This season’s first meeting of the Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia – of which I am now a proud board member, thank you very much! – was held this past Tuesday evening. Before the excellent talk by Roger Wieck of the Morgan Library on “The Sacred Bleeding Host of Dijon,” members enjoyed catching up over cocktails and dinner. It was during this time that a few people remarked they hadn’t heard much from me in a while. I know, I know! So here is a blog post to say I am still here and still working (although another hiatus will likely come this winter, as we are expecting baby number two)!
Back in February I was honored to give my own talk at the Club, on “What’s New in Antiquarian Bookselling?,” in which I suggested that while antiquarian bookselling today is largely unchanged from decades past (for many dealers it still entails traveling, visiting libraries, buying and selling in traditional ways), new themes in collecting as well as innovations in technology have had a dramatic impact on the marketplace. My talk focused on the emerging trends I see: the collectability of “hybrid” books, interest in social history subjects, and the role of social media in bookselling.
Voilà! Click on the link below for the slides, and/or read on for the full talk, which has been hastily edited to remove stage directions/notes to self.
ZARB Philobiblon Talk Feb 2019
Before I dive into “What’s New in Antiquarian Bookselling?,” let me tell you how I came to be in this field. It all began in the Mortimer Rare Book Room my first year at Smith College. Immediately after a presentation on Italian Literature by the then curator, Martin Antonetti, I asked him for a job; and to my great surprise and delight, he said, “probably.” As it turned out, I spent most of the next three years working there. One of the most poignant moments in my early career was the publication of this footnote.
Slide: “New Clues to the Early Life of Arrighi: Ludovico degli Arrighi’s ‘bellissimo Canzoniere’ for Bartolomeo della Valle, 1508,” in The Book Collector, vol. 61, no. 2, Summer 2012.
Martin was working on a revised biography of Arrighi – a 16th-century papal scribe largely responsible for the italic type we use today. On a research trip to Madrid, I found illuminated initials in the margins of an Arrighi manuscript proving that a different patron commissioned it than previously thought. The thrill of this discovery made my resolution to pursue a career in books and manuscripts that much stronger. After Smith I interned at Christie’s London book department and then moved back to New York to work at Bloomsbury Auctions, where I couldn’t believe they let me carry incunabula from the offices at Rockefeller Center uptown to the Grolier Club to check bibliographies.
Handling such important books and seeing incredible prices reached at auction was exciting, but I was always most interested in “used” books – the who, what, when, why? I was able to explore these questions more in depth working for booksellers in Philadelphia and New York; and finally decided to set up business on my own in 2015, when my husband’s sabbatical gave us the chance to move to Paris for a year. Tonight I will show you a few of the items I found during that time abroad, as we examine what I see as emerging trends in antiquarian bookselling today: the collectability of “hybrid” books, the rising interest in social history subjects, and the role of social media in bookselling.
We probably all agree a book or manuscript is a piece of history that can convey so much information not just in its text but in its context, that the value of a book lies not only in its imprint, but also in its story as an object.
Slide: Bonaventura, Tommaso. Ordine da Tenersi nel Dar l’Abito Monacale… [WITH]: Ordine d’Ammettere le Monache Novizie alla Professione… Firenze: Michele Nestenus, et al., 1709.
This is a guide for inducting novices into a Florentine convent, with stage directions in red, and recitations in black, plus more than 70 bars of music. This copy was most certainly owned by a nun and used in ceremonies, evidenced by an ownership inscription on the title-page and candle wax stains on some pages. The occasional light water splotches – a fault, according to many booksellers – were probably also the result of ritual use. It even has, through the gutter of the final two quires, a contemporary metal pin probably forgotten by the binder who received the quires that way prior to sewing. So you can see, thinking about the book in terms of its use and history as an object opens new doors to its research value.
In an article entitled “Beyond Words” [The American Historical Review, Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2005), pp. 1015-1045], art historian Leora Auslander suggested that objects “are always modes of communication, or memory cues, or expressions of the psyche…as well as sites of aesthetic investment… They, like the people who use them, are embodied.” They are mortal, too, although they often outlive us. In other words, “material culture” is a tangible extension of the past, and as such, an invaluable resource for study today. You could, of course, make this argument about any object (and Auslander basically does); but I would like to point out one passage from this article that applies to books and booksellers in particular:
“…Those who study material culture [can be divided] into two groups, the farmers and the cowmen. The farmers are preoccupied with the ‘material’ side of material culture, the age, substance, and structure of the object, its provenance, its authenticity. The cowmen engage more deeply with the ‘culture’ side of material culture and try to determine the meanings embedded in and transmitted by the objects in question.”
