In the News

"Facing the Camera" Opens January 24

New York - Facing the Camera will be on view at Hans P. Kraus... read more

Waverly Rare Books at Quinn's Auction Galleries to Auction Rare Botanical & Zoological Prints

Falls Church, VA - On Thursday, January 25, the Waverly Rare Books & Prints... read more

The Todd Webb Archive Announces Sale of Rare Vintage Prints at AIPAD 2018

Todd Webb (1905-2000), best known for his photographs of New York, Paris, Georgia O'Keeffe... read more

The Yale Center for British Art Expands Its Collection of Modern and Contemporary British Photographs

New Haven, CT—The Yale Center for British Art has expanded its collection of photographs... read more

Gouache on Paper of Iconic Apple Logo Attributed to Andy Warhol Headlines February 1 Sale

Franklin, MA — A mid-1980s gouache on paper rendering of the iconic Apple Macintosh... read more

The Library of Milanese Collector Sergio Rossetti Headed to Sotheby’s Milan on February 20

On February 20th 2018, Sotheby’s Milan will offer up for sale the library of... read more

Gift of Over 650 Works from Frederic A. Sharf Caps Legacy of Wolfsonian Support

Miami Beach, FL— The Wolfsonian-Florida International University today announced a significant gift of more... read more

Huntington's Spring Exhibition will Focus on Rare 19th-Century Astronomical Prints

San Marino, CA - A rare set of exquisite lithographs, depicting the pastel drawings... read more

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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Beyond the Basics

Collector and Bookseller: A Vanishing Relationship?

Personal interaction and friendly discourse are the main ingredients in a robust antiquarian book market By Joel Silver Joel Silver is Director and Curator of Books at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

“What you have with a restaurant that you visit once or twice is a transaction. What you have with a restaurant that you visit over and over is a relationship.” Frank Bruni, “Familiarity Breeds Content,” New York Times, October 18, 2013

David A. Randall’s vast experience as a Depression-era book scout and bookseller would have been enough to fill one good memoir—add to that the fact that he was a close friend of J. K. Lilly Jr., who then asked him to lead the new Lilly Library at Indiana University, and you have Dukedom Large Enough: Reminiscences of a Rare Book Dealer (1969). Courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Things aren’t the same as they used to be. Over the last twenty-five years, we’ve transformed the way that we buy books and build our collections, and most of the familiar bookshops, old and new, have disappeared. There aren’t nearly as many local places to browse and buy books as there once were, but there are more books available to buy than ever, and great collections are still being formed. But collectors and booksellers have lost something along the way, and it’s important to recognize that just as Frank Bruni’s favorite restaurants offer something that he can’t get anywhere else, this is what the book market, at its best, used to do, and still sometimes does.

In Bruni’s world of local dining, proprietors and waitstaff know him, and he’s treated more like a member of the family than a customer. Money changes hands, and the meal is still a business transaction, but there are sincere greetings and extras along the way, and satisfying feelings on both sides. As diners know, not all restaurateurs or servers are friendly, but if diners don’t enjoy the gruff interchanges, they won’t return very often. But when they find the restaurants that are comfortable and nourishing, they become regulars, and everyone benefits.

Collecting books isn’t the same as going out to eat, but just as restaurants can be destinations of pleasure and possibility, social activity, expanding horizons, and fulfillment, so can bookshops, and no matter how many books we can now buy elsewhere, there’s something important that’s missing in most of these purchases—a personal relationship. The Internet, though it’s greatly expanded our possibilities, has made most of our book purchases routine and impersonal transactions, which are often handled by an automated third party. For better or worse, our contacts with booksellers are now usually limited to shipment notices, and though this makes for efficient buying and selling, it now takes special effort from both parties to build a relationship.

These changes aren’t all bad. Most longtime collectors and booksellers have found that there are some people on both sides who are much more pleasant to deal with in the virtual world than they are in person or on the telephone. But bookshops have also long filled an important educational function for collectors, and even if a bookseller has conducted business by catalogue only, the bookseller, through guidance and descriptions, has still served as a teacher to collectors of all levels. As John Carter expressed it in Taste and Technique in Book-Collecting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; and New York: Bowker, 1948): “The school of experience holds its classes in bookshops and in the auction room. And if the auctioneer is the examiner, a good bookseller can be an invaluable tutor. It is true that in his shop, as well as at a sale, the collector pits his judgment of price not only against that of his fellow-collectors but also against the dealer’s. In all other respects, his interests and his bookseller’s are one.”

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