• <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b><br>John James Audubon, <i>Great Blue Heron,</i> hand-colored aquatint and engraved plate, 1834. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Joshua Fry & Peter Jefferson, <i>A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia,</i> Dalrymple edition, 1755. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b><br>John James Audubon, <i>The Birds of America,</i> sign & inscribed to Brantz Mayer, 1840-44. $18,000 to $22,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Vincenzo Maria Coronelli & Jean Baptiste Nolin, Paris, 1688. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Henri Abraham Chatelain, <i>Atlas Historique,</i> 7 volumes, Amsterdam, 1705-1720. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Johann Baptist Homann, <i>Atlas Mapparum Geographicarum...,</i> Nuremberg, circa 1750s. $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Lowell Mason, <i>Musical Exercises for Singing Schools,</i> Boston, 1838. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 9:</b> Alexander Wilson, <i>American Ornithology,</i> 9 volumes, Philadelphia, 1808-14. $6,000 to $9,000.
  • <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Sale<br>July 11 & 12, 2020</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Very scarce autograph letter, signed, by Emily Tennessee Donelson, wife of Andrew Jackson Donelson, who served as First Lady / White House Hostess to President Andrew Jackson from 1828 to about 1834. $1,000 to $1,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Thirteen Edward Wells maps plus title page from his rare atlas, A NEW SET OF MAPS BOTH OF ANCIENT AND PRESENT GEOGRAPHY. $600 to $700.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> L.B. Folger and C. Kallenback: MEMPHIS - BIRD'S EYE VIEW - SUPPLEMENT TO THE APPEAL. Scarce lithograph on paper. $800 to $1,200.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Sale<br>July 11 & 12, 2020</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Large NASA-Space Race era archive of material related to Colonel Michael J. Vaccaro, director of administration of the Marshall Space Flight Center of Huntsville, Alabama. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> 1836 slavery related document signed by President Andrew Jackson, Andrew Jackson Jr., and Andrew Jackson Donelson. $800 to $1,100.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Roger Sherman Signed CT Land Grant, 1757. $600 to $700.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Sale<br>July 11 & 12, 2020</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Letter archive related to the Randolph family of Virginia, including Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Lewis Meriwether Randolph – the grandson of President Jefferson. $400 to $500.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Louisiana, as formerly claimed by France, now containing part of British America to the East in Spanish America to the West of Mississippi map, by Thomas Kitchin, 1765. $400 to $450.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Andrew Jackson manuscript document, unsigned, containing notes on several Tennessee legal cases, including one regarding a slave, circa 1790-96. $350 to $450.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Sale<br>July 11 & 12, 2020</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> VA Civil War Photo, Alexander Gardner – Timothy O'Sullivan. $400 to $450.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Military Archive, WWI/WWII French Soldier Paul Didier. $400 to $450.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 11 – 12:</b> Early Virginia Map, B. Tanner, J. Reid, 1796. $300 to $400.
  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Macbeth: A Tragedy.</i> Acted at the Dukes-Theatre. London: printed for William Cademan, 1673. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> MUYBRIDGE, EADWEARD. Panorama of San Francisco, from California-St. Hill. [San Francisco:] Morse's Gallery, 1877. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> BRUNUS ARETINUS, LEONARDUS. <i>De bello Italico adversus Gothos gesto.</i> Venice: Nicolas Jenson, 1471. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> HILL, JOHN. <i>Compleat Body of Gardening.</i> London: printed for T. Osborne; T. Trye; S. Crowder and Co.; and H. Woodgate, 1757. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> GASPAR DE PORTOLA. Document Signed Twice ("Gaspar de Portola," & "M. Portola"), 29 pp, Puebla, Mexico, December 10, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> VINGTIEME SIECLE. A complete set of the second series of <i>Vingtieme Siecle (XXe Siecle),</i> together with all fourteen special numbers. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Online Only<br>25 June to 8 July 2020</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ROOSEVELT, FRANKLIN DELANO. Autograph Letter Signed ("F.D.R.") as President, Washington, [1941], to Norman Davis, on White House stationery. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> HAYEK, FRIEDRICH AUGUST. Autograph Manuscript, "Discipline of Civilisation." $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ADAMS, HANNAH; ADAMS, THOMAS "BOOK". Daubuz, Charles. <i>A Perpetual Commentary On The Revelation Of St. John.</i> London: Printed for Benj. Tooke, 1720. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> EMPEROR NORTON. Photograph signed ("Norton I"), albumen print carte-de-visite. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun. 25 – Jul. 8:</b> ROBERTS, DAVID. <i>Egypt and Nubia from Drawings Made on the Spot ... with Historical Descriptions by William Brockendon.</i> London: F.G. Moon, 1846-9. $4,000 to $6,000.

