Tag Archives: Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association

Tidbit for Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Pricing some books this morning and fell prey to the occupational hazard of browsing instead of pricing. A riddle from “Folklore On The American Land” ($5.00 at the store):

‘What is the difference between a deer fleeing from its pursuers and a decrepit witch? One is a hunted stag, the other a stunted hag.’

I love books. Every day is like Christmas – you never know what you are going to find!

A Day at the Auction

Needing a change of pace, I decided to go to an auction last Saturday. The ad featured children’s books, old magazines and old paper with some of local interest. So I was hooked.

Normally I do not go to auctions to buy books or ephemera. For the most part, the materials sell for what I think are astronomical prices. I call them retail-plus items.

Sometimes I get lucky and attend an auction where there is a small crowd because of multiple auctions going on in the area. If I’m really lucky there are so many books that many of them are sold in box lots. At one auction several years ago I waited all day until the crowd started to leave and the auctioneer started selling by the table! Luckily, it was close by, because I ended up with two truckloads of stuff – about half of it books.

There are some pitfalls to buying in bulk. Sometimes there is a lot of “chaff” to be sifted through to find some good stuff. I minimize this by getting there early enough to go through the stuff at least twice before the auction starts. But the auctioneer always seems to bring out stuff I had never seen. Just one of the magical things that happen at an auction.

Back to Saturday’s auction. It seems that over in New York state the auctioneers don’t waste a lot of money on signs. I drove right by this one. Look for something that looks like a huge tag sale or small flea market. I spotted the sign right after that. But that was okay. Saturday turned out to be a really nice day to tour around.

I looked around a little then got my bidding number. Books were in short supply here. But there was a huge amount of furniture, mostly Cushman. If I were looking to stock up my new apartment or first home, I would go to auctions. Bureaus and chests of drawers made out of solid wood went for between $100-200. Sets of chairs for around the same.

Go to these auctions with specific wants in mind, unless you want to buy a lot of stuff you don’t need. I don’t worry about style, either. I have never been able to fathom the attitude of some people who will turn their nose up at some beautiful wood furniture in favor of going to the furniture store and paying double or triple for some piece of crap made out of particle board and vinyl “oak veneer”. Just to have a certain theme or style. Let your jealous friends laugh at your quaint old stuff while you can smile at all the money you saved. You will also have a unique decorating style that’s all your own.

There was a beautiful Cushman dining room table I lusted after. Sometimes big stuff can be had really inexpensively, but not today. I suppose the $300 price was cheap enough, but not for me this time. Since there was little in the way of books, I should have left right then, and tag-saled my way home. But I didn’t. That darned big table, dont’cha know.

So I settled in a chair in the shade at the back of the crowd. I like the back because you can see all the other bidders you will bid against. If an item comes up and you want a final look at it, run up and look at it again before bidding. Don’t be shy – it’s your money!


One amusing sideshow I happened to catch was when a batch of bagged coins came up for bid. A couple next to me had been buying most of them. After a while the man got up and went behind the auctioneer to look at some other stuff, leaving his wife to do the bidding. Another bag of coins came up while he was back there, and she started to bid. The price got higher and higher. Then I noticed arms waving way out behind the auctioneer. It was the wandering husband. He was frantically making a “cut-off” motion with his hand across his throat for her to stop bidding! She did, and the coins went to someone else. They both looked relieved, although probably for different reasons.

Small items are usually brought right to you after purchase, but larger items are put off to the side. If you do buy large items like furniture, KEEP AN EYE ON IT! I learned this at another auction where I was high bidder, then didn’t keep a close watch on the losing bidder as he went over and looked at the piece I had bought. When I went to load it up, there was a large, deep scratch across the front. WATCH YOUR STUFF!

Well, that table finally came up, and like I said before, went for $300. To someone else. That was it for me, so I went to the cashier and turned in my number and left. When I did, I also made sure I had a copy of the sales receipt stating “no sales” on it, so no one could use my number after I left and charge it up to me. Too paranoid, you think? Not doing that could have been like losing a debit card with the passcode written on the back.

The trip back home was spent stopping at tag sales and dodging dinosaurs.

Two plastic lawn chairs, three books, six videos, a plasma light, and a set of free rain gutters later, I finally made it home. Not including gas, I spent a grand total of $17, including coffee.

Pretty cheap and fun entertainment for a Saturday.

Let’s Go To The Book Fair!

Why attend an Antiquarian book fair? What is a book fair?

A book fair is a place where various booksellers gather in one location and display some of their very best and most interesting materials. Why do booksellers bring their best? Because book fairs usually last for only a day or two, and booksellers have to pack and move books to the book fair, unpack and shelve the books, then pack up and move the books back to their shop where they are unpacked and shelved yet again. So, in order to get the most “bang” for their efforts, booksellers tend to bring books that are of a better quality or may be a little more scarce, and usually carry a higher price tag than more common books.

You will find a wide variety of books in a relatively small space at a book fair. Even a small fair will have thirty or more booksellers exhibiting their treasures. A collector can connect with dozens of booksellers from all over, looking over the merchandise and inquiring about any titles they might be looking for. The books range from very old to almost new, in a wide range of conditions and prices. People even collect books for their bindings, some of which are a work of art in themselves.