Those toiling in the field of bookselling, I would argue, must be fluent in both materiality and culture. We are the farmer and the cowman, able to recognize the difference, and invested (literally) in telling both sides of the story. In fact, a typical bookseller’s description is the perfect example of this dichotomous relationship put to paper, with a description describing an item’s significance as an object traveling through time, as well as its place in history. Like a person, a book exists in conversation with its reader. What can it tell us now?
Slide: Hybrid Books
Certainly books with added materials or annotations are trying to tell us more. The first “hybrid book,” according to Eric White, Princeton’s rare books curator, was made up of “a single twelve-leaf quire [the Canon Missae, printed in Mainz by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer c. 1458] printed on vellum…designed to be bound into the middle of [a] host manuscript [any folio manuscript Missal].” This was a book conceived as a print and manuscript object. But as I looked at my own inventory, I wondered, couldn’t the term “hybrid” apply to a book with any kind or significant quantity of manuscript additions, or mixed media inserts, or parts dating from different time periods? With features distinguishing them as unique objects, these items offer many more possible avenues of study than a regular book. And isn’t it exciting to follow a trail of evidence that leads beyond the traditional touch points of author, illustrator, printer?
Here are some examples:
Slide: [Boyle, Robert]. The Art of Drawing and Painting in Water-Colours… London: J. Peele, 1731; [WITH] A Treatise on Miniature. [N.p., n.d.].
This is the first edition of a treatise on watercolor painting largely based on notes by Robert Boyle, bound with another treatise on miniature painting translated from Claude Boutet’s Traité de la peinture en mignature, or cribbed from its English translation (The Art of Painting in Miniature, 1729). [After this talk, in March 2019, the institution that had purchased the book in fact identified the second treatise as The School of Miniature, from the same year by the same publisher.] But this copy is interleaved with manuscript notes by an 18th-century artist or art student. The manuscript sections contain excerpts copied from other identifiable printed works as well as original notes, with tips like:“…Take a spoonful [of varnish] and put a bit of gunpowder in it, after set it on fire…and if it fire the gunpowder…it may be depended on as good…[!]”
Slide: Richard, A[chille]. Formulaire de Poche. Troisième Édition, Augmentée…. Paris: Béchet Jeune, Libraire, 1824.
This is a doctor’s pocket manual listing remedies to treat various ailments. But this copy is enlarged with more than 60 pages of additional receipts by the doctor who owned it. Some of the notes are dated, indicating when the doctor used each remedy.
Slide: [Meyer, Jean]. Description du Jubilé de Sept Cens Ans de S. Macaire… Cérémonies, Solemnités, Cavalcade, Ornemens, & des Feux d’Artifice… Gand: Jean Meyer, .
This is not a very rare book. It is not an expensive book. However, this copy, this unique copy, was grossly underestimated by the salespeople at the Belgian store where I got it. Clearly they looked up the title and priced it based on what they found in commerce. But what they missed!
It is, as the title says, a description of the 700th anniversary celebration of St. Macaire. The festival described here took place in Ghent May 30-June 15, 1767. The book is illustrated with 15 etched plates of which 11 folding. Awesome, but not, as it turns out, very rare. However, this copy is truffé, as the French say for expanded, with:
- a printed certificate from 1767 on the transfer of the saint’s relics for the celebrations, signed and dated by the future bishop of Ghent [G[ovardus] G[erardus] van Eersel of St. Bavo’s Cathedral, 1771].
- a hand-colored saint card printed on vellum affixed to the certificate by cloth cut from the relic’s covering
- one leaf of manuscript notes by a later owner, dated 1840, on the bishop’s biography
- an original drawing based on a lithograph of a similar cavalcade in Brussels
- and another sheet of manuscript notes listing the order of events during the celebrations in 1767
- Not to mention the marbled paper binding matches the Getty’s (a digitized version of which is viewable online), indicating it was probably original to this edition.
By the way, that we can compare images of books and bindings online is certainly something “new” in antiquarian bookselling.
Slide: “Ceremonial des Vestvres, et Professions, Pour les Religieuses de S. Vrsule de la Congregation de Paris.” [1668?]. [WITH]: Formulaire de Saluts…A l’usage des Religieuses de Sainte Ursule… Paris: Gilles Blaizot, 1670.