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2019 Issue

Book Selling: 40 Years Later

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Watching the liquidation of Serendipity Books in 2013.

Looking back at almost 40 years as an independent bookseller I’ve been thinking about what has changed. It isn’t the money; though I do know a few dealers who’ve built a profitable business, for most of us it’s been a cross between a downward spiral and an uphill struggle. Yes, there are several of my contemporaries who cashed out rich, but more often the wealth came from the sale of real estate, rather than any financial wizardry in the intellectual pursuit departments. Ignoring fame and fortune, what seems to have shifted the most is the personal relationship that the dealer often built with clients.

 

I can still remember many of the people I met when I was starting out in the late 70s. They were travelers on holiday, collectors referred to me by my parents, fellow dealers I’d run into at book shows, librarians and academics, or folks shopping at the local swap meet where I sold inexpensive books and prints with the hope it might lead to larger sales. What those customers all had in common in the pre-internet years was I met them live-and-in-person or via catalog. If we hit it off we often developed a personal relationship that endured for years. In fact, some of them are still customers to this day.

 

I got to know their taste, what they had, what they wanted, who to offer what and they in turn seemed to trust my judgment on value, condition, desirability. In those days selling books didn’t seem so much like the sale of a commodity as a service designed to help the customer find what was interesting, relevant and good value. In many ways it was more about the people than the books. To me the ideal customer was a person whose taste I understood and could anticipate. It was not only a search for the delicious morsel, but just as often helping people with wants in a particular area -- and hopefully the means to afford them.

 

But most of all, the customers from that era were repeat customers; they came back again and again. It never occurred to me that the time would come when selling books would be much like selling ladders, or brooms or any one of a thousand other categories: it would be impersonal, strictly about price and merchandise and very little about taste or friendship.

 

While the internet made many things more widely accessible it did not make the customers any smarter. They still didn’t know most of the basic terminology or what made one book a better value than another, that still had to be explained. But as we moved into the 21st century there was a marked change in attitude. Where the dealer - client partnership was at the core of the old business model, coming into the new century it was almost as if the person on the other side of the transaction, “the buyer,” didn’t matter, because you almost never saw, or met or more importantly, rarely had a second sale to that person.

 

The internet made it easier to find the customer, but for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, very few of those customers turned into a durable reliable clientele that once formed the core of the book business.

 

By the late 1990s, the giddy early days of eBay, when practically everything put up for auction would and did sell, the technology seemed like a wonderful assist. But 20 years later the technology often deliberately created barriers to personal interaction. The powers that be who run the listing services make it difficult for buyers and sellers to communicate directly. No matter which listing platform is used, in the end they all tended to behave alike. Book selling, once a wild and crazy, not to mention sprawling and hard to compartmentalize business, became by stages locked into a rigid predetermined format set by people who knew little and cared less about books.

 

In the old days the customers who had the means and inclination to build a collection usually had a genuine desire to learn. And the dealer was there to teach. Of course that is the gratifying part of the trade, providing not just the book, but the guidance, back story, thrill of the hunt and exchange of knowledge.

