Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2008 Issue

Hunkering Down

Crowd

Crowd gathering on Wall Street, 1929.


by Renée Magriel Roberts

With all of the craziness going on this week, I was thinking about doing a review of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929, but instead I decided to share what we've been doing and thinking about doing to insure that we don't go down the tubes along with everyone else headed in that direction.

Keeping It Simple and Small

First of all, we decided to keep our business simple and to keep it small. By simple, I mean that basically two people can do everything. We resist exponential growth - growth that may force us to rent additonal warehouse space, or hire additional people. Instead we have automated everything that can reasonably be automated, we review our stock on a regular basis so that we are not carrying junk that is taking up space, and when and if we do need people, we work with them as consultants or as skilled professionals who have businesses of their own.

Good Stuff Sells

Good stuff sells and continues to sell. Really rare material that is of interest has held up very well, even in what might be viewed as a "soft" market. Instead of buying huge lots of books and looking for those needles in the proverbial haystack, we buy only selectively and with purpose. We buy to increase our holdings in certain targeted areas, or we buy because we know we have a customer ready at the other end. By narrowing our focus to say, Americana, or British politics in the early nineteenth century, we can buy with knowledge. We have virtually given up going to library book sales, or buying huge lots of books randomly.

Keeping an Eye on Profitability

You have to either increase your sales or decrease your costs to become more profitable, or to hold your own in a soft market. We've done a lot of research on shipping domestically and internationally in order to trim the costs (and provide better service) in this area. We currently use FedEx international, Pitney Bowes, UPS and the USPS, as well as variants of the above. We use less expensive recycled materials for packing when possible (something, by the way, appreciated by our environmentally-conscious customers).

On the sales side we've worked for several years now to expand our sales safely to foreign marketplaces so that when the dollar is weak we get stronger foreign sales.

Reducing the Cost of Overhead

We used to have two bricks-and-mortar computer stores and they cost a fortune. We are now set up with an interwined bookstore/home, keeping the rarest items off-site securely. This allows us to partially expense many items as the cost of doing business, while avoiding the overhead of rent and maintenance of a separate space.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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