Are you considering to sell antique books at action?

Recently, I received an email from one of my friends informing me that local auction will sell antique books. This particular live auction have a few Oz books among its auctioned items. As I mentioned in some of the articles on my website, I usually do not attend public auction in search of collectible Oz books. However, this time, since the auction was close to my house and at the convenient time, I decided to attend.

Before going, I did some of my usual due diligence work. I went online to see what books will be auctioned. I found that from seven Oz books that were listed, three were in dust jackets and four were without them. Based on the provided photographs, the overall condition of the books appeared to be good.

I then called the auction house to get some additional information about the Oz books and commissions. After a few minutes it became apparent that all seven books were post - 1935 edition and did not contain any color plates. (I usually try to get these types of books in order to put a complete set of 14 Oz books). I also learned that the auction house will sell antique books individually and not as a lot, something that I found curious since many other books in the same auction were selling as a lot.

I arrived at the auction house early enough to have the opportunity to evaluate the books’ condition and value. It became quickly apparent to me that the value of these books was between $30 and $50 at the most.

When the bidding started the majority of books started at $5 and went up to $25 and some as high as $50. However, some books had a previous maximum absentee bid placed, and the bidding started from that maximum amount, regardless of how high that bid may have been. I finally realized why I always won the book at the highest bid amount whenever I placed an absentee bid!

When the seven Oz books finally arrived, several people, mostly bookstore owners, were actively bidding on them, competing with each other, and ended up paying as high as $175 for some of them (the Royal Book of Oz), plus the customary 20% commission to the auction house.

Vintage Oz  books

I, however, did not bid on any of the books. Instead, after observing personally these high bids, I left the auction asking myself:

· Should I sell antique books through live auction?
· The majority of the buyers are bookstore owners who should know the value of books. If they are willing to buy books well above their value, it is their loss and my gain. Right?
· Should I be taking advantage of the psychological excitement of the live auction since it seems to drive up the price of the books?

Ethical Considerations

Like everyone else, I would like to make extra money. However, I would absolutely draw the line to sell antique books through small live auction like the one I attended because I do not consider it ethical to prey upon buyers who are willing to pay what amounts to be the 1st edition prices only because these buyers see the original copyright year. The identification of value of Oz books is a very complicated matter, and many people believe they are buying a book far more valuable than it really is.

Educational Considerations – Informed Consumers?

It is true that many auctions are attended by the bookstore owners who should know the values of the books they are bidding on. However, unlike myself who has a full time job, many bookstore owners make living selling antique books, and as such, have to maintain the inventory of hundreds, if not thousands, of books. They cannot possibly afford to zero- in on one particular series of books, like I do.

Please understand that I am not criticizing these folks – from what I understand, it is not easy to sell antique books for living. But it is simply impossible for them to perform a thorough research before coming to the public auction, and they end up bidding based on their gut feeling and past experiences. They also know that Oz books show up at the auctions very rarely and probably hope to stumble upon the valuable ones.

Psychological Considerations

I remember reading that there was experiment performed where an economist played a game at parties where he'd offer a dollar to the higher of two bidders. The starting bid was a penny, and the catch was that both the winner and the loser would have to pay their bid even though only the winner would be awarded the dollar. The economist would end up making about $3.00 on average per game. Once people started bidding, they were extremely reluctant to lose. First, there was the possibility of making a profit. However, once the bids hit the $1.00 mark, a different kind of logic came into play. It seemed that people would rather place a winning bid of $1.01 and end up losing only $0.01 than stop bidding and lose $0.99. What was even more important for some people is to see others lose!

If you think about it, the live auction atmosphere is a lot like the game that was played, except the values are higher and losses are greater. It is usually a war between two bidders who want the same book, and the final price depends on how determined those bidders are to win the war.

Practical Considerations/Advice

I do not want to discourage those of you out there who have nerves of steel, determination, time, tenacity and sufficient wherewithal to buy books at the live auctions. For those of us, however, who do not possess all these qualifications, my word of advice is “please, be careful.” Unless you are a true expert, you may not know exactly what you are bidding on. The auction houses that sell antique books have to make money, and the winning bidder ends up paying a commission of 15-20 % on top of the winning bid. It should be noted that person who sell antique books is also paying around 20% in commission. Finally, we are all humans and can get all caught-up in the excitement of the moment and may end up making unnecessary financial mistakes.

As for me – I don’t think I will be attending any live auction soon looking for Oz books. And certainly, I do not intend to offer any of my books through the live auction. I enjoy my hobby and value my reputation too much.

If you are in the position to sell antique books by Frank Baum or Ruth Thompson, you can use contact me form in order either learn about your Oz books collection or potentially sell them to me and can sleep at night and keep a straight face.

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