 

But as years went by the customer didn’t seem to get any smarter, perhaps because although they were given a great many more choices than ever before, they still began with a very limited exposure to the basics of buying and selling books. Yes, there was a much bigger range of material available, but there was seldom anyone there to fill in the knowledge gaps.

 

In the current crop of buyers I’ve noticed the bigger the wallet, the more desire to haggle or in some cases to go around the dealer altogether. The old customer looked at the dealer as a colleague, a scout, a guide, someone who supplied a lot of missing information, and usually had some specialized expertise to share, in short a friend. It was never a secret that we sold to customers for more than what we paid. That’s what made it a business and not a philanthropy.

 

I think the end came for me in 2013 watching the liquidation of the stock at Peter Howard’s Serendipity book shop in Berkeley. At this series of sales and auctions there was an endless array of wonderful inventory and by the final, final, final sale in the winter of 2013 it was going out the door by the carton at absolute rock bottom prices. Dead, gone, finished.

 

I still encounter sellers like Howard, who knew it all, had seen it all, and had it all within arm’s reach (and what’s more remarkable could usually find what he was looking for if you’d give him a chance to look in the piles, bags, rows, cartons of unsorted inventory); yes there are still people like that around, but not very many. Peter Howard seemed like the last of the breed: he took it all in on a handshake, and he settled up when he sold. Following his death one of the biggest headaches for those who had to neaten up the edges was to determine what was really his and what had he taken in as a favor on consignment. In the end it was all sold for lower and lower prices, and to no one’s surprise, there don’t seem to be many bookstores like that any more.

 

Today’s seller operates in a much more impersonal world and sees a larger and larger portion of revenues going to the techies in the middle: fees and commissions, and fees for money transfer services. In the early days all of these costs seemed within bounds and it was a joy to sell quickly and the nominal fee for the assist, seemed both reasonable and mutually beneficial.

 

Now that’s changed a lot. Today it seems like I am working for eBay; they are not working for me. They are thinking of new ways to suck up my revenue, to clutter up my selling platform, to make peremptory design and tech changes to the site or protocol without explanation in order enrich their share even further. It really galled me when they started taking a commission on shipping cost. That action alone made it clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore. How is it possible to charge a commission on an expense?

 

The place where I see this most clearly is who has the customer? When the internet started, it brought the buyer and seller together. In recent time the focus is in keeping them apart; eBay no longer includes the buyer’s emails when the transaction is complete, because eBay thinks it’s their customer, not my customer. I just happen to have something that person wants however momentarily. But the customer, let’s be clear, they think it’s their customer. I’ve been listing on eBay for many years and I have various designations like “power seller.” But the truth is I no longer like or trust them, and frequently contemplate cutting the cord and going back to the old ways of doing things, or wishing the gods of tech would create a better newer way to go back to the future.

 

Remember, Amazon, which changed the entire landscape of global retail and started the death cycle for the physical store, began with books. Amazon killed the traditional way of selling books and then proceeded to gobble up everything else in sight. I hope I live long enough to see the next major technical innovation or disruption bring back the personal relationships to the business side of books.


Posted On: 2019-01-01 13:43
User Name: davereis

I thought I had seen it all with internet greed, but that one blew my mind also. Ebay commissions on shipping charges!


Posted On: 2019-01-01 15:00
User Name: billbluesky

I love your article and all the takes on how the biz has changed, but surely you know that it was Peter Howard, not Martin, who owned Serendipity. Senior moment? Bill Mooney, Blue Sky Books


Posted On: 2019-01-01 16:12
User Name: theoddbook

Thank you for this. I believe charging commission on shipping (ABE does too) was initiated to thwart sellers who were listing a $40 book for $5 + $35 shipping. Jim Gow, The Odd Book


Posted On: 2019-01-01 19:08
User Name: markholmen

Amazon is a predator. In the Christmas season of 2010, they told their customers that if they would go to a brick and mortar bookstore and scan a book, then buy it from Amazon... they would be given an additional 5% off the price. A year later, Borders Books closed their doors, much to the glee of Jeff Bezos. I am a book dealer myself and believe in free enterprise but I refuse to list or buy from Amazon. I hate hearing folks say "yea, I know they want to own the world but it is so easy to buy from them". We will all regret that some day.


