Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2009 Issue

Anatomy of a Transaction Gone Bad

Air

Overseas shipping can be troublesome if you are not prepared.


By Renée Magriel Roberts

I'm sure you have all had them ... transactions whose downside far outweighs whatever profit might be gained. I've seen many a discussion of book rip-offs -- these surely qualify as poor transactions. We've received books that were not as described or poorly packed for their journey from other booksellers, including just recently a book that had a big bunch of pages amateurishly laid in, and a pamphlet lacking its last page. But, generally speaking, these events are fewer than they used to be.

We go out of our way to buy from dealers we can trust. We examine listings and books received much more closely. We insure all our packages going out, coming in, and even transported by and to third parties, domestic and foreign. All in all we try to decrease our risk and when something bad happens to us, we deal with it if we can and don't get overly excited about it.

We email customers when an order goes out and give them realistic arrival expectations. When possible we also include any other information related to their package which they will need to know.

But, even with all these precautions, over the holidays, a transaction went bad. It went bad and it cost us plenty. And so this is something of a cautionary tale.

Like many other booksellers we are using not only the U.S. post office, but courier services for domestic and foreign delivery. At Christmas, we received many orders for the books we publish from overseas, including some from England. For these, with certain weight classes, we use Pitney Bowes.

Pitney Bowes pays for delivery via UPS from our shop to their New Jersey distribution center. This leg of the journey is tracked with a UPS number. From there, our packages are divided up by destination country and then flown overseas via major carriers (like Royal Mail) where they are placed in the local foreign mail stream. Priority packages take around 10 business days to arrive; standard packages take 5 days longer.

We almost always use priority services because of the time sensitivity of customers to lengthy waits. It only costs $1 per lb. more and is well worth the added price in customer satisfaction. We've found that especially over the holidays, it is extremely important to get material out right away.

So, on one day in mid-December, we get three orders, all from the U.K. for two customers and a bookseller. Let's call them "Mr. Smith", "Ms. Jones", and "Viper Books", for argument's sake. We have never sold to any of these people before and these are relatively inexpensive books, the costliest being $65.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions