Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2019 Issue

Barnes & Noble Purchased by a Hedge Fund. Times Have Changed

70012dd9-8f19-44d4-a49c-f917df32003e

Barnes & Noble's flagship store in New York from 1932 until it closed in 2014.

The long journey of Barnes & Noble, once the world's largest bookseller, took another major turn in its declining years when it was sold last month to Elliott Management for $683 million, or $6.50 per share. Elliott Management is part of what can be called a Hedge Fund, or an Activist Fund, even a Vulture Fund, depending on your point of view. They purchase large or controlling interests in companies, often distressed ones, and attempt to improve their performance or turn them around. They are not new to book selling, having purchased the struggling British bookseller Waterstones last year. Barnes & Noble, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange since 1993, will once again become private.

 

While Barnes & Noble's influence on the rare and antiquarian book trade was limited, its role on the larger new book trade was enormous. During the period from 1970-2000 it turned new book selling on its head as it became the largest bookseller in the world. Then the internet came along and so did Amazon, and B&N turned from predator to prey. The company recovered enough to become #2 in the field of online book selling, but unfortunately, there was only room for one really successful online seller of new books. It turned into a one-horse race with the others fighting for scraps.

 

Barnes & Noble's history actually goes back to the 19th century. Clifford Noble took a job in a New York City bookshop in 1886, later became a partner, bought the firm out and went into partnership with friend William Barnes. Noble sold his share in 1930, Barnes died in 1945. It was around then that B&N finally opened a few locations beyond the flagship, including Chicago and another in New York. The Barnes family sold it to a conglomerate corporation in the 1960s, and it was back to a single store when purchased in 1971 by Leonard Riggio. Riggio has run the company ever since, only now will he be ceding control.

 

The 1960s and 1970s saw the birth and rapid growth of several chain booksellers. Undoubtedly, names like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton will still be familiar. They spread across the country, often found in shopping malls, also once more popular than they are today. They were relatively small stores, frequently stuffed with books, reminiscent of the single-location private book stores they often replaced. Barnes & Noble bought one of them, B. Dalton, to provide its entry into nationwide book selling. Both B. Dalton and Waldenbooks finally succumbed to the changes in book selling and closed their doors at the beginning of this decade.

 

Barnes & Noble, however, was nothing like these smaller shops. Their stores were huge. They became meeting places. They opened cafes in their stores, where you could buy coffee and pastries. Some even provided live music in the evenings. Browsing, even reading, was encouraged in the stores. They provided soft, comfortable couches and chairs to facilitate reading. You could get away with reading a book there and never buying it, but more likely, you would start one, like it, and buy it to take home. A few others, notably Borders, developed chains also selling books in this new way.

 

And then came the internet. Not long after, along came Amazon. There was no coffee, no music, no socializing, no comfortable chairs. All there was was lower prices, substantially so. Barnes & Noble became their foil. People would still come to Barnes & Noble to browse the new books, read a little, socialize, and then go home and order the books they liked from Amazon because it was cheaper. B&N became Amazon's showroom.

 

The large gathering place bookstore became, if not obsolete, no longer as popular. In time, people became more accustomed to buying online sight unseen, without needing to check out the products personally in a store first. Traffic and sales declined. Borders, once running over 500 stores, closed down in 2011. Barnes & Noble soldiered on. It still does, but sales have continued to decline, stores have been closed. The stock price, once over $30 per share, hit an all-time low shortly before news of the buy out broke, $4.11. That price made the $6.50 shareholders will receive look like a great relief, rather than a huge disappointment.

 

