Bookselling in Greek

by Craig Stark

#1, March 1, 2004

How to Paddle the Competition

Assuming that you're not willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater - in other words, to stop selling things to collectors on the basis that a few of them may be purchasing your items for less than healthy reasons, let's look at how you can profit from the Greek experience.

There are 7 categories of publications here, every one of them an important flashpoint. If you come across any one of these items and can get it for a buck or two, especially if it's a vintage item, buy. Always, always. Unless you know for a fact that it doesn't have significant value. Values for some of these items, marketed properly, may be as high as $50, $100 or more.

  1. Pledge manuals

  2. Chapter manuals

  3. Alumni (or alumnae) directories

  4. National or chapter histories

  5. Periodicals

  6. Songbooks

  7. Associated ephemera

Pledge manuals are usually small books, often with flexible boards, issued to pledges shortly after they commit to joining a fraternity or sorority. They contain general information about the fraternity, including, usually, a code of conduct, by-laws, an explanation of some (but not all) ritual, and anything else that the fraternity expects its pledges to learn before being granted membership. These are often illustrated but usually minimally. Pictures of the fraternity crest, pledge pins, etc., are usually present, and occasionally a photograph of the national headquarters or a principal figure in the organization.

Chapter manuals are also, usually, small books issued to members shortly after their initiation into the fraternity. These are more comprehensive than pledge manuals and may contain, to some extent, information that could be classified or regarded as secret, though keeping such things secret is a futile task given that who-knows-how-many copies are regularly put into public circulation by former members. Illustrations - again, these are usually minimal and confined to the examples listed above.

Alumni (or alumnae) directories. Exactly what you'd think these are - compilations of former members, usually with current contact information, location, and in some cases biographical information. Some of these are quite large, quite expensive to purchase new, and many have strong resale value. Usually not illustrated.

National or chapter histories. Most fraternities are so-called national fraternities - that is, there are other fraternities on other college campuses bearing the same name and regulated by the same national organization. Sigma Chi, for example, is a national fraternity. To distinguish individual chapters, a unique chapter name is assigned. Example: the Sigma Chi fraternity located at the University of Illinois is the Kappa Kappa chapter. There are numerous Sigma Chi fraternities in other locations but only one Kappa Kappa chapter. As you might expect, histories of chapters are likely to be scarcer than histories of national fraternities, and values often reflect this. Keep in mind that some histories are relatively common but many, many aren't and will more times than not net a good profit. Also, many of these are profusely illustrated and contain photographs of individual chapter houses and members. This is a huge plus in subsequent marketing.

Periodicals. Many fraternities and sororities publish magazines, newsletters or other periodicals, often on a quarterly basis, usually containing both current news, programs, etc., and items of historical interest. Phi Mu sorority, for example, produces Aglaia, a quarterly magazine that dates back over a century. Vintage copies of this contain otherwise scarce historical information and photographs and attract serious collector interest.

Songbooks. Most fraternities and sororities do lots of singing, either privately at meetings, meals or other chapter gatherings or publicly, say, by serenading other fraternities or sororities. Music is a giant collector hook, especially music associated with the Greek experience. Greek songbooks usually contain a variety of music, some specific to the national organization, some to the chapter only, and some not specific at all. Vintage songbooks and sheet music can be especially strong items.

Associated ephemera. This is intuitive. Any other paper items you can get your hands on will likely have some potential for resale.

Greek Flashpoints

If you're going to sell in this niche market - and it is a powerful one to sell in - it will be to your great advantage to assemble a list of Greek flashpoints. Start with the 7 categories listed above. Nail them. It will also be useful to know the Greek alphabet (forwards and backwards, of course!), and to be able to identify actual Greek letters. "Sigma Chi," for example, may sometimes appear in its Greek form (see chart below).

For your convenience, the entire Greek alphabet, along with Greek symbols and English equivalents, appears below.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are fraternities, and there are fraternities, and not all should necessarily signal a buy. The four most common types are social fraternities, professional fraternities, honor societies, and recognition societies. All have different purposes, require different levels of involvement, and most are assigned Greek names. Though professional fraternities and societies may attract some collector interest, most of the action here is in social fraternities, the type that students actually live at on campus.

Consequently, it's important to have and ultimately memorize a list of national social fraternities and sororities (so as to distinguish them from other types), also a sub-list of those which are intensely collectible. BookThink will publish both in the March 15 newsletter.

Please note that these lists will constitute Premium Content and will be available only to email subscribers. This information will not be available on the website. If you aren't yet a subscriber and wish to receive it, subscriptions are free and can be obtained instantly by entering a valid email address in the subscription box located in the lower left corner of any of BookThink's web pages. Note also that new subscribers will not have access to Premium Content published before their subscription start date, so act as soon as possible.

NOTE: Gold Edition replaced regular Premium Content on August 2, 2004. Learn how to subscribe.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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