Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2008 Issue

The Zobel Inventory Sold on Craig's List - A Perspective

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Miriam recalls my father Tom but I have no memory of them. My family owned local weekly newspapers and knew everyone who might buy a paper, a subscription or an ad. This side of the grave, in the hardscrabble country newspaper business we were in, everyone was a prospect. Even when they died we only put a pencil line through their names just in case. But memory or not, connection or not, what Mrs. Zobel wanted, and what I was interested to see if it could be done, was to sell her remaining stock. For my part I was [and still am] trying to understand how books, the book business, reading, Kindle-like devices, the internet with its auctions, listing sites and online research, and whatever else may emerge, fit together into what reading [and by extension thinking] will become. Books are probably a passing stage though they have lasted a long time. The Roman Empire too lasted a long time but it's still gone. Nothing is permanent.

So we talked about her opportunity and decided to offer her material as a single lot at JMW Auction Gallery in Kingston, New York. I wrote a story for AEM and commissioned a video [another experiment] to effectively present what she had. We both thought the lot of possibly 90,000 items would sell for anything up to about $7,000. It did sell to an online bidder with a second to go for $1,000 and that was the closest that buyer ever got to his treasure. The buyer soon lost confidence and walked away. He was in California and the books might cost $15,000 to pack and ship.

We then talked to another local auction company and they too expressed concern. They visited and the potential sale slipped into the future. Come summer I asked my son Tom about listing Mrs. Zobel's books on Craig’s List. He thought it would be easy. I rewrote the description and provided a link to the video we prepared a year ago. My thinking was simple. There is every evidence that another world coexists with the traditional world of books but it's essentially invisible because it is so fragmented. The way people think in the old world is incomprehensible to those in the new [and vice versa]. It turns out markets are shaped by mechanisms. Craig's List is a new mechanism and was worth a try.

Within 15 minutes of posting Mrs. Zobel had an inquiry. Two others quickly arrived. The asking price was $3,250 and the buyer, after a brief preliminary visit, went to his bank and obtained a certified check. By the time the deal closed, 48 hours after posting, she had a backup offer. Both interested parties are eBay sellers. The world is changing.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> <i>[Sutro Baths] / On the Shore of the Pacific Ocean,</i> designer unknown, 1896. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Osvaldo Ballerio, <i>Biscottini e Amaretti Delser,</i> circa 1900. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Maxfield Parrish, <i>Harper’s Weekly,</i> 1896. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Les Parfums de J. Daver Paris,</i> 1903. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Jacob Lawrence, <i>Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture,</i> 1968. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Lion Noir, Cirage – Crème,</i> 1949. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> <i>Keep Calm and Carry On,</i> designer unknown, 1939. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Walter L. Greene, <i>Adirondack Mountains / Lake Placid,</i> 1930. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 27:</b> Laura Brey, <i>Enlist / On Which Side of the Window Are You?</i> 1917. $1,500 to $2,000.

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