Early Lessons Learned in the Book Trade

A few lessons acquired thus far:

  1. Antique stores are not places to find quality books unless you are looking for books merely to decorate a wall or table and care more about the color of the binding than the actual book itself (I could totally go off on a tangent here about how this practice of buying books for decoration enrages me, but I will save it for another post about the disappearance of bookstores and the dumbing down of society.)
  2. Estate sales are potential resources for good books and a way to increase your stock quickly by making bids and purchasing lots at estate auctions. I am not at the level at which I can experiment with this, but I will get there one day. For now, I look at the book cateloges at Sotheby’s.
  3. There are different tiers of book sellers. Those who sell anything they can for a profit. Those who sell only online. Those who are trying to operate a storefront and sell online (trying to adapt à la Innovator’s Dilemma but perhaps missing the innovation part). And those top tier sellers whose numbers are small who have long-standing storefronts, recurring clients, and tight-knit networks of other top-tier sellers for referrals, tips, and trading.
  4. There are different tiers of books: Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Great. Some booksellers refuse to deal in anything lower than Good. Some will try to pawn off Good as Very Good. Trying to develop an intuition for the different tiers requires the actually handling of lots of different books for comparison. This cannot be done online by looking at pictures – at least not well.
  5. They have gamified book valuation. There is a point system to value and pricing. I am still learning about all the different valuations and points and standards involved and some of it depends on what you intend to collect and why you want to collect it.
    1. Dust jackets add points. (original or from another copy? what’s the condition? is the price clipped?)
    2. Library copies with markings lose points.
    3. Ex libris or other bookplates lose points – unless it is an association copy or from the library of a famous person which adds points.
    4. Inscriptions lose points – again, unless it’s an association copy or contains the author’s signature and then it adds points.
    5. First edition of a first printing? Add points. First edition of a first American edition? Add points, unless you want the first edition of the first printing and that was in Canada? (See a simple search for The Handmaid’s Tale on Abebooks to see that it takes a little more research than at first glance.)
  6. Book value not always only about the physical book itself. It is about knowing the history of the author, the publisher, the content of the book, and other backstories and connections between authors, publishers, political and social movements, etc. This is where my Master’s in History comes in handy, or at least my background in knowing how to ask questions and research answers from primary sources.
  7. Accreditation with the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) matters. Buying from a bookseller who meets the standards of this organization is important if you are purchasing truly rare and antiquarian books and want to be sure about the history of your investment. I read The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett, and was sold on the importance of a network of highly professional booksellers who operate with a code of ethics.
  8. Each publisher and printer has their own system of labeling first editions, first printings, review copies, etc. I’ve purchased a few books, such as the ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter, revised by Nicolas Barker and A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions, seventh revised edition compiled by Bill McBride. However, I find it challenging to browse and use reference materials at the same time. Once I narrow down my research, it will be easier to memorize what I need to know.


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