Can Barnes & Noble be saved? Obviously, Elliott thinks traditional book stores can still be viable, and reportedly has made some progress with Waterstones. Then again, there was much fanfare in 2005 when Sears and K-Mart, one or the other America's largest retailer through most of the 20th century, combined. Now they fight to survive while losing enormous amounts of money. Hardly anyone believes their demise is anything other than inevitable. I hope B&N finds a way. I will miss it. I still like stores. My kids do not. They buy almost everything from Amazon or certain online specialty retailers. They don't like spending their limited available time traipsing around stores. They will be consumers for many more years now than I. They are the future. I wish Barnes & Noble well.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ptolomaeus (Claudius). <i>Cosmographia,</i> first edition, Vicenza, Hermann Liechtenstein, 13 September 1475. £150,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Schoener (Johann). <i>Opera mathematica,</i> 3 parts in 1, first edition,The Honeyman copy in contemporary binding, Nuremberg, J. Montanus and U. Neuber, 1551. £30,000 to £40,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Lucian of Samosata. <i>Dialogoi, editio princeps,</i> with fine illuminated title-page, Florence, Lorenzo de Alopa, 1496. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Pian (Jean Baptiste de). [Architectural Alphabet], 26 chromolithographs by Leopold Muller after Pian, Vienna, 1842-44. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Rogers (Bruce).- Holy Bible (The)..., one of 200 copies on handmade paper, designed by Bruce Rogers, bound in modern crimson morocco, gilt, Oxford, 1935. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Jenner (Edward). <i>An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae…,</i> first edition, Printed for the Author, by Sampson Low, 1798. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Voyages.- Cook (Capt. James).- Parkinson (Sydney). <i>A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour,</i> second edition, Charles Dilly...& James Phillips, 1784. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Clemens (Samuel Langhorne)] "Mark Twain". <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,</i> first edition, first state, New York, Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Voight (Hans Henning)], "Alastair". Herod, for 'Salome: Drame en un Acte', original drawing in red & black ink over pencil, [c.1922]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> James (M.R.) <i>Ghost Stories of an Antiquary,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author to A.C. Benson, 1904. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Remarque (Erich Maria). <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1929. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ashendene Press.- More (Sir Thomas). <i>A Fruteful and Pleasaunt Worke...Utopia,</i> one of 100 copies, bound in black goatskin by J.Franklin Mowery, Ashendene Press, 1906. £3,000 to £4,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>N.C. Wyeth, <i>The Black Arrow,</i> oil on canvas, for the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1916. $150,000 to $250,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Laurent de Brunhoff, mixed media color study for <i>Babar’s World Tour,</i> 2005. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Hilary Knight, <i>Eloise with Valentine,</i> watercolor, ink & pencil, 2015. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Howard Pyle, <i>It was a Comrade from His Own Regiment,</i> oil on canvas, for <i>Harper’s Monthly Magazine,</i> 1909. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Coby Whitmore, <i>‘Poor baby! You want me so much,’ she said,</i> acrylic, for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1968. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Al Hirschfeld, <i>Charley’s Aunt,</i> pen & ink, for the Broadway revival, <i>The New York Times,</i> 1940. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Erté, <i>Décor de Laideronnette,</i> gouache set design for third movement of <i>Mother Goose,</i> 1949. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Vince McIndoe, <i>Villainous Last Supper, DC Comics,</i> oil on canvas, 2016. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Arthur Getz, <i>Rooftop Party,</i> casein tempera, cover illustration for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1970. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 1. Albertus Magnus, De Natura Locorum, 2nd edn, 1515. £3000 to £4000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 22. George Cooke, Scenery of the East India Islands, 1811-13. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 23. J.M. Crozet, Nouveau vouage a la Mer du Sud, 1st edn, 1783. £4000 to £6000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 27. J.P.J.Du Bois, Vies des Gouverneurs Generaux, 1st edn, 1763. £1200 to £1800.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 28. Wm Ellis, Authentic Narrative...Captain Cook, 1st edn, 1782. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 31. Thomas Forrest, Voyage to New Guinea, 1st edn, 1779. £1500 to £2000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 32. Forster & Forster, Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1777-78. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 38. Gianetti, Elogy of Captain James Cook, 1st edn, 1785. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 46. Otto von Kotzebue, Entdeckungs Reise, 1st edn, 1821. £3500 to £4500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 52. Alejandro Malaspina, Viaje politico-scientifico, 1st edn, 1885. £2000 to £3000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 60. Sydney Parkinson, Journal of Voyage to the South Seas, large paper, 1773. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 64. Nathaniel Portlock, A Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1789. £4000 to £6000.
  • <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> O'Fihely, Maurice Abp. <i>Questiones subtilissme Scoti in metaphysicam Aristotelis</i>, Venice (Octavianus Scoti) 20th November 1497. 8,000 to 12,000 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Pococke (Richard). <i>A Description of the East and some other Countries,</i> 3 vols. in 2, L. (W. Bowyer) 1743. 2,250 to 3,500 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Keogh (John). <i>Botanalogia Universalis Hibernica, or A General Irish Herbal Calculated for this Kingdom, giving an account of the Herbs, Scrubs…</i>, Corke (George Harrison) 1735. 1,000 to 1,500 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Perry (Charles). <i>A View of the Levant particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt and Greece,</i> L. (T. Woodward) 1743. 800 to 1,200 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Shaw (Thomas). <i>Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant,</i>, Oxford (The Theatre) 1738. 600 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (Nicholas) Bishop of Ferns] Attributed, <i>Recit Exact et Fidele de la Vente et Partage du Roiaume d'Irlande Fait Sous Charles II…,</i> Milan (Chez Charles Joseph Quinto) 1724. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (V. Rev.Dr. Nicholas, Bp of Ferns.)] <i>The Unkinde Desertor of Loyall Men and True Frinds,</i> 12mo, n.p. 1676. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Yeats (W.B.) <i>Plays and Controversies,</i>, N.Y. (The MacMillan Company) 1924, Signed Limited Edn. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Barrie (J.M.) & Thomson (Hugh) illus. <i>Quality Street, a Comedy in Four Acts,</i> L. (Hodder and Stoughton) 1901, Limited Edition, signed by the artist. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Molyneaux (William). <i>The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated,</i> [London 1719]. 200 to 300 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Johnston's (W. & A.) Map of South Africa, to illustrate the Military Operations 1900. 100 to 150 €

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions