Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2007 Issue

The Declining Value of Inventory

Progress

Nothing remains the same.


By Bruce McKinney

In the biblical story of Noah and the ark the emphasis is always placed on the miracle of survival. A male and female of each animal are marched up into the boat to float for forty days [and nights] and to repopulate the earth once the flood has passed. No reference in the story is made to how anyone or anything feels about being left off the boat. Well, these days, in the book business, the ark is being loaded and inevitably Noah is always deciding he still has too much. In the meantime the water is rising. At least that's the way it is in the world of collectible books. For many booksellers there is no room in the ark.

Recently I spoke with a dealer who has hundreds of thousands of items online. He uses triage software to price his material a penny or two cheaper than other listings of the same item. In this way he has shifted from self-determined to market determined pricing. It makes sense if selling books is the absolute goal. The market decides.

Selling collectible and used books are of course not the same thing. Neither is the dividing line between them fixed. It is relentlessly shifting and the shift has been negative because material is flowing onto the net in record numbers and its turning out that what often used to be considered unobtainable is now available in multiple copies.

The math is easy. Here is a balanced market.

Copies
--------------- = 1
Collectors


When there are more collectors than copies the value of copies is firm and rising. When the number of copies is greater than collectors the value is weak and falling.

Today there is a relentless flow of fresh material into the market and a sense that there is probably much more to come. This translates into a weak market:

3 or more Copies
------------------ = 3
1 Collector


In a strong market it looks like this

1 copy every 2 to 5 years
--------------------------------- = > 1
Multiple Collectors

The anecdotal evidence suggests that for an increasingly large population of titles and editions the number of copies online is always increasing while the number of buyers for them at a minimum is not increasing as fast. Many believe the number of collectors is falling. I doubt that but understand it can feel that way. It's almost certain that collectors and collecting passion are not keeping pace with the tsunami of material flooding the market. The question is whether this is an aberration or evidence of a fundamental change in collecting interest. In other words, is it a recession or depression?

To me the market looks unstable but healthy. Material is flowing to market on listings sites, in shops, at shows, on line, at auction and eBay. And what used to be difficult to see is now hard to miss. There are lots and lots of copies. They have been around but have never been so visible.

Efficient markets adjust price to compensate for over-supply and books are no exception. The trick today is to understand importance, availability and appropriate price and not to over-charge if you are a dealer and not to over-pay if you are a collector.

