Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2009 Issue

A Chill in September: Books in Hard Times

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Photo: Megan Smith, Grolier Club


By Bruce McKinney

One hundred and forty souls traveled to New York to eat spinach and listen to a succession of speakers assembled by the Grolier Club of New York to discuss "Books in Hard Times." Seats were hard to obtain. The Grolier is a walled garden, pretty on the inside and difficult to penetrate. They have over the years provided discussions and forums on important matters pertaining to the world of books, manuscripts and ephemera. This conference is in keeping with that tradition.

For an account of the proceedings I rely primarily on Jeremy Dibbell [pronounced de Bell with the accent on the second syllable] of the Massachusetts Historical Society. His more complete account will be published in Rare Book Magazine. The account I refer to is available on Mr. Dibbell's blog:

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com.

The title is "Books in Hard Times" Conference Recap.

The Grolier will publish an official proceedings of the conference.

The discussion seemed to track the bifurcated perspectives that co-exist today in the world of books. In a post discussion interview with me Tom Congalton, an ABAA member, spoke of the current downturn as a passing event. He's not altering his prices though he mentions that some negotiation on some books is possible. "I have too many books priced and posted to individually alter them." This perspective is often expressed by dealers who have posted thousands of items. In Mr. Congalton's case he has about one hundred thousand listings on line. About his perspective he mentions that he concurs with Bill Reese and I paraphrase his quote from Bill, "sell the only, sell the best or sell the cheapest." He doesn't feel that very good material will decline although it is unclear how 'very good' is defined.

Priscilla Juvelis who also participated in the dealer panel discussion and who sells literary firsts, especially women authors, 20th century book arts and more, is quoted by Mr. Dibble as saying she's working "twice as hard to sell half as many books." Her description expresses what many dealers are saying today. She too sees the downturn as temporary.

A panel of collectors also spoke and Mark Samuels Lasner's name came up several times in post discussion interviews. He mentioned, during the discussion, "I have half the money, books cost twice as much, and there are four times as many of them on the market." He said that while he's still collecting, he has changed his tactics somewhat, beginning to buy items in slightly different areas than he might have before, and spending less per item. Materials with high exhibit potential or research value are key, he said. He called on the dealers for a large-scale inventory sale, saying "There are books that simply cannot be sold at the prices being asked, not at this particular moment, and perhaps not for years. Why not lower the price?" Several dealers responded by saying that they don't really want to sell everything they've got, because they don't know at this point where the next batch of inventory is coming from.'

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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