• <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Sir Isaac Newton, <i>Opticks,</i> first edition, first issue, London, 1704. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Johannes Jacobus Canis, <i>De modo studendi in utroque iure,</i> first edition, Padua, 1476. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Pope Clemens V, <i>Constitutiones,</i> Nuremberg, 1482. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Panormitanus de Tudeschis, <i>Lectura super V libris Decretalium,</i> Basel, 1480-81. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Michael Faraday, <i>Experimental Researches in Electricity,</i> complete set, first editions, London, 1832-56. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> William Gilbert, <i>Tractatus sive physiologia nova de magnete,</i> Sedini, 1628. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> John Bulwer, <i>Philocophus,</i> first edition of the first book in English on the deaf, London, 1648. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> James Cook, complete set, 9 volumes, London, 1773-84. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Bertrand, <i>Opus de Tholosano[rum] Gestis ab Urbe Condita,</i> with the earliest known view of the city of Toulouse, 1515. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions:<br>Books, Manuscripts & Fine Art<br>October 18, 2019</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Ernest Hemingway. <i>The Spanish Earth.</i> First Edition. Cleveland, 1938. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Toni Morrison. <i>The Bluest Eye.</i> First Edition. New York, 1970. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Charles Etienne Briseux. <i>L’Art de Batir des Maisons de Campagn.</i> Paris, 1743. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions:<br>Books, Manuscripts & Fine Art<br>October 18, 2019</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Sadajiro Yamanaka. <i>To-so Seikwa: Select Relics of the T’ang and the Sung Dynasties from the Collections in Europe and America</i>. Osaka, 1928. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Charles Dickens. <i>Bleak House.</i> First Edition. 20 parts bound in 19 issues. London, 1852-3. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Frederic Thrasher. <i>Chicago’s Gangland Prepared by Frederic M. Thrasher 1923-26.</i> Chicago, 1926. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions:<br>Books, Manuscripts & Fine Art<br>October 18, 2019</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> <i>Father Abraham’s Almanack, For the Year of Our Lord 1776; Fitted to the Latitude of Forty Degrees....</i> Philadelphia: Printed and sold by John Dunlap, [1775]. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Francesco Lana Terzi. <i>Magisterium naturae, et artis. Opus physico-mathematicum.</i> Brescia, 1684/1692. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Eglomise Silhouette Profile Portrait of George Washington on Glass. American, ca. 1790s/1800s. 15" x 13" $5,000 to $7,000.
    <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions:<br>Books, Manuscripts & Fine Art<br>October 18, 2019</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> William James. <i>The Principles of Psychology.</i> New York, 1890. Two volumes, First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Roland Clark (1874–1957). <i>Roland Clark’s Etchings.</i> New York: The Derrydale Press, 1938. $3,500 to $4,500.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, Oct. 18:</b> Mexican-American War Recruiting Broadside. Akron, Ohio: ca. 1846/48. $1,000 to $2,000.
  • <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> DARWIN, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> London John Murray, 1859. FIRST EDITION. THE VERY FINE MELLON-GARDEN COPY. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ECKERT, J. P, H. H. GOLDSTINE, and J. G. BRAINERD. <i>Description of the ENIAC and comments on electronic digital computing machines.</i> N.p., 1945. FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED BY GOLDSTINE. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> EUCLID. <i>Elementa geometriae.</i> Translated from the Arabic by Adelard of Bath. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> [HAMILTON, Alexander, James MADISON and John JAY]. <i>The Federalist: A Collection of Essays…</i> New York: John and Andrew M'Lean, 1788. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Dialogo...Dove ne i congressi di quattro giornate si discorre sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano.</i> Florence, 1632. FIRST EDITION. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922. FIRST EDITION, ONE OF 100 COPIES SIGNED BY JOYCE. $120,000 to $180,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> KEYNES, John Maynard. <i>The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money.</i> London: Macmillan, 1936. FIRST EDITION. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> NEWTON, Isaac, Sir. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.</i> London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society, 1687. FIRST EDITION. $150,000 to $250,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ROWLING, J. K. <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.</i> London: Bloomsbury, 1997. FIRST EDITION, SIGNED BY ROWLING. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> SMITH, Adam. <i>An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.</i> London: for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776. FIRST EDITION. $70,000 to $90,000

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>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DE CORDOBA, JACOB. <i>Map of the State of Texas.</i> New York, 1866. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Autograph bookseller's receipt for Dr. John Dickinson, Signed ("B. Arnold"), February 1767. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 4 Typed Letters Signed ("A Einstein") to Cleveland E. Dodge offering early reports on the meetings of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D. Typed Letter Signed ("Dwight D. Eisenhower") to General Henri Giraud written from a secret bunker in Gibraltar on the eve of Operation Torch, November 4 [but 6], 1942. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> Early Broadside Printing of the GADSDEN PURCHASE, Puebla, August 16, 1854. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ALLEN, ETHAN. Autograph Letter Signed to Crevecouer during the Constitutional Debates in Congress, 2 pp, August 29, 1787. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> RATZER, Bernard. <i>Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767.</i> London: Jefferys and Faden, “Jan.y” 12, 1776. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. COCKERELL, Sydney C. <i>Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897 [issued 1898]. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GOLDEN COCKEREL PRESS]. KEATS, John. <i>Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems.</i> Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1928. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GRANT, Ulysses S.— GRANT, Julia, First Lady]. Carved Applewood and 18-karat Gold Jewelry Suite, Browne & Spaulding, Jewelers, New York City, 1865. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [LINCOLN ASSASSINATION]. GARDNER, Alexander. <i>Incidents of the War |Sic Semper Sicariis</i> [caption title]. Washington, D. C.: Philip & Solomons, 1865. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> A COMPLETE COLLECTION of 115 titles published in R. R. Donnelley's Lakeside Classics series. Chicago, 1903-2017. COMPLETE RUN OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING CONTINUOUS SERIES OF BOOKS IN THE WORLD. $5,000 to $7,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> GLEIZES, Albert. METZINGER, Jean. <i>Du Cubisme.</i> Paris, 1947. LIMITED EDITION, number 19 of 20 copies on papier d'Auvergne. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [THE LITTLE REVIEW]. ANDERSON, Margaret, ed. POUND, Ezra, ed. HEAP, Jane, ed. <i>The Little Review.</i> Vol. I, No. 1 through Vol. XII, No. 2. 1914-1929. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [MOUNTENEY, Leonard, binder]. LOUŸS, Pierre. <i>Songs of Bilitis.</i> Chicago: Argus Books, 1931. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [HANCOCK, John]. Partly-printed U.S. Loan-Office Transfer Certificate issued on behalf of Hancock. Sgn’d on recto by William Imlay, as Commissioner of Loans of Connecticut. 28 February 1793. $2,000 to $3,000

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