Building Your Flashpoint Library

by Craig Stark

#12, 16 February 2004

In my mind, there's no more important key to success in buying inventory than accumulating (and retaining) a large number of flashpoints. A single, good flashpoint can expand your knowledge of book values significantly, sometimes opening up an entire class of books for purchase that you otherwise might have passed by. Cultivate a habit of hoarding and memorizing flashpoints, and in a matter of months you could become a power buyer.

But where do we start? Just about anywhere that looks promising. Let's take another look at Steinbeck's book. Most of us may already be aware of the fact that John Steinbeck was a major author, and in most cases first editions of major authors have significant value, especially if it's an early work. But how many other major authors can you name? Hemingway, no doubt. Faulkner. But could you name 100? A big maybe. 200? Probably not. But think how much more effective you could be as a buyer if you knew the names of 200. Your boots are getting bigger already.

But it really isn't enough to know only the authors' names. It also helps to know their major works and - very important - the year they were published. Just knowing that The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 effectively eliminates a huge number of near valueless copies of this title printed in later years and significantly increases the possibility of correctly identifying a first edition. Put the knowledge of 200 authors and 300 or 400 titles and publication dates together in your mind, and I guarantee that you'll be a much better buyer than you are now.

And this is just a start. A list of collectible (flashpoint) illustrators would be immensely useful, even if it's a few dozen obvious names such as Dulac, Rackham and Kent. So would a list of publishers who consistently issue books that have strong resale value - e.g., Lakeside Press editions published in the first half of the 20th century. Another list of collectible topics would repay large and lasting dividends. We've already discussed two of these in recent BookThinker articles - ice harvesting and pigeons.

If this sounds like a lot of work, well, it is, and this is assuming you'd know where to look for individual flashpoints and how to compile a sensible list of them in the first place. Still, the time you invest in doing this will make a huge, huge difference in your bookselling life - in fact, I truly believe that no other investment you make in your business will net you as much as this will.

At BookThink, we're going to do our best to make life easier for you by publishing starter lists of flashpoints. These lists will be supplemented periodically and, in time, will comprise a sort of bible of flashpoints. We'll also explain the rationale behind each list, cite our sources of information (when applicable), and offer suggestions for augmenting them. Unlike other resources at BookThink, access to these lists will not be universal, though for the time being they will be free to all who meet the simple requirements detailed in today's "From the Editor" article.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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