Remembering an Excellent Effort to Understand the Market in 1978/1979
- by Bruce E. McKinney
A good idea that didn't last
Annual Report of the American Rare Antiquarian and Out-of-Print Book Trade 1978/1979
By Denis Carbonneau
This edition of the Annual Report of the American Rare, Antiquarian, and Out-of-Print Trade is the first of a projected series whose purpose is to give a picture of the antiquarian book trade for the year beginning July 1 and ending the following June 30. These dates were adopted because they coincide with the fiscal year of most academic libraries and because they overlap the dates of the auction season.
The full title of this publication defines its direction and purpose. The phrase annual report is a financial term for a statement of the financial health of tan enterprise. Thus, readers will find here an appraisal of the financial health of the antiquarian book trade.
A purely financial view of the trade would, however, present a misleading and lopsided picture of the American antiquarian book trade in 1978 / 1979. Supporting activities, associations, and scholarship are an integral part of the trade, and in many ways these elements of the trade share responsibility for its success. Their activities for 1978 / 1979 are also summarized in the Annual Report.
The section entitled “Auctions and Auctioneering” and “Review of Specialized Areas” provide information on buying and selling practices, financial trends, and changes in book collecting habits.
The dealer-specialists whose articles appear here have recorded their experiences as reflected in the activity of their businesses. The most important material available for purchase would be likely to pass through their hands – or through the hands of dealers known to them. So their appraisals can be expected to be an accurate summary of the year’s activity in their fields.
Such an approach is not without its hazards, of course, and specialist collectors and dealers may take exception to individual evaluations, However, dealers were asked to concentrate on trends and relate those trends to the antiquarian book trade itself. This summary process may distort the picture of a particular field. Yet, while no claim to scientific accuracy is made here, the articles as a whole do provide a coherent and, I believe, accurate, view of a diverse and to some extent amorphous trade.
While the interpretations of last year’s marketplace activity may be re-evaluated in the future, the events that shaped the trade were seen by most dealers in the same way. This is not necessarily a sign of accuracy. But can so many dealers with different specialties and different views of the trade be off target? It seems unlikely. In any event, such unanimity will certainly play a large part in any future re-evaluation of the 1978 / 1979 trade.
The specialties that appear in the “Review of Specialized Areas” were chosen because of their current popularity with collectors, because of their historical importance in any overview of book selling and book collecting, or in eliminating possible bias. Most of the areas will appear in future reports: some areas will be dropped and others added as circumstances warrant.
Recurring themes within the articles may point to ongoing or developing trends. For example, the effects of inflation were, not surprisingly, felt by all dealers, and this accounted for the increase in prices in many areas. On the other hand, some steep increases undoubtedly result from the re-evaluation of the importance of certain areas. Concurrent with the effects of inflation, the effects of the devaluation of the dollar were felt by dealers who buy abroad.
The influence and importance of the investor-collector are the subject of comment and speculation. While some dealers accept and encourage the purchase of books as an investment, others prefer not to deal with individuals who buy books for this purpose. Still other dealers are not altogether sure that this is actually taking place since their specialties seem to be little affected.
The influx of new collectors and dealers or of collectors turned dealers proved disconcerting to several writers, especially since these novices are ignorant not only of the financial aspects of their fields, but of the bibliographical aspects as well. Higher, inflated prices and poor cataloguing practices are the result. The book collector who is himself ignorant of his field is thus the victim.
Finally, the unpredictability of the first editions market was the subject of discussion by dealers in almost every field.
The other sections of the Annual Report, the humanistic elements, also underscore trends in book collecting. “Conservation of Material” will appeal to sophisticated collectors who recognize that their collections, valuable scholarship tools, are subject to deterioration. These collectors will want to know what can be done to keep their collections from disintegrating even as they are being used.
The section on “Libraries and Librarianship” will be of interest to librarians and dealers since it focuses on the interrelationship of these groups.
“Professional Associations and Activities” points to the activities that help dealers maintain professional standards and increase their knowledge.
“Trends in bibliography,” a section important to anyone in the trade as well as anyone interested in scholarship and in books, is a summary of exciting bibliographical projects underway.
Finally, reference information not easily found elsewhere, if it can be found at all, is included in the Annual Report.
The section on book clubs will be updated yearly to reflect historical changes in an important segment of the book collecting world and to provide up-to-date information on the clubs themselves. Similarly, the information on book fairs provides an overview of the development of an important tool of the antiquarian bookseller.
Sections on other topics of significance to the trade will be added as needed, and readers are asked to submit suggestions for improvements or additions.
This publication is necessarily the product of the work and faith of many people. To the contributors themselves I extend my sincerest appreciation for their participation. In addition, appreciation is due to Robert Nikirk and Thomas Lange for their participation as interviewers.
Others who contributed to the success of this volume include Evelyn Harter Glick, who designed the title page and assisted in decisions about design problems. John DiLorenzo, who did yeoman service in assisting with production aspects; Dorothy MacDonald, who indexed the material; Michael Moran, who was asked near the deadline date to write his article, and who did so under great editorial pressure; and Lawrence McCrank, who undertook extensive writing and editorial tasks. To all, I owe a debt of gratitude.
As editor of this volume, I of course assume responsibility for the book as a final product.
New York, New York