Sources for Books
Book collecting requires on-the-job training, particularly in the pricing area. The best way to get a feel for prices in the old days was to visit a number of shops and obtain as many catalogs as possible. Now we have the Internet to surf and look for prices for books. The Net is a help, because the ability to visit shops may not be practical if you don't travel much, although you will find that book collecting and travel go very well together, providing a good excuse to take short trips to towns within a few hundred miles or so. And it should be noted that although the Net is a great resource, there is no substitute for actually looking at the books themselves. Traveling allows one visit the tourist attractions, hotels, and restaurants, but also you will now have the pleasure of looking over the stock of the bookstores in town. One should also check out book fair schedules and attend any that are within a reasonable distance.
The Internet has allowed booksellers to establish a home page where they can display their entire stock to the book-buying public. But the real bonus for the collector has been the growth of the search engines allowing dealers to display their stock., which, like their websites, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There were a number of servers that are used to put collectors in touch with booksellers, such as the Advance Book Exchange (abe.com). The problem is that they are continually increases their charges to us and therefore it is better for us if you come directly to us to buy.
Our association, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), has a site where only the books for sale by members of the ABAA are displayed (ABAA.org). The ABAA is the largest national association of antiquarian booksellers in the world and is affiliated with similar associations in many other countries through the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). The ABAA has a code of ethics, and the members guarantee the books and manuscripts they sell to be as described. Collectors should always check the ABAA site (ABAA.org) before buying. If price and condition are similar, we would suggest buying from a dealer you have dealt with before and trust or an ABAA dealer. Also, the ABAA site does not charge us a percentage on sales.
As you know the Internet has become a major vehicle for searching for and selling books. It has broadened access to books by offering an instant marketplace of available books. Not that these books were not available before the Net. They were, but most were not visible to the customers. The latest estimate of books being offered by just one of the many book search engines on the Internet is somewhere around 80 million books.
As more and more books were offered for sale on the Internet, the true availability for individual titles became known. As prices in this marketplace are established by supply and demand. Lower-priced and medium-priced books are more plentiful than before, and therefore the market pushed the prices of these books lower. Conversely, the true scarcity of many titles is also being shown by their absence on the Net. Specialty dealers who have always scoured the country for books, participated in book fairs across the nation, put out want lists, and received quotes from around the world have always known when a book is extremely hard to find. But now it is becoming more obvious to everyone involved in the book-collecting community that these titles are really scarce or rare. Hard-to-find books are not on the Net, or if they are, they are not on for long, and thus the prices for truly scarce items have been pushed up.
For years, books were priced by a variety of methods that included the frequency that the dealer had seen or handled a particular title, how fast a book sold, how many times it had appeared at auction, and how other dealers priced the same or similar books in their catalogs.
Now instead of knowing only what is available at local bookstores, from book catalogs you receive, or from quotes you have-requested from individual book dealers, you can also go online, where millions of books are being offered at varying prices. Sound good? It is, but there is a problem, a major problem. As many of the books being offered at these low prices, and listed as first editions in wonderful condition, are not. In many cases you don't know the person offering the book and must send your check in advance. When you receive the book it sometimes isn't as described. It isn't a first edition and the condition doesn't even come close to being what you expected. You notify the individual or dealer that you are sending it back for refund, and sometimes the return is refused and you are stuck with a book that you don't want. However, we want to stress again the importance of condition and what a large component it is of price for collected books. And make sure condition is taken into account when collectors are making purchase decisions on the Net.
As an example of the price differences among copies of the same title we offer the following. We have a copy of a certain Faulkner title without the dustwrapper. It's a nice copy with the pages and cover clean. Not fine, but certainly very good. It's priced $60. We also have another copy. In this case, the book is about the same but it's in a worn but complete dustwrapper with some minor chipping. It's priced at $350. We had another copy we sold recently, much nicer in a bright dustwrapper, and priced at $1,500. Recently a collector we know called to tell us about a copy he had just bought. It was beautiful, almost new. We asked how much he had to spring for it. "Well," he said, The dealer wanted $4,000, but I got him down to $3,000."
From $60 to $3,000! Same book? No. Same title. All first printings of the first edition, but markedly different condition.
Speaking of Faulkner, we were looking on the Net for a copy of his first book, The Marble Faun (1924). A first edition sells for $50,000 or more. We found two copies, neither was the first publication but rather the first combined publication of The Marble Faun and A Green Bough (1965), a book we think is worth perhaps $100 or so in fine condition. The two copies were priced at $1,775 and $2,000. We hope no one bought them at these prices.
These are a few examples of what to be careful about on the Net. When we enter a book into inventory, we spend more time on the description than we do on typing in the rest of the information. In many cases we spend much more time. This is because the condition is the most important part of the entry from the collector's viewpoint. On the Net many of the "dealers" use abbreviations to describe their books. G = good, vg = very good, f = fine, n = near. The first refers to the book and the second to the dustwrapper. So we have g/g = a book in good condition and a dustwrapper in good condition. For example, listings for individual books will state "g/vg," "f/f," "vg/vg-," and our favorite, "f-/nf+." These obviously have meaning to the people that entered them, but they mean little to anyone else.
Catalogs can be obtained for the asking, at least initially. There is a list of dealers who issue catalogs in Appendix B. A complete list of all of the members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) can be obtained free by requesting a copy of the ABAA Membership Directory from ABAA, 20 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036-6604 (212-944-8291; fax: 8293), or on-line at ABAA.org. ABAA members offer a broad choice of antiquarian material in all areas of the printed and written word.
The vast majority of dealers do not charge for their catalogs and will usually send you the current catalog and perhaps one or two more. There are many standard abbreviations and terms used in these catalogs, and we have tried to cover many of them in the Glossary section on our website. If you don't purchase anything from their catalogs, the dealers will drop you from their mailing lists on the assumption that you just wanted the catalogs for pricing information or that you are not really interested in the type of books they stock. If you are interested in their books but just do not find anything in the first two catalogs, you should ask if you can send them a list of exactly what you are looking for so they can quote you specific titles as they arrive. Keeping your name on mailing lists is very simple--just buy books. We have people who have asked for our catalogs every two years since we started in business and have never bought a book from us. The cost of preparing, printing, and mailing catalogs is such that few dealers can afford to keep someone on their mailing list who doesn't buy from them. After all, that is the reason the catalogs were prepared -- to sell books. Of course, the Net has also helped the collector, in that if you don't buy anything you can ask the dealer to include your email on their email catalog list. Probably won't get it as the same time as the ones mailed out, but soon after.
General Book Stores and Sales
There are a great number of sources for books. There are garage, school, charity, library, and church book sales; antique stores; and general used-book stores. Most of these are not particularly interested in charging top prices. But you should keep in mind that these are also the places where you can occasionally get stung the worst as a beginner, because there are always a few books that the book sale pricer, owners or operators have heard are worth $200, and so they have priced their copy at $200 even though the condition is such that a specialist in the field might be embarrassed to ask more than $25.
We are considered specialized dealers, in that we deal primarily in 19th and 20th century literary first editions in the broadest sense. It's true that we also deal in other collectible books, but don't consider ourselves general book dealers. The advantage of dealing with us is that we see a lot of books. We get just about every catalog issued by the major and minor book dealers in the English speaking world. We also subscribe to the auction catalogs for Sotheby's, Christies, Swann, Pacific Book Gallery, et al. Most of the catalogs are mailed out to customers, such as us, before the books are put on the net. So, if you are a serious collector, we may be able to help you to find titles you are looking for that you would never realize were on the market.