Q & A with Harry Rinker, Books Edition: Jerry Garcia, Franklin Library & ‘Webster’s’ Dictionary
QUESTION: I have a copy of “Garcia.” The book’s cover, folio pages and back feature pictures of Garcia’s head and hand. Given his importance as a founding member of the Grateful Dead, this book has to be very valuable. Am I correct?
– L, Pottsville, Pa.
ANSWER: I researched the title on abebooks.com and bookfinder.com, my two favorite antiquarian book Web sites. I found several titles with “Garcia” in the tile. I dismissed “Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork,” because it was issued as a memorial volume following Garcia’s death. I assume the book you own is “Garcia: Signposts to New Space.”
“Garcia: Signposts to a New Space” was issued in multiple editions. A hardcover edition with dust jacket, the earliest printing I found, was published by Straight Arrow Books of San Francisco in 1972. Da Capo Books published a paperback edition in 2003. I found no limited edition printing for either pressing.
When researching antiques and collectibles, individuals persist until they find the answer with which they are happy. In this instance, happy equates to high value. For example: During a recent appraisal clinic, an individual came with a large, Black Forest clock featuring a hand-carved case of an eagle atop a large rock ledge. After inspecting the clock—including looking inside at the mechanism—I came to the conclusion that it was mid-20th century and worth less than $500. Two other individuals—an ASA appraiser and a local auctioneer—also saw the clock. As the gentleman was waiting in line, the appraiser asked him, “How new is the clock?” The owner responded harshly: “It is old.” The appraiser turned and walked away. He was perfectly content that I be “the bad news” guy. The owner was very unhappy with my assessment. A local clock dealer had appraised his clock at $6,500—a number that made him very happy—and told him it dated from the early 19th century. I reminded the owner that he asked for my professional opinion. I did not share with him what I thought about the competency of the clock dealer. “Ass” and “hole in the ground” were words that ran through my mind. The clock dealer who did the appraisal was set up at the show. I learned from another show dealer that the owner of the Black Forest clock took it back to the clock dealer and confronted him. The clock dealer told him that he had undervalued the clock. It really was worth $8,000. I have no doubt what the owner of the clock thought about my professional skills. He now had a number that pleased him even more.
What does this have to do with “Garcia: A Signpost for New Space?” I found one listing for the hardcover 1972 edition for $100 and another for $200. If these were the only listings, the news would be good, perhaps not as much as the book owner would have liked but better than discovering it was worth less than $25.
Abebooks.com contained eight pages of price listings for Jerry Garcia-related titles. When using abebooks.com and bookfinder.com, I always tell individuals to search from the lowest cost examples to the highest. When I did this, I found copies of “Garcia: A Signpost for New Space” listed for less than $25.
Value exists in the antiques and collectibles trade only when something is sold—not a moment before and not a moment afterward. Further, books listed on abebooks.com and bookfinder.com have not sold. How firm are the prices? Are the owners willing to listen to a lower counteroffer?
Personal memories appear to have clouded the book owner’s judgment. She is a Grateful Dead fan. Jerry Garcia is one of her heroes. Further, she is not actively involved in the collecting marketplace. Her book is a treasure. She is unaware of how easy it is to find additional copies in the marketplace.
So, what is her copy of “Garcia: A Signpost for New Space” worth? Assuming it is the 1972 edition with the dust jacket, both in very good or better condition, between $40 and $50.
QUESTION: I own a complete set of “The 100 Greatest Books of All Times.” The Franklin (Library) published these leather bound books between 1974 and 1982. I want to sell them. What can I expect to get and where is the best place?
– R, Allentown, Pa.