This is a religious formulary/instruction book for use by the nuns of a convent in Paris, interleaved with manuscript music corresponding to rituals outlined in the text. For instance, this is the music for the celebration of the patron saint of the convent, facing printed instructions for the same occasion. You can see this opening at p. 82 in the book, which I will pass around. The front matter of this book is lacking, perhaps why it was relegated to a low shelf and forgotten by the Parisian bookseller who sold it to me; but with this sort of thing I don’t think it matters all that much. That is the point here – in cases like this, where the imprint is even lacking altogether, the value of the object is not necessarily affected. It is complete unto itself. If anything, its value increases because this object is truly unique. This may give you an idea of what the French market will tolerate versus what the current American market values. When I bought it, I thought, hopefully, that with a little research, I could still figure out what the book is. I knew, regardless, that I would be unlikely to find any comparables!
[When I gave this talk in February 2019, I had not yet catalogued this item; but I can now confirm it is a unique print-and-manuscript volume combining two treatises printed for the Ursuline nuns of Paris plus manuscript music corresponding to the rituals outlined in the text. This book was most certainly used by one of the sisters in ceremonies, evidenced by candle wax stains on a number of leaves and occasional manuscript marginalia.]
If interest in blue-chip books is waning in favor of items like these, it follows then, that subject interests are also trending toward the less mainstream. You might have noticed that with the exception of the Ghent fête book signed by the future bishop, the books I have shown you so far were all added to or annotated by people whose names we don’t know. Social history, by definition, focuses on the experiences of these regular people, rather than the textbook-famous stories of major historical figures.
Slide: [Driesens, J.F.]. Practizyns Dag-Wyzer, ofte Gemakkelyken Kooplieden Hand- en Zak-Boek… Gend: J. Begyn, [1827-1830].
These are four consecutive day-books owned by one merchant, filled with his manuscript notes providing us today with more than four years of insight into his life: how and when he worked, with whom. These I bought from a dealer who did no advertising, had no internet. You had to contact him in person or else by phone, if you could get him at all. I got these on my first trip to his shop. On my next trip, I found that my friend had more of these. Actually, a lot more, owned by the same 19th-century merchant. I ended up buying all of them, bringing the total to 15. Can’t something like this, documenting daily life, unofficial, intimate, tell us so much more than a book printed on, say, the subject of 19th-century merchants?
Slide: Sandford, Mrs. John. Woman, in her Social and Domestic Character. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1831.
This is a character guide for women written by a woman. Other booksellers might have looked at this book and determined its value based on the usual factors: it is a first edition, in a red morocco binding, in good condition. I look at this book, which I found in a dealer’s basement, and one of the first things I see is the endpaper with two inscriptions. This book has evidence of being passed down from a friend to a bride-to-be; and then, more than thirty years later, from a father to his daughter. It embodies not one but two relationships, giving us an idea of its readership and use, something that increases its value. The dealer I bought it from did not mention this exchange in his description; but in mine, I emphasized it.
Slide: Boivin, [Marie-Anne Victoire], Mme. Veuve. Mémorial de l’Art des Accouchemens…Deuxième Édition, Corrigée et considerablement augmentée… [AND]: Série des Planches… Avec des Notes… Paris: Chez Méquignon l’âiné, père, Libraire de la Faculté de Médecine et des Hospices, 1817.
Here we have a graduating midwife’s prize set of an essential manual on midwifery. The first volume is signed by the author, a famous midwife, on the half-title verso to guard against counterfeits, as usual. In this copy, however, both volumes have prize bookplates signed in manuscript by three professors; and the set is accompanied by two manuscript certificates authorizing the recipient to work as a midwife, and awarding her these books. Who? What? When? Why? This set has a lot to offer a researcher on those fronts. And it has more than 130 plates, really quite stunning.
Of course dealers and collectors have long recognized the value of manuscript material, bookplates, and so forth; but it is this emphasis on what used to be considered supplementary that is so new in antiquarian bookselling today.
Last month, Heather O’Donnell asked us, “How can we recognize the work of aspiring collectors who don’t see their interests (or demographics) represented in the traditional antiquarian book world?” Along the same line, we might ask, “How can we collect and study the work of people who would otherwise be lost to history?” Is it a worthwhile endeavor to do so? I say, of course! My best finds have been the ones that shed light on the lives of people who might otherwise be forgotten. Not the famous midwife who composed this manual, but the mademoiselle who won these books upon completing her course.
