Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2003 Issue

Book Descriptions: The Key To Reselling

Bruce1

Image Taken from Americana Exchange Database



By Bruce McKinney

Thousands of people collect books. The various book fairs around the country attract essentially local collectors and among the more than fifty serious book fairs each year in America there appear to be well over 100,000 people who visit them. Estimates of the total number of active book collectors run all the way to 200,000. Certainly the number of people who will collect if the hobby/avocation is more intelligently structured is even higher.

Let’s take a look back for a second. Historically book collecting has been a relatively small field, geared towards wealth, with collectors often more financially capable than knowledgeable. Such collectors relied upon their dealers for collecting advice as well as for the books that they acquired. If cost was an issue it wasn’t always apparent. The books were as often later given to institutions as they were resold. Such collecting was more about prestige than about economic sense.

In time, a generation of knowledgeable dealers and collectors evolved to embrace the emerging opportunities to understand and collect American history. With increasing interest in the details, book descriptions elaborated and book prices rose. And what for many had been a vanity hobby slowly developed into a solid intellectual pursuit. Year to year book prices tended to rise, fed by a scarcity that was both real and controlled. If a title suddenly became too common, dealers would sometimes withhold copies, often for years at a time.

And then the unexpected happened: in the 1990s the internet emerged as a new venue for people with books to display and sell their material. Small in scale at first, it has, as we all know, grown relentlessly. Today there are perhaps seventy-five times as many books for sale on the web as all the major dealers in the world together own. Today, control over the world of books has shifted to the net. With this shift to the net, collectors begin to have the opportunity to resell their books at attractive prices. To do so, they need to be able to convincingly describe their book collections. In many cases, the books they bought and seek to sell were well described initially. They will eventually be able to resell efficiently if they can use these written book descriptions. Thus the written book description becomes a necessary part of any rare or antiquarian book transaction. Which brings us to the issue at hand, these written book descriptions and their irreplaceable value in the book reselling process. Let’s start by taking a look at the formulaic “book description.”

By time honored practice, when a book dealer offers a book for sale he or she (for the purposes of brevity, we’ll use the male pronoun from hereon in) develops a written description to accompany the asking price. This is both his explanation and his justification for the price his book commands. This description is increasingly if unofficially divided into three parts. The first section contains basic details such as title, author, date printed, place published and a physical bibliographical

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>

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