BookThink Special Report


Selling a Signed First Edition on eBay

by Craig Stark

16 February 2009

One Way to Do It

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Not surprisingly, I get lots of questions about how to identify first editions, how to authenticate signatures - and perhaps even more often, how to market collectible signed first editions.

Assuming the book is valuable, you can always take the easy way out and send it to an auction house. At most, you'll need to snap a few pictures of it and email them to whomever, then ship the book out, sign some forms, etc., and wait for the auction - oh, and then wait again for your money! There's no vetting required; the auction house does that. And you don't have to know the first thing about bookselling to make a few bucks.

If there's a downside, it's those sometimes hefty commissions (which can be even heftier if you're not a dealer), not to mention buyer's premiums, which are sometimes added onto the hammer price and necessarily depress the bidding. Also, you lose a certain measure of control over the process. Of course, you and the auction house will need to agree on pricing going in, whether you'll sell at any price or use a reserve (and for obvious reasons they like to price items to sell the first time through), but after that, it's in their hands, and they'll present it as they see fit. Auction catalogs aren't cheap to produce, and they may or may not publish a photo of it or even write an especially detailed description.

Or - you can take the tiger by the tail and do everything yourself. If you auction it on, say, eBay, you can include any number of photos and as lengthy a description as you like. You can also start it at an ambitious price and perhaps get lucky. If you don't get lucky, you can always drop the price until somebody does grab it. When it does sell, you may or may not have bettered the price you would've gotten at an auction house, but you'll pay significantly less in fees.

There's a downside here too. Could be you're not experienced at book presentation, either photographically or textually - or both. And then there's eBay itself, whose reputation is considerably spottier than Christie's, Sotheby's and the like. Will your auction therefore attract the right crowd?

Nobody really knows until you try. Over the years, I've had some success selling higher end books on eBay, so, if you're new to the bookselling game, I thought it might be useful, perhaps even fun, to do one more transparently (not cloaked under one of my selling IDs), show you how I would handle it. And, if one or more of you take away some ideas from it, all the better - and one or more of these might even help you see how not to do it! I should emphasize here that I have no delusions regarding my own bookselling mastery. I consider myself an apprentice at best, but I do have pretty deep experience selling on eBay, and maybe this will offset things to some extent and produce an acceptable outcome.

Now, to the book itself; it's a pretty good one: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, signed.

Clearly, first printings of this iconic novel are in high demand, as are signed copies, especially since there's at least some anecdotal evidence that, with few exceptions, Mitchell stopped accommodating signing requests by late 1936. Though I have investigated the potential value of this copy, I won't divulge any details yet nor my marketing strategy because either or both might affect the outcome of the auction. When the process is over, however, I will report back.

It was my initial intention to include a lengthy discussion of buying and selling GWTW in all of its many manifestations along with detailed identification aids. But then I thought, Why go over the same ground that's already been expertly and meticulously plowed by GWTW collector Jon Gardner? It's all here.

And finally, here's a link to the auction, which was launched about an hour before sending this newsletter: 200310781724.

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