Even if you are not a collector (yet), go to a book fair if you can. There is usually a small admission charge, but it is well worth the minimal expense. Look for books by a favorite author, or books you read as a child or youth. How about dust jacket cover artwork? Look at the various types of book bindings to be found, particularly on some of the old leather-bound books you will see. Talk to the booksellers and other customers. Most booksellers have a favorite author, famous person, subject or genre. I know of one bookseller whose favorite author is Jane Austen, and another who loves anything about the history of the Roosevelt family, particularly Teddy Roosevelt. Some booksellers specialize in rare books, others in fine bindings. You will see booths full of poetry, science fiction or vintage children’s books. At some book fairs, such as those sponsored by the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association, you will see dealers of art, postcards, maps, pamphlets and other ephemera such as vintage advertising art, magazines and comic books.


This article is intended for a buyer who is looking for the more common reading material. Acquiring collectible, antiquarian, scarce or rare books require a deeper level of buyer knowledge and experience than is presented here, and will be discussed in future articles.

There are a lot of online booksellers. They range from full-time professionals providing very personalized service to fast-buck artists who only care about making a quick profit. My intent is to provide some guidance for you when purchasing books online.

Buying a book from an online seller can be very a very rewarding experience. It can also turn into a nightmare of finger-pointing and blame over the condition of a book, or how much it should have cost including shipping/handling.

Online, you buy books on faith that depends upon the accuracy of the description. However, descriptions are subjective. That is, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Sometimes the seller’s description of what he considers a collectible ‘nearly new’ book will appear to you to be more like a ‘reading copy’ that has been through a washing machine and then run over several times by a car. Sometimes hidden shipping/handling charges can pop up if terms and conditions of sale have not been carefully read and understood.

If you buy a lot of books online, you will run into these scenarios from time to time. I will explain how I minimize problems when I buy books online.

First, I tend to look at several different sites. The larger sites have more of a selection; more copies generally translate into lower prices. The larger sites usually require their sellers to provide some level of buyer protection as well.

Smaller sellers can give more personal service, i.e., live phone conversations. See if the bookseller belongs to a professional association, such as VABA, the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Associations have rules and guidelines that members follow, so they can give a buyer more confidence about buying from a small store.

Look at the site’s list of book description guidelines. These differ from site to site in varying degrees, but they are all variations of what I consider to be the “gold standard” guidelines for book condition grading, the AB (Antiquarian Bookman, Bookman’s Weekly) guidelines. Here is a link to the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association version of guidelines for book grading: VABA Book Grading Guidelines

One of the most important things to remember when looking at seller descriptions and website condition guidelines; think of them as absolute. If a book is described as ‘Fine’, it should look like a brand new book, regardless of its age.

Read descriptions carefully. Be wary of qualifiers such as “Damp stain on bottom edge, pages 10-15 missing, but otherwise Very Good.” Are you kidding me? This is not a ‘Very Good’ book. Even a ‘Poor’, or ‘Reading’ copy has to have all the pages present. Some sellers will describe a list of defects for what is actually a ‘Fair’ copy, but still present it as ‘Very Good’ or ‘Fine’. However, as in most things, there are going to be exceptions. Unless it is extremely old (before 1800 or so), extremely rare, or has valuable parts such as hand-colored illustrations, etc., this book should probably be thrown away. Buying books in these categories, either online or in person, will be addressed in future articles.

Ex-library books are almost in a category of their own. No matter what condition it is in, an ex-library (ex-lib or X-lib) book should automatically be dropped one or two grades, regardless of the seller’s description. The seller’s price should also be a reflection of this condition.

Look for description/presence of a dust jacket. Starting in the early twentieth century, nearly all books were issued with dust jackets. Even some of the more recent pictorial hardcover books originally had a dust jacket, even though they may not have one when you come across it.

When you find a book or two that you think meets your needs for description and price, look at the ratings of the seller. The larger sites with multiple sellers (such as Amazon or eBay) generally have a rating system in place. Look at the overall rating and sales volume of the sellers, and definitely take the time to read some of the rating comments of each seller. Read both the good and the bad. You will develop a feeling for how this seller conducts business, and whether or not you might want to buy a book from them.

Below are three different examples describing book condition. Two descriptions are for the same title; the third is from a similar book in the series.

Listing #1: ‘Collectible – Like New* First Hardcover* Dust Jacket – Like New’
Rated 97% positive with 235 total ratings.

“Almost Like New hard cover (Ace/Putnam, Publisher (1993) First Printing in Very Good condition. Mylar DJ Cover. Unread ex-Library Book.”

Listing #2: ‘Collectible – Very Good * Dust Jacket – Very Good’
Rated 98% positive over past 12 months, with 470 total ratings.

“Ace/Putnam, 1993, Full Number Line, 1st Edition This hard cover novel is in very good condition. The dust jacket is in very good condition. The cover boards are clean and bright. The pages are tightly bound. The pages are clean, white, and unmarked.”

Listing #3: ‘Collectible, Very Good, VG dust jacket’
Rated 100% positive over past 12 months, with 480 total ratings.


Which seller would you buy from? Number one is a no-go. A book is either like new or it is not. ‘Almost’ just doesn’t cut it. ‘Unread X-library’ collectible? Puhleaze!

My preference would be tied for numbers two and three. Number two is short, positive and to the point but lists no defects. Number three is very detailed but seems to dwell a little too much on the negatives.. but I would probably still order the book from number three. Pay a little more if you have to, if you find a seller you really like the looks of. You will have fewer problems in the long run.

As I said before, read the description carefully. This applies to both the book description and shipping/handling terms. Sometimes extra shipping & handling charges are mentioned for large or heavy books. I try to keep it as simple as possible for customers and include basic shipping for media mail in the cost of my online books. I also ask a buyer to contact me before buying when they need extras such as expedited delivery or international shipping. It is always better to get all your questions answered before paying. I would rather prevent a problem than solve one any day.