Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2008 Issue

A Discussion of Book Auctions with PBA's Justine Berkeley

Justine Berkeley of PBA


By Karen Wright

While in San Francisco for the Antiquarian Book Fair in February, we had lunch at Café Claude with our friend Justine Berkeley, Logistics Manager at PBA Galleries on Kearny Street. PBA Galleries is the largest specialty book auction house in the United States. They hold approximately twenty-five gallery auctions in a calendar year and continuous live online auctions of rare books, manuscripts, autographs, maps, atlases, prints, and photographs.

We asked Justine how she got into the book business.

"It was more like the auction business. I never really feel as though I'm selling books, but that I'm providing a service. I really like it," she said with enthusiasm. "I was a biology major in college and we were doing spotted owl surveys and river water surveys in the Pacific Northwest. It was very, very wet and cold. I decided I was not cut out to do field work. I had worked for another book auction company that was in the PBA space before PBA acquired it in 1992. I've worked at book auction jobs for fifteen years now. I started at PBA in 2001, just a few days after 9-11. I had a friend at PBA who knew about a job in the shipping department. It was just part time and so I was holding down two jobs. One was as the retail shop manager for the San Francisco Giants at the ball park. I love baseball and the Giants, but I hated retail so when I had the opportunity, I went full time with PBA."

Justine is a San Francisco native and she still lives in San Francisco, which she loves. She didn't own a car until she was nineteen years old. "You don't really need one here in the city," she noted. "I can walk just about everywhere."

She would like very much to travel more, she says, but she just doesn't have time. Her life companion is a chef so she says she works out two hours a day at the gym so she can go home and eat. She loves food, dogs, cats, and baseball. I asked her if she is an avid reader, but surprisingly she said she likes to read, but hardly ever has time.

Justine is extremely friendly, good-natured, and full of energy. We liked her the minute we met her several years ago, and if I have any questions about anything at PBA she's the gal I call. We asked her if she likes her work. She loves it, she says, and claims to be a workaholic (it's true; I've seen her in action). When we go there for an auction -- or just to see her -- we sometimes find her in the well-appointed auction room setting up displays, polishing the glass cases or hanging prints, or running books up and down in the elevator from customers' cars. If a book doesn't sell, she makes sure it gets back to the seller, carefully wrapped and shipped. She is a definite Justine-of-all-trades.

Justine quickly moved up in PBA, learning everything she could about the business from schlepping books in shipping to inventory control. As she worked, she improved some of their procedures and kept being promoted. She's heavily involved in inventory control and says that the only aspect of the day-to-day business she doesn't really work with much is the cataloguing department.

"They are pretty specialized," she notes, "But I hold them in very high esteem, They work really hard and some of them can actually research and catalog up to a hundred books in a day."

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    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
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    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
  • Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Closing Time, Advance Readers Copy of Uncorrected Proof with a letter from Heller on his personal stationary
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Gates, Bill, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, N Y: Knopf, 2021; first edition, with a handwritten note from Bill Gates
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Something Happened, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, first edition, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • 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.

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