Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2019 Issue

Collecting Choices: Buying where you find ‘em


For years I spent $7,000 to $20,000 a year on eBay but anymore hardly look.  To find collectible material at fixed prices I need not look further than sites like www.abaa.com.  eBay has long been a bargain bin dominated by sellers looking to cash out so when material from strong sellers shows up there it has often signaled a willingness to negotiate.  But not always as I recently found out.


A few months ago I encountered a seller on eBay whose material regularly shows up on the tonier websites.  I assumed this seller’s offers on eBay signaled a new flexibility beyond their norm but that proved to not be the case. 


This dealer was offering a fully priced, and also very interesting, manuscript letter at $1,500.  As the listing was on eBay I approached the item as a negotiation which is what it often is. In that case I made a 50% offer expecting to open a discussion.  What I got was an outright rejection and invitation to raise my offer.  I then contacted the seller and learned that, by their own description, they’re too busy to respond to insufficient offers.  That’s too bad.  I won’t try to buy from them in future.  I would have bought the manuscript but they went out of their way to be cursory, even unfriendly.  And it’s disappointing.


Another item came up at auction on eBay at the same time from a different seller.  The description looked intriguing if a bit unprofessional.  Here’s the description as it appeared in the listing:



a Semi-monthly Family Journal of health.

Edited by Doctor Thomas Lapham "Health the poor man's wealth, the rich man's bliss"

Thomsonian Theory and Practice of Medicine

Prevention & cure of Disease

every issue list people who paid $1 for the publication 

Also list of Agents for it. (many Doctors and towns)

Vol. 5 June 15 1842 No 1 Thru May 15 1843 No 23 

184 pages.

Here a rare collection of 23 editions of Vol. 5.


And the difference between the two lots?  I have possibly 25 bound volumes of 19th century Poughkeepsie newspapers.  They are difficult to find bound, very rare.  Such material appears once in a great while and there are no second chances.  Manuscript material relating to Ulster County, by comparison, tends to hang around unless it is very special.  So I paid the high opening bid on one and sought a negotiation on the other.  But I digress.


The bound volume of the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian contains 23 semi-weekly issues beginning June 15th, 1842 and continuing to May 15th, 1843, is a very nice survival.  It appears to be a magazine or newspaper but is probably neither.  Rather, it’s a promotional publication that markets a perspective on health along with remedies and cures the publisher sells.  A year ago I wrote about the Helfand auction of drug ephemera and quackery and was aware of the parallel lines that quackery and medicine trace.  Would he have pursued the Thomsonian?  I think so.


The seller put a seemingly rich [for eBay] starting price on their volume, $499.- and I bought it as no one else bid.


I paid immediately and messaged the seller if, after receipt and inspection, could it be returned?  He was clear, even steadfast that if I received the box and opened it, the sale was final.  This attitude and the marginal description gave me pause.  There would be no going back.  Subsequently I decided to open the box and keep it.  The description was a bit uneven and the start price high but this bound volume of promotional newspapers turns out to be a very nice thing to have.  So the seller needn’t have been concerned.   He posted a very good item, put a strong start price on it and received a favorable outcome.  It’s not going to be returned.  Looking ahead I’m reminded to pay more attention to the right to inspect and return.  I bid more when the seller offers a right to return as it suggests confidence in the item and description.


Subsequently the seller called to encourage me to return it anyway even after it was opened.  He said he had other expressions of interest and would be happy to have it back. 


On eBay I don’t mind high starting prices because many bidders won’t take the leap so if the start bid is acceptable you stand a good chance of winning.  Some of the best things I’ve bought were uncontested on a high start bid.


The better option, however, for that seller would have been to consign to Swann.  It would have brought at least $1,500 in their rooms.  It’s a rare survival that mirrors many aspects of today’s vegetarian theology


A few days later an ABAA dealer whose taste is superb emailed me two offers.


The one was for a short-lived magazine, The Pearl, published in Saugerties in 1875 with local images pasted into printed text, some 36 images spread over 12 monthly issues.  I already have a set as well as the publisher’s remainder [images included with this article] of various unbound monthly issues.  I bought them on Abebooks many years ago.


The other is a set of 87+/- 7” x 9” images of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad.  The price is strong but I expect, because the dealer sells premium, well-researched material, there’s a reasonable argument for purchase.  We’ll see.  I’ll have to see the images.


