Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2005 Issue

Abe: A Walk on the Wild Side

Abeh

Abe has a lot to think about.


By Bruce McKinney

Abebooks, like most businesses that have done well enough to actually change scale, is looking to swim with the big fish. What they have created in the book business is nothing short of amazing. Their now increasingly apparent goal is to monetize their success. To do this they need to develop predictable earnings and they have been raising fees and shutting off backdoor communication between buyers and sellers to accomplish this. They have every right to do so and a high majority of book sellers are probably unaffected. For most Abe booksellers transactions are small and their buyers non-repeaters.

Perhaps 3% or two million of the seventy million books on Abe are serious antiquarian items offered by specialist dealers: antiquarian booksellers who see themselves as a special breed, as Bergdorf Goodmans among the Seven Elevens. Antiquarian booksellers are generally highly intelligent and in the relationship marketing business. They identify and describe often obscure material and place it in collections. They thrive on contact. It is their life blood. Abe faces the challenge of providing a formula or formulas that works for both used booksellers and antiquarians. To see into the future let's look back for a moment.

On most Main Streets in America you can feel if not actually see the history of retailing. There are the small stores and among them there are a few larger emporiums. The downtowns tend to be run down and the malls on the outskirts of town where merchants moved several decades ago themselves now beginning to age. Even regional malls, the praying mantis of shopping that years ago induced people to travel beyond their once preferred local shopping options now find themselves in the belly of the whale. Shoppers never stop looking and have now moved beyond geographical constraints.

Ten years ago the internet with its shopping options showed up as a blip on the radar. People were already used to buying mail order so the idea of viewing things electronically was simply the next new idea. At the same time states were raising sales taxes to offset the Reagan downsizing. Such taxes were efficiently collected locally while out-of-state purchases often went untaxed. Consumers quickly understood that savings on sales taxes tended to offset shipping cost.

Locally selection has always been a problem whatever the item. For books the problem is especially acute and so for new material the super-store emerged. Today Barnes and Noble, Borders, Powell's, Brentano's and others stock up to 70,000 titles under one roof and sometimes serve cappuccino and a snack, if not lunch. New books lend themselves to store distribution. They come in boxes and they are designed to be handled. They have ISBN numbers and store inventory identification. They warehouse well. There is also a system that supports new books. The New York Times ranks them by sales, offers reviews and anoints others as notable. The New York Review of Books weighs in as do numerous daily and Sunday publications. Everywhere movies are reviewed. So are books.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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