A Guide to Selling Anthologies

by Michele Behan

#96, 11 June 2007

Part 1: The Best of Tomes, The Worst of Tomes

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This is a tale of two books - both sharing the same title and both listed as eBay auctions in the same week. By sheer coincidence, both books had been upgraded by their sellers to a Featured Plus! listing, which guaranteed each a coveted high ranking at the top of its literature sub-category page. Additionally, each auction was not a bare-bones listing; on the contrary, the sellers devoted careful description to their respective tomes. With so many similar factors, you would expect the two books to end up at about the same final price, wouldn't you?


One book sold for $31.99. The other sold a couple of days later for $152.50. That's a whopping difference of over $120 price for what was essentially the same book. These auctions closed during the final week of March, 2007. It is impossible to isolate every single factor that accounts for the massive price differential, but even taking into account minor differences between the books in printing status (although neither was a first edition), bindings and condition, the fact remains that one seller differentiated their book sufficiently to achieve a selling price which was nearly 5 times higher than the other book.

Impossible, you say? Not if you learn how to successfully sell an anthology. How many times have you gone to a book sale and picked up an anthology - one of those boring-looking volumes consisting of a compilation of stories (often by different authors) or a collection of poetry? More often than not, you may have found yourself putting the back where you found it. Or, if you did purchase one and prepared an online listing, you may have dutifully typed in the title plus a basic description and hoped for the best. If you were very ambitious, you might have taken the time to include a table of contents in the description, but that's a lot of work for what would likely be a low return.

We often assume that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," and that is the approach we often take - give a good general overview of the book and its contents. However, when selling an anthology, the parts that lie inside the book are often much greater than the whole if you know how to recognize the flashpoints that lurk in anthologies and successfully exploit them through the use of clever and imaginative titling.

Back to our tale of two books.

The seller of the $31.99 poetry anthology used the title of the book, The Poets of the Nineteenth Century, to draw in potential bidders. In addition, the keywords "Gilt," "Fine Binding" and the publication date (1878) were included in the title. Their description included bibliographical information plus numerous images of the lavish Victorian binding and the beautifully engraved illustrations inside the book.

Meanwhile, the seller of the $152.50 anthology did not use the title of the book as a selling point. In fact, the book's title did not even appear in the eBay title. Instead, one poem within the book was used as the primary draw to potential bidders, and the seller relied on that poem's appeal to sell the entire book of poetry. This seller's title read: "1860 Visit From St. Nicholas ~ The Night Before Christmas."

Therein lies the key to selling anthologies successfully: If you can isolate one winning flashpoint inside the book - for example, one particular poem or story in the collection - it pays to zone in on it, sell the book on the basis of that single flashpoint.

It is important to note that this tactic can only be used to its best effect on venues such as eBay that allow sellers to title their auctions or listings any way that they choose - not relying on a book's title to catalog the book as many of the fixed price sites require.

In the case of the poetry volume cited above, the seller recognized that St. Nicholas, the early precursor to our modern Santa Claus, is a flashpoint that appeals on several different levels. First, the nostalgia associated with iconic childhood symbols such as Santa Claus is often a compelling factor in persuading buyers to part with their money. Second, there exists a large collector base for early St. Nicholas books - a niche within the more general and flourishing Christmas collector's market. By focusing on the St. Nicholas poem in the anthology, the seller was able to trigger an emotional response from bidders and, in turn, realize a higher sale price.

The poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is believed to have been written by Clement C. Moore in 1822, although he didn't acknowledge authorship until 1844. (Some now dispute Moore's authorship of the poem, with the leading alternate candidate for authorship being Henry Livingston.) It was originally published in the Troy, New York Sentinel newspaper in 1823 and later appeared in book form in 1837. (An 1837 edition of The New York Book of Poetry containing the first appearance in book form of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" sold recently on eBay for $1,350.00.) The first stand-alone printing of the poem in book form was believed to have occurred in 1848 in the form of a chapbook bound in paper wraps by Henry M. Onderdonk and illustrated with woodcut engravings.

Although St. Nicholas is European in origin, the transformation of St. Nicholas into the American persona of Santa Claus was due in large part to the influence of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." This iconic poem was the first to mention St. Nicholas using a sleigh for transportation driven by eight reindeer and also detailed St. Nick's role in bringing toys to children, set forth his annual visits on Christmas Eve and even gave detailed descriptions of his clothing and appearance.

The poem is now more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas." If you check completed eBay listings under the book category for "The Night Before Christmas," you will see that the popularity of St. Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, is not merely a seasonal phenomenon confined to the holidays. High prices are realized year-round.

Given their proximity to the first appearance of this poem, 19th-century volumes containing it command the most value. Any 19th century collection of poetry should always be checked for it, keeping in mind that the earliest printings of "The Night Before Christmas" were titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Following is a bibliography of some of the earliest printings of the poem:

The Troy Sentinel, December 23, 1823.

Four Almanacs. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1824.

The Troy Sentinel, December 1829.

Carrier's Address. Troy, New York, 1830 (first illustrated version).

Rural Repository, January 1836, p. 218.

The New-York Book of Poetry. NY: George Dearborn, 1837.

New York Mirror, 23 December 1837, p. 207.

Parley's Magazine, 1838, pp. 374-375.

The Troy Budget, December 25, 1838.

Saint Nicholas's Book, for All Good Boys and Girls (also Kriss Kringle's Book). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Thomas, Cowperthwait, & Co., 1842.

Clement C. Moore, Poems. NY: np, 1844.

Clement C. Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas. NY: Henry M. Onderdonk, 1848.

A Visit from St. Nicholas. NY: Spalding & Shepard, 1849.

Robert Merry's Museum, December 1853, p. 174.

The St. Nicholas flashpoint in the tale of two books underscores the fact that, whereas poetry is not a genre that usually brings high prices on eBay, you could be making a major mistake by overlooking poetry anthologies at book sales. First published works of important writers such as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe, for example, are sometimes discovered in nondescript anthology volumes or what were quaintly known as Victorian gift books.

>>>>>Click here for page two>>>>

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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