Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2010 Issue

Observations on Bookselling from the San Francisco Fair

Dantecat1

Chris Lowenstein believes recent publication of her Dante catalogue helped sales.


"When the customer comes through the door, say something cordial," Susan continues. “For example, 'Good Morning,' or 'Hello,' or 'May I help you?' or if you are insanely busy, 'Please look around, I'll be right with you.' I could count on the fingers of one hand the vendors who greeted me. Even if the booth was empty and I was the only person present they busied themselves elsewhere, neatening up a pile, chatting with a neighbor, talking on their cell. Customers? Who wants customers?"

This is excellent advice, but a word of caution here before you pounce on people like a used car salesman. Some people want to browse first without being accosted. You can tell by their eyes whether they want help or want to be left alone. If the latter, a quick "hello" will suffice. Their eyes will tell you when they are ready to talk.

"Where were the bargains, the sleepers?" she asks. “In the whole shebang I saw only one dealer with a shelf or two of books at $10-$20 in lesser condition with a sign that said 'SALE.' Almost everybody who ever taught me about face-to-face sales stressed that sometimes you deliberately stick in a few bargains, a great value, a treasure for less than it's really worth because that's what makes the game exciting and most of the time you want the customer more than you want the book."

Some booksellers seem to want the book more than the customer and price accordingly. There's a word for them - "collectors." You need to decide which you are, as the appropriate strategy differs depending on which category applies. Offer something for everyone unless you have deliberately chosen an elitist marketing strategy (which may work when dealing with the ultra wealthy).

"I love ephemera. I brought money to buy and I wanted to buy ephemera, but people brought it by the bushel basket and they displayed it in the same way, so that it was IMPOSSIBLE to look at it, or go through it, or set it aside or compare with other things, so that it felt like an overwhelming GLUT of paper. I bought one piece of ephemera from a person who did not greet me, was utterly uninterested in showing me anything else and had to be asked for a business card, a bag and a receipt."

Two points here. If customers need to search for something like it is buried treasure, it needs to be priced like buried treasure - cheaply enough to be worth the effort. People aren't going to pay Tiffany prices for something in a yard sale display. The second point is if you are rude, unfriendly or indifferent to a customer, he or she will not want to return. Why would s/he?

In fairness to Susan, she had many positive comments about people she met at the fair, but our focus today is on opportunities for improvement. However, we should note that as someone who was considering taking a booth at book fairs in the future, Susan concludes, "After viewing the dynamics, cost, effort, risk - reward ratio, I think it will be a cold day in Hell before I ever entertain that notion again."

Next, we will look at Chris Lowenstein's comments as a seller at the fair, and if it did not make her a millionaire overnight, it was still a good show, and in tough times, a good anything is good news.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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