• <b>Gonnelli:</b> Books & Graphics 26th – 27th – 28th May 2020.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 27th, Travel and exploration.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 27th, Musical books, autographs & printed music.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 26th, A collection of Piranesi’s etchings. € 50 to € 16000.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 28th, Books from XV to XX Century.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 28th, Hansel and Gretel and other stories by the brothers Grimm illustrated by Kay Nielsen. € 1000.
    <b>Gonnelli:</b> May 28th, Artists’ books from Dalì, Marini & others.
  • <center><b>Morphy Auctions</b><br>Founders & Patriots: Arms, Militaria, Documents, Artwork & Rare Imprints from the Era of the American Revolution & the War of 1812<br><b>May 27, 2020</b>
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Extremely rare, signature of Patrick Ferguson, famed rifle inventor and British officer. $20,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> 1776 Battle of Sullivan's Island watercolor, attributed to James Peale. 11 1/2 x 17 3/16. $10,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> John Hancock-signed commission of Ensign Aaron Butler, 1777. $8,000 to $16,000.
    <center><b>Morphy Auctions</b><br>Founders & Patriots: Arms, Militaria, Documents, Artwork & Rare Imprints from the Era of the American Revolution & the War of 1812<br><b>May 27, 2020</b>
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March 1770… London, [1770]. $7,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Original manuscript of 1761 Massachusetts Bay Tax Act. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Wine receipt for Washington's Council of War, May 24, 1778, leading to Monmouth Battle. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Morphy Auctions</b><br>Founders & Patriots: Arms, Militaria, Documents, Artwork & Rare Imprints from the Era of the American Revolution & the War of 1812<br><b>May 27, 2020</b>
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> [Siege of Boston]. “A Muster Roll of The Company Under the Command of Captain Josiah King in Colonel David Brewer’s Regiment, to the First of August, 1775.” $5,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Congressman Brigham describes George Washington's Mount Vernon estate and its slaves. $3,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> [British Army. Uniforms and Organizaton] "Gen[era]l. Disposition of The King’s Troops with the Number, Uniform and Colonel [of Each Regiment, 1763]. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <center><b>Morphy Auctions</b><br>Founders & Patriots: Arms, Militaria, Documents, Artwork & Rare Imprints from the Era of the American Revolution & the War of 1812<br><b>May 27, 2020</b>
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Revolutionary era paper money, continental and state (lot of 55). $2,500 to $5,500.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> Rare 1782 loyalist military passport from Charleston, SC. $1,500 to $3,000.
    <b>Morphy Auctions, May 27:</b> [Stamp Act.] Rare 1765 stamp for 2 shillings and 6 pence. $1,250 to $2,500.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>June 23, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [SUPREME COURT JUSTICES]. A very extensive collection of 203 letters, documents and signatures. A COMPLETE COLLECTION OF THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES, JOHN JAY THROUGH WILLIAM REHNQUIST. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> ZATTA, Antonio. <i>Atlante Novissimo.</i> Venice: Antonio Zatta, 1775-1785. ONE OF THE FINEST WORLD ATLASES issued in Italy in the 18th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [CHICAGO HISTORY] -- [COLUMBUS, Christopher]. Monumental historiated and embroidered panel of the MADE FOR THE 1893 COLUMBIAN EXHIBITION IN CHICAGO. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>June 23, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [MONASTERY HILL BINDING]. AINSWORTH, William Harrison. <i>Historical Romances.</i> Philadelphia, n.d. A fine early exhibition binding by the Monastery Hill Bindery. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM]. New York: Tiber Press, [1960]. 4 volumes. LIMITED EDITION, number 119 of 200 COPIES, EACH SIGNED BY THE POET AND ARTIST. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> GRATIANUS, the Canonist. <i>Decretum.</i> Venedig: Petrus de Plasiis, 25 January 1483. Second quarto edition. FIRST PAGE ILLUMINATED BY A CONTEMPORARY ARTIST. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>June 23, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [ABOLITIONISTS]. <i>William Lloyd Garrison. The Story of his Life.</i> New York, 1885. ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS FROM SEVERAL NOTABLE ABOLITIONISTS neatly bound in throughout. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> ANSON, George. <i>A Voyage round the World, In the Years 1740... 1744.</i> London: John and Paul Knapton for the author, 1748. FIRST EDITION. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> Blank railroad ledger, "Compagnie des Chemins de fer de l'Ouest" (spine title). N.p., 1909. A MONUMENTAL 20th-CENTURY ART NOUVEAU BINDING. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>June 23, 2020</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [MINIATURE ROOM] -- [FLEMING, John (1910-1987)]. Miniature of his 57th Street Library and Gallery. JOHN F. FLEMING'S BARONIAL 57TH STREET GALLERY. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [SANGORSKI & SUTCLIFFE BINDING]. CHESTERTON, G.K. <i>Five Types: A Book of Essays.</i> London, 1910. LIMITED EDITION, number 3 of 30 copies on vellum SIGNED BY GEORGE SUTCLIFFE. $400 to $500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Jun. 23:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. <i>When Adam Delved and Eve Span....</i> [Ancoats Brotherhood, 1894-5]. LIMITED EDITION, one of 250 copies printed. $500 to $700.
