Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2008 Issue

Odd Bidding on eBay

Wierd1


By Bruce McKinney

Recently I ran across a listing on eBay for a book that was achieving a price far beyond what it commands on listing sites. I know that some people bid primarily on eBay and may be unaware of other listing sites but I have assumed they are a minority, and probably a small minority, of eBay book bidders. The title of this book is "The American Revolution, from the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Given in the Form of a Daily Journal..." by James Thatcher, M.D. It is described in its eBay listing as the "very rare early and original 1862 edition..." Actually it's not that uncommon and in fact it's a second edition. The original edition was printed in Boston in 1823 and was most recently sold in 1999 at Swann's for $90. For those who couldn't wait for the next first edition the later edition on eBay brought $360. Had they looked on Abe they could have bought 5 copies for that price and still had change. It's a pity it isn't a great copy.

What is more surprising is how accommodating the bidders were. eBay hides bidder identities so we don't know who they are but their actions in pursuit of this item seemed to defy logic. Most bidders wish to pay less. This happy group seemed to want to pay more. Typically an eBay bidder will "save" the interesting listings in their eBay account, later receive notice from eBay the day on the final day of the sale. A bidder may then place a bid in the declining hours, minutes or seconds of the listing. If the bidder uses auto-bid software their bid will be placed in the final seconds. It's very easy and therefore kind of mystifying that so many bidders in pursuit of an unimportant book bid so early and often.

This past month I looked at the most recent 26 lots I acquired on eBay to see how many bids on average were placed during the full life of the listings. For this group that number is 2.9 bidders including myself. For Thatcher's Journal 17 bidders stepped up. This is impressive if somewhat illogical support.

There would seem to be four potential reasons for such bidding: [1] the item is fabulous and can not be ignored; [2] the price is so low it simply attracts marginal bidders; [3] the description is exceptional and/or [4] someone is messing around. Neither one nor two seem probable. Three is possible. The description is voluminous and spreads its wings broadly. It's possible such a description might attract a larger audience than is typical. However, for the bidding to sail well beyond common sense and to move well above most alternative copies listed elsewhere, these bidders would need to pass [or fail] two more tests. They have to be entirely oblivious to all other copies AND there would need to be many unaware bidders. Every one occasionally sees an auction lot run to the moon on the wings of two bidders in the grips of temporary insanity. But for so many bidders to be caught up in this the description must have been freighted with aphrodisiac. This is quite a feat.

It’s also possible that a very experienced seller might have a very large following. In my case, for the most recent 26 lots I purchased, the average seller had 5,466 eBay feedbacks. This seller had 158. It doesn't appear that experience and following are factors. Since these sales expired on July 30th the seller hasn't posted anything more.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Charles Loupot, <i>Les Cigarettes Mekka,</i> 1919. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Plinio Codognato, <i>Cicli Fiat,</i> circa 1910. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> L.N. Britton, <i>Warning! Consider the Possible Consequences,</i> c. 1917. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonardo Bistolfi, <i>Première Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Modernes,</i> 1902. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Paquet Pernot / Biscuits Pernot,</i> 1910. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Francesco Nonni, <i>Font Meo / Acqua Minerale Naturale,</i> 1924. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Frederick Winthrop Ramsdell, <i>American Crescent Cycles,</i> 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> <i>Be a Tight Wad! Own Something!</i> designer unknown, 1925. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> Candido Aragonese de Faria, <i>Chamonix–Mont–Blanc,</i> c. 1910. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 5:</b> W.E.J., <i>Irishmen Avenge the Lusitania,</i> c. 1915. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Maitres Affiches by MUCHA - Papier a cigarettes Job. 202. $5,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> De Bry - Map of the West Indies (including Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas, Parts of Central & South America, Sea Monsters, Ships). $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gould - Short-billed Toucan (Ramphastos Brevicarinatus). $5,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>Trillium Antique Prints & Rare Books<br>Fine Art<br>Antique Engravings & Lithographs<br>Works on Paper<br>Accepting bids until August 7</b>
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Redoute, Folio - Pale Iris - Iris flavescens. 375. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gillray - Light Expelling Darkness or The Sun of the Constitution. $200 to $500.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Gerard - Wild Hemp or Weed, Cannabis. 708. $150 to $450.
    <b>Trillium, Aug. 7:</b> Shaw & Nodder - Head of The Dodo. 165. $100 to $300.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath. Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Your Own Sylvia:<br>Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items,<br>Property of Frieda Hughes<br>9 to 21 July 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Tarot de Marseille. Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 9 – 21 July:</b> Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Pair of gold wedding rings. £6,000 to £8,000.

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