In most cases, mine are not obviously valuable books like these; the author is not so famous, the imprint is not so early, the binding is not pristine. I have heard other dealers refer to “God’s copy” of a book on account of its mint-condition qualities. As a bibliophile I admire those books, too, but I prefer to work on books showing signs of life. I can add something to the descriptions of one-of-a-kind book objects, as opposed to perfect copies of well-known titles whose makers or contents may already be well-studied.
In the 1990s, sociologist George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” to describe the globalizing effect of fast food, operating on efficiency and predictability. We could assert the book market at that time was operating analogously, treating books largely as commodities and not the specialized goods they essentially are. Many top clients of the past had checklists. They wanted what everyone wanted: modern first editions; paragons of early printing; the Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare Folios. The values of those books remain predictable; investing in them might even be called efficient. But today, I see many clients pivoting away from books with “pop” appeal, toward books like these, with more bespoke qualities.
Slide: Poinsinet [de Sivry, Louis]. [Anacréon, Sappho, Moschus, Bion, Tyrthée, &c]. Nancy: Pierre Antoine, .
Another example. This is a first edition of a rare translation of Greek poetry, this copy personalized with manuscript additions and pasted woodcut ornaments. It has frequent underlining and notes by the same owner who added woodcut decorations and re-arranged the text. The manuscript notes include comments on favorite poems, transcriptions, translations. The book was even custom-bound in patterned silk. Again, clues of the book’s past reaching beyond its imprint.
Slide: Moult, Thomas-Joseph. Prophéties perpétuelles… Bale: Chez Davilliers, .
I found this at Clignancourt (the massive flea market just north of Paris). For the most part, Clignancourt is for tourists – yes, us! But, for browsing antiques, not, usually, for buying books. There is a designated book market, the Marché Dauphine; but the stands there don’t have too much to offer beyond general interest, and the few books in the antique stands are often showpieces – common or overpriced. The dealer I bought this from was a bit perplexed when I asked to see it. Even after I assured him I wanted it, he persisted in trying to convince me to ignore the condition and buy it for this woodcut, according to him its only redeeming feature. But, as I told him, it was actually the tattered binding that most intrigued me!
Such prophecy booklets are not uncommon. This one contains predictions to the year 2055 with horoscopes, gardening tips, and poetry, directed at workers, wine makers, grain and wine-merchants. However, these manuscript wrappers are, of course, unique: they appear to be an exercise in writing lines, repeating, in French, evil thoughts are an abomination to the Lord [“…pensees mauvaises sont un abomination au Seigneur….”]. Remarkably we can make out the name of the apparent scribe (and binder?), one Adélaide Sophie Flore le Grand(?), who may have been a religious schoolgirl writing lines as punishment for superstitious behavior – ironic, then, that her letter came to house a booklet of prophecies? Although her handwriting is neat and legible, it is difficult to decipher the rest, folded and faded in its bound form; but from the partial lines, I imagine there is much here to discover. Incidentally, I have traced no other copy with this particular imprint.
Slide: Mauguin, Georges. Napoleon et la Superstition; anecdotes et curiosités. Rodez: Carrère, 1946 [- ca. 1957].
Here we have the author’s copy of the first edition, with hundreds of clippings, photographs, excerpts, notes, and manuscript letters, including very personal matter, such as a funeral announcement for his wife juxtaposed with a letter by Napoleon to Josephine. The original single volume consisted of 239 pages; this copy was expanded to two volumes and more than twice the size. The author (Georges Mauguin, 1881-1961), was the editor in chief of a biannual periodical on Napoleon (Revue de l’Institut Napoléon), and most of his added material relates to occultism. An advertisement on the rear pastedown dated 1957 suggests he was at work on this for at least ten years after its initial publication. Here is just a sampling of the wild stuff he added: business cards for psychics, art reproductions, letters.
Slide: Bracha. Life Problems (Revaluation). Tel-Aviv: Palestine Publishing Co. Ltd. Printing Works for the Author, 1935.
This one was, I believe, the author’s copy, with her manuscript edits and cancels and tipped-in leaves. Modernity was all too much for her: city living, meat-eating, monogamy…! Her solutions? Outdoor activity, slaughtering your own meat, rampant procreation… Essentially the book boils down to a treatise on polygamy.
[Patin, Charles]. Formulaire Pharmaceutique à l’usage des ho[s]pitaux militaires… Tomo 4eme. [Riga: 20 March 1814].