ANSWER: I am teaching multiple sections of English composition at two colleges and one university in Connecticut this fall. When reviewing research sources, I tell my students that they are forbidden to use information found on Wikipedia, a Web site whose data is subject to continual editing and often biased in its approach. Its “Franklin Library” page is an example. The History section of the Franklin Library page begins: “From its founding in 1973 until it closed permanently in 2000, the Franklin Library was one of the two largest publishers in the United States of leather bound books. Today, the high quality leather books produced by the Franklin Library are sought after by collectors. These books were arranged in several series consisting of 50-100 books each. Customers subscribed to a particular series and received one book per month, as long as their subscription remained current, until the entire series had been delivered. Thus it could take over eight years to complete a 100-book set, such as ‘The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written series.’”
Read this carefully. It is a propaganda piece for these titles and contains two false statements. First, collectors have long questioned the quality of the bindings. These books are mass-produced. Antiquarian leather bound book collectors want examples that are individually (hand) bound, not examples that are machine bound. Second, individuals who collect these titles are victims of the propaganda line created by and perpetuated by those who continue to believe mass-produced, limited-edition and first-edition items have long-term secondary market value. They do not.
The Baltimore Antiques Show that I attended during 2010 Labor Day weekend featured more than 70 antiquarian book dealers. No one offered any Franklin Library titles. If they did, they would have been laughed off the floor.
Franklin Library titles and full series appear in large number on eBay. Asking prices for individual volumes range from $15 to $50 and more. I found a listing for a full set of “The 100 Greatest Books of All Time” series for $6,000. Many of these are “Buy It Now” listings that have failed to attract a bid. Titles that did sell through usually sold for less than $20, far less than the initial cost.
If Franklin Library titles appear for sale in a general auction, the average price is less than $5 per volume. Forget the upbeat, there-is-demand tone of the Wikipedia listing. There is little to no demand for these titles.
These volumes were largely unread. They are shelf-sitters; books designed to sit on a shelf and create an appearance of intelligence on the part of the owner.
The first step in selling your set is to adopt an “any money is better than no money” approach. eBay is a definite possibility, providing you are willing to list the set with an opening bid of $100 and sell without a reserve. Let it fly and be happy with whatever it brings.
You can try approaching the used books stores in your area. Do not be surprised if there is no interest. Suggest you would be willing to allow them to take the set on consignment, agreeing to a mutually agreed upon split once the set is sold. The dealer may be open to this proposition because he does not have to put out money in advance.
Contact regional auction houses to identify those that conduct book auctions. Many do so once or twice a year. Again, do not be surprised if the auction house refuses the set. Auctioneers have long recognized that sellers blame them rather than the product when an item does not achieve what the seller thinks it is worth.
Finally, consider donating the set to your local library or another 501(c)(3) organization. As long as you have an acknowledgement letter, you can declare a donation of up to $4,999 without a formal appraisal. Of course, you must have adequate supporting evidence for any value you claim. A listing of an unsold item on eBay is not adequate justification.
QUESTION: I have a hardbound Webster’s “College Home and Office Dictionary Self-Pronouncing,” copyrighted in 1933 by Consolidated Book Publishers, Inc. There are lots of color pictures. Besides all the definitions, there are many pages of useful information. The pages are in really good shape except for two pages, a minor issue. What is its value?
– BD, via e-mail
ANSWER: Webster’s is a generic name for dictionary, much as Kleenex is for facial tissues and Xerox for photocopy. Noah Webster published “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language” in 1806. George and Charles Merriam purchased the copyright and the name in 1843. Unfortunately for Merriam, the US courts ruled that “Webster’s” entered the public domain in 1834, the same date Webster’s copyright expired. As a result, dozens of other companies have published Webster’s dictionaries.
Whenever anyone asks me to appraise an old dictionary, I ask, “do you have a fireplace?” All books have one last value. The person thinks I am kidding. I am not. While I am certain there must be one or more dictionary collectors, I have never met any.
A search of abebooks.com failed to turn up a listing for your dictionary. I expected this. Book dealers have no interest in posting what they cannot sell.
Your dictionary has no monetary value. Its curiosity value is only what amusement it brings to you. When this ceases, offer it at your next garage sale for $1. If it fails to sell, then send it to the landfill.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.
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“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804. You can e-mail your questions to email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.
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