Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2009 Issue

The AED: useful in tough times

For both sellers and buyers book history matters


By Bruce McKinney

Paid members of AE know what the AED is. It is the Americana Exchange online Database of more than 2.15 million records for books, manuscripts, and ephemera. It is available on this site and is the single largest search for such information on or off line. There are other ways to obtain approximations of this information that are free. The easiest of these are the large public databases of material listed for sale: Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris and many others that specialize in older, often rarer material such as the ABAA, ZVAB, and AE's Books for Sale. There are also eBay's fixed price listings. These sites reflect seller aspirations that are sometimes grounded in fact and in other cases drawn from thin air. On most listing sites there is a group of listings for the same book, a variety of asking prices and conditions, and an implied market valuation that simply emerges from the range of prices.

For less expensive material on such sites the range may be wide but if decent copies show up within a consistent range and the price is moderate, buying can be an easy decision. But when the material is priced from the low hundreds and up it's often worthwhile to compare asking prices to auction realizations. The difference can be substantial.

Such curiosity, whether it's to establish listing prices or to fuel an informed negotiation, is what prompts sign-ups for the AED. Members join for 10 days for $15, $22.50 by the month or $185 by the year.

The information is transforming. Hopeful valuations based on asking prices on the web often, but not always, vary substantially with realized prices at auction. Auction prices are real money rather than real hope. Material posted at auction of course does not always sell and it's important know how often this occurs. The AED includes both sold and passed lots along with their descriptions and estimates. Over the past seven years 75% of all lots have sold although the percentage recently, while we are in the downturn, is hovering below 70%. Nevertheless, most of the time material at auction usually sells.

By comparison, material on listing sites tends to sell slowly. By some estimates the percentage of collectible material selling is around 10% a year. If then, the purpose of valuing material is to make Grampa happy with a high, but essentially unobtainable estimate, a glance at listing sites, particularly the highest asking prices, will do the trick.

Actually selling that material is another proposition altogether as you'll learn quickly enough if you contact auction houses to consign. They won't only look at the listing sites. They will also look at auction history and because they want to sell material, not just try to sell material, they will expect the consignor to accept a low reserve if they accept the consignment.

A typical example will look like this:

We'll assume that title A is a collectible book in excellent condition. Three similar copies online are priced $800 to $1,200. In the AED an identical copy sold in 2007 for $650 and another in 1995 for $250. That book, if the auction house accepts it for consignment, will be estimated $400 to $600 and reserved at no more than $200. It will probably bring $450 in the current market and may well be the only copy of that title and edition to sell this year. A year or two from now two of the three copies on listings sites will still be for sale. The other copy may have sold for a lower price or may simply have been withdrawn. If it does sell online, the consignor may only net 85% of the selling price depending on whether a site charges commissions. Fees run from 0 to 20%.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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