I wrote an article about book condition for BookThinka while back. The more I see other dealers’ books grouped under one roof at book fairs, the more I am aware of the paramount importance of condition. I’m reprinting my original article here in two parts.
Condition Matters, Part 1
by Chris Lowenstein
An early book hunting expedition I undertook taught me an important lesson: condition matters.
On that book hunt, I found some Scribner’s Classics from the 1920s, a first edition Raggedy Ann story called Marcella, by Johnny Gruelle, and a book with a fantastic dustjacket, Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford. I eagerly bought them all, paying about $20 for the three books.
Rookie bookseller that I was, I immediately went home and looked the titles up on Bookfinder and AddAll, thinking that looking at what other sellers were asking was the best way to price a book. (Looking at current market prices is part of pricing a book, but for an antiquarian bookseller, it is not the only part.)
There were about three copies of Marcella in first edition listed online, for about $250-500. I was thrilled, imagining the hefty profit I’d make on this title, for which I paid about $7. However, when I read the descriptions of the sellers, I noticed some differences between their books and mine.
Yes, my book was a first edition, but it was missing the illustrated box in which it originally appeared. Also, the other copies were in fine condition. Mine was not. It had a faded spine, roughed up edges, and a scratch down the picture of the face of the girl on the cover. Inside, a few pages were torn at the margins. My book was worth exponentially less than the other three first editions offered online. Worse, did I really want to list a book in such poor condition in an effort to sell it only to have customers associate my business, Book Hunter’s Holiday, with the idea of “good titles, less than stellar condition”?
I had a similar sense of dread with the other two titles, which I hadn’t bothered to check carefully at the sale. Turns out they were both ex-library copies, which would diminish my asking price to about what I had paid for them in the first place.
Tomorrow: What to do, what to do?