  • <b>Koller International Auctions: Books [and] Manuscripts & Autographs. June 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> INCUNABULA -Fridolin, Stephan. <i>Schatzbehalter.</i> With 96 (including 5 repeated) full-page text woodcuts. Nürnberg, 1491.<br>€ 39 470 / 57 020
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> Kokoschka, Oskar. <i>Die Träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Boys).</i> With 11 original lithographs. Vienne, 1908.<br>€ 35 090 / 52 630
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> Third Bessarion Master (active in Lombard in the third quarter of the 15th century). Leaf from a gradual, 1455-60.<br>€ 21 930 / 30 700
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> Picasso, Pablo - Delgado, José alias Pepe Illo. <i>La Tauromaquia o arte de torear.</i> With 26 original aquatints and 1 original etching by Picasso.<br>€ 21 930 / 35 090
    <b>Koller International Auctions: Books [and] Manuscripts & Autographs. June 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> Linschoten, Jan Huygen van. <i>Itinerario, Voyage ofte Schipvaert naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien…</i> Amsterdam, 1595.<br>€ 17 540 / 26 320
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> CHILDREN’S BOOKS - Meggendorfer, Lothar. <i>Nah und Fern. Ein Tierbilderbuch zum Ziehen.</i> With 8 coloured, lithographed plates.<br>€ 530 / 790
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> DANSE MACABRE - Bille, Edmond. <i>Une Danse macabre.</i> With 20 coloured woodcuts. Lausanne, 1919. Large folio.<br>€ 610 / 880
    <b>Koller, Jun. 15:</b> Dexel, Walter. A collection of 7 invitation cards from the Kunstverein Jena, each typographically designed by W. Dexel. Jena, 1924-1928. Each 10.5 x 14.8 cm.<br>€ 530 / 790

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>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States, pamphlet, 1862. Sold May 7 for $11,875.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. Sold May 7 for $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> E. Simms Campbell, A Night-Club Map of Harlem, in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. Sold May 7 for $27,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. Sold May 7 for $17,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. Sold May 7 for $5,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> The Black Panther: Black Community News Service, 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. Sold May 7 for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike, silver print, 1968. Sold May 7 for $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> March For Freedom Now!, poster for a protest on the 1960 Republican Convention. Sold May 7 for $17,500.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Autographs<br>May 27 & 28, 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Darwin (Charles). <i>On the Origin of Species,</i> 1st edition, London, 1859. Original cloth, one of 1,250 copies. £15,000 to £25,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> The Gentleman’s Magazine, or Monthly Intelligencer, 276 volumes, 1731-1894. With all the America maps, and the first British publication of the US Declaration of Independence. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Washington (John). <i>Eskimaux and English Vocabulary, for the Use of the Arctic Expedition,</i> 1st edition, London, 1850. Sabin 101906. £3,000 to £5,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Autographs<br>May 27 & 28, 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Churchill (Winston S.). <i>Ian Hamilton’s March [and] London to Ladysmith,</i> 1st editions, 1900. Signed by the author. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Wallace (Alfred Russel). <i>Is Mars Habitable?,</i> 1st edition, London, 1907. Extremely rare in the dust jacket. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Montes de Oca (Rafael). <i>Ensayo ornitologico de los Troquilideos o Colibries de Mexico,</i> 1st edition, Mexico City, 1875. With 12 hand-coloured lithographs of hummingbirds. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Autographs<br>May 27 & 28, 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Agrippa (Camillo). <i>Trattato di scienza d’arme,</i> Venice, 1568. One of 50 lots from the Leon Paul Library of Fencing. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Clarke (Sir Alured, 1744-1832). Manuscript document signed as commander of British forces in Georgia during the American War of Independence, Savannah, 18 June 1782. £300 to £500.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> [Slave Narrative]. <i>The Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black, a Fugitive from Slavery,</i> 1st edition, New Bedford MA, 1847. £300 to £500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Autographs<br>May 27 & 28, 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Finaughty (William). <i>The Recollections of William Finaughty, Elephant Hunter 1864-1875,</i> 1st edition, Philadelphia, [1916]. One of 250 copies. £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> Gold (Charles). <i>Oriental Drawings: Sketched between the Years 1791 and 1798,</i> 1st edition, 1806. With 48 fine hand-coloured aquatints. £3,000 to £5,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers 27/28 May 2020:</b> George II (1683-1760) & William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764). Manuscript exchequer document signed, 1757. £700 to £1,000.

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