This will turn out to be the most exciting time in the collecting of books, manuscripts, and ephemera in the past 500 years. It will some day have a name and both buyers and sellers will reminisce about how difficult it was. In the meantime we have to get through it. Both buyers and sellers are adjusting to a world pregnant with information. The revolution is underway, the way forward a thin light in a tunnel that some believe is a train bearing down but which I personally believe is a new world at hand.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Macbeth: A Tragedy.</i> Acted at the Dukes-Theatre. London: printed for William Cademan, 1673. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> MUYBRIDGE, EADWEARD. Panorama of San Francisco, from California-St. Hill. [San Francisco:] Morse's Gallery, 1877. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> BRUNUS ARETINUS, LEONARDUS. <i>De bello Italico adversus Gothos gesto.</i> Venice: Nicolas Jenson, 1471. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> HILL, JOHN. <i>Compleat Body of Gardening.</i> London: printed for T. Osborne; T. Trye; S. Crowder and Co.; and H. Woodgate, 1757. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> GASPAR DE PORTOLA. Document Signed Twice ("Gaspar de Portola," & "M. Portola"), 29 pp, Puebla, Mexico, December 10, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> VINGTIEME SIECLE. A complete set of the second series of <i>Vingtieme Siecle (XXe Siecle),</i> together with all fourteen special numbers. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ROOSEVELT, FRANKLIN DELANO. Autograph Letter Signed ("F.D.R.") as President, Washington, [1941], to Norman Davis, on White House stationery. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> HAYEK, FRIEDRICH AUGUST. Autograph Manuscript, "Discipline of Civilisation." $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ADAMS, HANNAH; ADAMS, THOMAS "BOOK". Daubuz, Charles. <i>A Perpetual Commentary On The Revelation Of St. John.</i> London: Printed for Benj. Tooke, 1720. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> EMPEROR NORTON. Photograph signed ("Norton I"), albumen print carte-de-visite. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ROBERTS, DAVID. <i>Egypt and Nubia from Drawings Made on the Spot ... with Historical Descriptions by William Brockendon.</i> London: F.G. Moon, 1846-9. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Albert Einstein, typed letter signed, explaining the nature of his personal atheism and belief in God. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> George Washington. Autograph letter signed to Bryan Fairfax, looking forward to the Treaty of Paris, 5 February 1783. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Alfred Swaine Taylor. Early “photogenic drawing,” photograph of a fern, dated 2 December 1839. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> "Departure of Mr. Lincoln—Parting Address" in the <i>Weekly Illinois State Journal,</i> Vol. XXX, No. 1541, Springfield, February 13, 1861. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Benjamin Harrison document signed certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a black Revolutionary soldier. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Front page printing of the Articles of Confederation in the <i>New-Jersey Gazette,</i> Vol. 1, No. 22. Trenton, April 29, 1778. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> George Washington Funeral Procession Broadside. Boston, January 6, 1800. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Philippe Laroque, printed score for “The Heroe of New Orleans Battle.” Philadelphia, 1815. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Report of the Battle of Queenston Heights, the first major battle in the War of 1812, in <i>Supplement to the Quebec Gazette,</i> 24th October 1812. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, On Tuesday the Eighteenth Day of November, 1760. London, 1760. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Elegy on the Death of James Lawrence, Esq. late Commander of the U.S. Frigate Chesapeake. [Boston]: A. Bowen, 1813. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's Commission as Major General, signed by John Hancock, 19 February 1777. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Latin Book of Hours, around 1480.<br>Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Northern journeys - Collection of around 120 works, 17th-19th century.
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>J. Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> 1922. Est: € 8,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Florilegium, <i>Fleurs du Printemps et de l‘Este,</i> around 1630. Est: € 35,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>T. R. Malthus, <i>An essay on the principle of population,</i> 1798. Est: € 60,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>E. Cerillo, <i>Dipinti murali di Pompei,</i> 1886. Est: € 2,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br><i>Bulla aurea,</i> 1485. Est: € 40,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>A. Verschaffelt, <i>Iconographie des Camellias,</i> 1848-60. Est: € 10,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>M. Duchamp & A. Breton, <i>Le surréalisme en 1947,</i> 1947.<br>Est: € 16,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>H. Schedel, <i>Liber chronicarum,</i> 1493.<br>Est: € 25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>M. E. Chevreul, <i>De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs,</i> 1839.<br>Est: € 5,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>F. Léger & P. Éluard, <i>Liberté j‘écris ton nom,</i> 1953. Est: € 15,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b><br>John James Audubon, <i>Great Blue Heron,</i> hand-colored aquatint and engraved plate, 1834. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson, <i>A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia,</i> Dalrymple edition, 1755. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b><br>John James Audubon, <i>The Birds of America,</i> sign & inscribed to Brantz Mayer, 1840-44. $18,000 to $22,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Vincenzo Maria Coronelli & Jean Baptiste Nolin, Paris, 1688. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Henri Abraham Chatelain, <i>Atlas Historique,</i> 7 volumes, Amsterdam, 1705-1720. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Johann Baptist Homann, <i>Atlas Mapparum Geographicarum...,</i> Nuremberg, circa 1750s. $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Lowell Mason, <i>Musical Exercises for Singing Schools,</i> Boston, 1838. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Alexander Wilson, <i>American Ornithology,</i> 9 volumes, Philadelphia, 1808-14. $6,000 to $9,000.

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