Recently I also bid on several paintings and a watercolor.  The paintings came up at Bourgealt-Horan Antiquarians.  Five nautical examples by James Bard were appealing, several of them spot on to my collecting interests.  Alas, as sometimes happens, the prices were full and I watched as they sold to others.  But all was not lost.  A watercolor came up at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries on Saturday 24 August.  It’s described as an early sailing ship watercolor.  It’s appeal?  The Ship’s name:  Factor of Poughkeepsie by B. E. Howland.  It's framed size is 17.5" x 24.25."  The price?  $2,300 hammer.  It’s very, very good.


Finally, out-of-the-blue, Periodyssey, a long time AE/RBH member emailed me an offer of a 25” x 19.75” original color print of the Riverview Military Academy at Poughkeepsie circa 1872.  I’m grateful to have been contacted and of course bought it.  It’s a nice thing to have.


Taken altogether the collecting experience is remarkable.

Posted On: 2019-10-01 15:06
User Name: midsomer

As someone who has been selling online since 1999 I have to offer a different take on the $1500 item where you offered 50% of list price. To me if I were to list an item a fair retail price and then be offered half I would take that as an insult to my time and experience. I've gotten a very thick skin but after selling for 20 years I can tell you that lowball buyers tend to be problem buyers and are just not worth the effort to deal with. I keep hearing that "people" want used bookstores to continue but it seems that they have no problem trying to squeeze every last ounce of profit from the dealer.

Posted On: 2019-10-14 02:22
User Name: craigguiliano

I’ve purchased most of my collection via eBay and I am an avid visitor of the site. I’ve also sold plenty of books on eBay. I follow and participate in every major rare book auction via sites like Invaluable. In other words, I have a very good understanding of current market value. Some dealers’ idea of ‘retail’ prices are laughable. I often offer below asking (usually between 10 and 15-percent, but sometimes more). It’s the sellers‘ prerogative as to how to respond - it takes one click to decline... And I’ve taken no offense to buyers that offer me well below market price - and half those prospective ‘buyers’ are probably dealers.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Jane Austen, <i>Sense and Sensibility: A Novel, By a Lady,</i> 3 volumes, London, 1811. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>Kew Gardens,</i> limited edition, signed by Woolf & Bell, London, 1927. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> <i>[Arabian Nights],</i> Calcutta II version, 4 volumes, Calcutta & London, 1839-1842. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Princess Diana, 6 ALS to <i>Harper’s Bazaar</i> editor, anticipating Christie’s sale of her dresses for charity, 1995-97. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Jane Austen, <i>Emma,</i> first edition, London, 1816. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Hirohito & Nagako, Emperor & Empress of Japan, 2 photographs signed, showing Nagako in kimono & obi bearing the imperial seal. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Princess Diana, 6 autograph letters signed to <i>Harper’s Bazaar</i> editor Elizabeth Tilberis, anticipating Christie’s announcement of a sale of her dresses for charity, 1995-97. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Sarojini Naidu, complete galley proof of <i>The Broken Wing</i> signed with several holograph pages & an autograph letter signed to writer Edmund Gosse, 1916. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Fernando Pessoa, <i>Mensagem,</i> first edition, presentation copy, signed & inscribed, Lisbon, 1934. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Graham Greene, <i>The Basement Room,</i> first edition, Greene’s personal copy, signed with annotations throughout, London, 1935. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b> Abraham Lincoln, partly-printed document signed, call for troops issued during America’s first national draft just days before the NYC draft riots, 1863. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 20:</b><br><i>Les Chansons de Bilitis</i> by Pierre Louÿs, illustrated by George Barbier & F.L. Schmied, Paris, 1922. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €
  • <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Harriet Tubman Cabinet Card by H.S. Squyer, Auburn, NY, 1892. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Scarce <i>Events of the Tulsa Disaster,</i> First Edition, 1922. $4,000 to $6,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Unpublished CDV of Frederick Douglass by Benjamin F. Smith, 1864. $3,000 to $5,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> California Imprint of <i>President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation</i> Broadside, 1864. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> John C.H. Grabill Cabinet Card of Buffalo Soldier Wearing Buffalo Coat, ca 1886. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking,</i> 2nd Cookbook Published by African American. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Frederick Douglass Walking Stick, 1888. $3,000 to $5,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Only Known Slave Narrative Published Independently in California, <i>Life and Adventures of James Williams.</i> $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare First Edition of History of Black Literature, Abbé Grégoire <i>De La Littérature des Nègres</i>. $2,500 to $3,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> African American Soldier and Medal of Honor Winner Christian A. Fleetwood CDV, PLUS. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries Pennant, 1910 Reno, Nevada. $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Joe Gans Photograph at 1906 Goldfield, Nevada Fight by Percy Dana. $600 to $800

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