Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books


With one exception, Book Finds is an excellent reference for aspiring book collector/dealers and a good review for collectors who might be returning to the hobby after an absence of a few years.  The notable exception is the author’s limited handling of the multitude of online resources available to today’s serious collector.  (I am working with the book’s 2001 second edition, and there is a 2006 third edition that might be more complete in this area).  However, because of the rapid pace at which things change on the Internet, the author’s decision to present the information in summary fashion is probably as good as any.

But there is a lot more to Book Finds – and much of the information presented in the book is timeless.  Book Finds includes chapters covering “edition, condition, and scarcity;” the scouting of books; auctions and catalogs; collectible authors; collecting trends; signed vs. unsigned books; acceptable book repairs; safe ways to clean books; and dealing vs. collecting.  Depending on one’s previous experience, some of these chapters, particularly the ones regarding edition-identification and condition, have the potential of saving the reader a lot of money.

Five rules, according to Ellis, are the “glue that holds the process together,” and the new book collector or dealer will be wise to master each of them:

1.     “Specialization” – no one can know everything.
2.     “Condition” – when it comes to value, nothing is more important than condition
3.     “The Rule of Three” – “A book has to be worth three times what you just paid for it in order to make a profit on it.”
4.     “Keep Looking” – “Anything can be anywhere.” (attributed by the author to Larry McMurtry)
5.     “Trading” – “Never pay cash for a book when you can trade for it instead.”

Book Finds also includes an appendix, in alphabetical order, by publisher, showing how to recognize each publisher’s method of designating a book’s first edition.  While the appendix is far from being complete, the major publishers are included alongside some of the lesser-known publishing houses.  It is a good beginning reference that, for the more serious collector, can be supplemented by standalone volumes on the same subject.

Also interesting is the book’s final chapter, “1,001 (More or Less) Collectible – and Findable – Books.”  The list, more than a decade old now, is a fascinating look at which authors were hot at the turn of the new century, which others were expected to join them, and how easy it is to be wrong about collecting trends. 

These are interesting times for book lovers.  E-books threaten to replace tree-books, authors are self-publishing both in virtual and in print format, major publishers are struggling to find a business model that makes sense, and bookstores are disappearing as fast as record stores did in the early years of the century (and we all know how that saga ended).  Book Finds should help new book collector/dealers make sense of it all - and to make a little profit while they have a whole lot of fun.

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