Posted On: 2019-01-07 18:22
User Name: Bkwoman

Hi Susan, Thanks for your great article. I almost cried when I saw the last days of Peter's Serendipity bookstore. It was such a goldmine. I've been in the business 28 years now and have seen the same changes and the same greedy "big box" listing services. I don't use EBay but do use ABE and Biblio.find, both of whom charge a commission on shipping and have no seller loyalty at all. I think we can also thank the $1 book folks for that as they make their money on shipping and so the big guys aren't making enough money on the $1 sales, so they siphon some of the profit on shiping. My other favorite is when someone comes into our store (we have one of the few book co-operatives in the U.S.), scans the books and then goes home and buys it for a dollar or two on Amazon. I don't list on Amazon, but I admit I occasionally buy a book for a customer and feel guilty the whole time. Cheerio, chin up, pip pip, and all that!!


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Latin Book of Hours, around 1480.<br>Est: € 30,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Northern journeys - Collection of around 120 works, 17th-19th century.
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>J. Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> 1922. Est: € 8,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>Florilegium, <i>Fleurs du Printemps et de l‘Este,</i> around 1630. Est: € 35,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>T. R. Malthus, <i>An essay on the principle of population,</i> 1798. Est: € 60,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>E. Cerillo, <i>Dipinti murali di Pompei,</i> 1886. Est: € 2,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br><i>Bulla aurea,</i> 1485. Est: € 40,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>A. Verschaffelt, <i>Iconographie des Camellias,</i> 1848-60. Est: € 10,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>M. Duchamp & A. Breton, <i>Le surréalisme en 1947,</i> 1947.<br>Est: € 16,000
    <center><b> Ketterer Rare Books<br>Auction on July 6th</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>H. Schedel, <i>Liber chronicarum,</i> 1493.<br>Est: € 25,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>M. E. Chevreul, <i>De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs,</i> 1839.<br>Est: € 5,000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, July 6:</b><br>F. Léger & P. Éluard, <i>Liberté j‘écris ton nom,</i> 1953. Est: € 15,000
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Albert Einstein, typed letter signed, explaining the nature of his personal atheism and belief in God. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> George Washington. Autograph letter signed to Bryan Fairfax, looking forward to the Treaty of Paris, 5 February 1783. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Alfred Swaine Taylor. Early “photogenic drawing,” photograph of a fern, dated 2 December 1839. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> "Departure of Mr. Lincoln—Parting Address" in the <i>Weekly Illinois State Journal,</i> Vol. XXX, No. 1541, Springfield, February 13, 1861. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Benjamin Harrison document signed certifying the service of Daniel Cumbo, a black Revolutionary soldier. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Front page printing of the Articles of Confederation in the <i>New-Jersey Gazette,</i> Vol. 1, No. 22. Trenton, April 29, 1778. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> George Washington Funeral Procession Broadside. Boston, January 6, 1800. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Philippe Laroque, printed score for “The Heroe of New Orleans Battle.” Philadelphia, 1815. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Report of the Battle of Queenston Heights, the first major battle in the War of 1812, in <i>Supplement to the Quebec Gazette,</i> 24th October 1812. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including the Eric C. Caren Collection Part 8<br>Online July 6 - 21, 2020</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, On Tuesday the Eighteenth Day of November, 1760. London, 1760. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Elegy on the Death of James Lawrence, Esq. late Commander of the U.S. Frigate Chesapeake. [Boston]: A. Bowen, 1813. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul. 6 to 21:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's Commission as Major General, signed by John Hancock, 19 February 1777. $30,000 to $50,000.

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