The author (Charles Patin, d. 1867) of this pharmaceutical manuscript was a surgeon in Napoleon’s Russian campaign, which ended in November, 1812, with the Battle of Berezina. Berezina can be used to say “disaster” in French now, to give you an idea of the outcome. He was captured; and his own note on the second leaf of the manuscript indicates he penned it in prison in 1814 (according to French biographical sources he was released just a few months after this). The manuscript contains over 150 neatly written pages, some original, some copied from a recently published formulary for military hospitals [Formulaire Pharmaceutique a l’usage des Hôpitaux Militaires] sanctioned by Napoleon’s War Administration. Why it was then copied by hand in a military prison by one of Napoleon’s army surgeons is certainly an intriguing question that merits further research!
All of these items have one thing in common: they teach us about aspects of contemporary culture that perhaps didn’t make it into textbooks, or, as in the case of my next example, may have been purposefully ignored on account of controversy, gender politics, etc.
Slide: Exhibition Card
Let’s look at this list of artists. How many of you have heard Miro? And Max Ernst? Now, how many of you have heard of Nina Negri? I had never heard of her either, until I came across the materials I am about to describe. But I believe she is important.
Slide: Nina Negri artwork
Nina Negri was an Argentinian artist working in Paris at one of the most exciting times in modern art history. There is evidence she was active in the same circles as Duchamp, Arp, Miro, Ernst, and yet, we have never heard of her. Her paintings, drawings, and notes, a very small fraction of which we see here, can give us an idea of her experience in that milieu, not just as an artist, but as a foreign, female artist. I am only now starting my research on her career but I have been in touch with an art historian focusing on women of the Atelier 17, to which Negri belonged; and I have also been in contact with a London gallery selling paintings by her. There should and will be, I think, more historians digging into her background as interest in “forgotten” female artists increases.
We have only to look at recent exhibitions of women Surrealists, such as LACMA’s 2012 show [“In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States” (January 29, 2012–May 6, 2012)], and Sotheby’s sales in 2015 [“Cherchez la femme: Women and Surrealism” (15 September 2015 – 06 November 2015, New York)] and this year [“Masterworks by Trailblazing Female Artists Spanning the 16th through the 19th Centuries” (part of the Master Paintings evening sale, Jan. 30, 2019)], to see the art world shifting in this direction. Such is the current zeitgeist, focusing on historically under-represented or marginalized groups across genres.
In December I visited the Barnes to see the Berthe Morisot exhibit. Talking to another museum-goer I realized why I knew so little about her, compared to her male peers: Morisot had, until recently, been excluded from the major art history textbooks. A successful Impressionist, she remains far less famous than her contemporaries (incidentally her husband, also a painter, more or less gave up his career so she could pursue hers).
I am not asserting that Nina Negri was a great artist; I am suggesting, however, that her story is worth telling, if for no other reason than it adds a new facet to a familiar narrative – in this case the Parisian arts scene.
How I found this large cache of her works is also a fun story. Soon after my arrival in Paris in 2015, a French friend told me about a fair happening just outside the city walls. I took the train there one gray morning. The event space was uncrowded, cold, humming with the complaints of French dealers, not a foreigner in sight. In other words, it was the perfect fair.
Slide: Surrealist card
I was going aisle by aisle looking at everything when I noticed, in a glass vitrine, this small card. I had seen similar materials (in much better condition) sell for high prices in New York so I decided to inquire. The French dealer was not in his booth and it took some asking around to find him drinking wine with friends at a nearby table. I had just about given up on my inquiry when he finally sauntered over. “This? You want to see this?” he asked skeptically. Yes, I said. He unlocked the case and handed the card to me. I’m sure he thought it wasn’t worth leaving his seat for, and up to that point I would have agreed with him, when something incredible happened. “You like this thing? I have more.” “More?” I asked. “Boxes, I show you.” And then, from behind the vitrine, under his exhibitor’s table, he pulled four large boxes filled not only with gallery materials like this card but also with original artwork – including the notebooks, prints, and drawings we have already seen – and even a large framed photograph of the artist
Slide: Nina Negri Portrait
I bought it all.
Given the way these materials were shoved under the table, I’m guessing the French dealer did not assign them the same importance I do. I think most French dealers are still largely invested in books and manuscripts with traditional appeal, which leaves room for an unsophisticated American like me, willing and in fact happy to sift through boxes of dusty papers with less than famous provenance. Which I did, frequently, at fairs and flea markets across Paris.
Slide: Parisian Markets
Without spending too much time talking about Parisian markets, let’s just say there’s a lot going on, all the time, and one could not possibly keep track of all the books and manuscripts being offered for sale daily.
