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

  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
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    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
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    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
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    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
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    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
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    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
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    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
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    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
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  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
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