Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2024 Issue

So You Want to be an Antiquarian Bookseller?

CABS- Minnesota offers an annual weeklong bookselling summer seminar on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

So you want to be an antiquarian bookseller? Well you’re in good company, ever since the invention of movable type, c.1450, the western world has been cranking out books and in the wake there followed a steady (and at times noble) procession of dealers, who buy, sell and trade in old and rare books. These days their wares have expanded to include related fields like maps, ephemera, photography and prints. While in the past most business was conducted in open bookshops, since the advent of the internet the field is increasingly online or by appointment only, and much of the marketing and engagement is digital.

For a trade with such a distinguished history it’s surprising how few places there are to get a genuine introduction to the field. In the past booksellers were either born into the business or learned the ropes by trial and error. The traditional point of entry was often some kind of apprenticeship or by sporadic bursts of mercantile energy induced by having too many books and usually a spouse or partner muttering in the background that some (all) of it must go, and soon.

As a lifestyle bookselling has many charms, but it is the truly exceptional beginner who achieves a successful functioning business, especially since the digital revolution has made every thrift shop picker a would-be (if ignorant) purveyor of bogus or misidentified merchandise. That's because almost without exception bookselling is a knowledge based vocation, and acquiring the knowledge takes time and diligence; a few lucky breaks and a trust fund are helpful, if rare, adjuncts.


A more organized approach to learning the trade is the annual week-long seminar in bookselling basics offered by CABS-Minnesota (formerly the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar). This is an intensive exposure to the  practice and theory of the contemporary antiquarian book trade. Now in its 47th year, the seminar returns this summer to the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, from July 14 to July 20, 2024.

Founded in 2007, the Antiquarian Book School Foundation, a Minnesota corporation, is an independent, non-profit, and tax-exempt institution, and is operated exclusively for educational purposes, without monetary gain or profit to its directors or officers.


The Foundation incorporates the Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Book Market Seminar founded in 1978, later known as the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. It seeks to expand the knowledge of the culture of books, printing, book illustration, bookbinding, publishing, and book collecting to a broad base of book professionals, including booksellers, teachers, librarians, collectors, and interested members of the public.


The seminar enrolls about 50 to 55 students each year led by a faculty of eight to ten distinguished and experienced booksellers. This year the event is oversubscribed, but it is not too late to get on the waiting list or too early to consider signing up for next year, according to faculty member Garrett Scott,


For the serious wanna-be, spending a week in Minnesota is a practical, not too expensive way to learn the basics, meet others with the same inclinations and engage with a distinguished faculty .


Tuition for 2024 is $1,800 and includes all instructional materials and a variety of social events. Room and board this year is an additional $700 for the week, which includes breakfasts and lunches Monday through Friday. Travel costs, other meals and incidental expenses are additional. Scott said CABS-Minnesota is hopeful that the costs for next year will be about the same.


There are a substantial number of full or partial scholarships available and those who receive one are guaranteed admission. Deadlines for applications are generally between mid-April and early May. Additionally there are up to five diversity fellowships offered with the goal of making the antiquarian book trade more accessible to those who have not traditionally been active or well represented in this field.


During the seminar basic procedures and problems are discussed both formally and informally through a series of lectures, discussions, demonstrations and practical hands-on workshops with emphasis on the internet, computers and internet book selling, as well as traditional methods.


Garrett Scott, 54, first became involved with CABS when he was invited to make a presentation as specialty dealer in 2015. He joined the permanent faculty in 2016 and is slated to become director next year. His own area of expertise is 19th century paper Americana including books and ephemera.


Scott sees the main benefit of the seminar as “a chance to get an intensive hands-on experience that addresses the concerns of antiquarian booksellers. He feels it helps booksellers at all stages of their career to have a better understanding of the business including resources, catalogs, fairs, selling online and working with institutions.


The book trade is built on collegial relations,” he said. “So to spend a week with so many like minded people, is a real plus. Learning the trade is always evolving, but it usually comes down to looking closely at what you’re trying to sell or trying to buy. Bookselling is hard, we try to teach the best practices.


We get folks who are real beginners and others already operating at a fairly high level, maybe even well established. They want to sustain and grow their businesses. Sometimes the goal is to break into a higher priced market. We emphasize how to recognize, correctly describe and to actively sell. Participants learn how to make lists, participate and set up a booth at a book fair… we cover the whole process to grow your business: what to do to sell the material, how to sell, develop a base and tools to find customers.”


Though moving up the food chain to join professional trade organizations such as ABAA or ILAB is not a stated objective of the course, Scott said, “it does happen with some frequency. So for some, that is a goal.”

Scott recalled back in 2015 “of the 50+ participants only ten had open shops. Today he notices an increasing interest in bricks and mortar stores. “People are finding the community aspect of an open shop attractive; it brings books in and moves things through.”


He declined to predict a resurgence of physical bookstores, but he did mention several whose owners had attended the course and seem to be doing well.


As for who attends? “It’s a wide range of ages and the whole spectrum of geography from small town Kansas, the West Coast, NYC…. you name it. There are at least a few who come from international locations and also some representing the world of archives, libraries and special collections, especially if they have responsibility for buying. They want to know more about how the book business works, we are always happy to have them.


For me the highlight is watching them go out into the bookselling world and seeing them thrive. One of the best things is getting 40-50 new colleagues and the networking opportunities that go with that experience.”


Find out more about the CABS-Minnesota annual bookselling seminar at their website www.bookseminars.com


Reach Garrett Scott at garrett@bibliophagist.com

https://www.bibliophagist.com/  (734) 741-8605 - Ann Arbor, MI


Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
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    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
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    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
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    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
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    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.

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