper. March 29 & 30, 2019</b>
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> LUCA, Ghérasim. - <i>Apostroph' apocalypse. Eaux-fortes de Wifredo Lam.</i> €3.000 to €4.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> REDOUTÉ, Pierre-Joseph - <i>Les Roses. Décrites par C.A. Thory.</i> €3.000 to €4.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> CORONELLI, Vincenzo - A magnificent pair of globes, terrestrial and celestial. €175.000 to €250.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper. March 29 & 30, 2019</b>
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> BLAEU, Joan - <i>Le Grand Atlas, ou Cosmographie Blaviaene, en laquelle est exactement descritte la Terre, la Mer, et le Ciel.</i> €170.000 to €250.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> GOULD, John - A century of birds from the Himalaya mountains. €10.000 to €12.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> LEVAILLANT, François - Histoire naturelle des perroquets. €50.000 to €70.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper. March 29 & 30, 2019</b>
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> MAXIMILIAN III JOSEPH - Patent of nobility. €800 to €1.000
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> Manuale parochiale sacerdotum. €800 to €1.200
    <b>Arenberg Auctions, Mar 29 & 30:</b> LONGUS - Les amours pastorales de Daphnis et Chloé. €1.250 to €1.500
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> <i>The Negro Travelers' Green Book,</i> edited by Victor H. Green, New York, 1958. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Phillis Wheatley, <i>Poems on Various Subjects, Religious & Moral,</i> London, 1773. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> David Ruggles, <i>The Mirror of Liberty,</i> first issue of the first magazine edited by an African American, New York, 1838. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Lorraine Hansberry, <i>A Raisin in the Sun,</i> draft typescript, inscribed by the playwright, circa 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Pair of letterpress broadsides for Ira Aldridge’s historic first 2 performances at London’s Theatre Royal, 1833. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Archive of letters to John Augustine Washington III at Mount Vernon, many of which discuss the lives of enslaved persons, 1837-61. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Important archive of letters and photographs of Charles White and his spouse, Frances B. White, 1956-60. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Papers of educator Sister Makinya Sibeko-Kouate, one of the leading popularizers of Kwanzaa, 1940-1975. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Stock certificate of the Negro Factories Corporation, signed by Marcus Garvey, 1920. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Benjamin Banneker, <i>Bannaker’s Maryland . . . Almanack and Ephemeris, for the Year of our Lord 1796,</i> Baltimore, 1795. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> Frederick Douglass, previously unknown carte-de-visite by Samuel M. Fassett, Washington DC, 1878. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 28:</b> <i>First Annual Report of the New York Committee of Vigilance,</i> New York, 1837. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Greco (Gioachino). <i>Primo modo del gioco de Partito…</i> Manuscript, France, 1624 or 1625. A collection of partiti, or 'chess problems' by one of the most important figures in the history of chess. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Herodotus. <i>Historiae,</i> translated into Latin by Lorenzo Valla and edited by Antonio Mancinelli. Venice, 1494. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Darwin (Charles). Autograph Letter signed to his cousin Reginald Darwin, Down, Beckenham, Kent, 27th March 1879. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Nicolay (Nicolas de). <i>The Navigations, peregrinations and voyages, made into Turkie,</i> first edition in English, Imprinted at London by Thomas Dawson, 1585. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Saint-Exupéry (Antoine de). <i>The Little Prince,</i> number 66 of 525 copies signed by the author, 1943. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Catlin (George, 1796-1872). Tuch-ee, A Celebrated War Chief of the Cherokees, watercolour, [circa 1834]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Genetics.- A collection of c.300 pamphlets on genetics comprising many of the major contributions from the first half of the 20th century. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> India.- Rajasthan.- Kota School (probably late 18th c.). Elephant in a landscape with chains around his feet, brush and black ink with opaque pigments. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Commelin (Caspar). <i>Horti medici Amstelaedamensis plantae rariores et exoticae,</i> first edition, 48 finely hand-coloured engraved plates, Leiden, F.Haringh, 1706. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Plague-water and cookery & medical recipes.- Jackson (Mrs Sarah). Medical and cookery recipes, manuscript in several hands, title and 134pp., 1688-1755. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Vernet (<i>After</i> Joseph, 1714-1789). <i>[Vues des ports de France],</i> sixteen plates (of 18), etchings and engravings by Charles Nicolas Cochin fils and Jacques Philippe Le Bas, [c.1760-1780]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Detmold (Edward Julius, 1883-1957). Parrots and Butterflies, watercolour. £2,500 to £3,500.

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>Koller Auctions: Books & Autographs. March 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Jacques Gamelin. <i>Nouveau recueil d'osteologie et de myologie, dessine d'apres nature...</i> 2 parts in 1 vol., large folio, 82 copper plates. CHF 12,000 to 18,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Melchior Pfintzing. <i>Die geverlicheiten und einsteils geschichten des loblichen streytparen...</i> 118 woodcut engravings, first edition. CHF 30,000 to 50,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Book of hours. Handwritten Latin text on vellum. With 17 large miniatures, Flanders, c.1460. CHF 70,000 to 90,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Maria Sibylla Merian. <i> Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium,</i> 72 copper plates, Den Haag, 1726. CHF 60,000 to 90,000
  • <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

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