Slide: Market Names
These are just a few terms you would have to know to even find them; and many events are not even listed.
Slide: [Forgery]. Mémoires de Madame la Marquise de Pompadour…Écrits par elle-même. Liege [London?]: s.n., 1766, 1774.
Here’s one of my favorite French book fair purchases. This also happened to be my very first sale from my first list as an independent bookseller in November 2015.
It is an early edition of volume one (1774) and first edition of volume two (1766) of Mme. De Pompadour’s apocryphal memoirs, bound alike in contemporary French manuscript fragments. These two volumes have so much appeal, ticking boxes not only for the traditional bookseller – famous forgery, listed in major bibliographies, Mme. De Pompadour –but also for today’s bookseller – it is weird, combining two editions in two volumes, with an awesome binding, not to mention it photographs really well.
Which leads me to tonight’s final topic: social media. When it comes to the internet, I am certainly no expert. I do not have an online business presence except a basic website and social media. In fact, I do not “sell” books online, but I have sold things as a result of posting on social media.
Of all the online platforms available today, Instagram has emerged as the booklover’s favorite. Perhaps this is no surprise, considering it is essentially an object-based, worldwide slideshow of great collections.
Here is a snapshot of my own Instagram account. Many book dealers have accounts and it turns out to be a great form of marketing, market research, and brand awareness, purposeful or incidental. The accounts I “follow,” and my “followers,” include auction houses, librarians, archivists, dealers, doctoral candidates, conservation studios, artists, museums, and more.
Depending on how many “likes” you get on a photo, you could surmise the popularity of a particular item, or generally what types of things people react to. And, it’s a way to keep track of what your colleagues are advertising and the reactions they are getting. You can “follow” hashtags as well as people, meaning you can see whenever someone tags a photo #rarebook, for example; and in turn, by tagging posts, you can reach a much broader audience. (For instance, I recently tagged a domestic science item #realhousewives and connected to the Instagram accounts of thousands of avid TV watchers.) Why not? Merely by posting photos of what you are working on, you can get interest from potential customers.
Instagram also has a built-in messaging system, which allows correspondence about particular photos in the public captions or in direct messaging. In a recent exchange, for example, I got real-time help translating a note that I found in a Belgian almanac’s vellum wallet binding from someone at a museum in the Netherlands.
Slides: Wallet Bindings and Instagram DM
Slide: [Pharmaceutical Manuscript]. Codex de Rebus Pharmaceuticis 1787. [N.p., but France or Belgium].
One more, in honor of Valentine’s Day, that I sold via Instagram. It is, essentially, a Love Doctor’s Vade Mecum, with recipes for aphrodisiacs, alcohols, aromatics, bonbons, and, yes, birth control. I found it at a store in Belgium, perched in a case alongside a group of modern volumes. Apparently whoever shelved it decided it belonged in the medical section of the store rather than the rare book cases – and thank goodness, because I doubt it would have escaped the eye of any of the city’s dealers had it been elsewhere in the store. The manuscript binding is an earlier French legal manuscript concerning a deceased woman named Catharine. Social history at its best?
But, all told, my business model is pretty traditional: I buy at auction, fairs, from other dealers; I catalogue my books; I create lists; and, hopefully, I sell things via list, private offer, or visit. So, what’s so new in this kind of antiquarian bookselling?
Slide: Used Books
Many of these are not “fine,” or even very rare, but they are unique. As institutions and private collectors complete their holdings of the world’s most famous books, the market for “unique” objects such as these grows stronger. What’s left to study, when a book’s contents are online? What can we learn from a book object? These are the questions we need to be asking as booksellers today. This in no way decreases the value of famous books; but it may increase the value of “regular” books. Annotated books. Cheaply printed books, which would have had a totally different trajectory than expensively produced books. The books that may have been less famous, but no less prized by their owners.
Slide: Final Reflections
What’s popular now? Hybrid books, with materials distinguishing them as unique objects. Books showing social histories, signs of the people using them and changing them (or, books about what’s happening behind-the-scenes. Domestic cookery, for example). And social media, a way for us to share, compare, and sell. In conclusion, let us return for a moment to the definition of social history, which focuses on the life experiences of regular people. Is not social media itself a form of social history in the making? We are documenting our own lives all the time. Looking at Instagram, and looking at the objects that are popular today, it is not hard to see what the modern collector finds most desirable: representations of “real” life, ours and others’.