Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2024 Issue

So You Want to be an Antiquarian Bookseller?

CABS- Minnesota offers an annual weeklong bookselling summer seminar on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

So you want to be an antiquarian bookseller? Well you’re in good company, ever since the invention of movable type, c.1450, the western world has been cranking out books and in the wake there followed a steady (and at times noble) procession of dealers, who buy, sell and trade in old and rare books. These days their wares have expanded to include related fields like maps, ephemera, photography and prints. While in the past most business was conducted in open bookshops, since the advent of the internet the field is increasingly online or by appointment only, and much of the marketing and engagement is digital.

For a trade with such a distinguished history it’s surprising how few places there are to get a genuine introduction to the field. In the past booksellers were either born into the business or learned the ropes by trial and error. The traditional point of entry was often some kind of apprenticeship or by sporadic bursts of mercantile energy induced by having too many books and usually a spouse or partner muttering in the background that some (all) of it must go, and soon.

As a lifestyle bookselling has many charms, but it is the truly exceptional beginner who achieves a successful functioning business, especially since the digital revolution has made every thrift shop picker a would-be (if ignorant) purveyor of bogus or misidentified merchandise. That's because almost without exception bookselling is a knowledge based vocation, and acquiring the knowledge takes time and diligence; a few lucky breaks and a trust fund are helpful, if rare, adjuncts.


A more organized approach to learning the trade is the annual week-long seminar in bookselling basics offered by CABS-Minnesota (formerly the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar). This is an intensive exposure to the  practice and theory of the contemporary antiquarian book trade. Now in its 47th year, the seminar returns this summer to the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, from July 14 to July 20, 2024.

Founded in 2007, the Antiquarian Book School Foundation, a Minnesota corporation, is an independent, non-profit, and tax-exempt institution, and is operated exclusively for educational purposes, without monetary gain or profit to its directors or officers.


The Foundation incorporates the Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Book Market Seminar founded in 1978, later known as the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. It seeks to expand the knowledge of the culture of books, printing, book illustration, bookbinding, publishing, and book collecting to a broad base of book professionals, including booksellers, teachers, librarians, collectors, and interested members of the public.


The seminar enrolls about 50 to 55 students each year led by a faculty of eight to ten distinguished and experienced booksellers. This year the event is oversubscribed, but it is not too late to get on the waiting list or too early to consider signing up for next year, according to faculty member Garrett Scott,


For the serious wanna-be, spending a week in Minnesota is a practical, not too expensive way to learn the basics, meet others with the same inclinations and engage with a distinguished faculty .


Tuition for 2024 is $1,800 and includes all instructional materials and a variety of social events. Room and board this year is an additional $700 for the week, which includes breakfasts and lunches Monday through Friday. Travel costs, other meals and incidental expenses are additional. Scott said CABS-Minnesota is hopeful that the costs for next year will be about the same.


There are a substantial number of full or partial scholarships available and those who receive one are guaranteed admission. Deadlines for applications are generally between mid-April and early May. Additionally there are up to five diversity fellowships offered with the goal of making the antiquarian book trade more accessible to those who have not traditionally been active or well represented in this field.


During the seminar basic procedures and problems are discussed both formally and informally through a series of lectures, discussions, demonstrations and practical hands-on workshops with emphasis on the internet, computers and internet book selling, as well as traditional methods.


Garrett Scott, 54, first became involved with CABS when he was invited to make a presentation as specialty dealer in 2015. He joined the permanent faculty in 2016 and is slated to become director next year. His own area of expertise is 19th century paper Americana including books and ephemera.


Scott sees the main benefit of the seminar as “a chance to get an intensive hands-on experience that addresses the concerns of antiquarian booksellers. He feels it helps booksellers at all stages of their career to have a better understanding of the business including resources, catalogs, fairs, selling online and working with institutions.


The book trade is built on collegial relations,” he said. “So to spend a week with so many like minded people, is a real plus. Learning the trade is always evolving, but it usually comes down to looking closely at what you’re trying to sell or trying to buy. Bookselling is hard, we try to teach the best practices.


We get folks who are real beginners and others already operating at a fairly high level, maybe even well established. They want to sustain and grow their businesses. Sometimes the goal is to break into a higher priced market. We emphasize how to recognize, correctly describe and to actively sell. Participants learn how to make lists, participate and set up a booth at a book fair… we cover the whole process to grow your business: what to do to sell the material, how to sell, develop a base and tools to find customers.”


Though moving up the food chain to join professional trade organizations such as ABAA or ILAB is not a stated objective of the course, Scott said, “it does happen with some frequency. So for some, that is a goal.”

Scott recalled back in 2015 “of the 50+ participants only ten had open shops. Today he notices an increasing interest in bricks and mortar stores. “People are finding the community aspect of an open shop attractive; it brings books in and moves things through.”


He declined to predict a resurgence of physical bookstores, but he did mention several whose owners had attended the course and seem to be doing well.


As for who attends? “It’s a wide range of ages and the whole spectrum of geography from small town Kansas, the West Coast, NYC…. you name it. There are at least a few who come from international locations and also some representing the world of archives, libraries and special collections, especially if they have responsibility for buying. They want to know more about how the book business works, we are always happy to have them.


For me the highlight is watching them go out into the bookselling world and seeing them thrive. One of the best things is getting 40-50 new colleagues and the networking opportunities that go with that experience.”


Find out more about the CABS-Minnesota annual bookselling seminar at their website www.bookseminars.com


Reach Garrett Scott at garrett@bibliophagist.com

https://www.bibliophagist.com/  (734) 741-8605 - Ann Arbor, MI


Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
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    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 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
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • 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.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    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.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
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    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
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    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    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
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.

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