Monday, October 16, 1995
Booksellers Row XII - The Ultimate Booksellers' Tool
1995 is the 100th anniversary year for American Book Prices Current (ABPC), the thick red annual guide to prices realized by books and manuscripts in auctions.
It is the ultimate tool, because auction buyers are largely book dealers, and thus it gives the collector an idea of what his rarities might fetch, when sold to a dealer or in auction - but discount the latter for a 25 percent commission and 10 percent buyer's premium. The collector who uses the prices in guides based upon dealer catalog prices must discount them by 40-60 percent, the dealer's margin (it is even larger for lesser books). ABPC is pricey, and if you need to use it, I will give you my secret. Go to Room 315 at the Public Library, 42nd Street and 5th, the set is on open shelves. There is one at the Bobst Library too, if you have an NYU pass; none at Baruch and New School.
ABPC was started by Luther Livingston whose first job was cataloguing seeds and who subsequently became the Librarian at Harvard, and has gone through the hands of many publishers - Dodd, Dutton, Bowker, no doubt because of the dedication required to keep up, year after year, the tedious job of transcribing auction data in excruciating detail and with great precision.
Bowker's early ABPC editor was Jake Blank, of later who caused great consternation by listing book titles, under author, in publication date order, a practice soon abandoned. Before WWII ABPC was edited by Ed Lazare, who dod it patt-time for Bowker while working at Max harzoff's famed G.A.Baker and Co antiquarian book store, of which he became President when Harzoff died, 12/31/1939, at 7 West 46 Street . (Harzoff was about 14 during the Blizzard of 1888, when he got out of hsi house in queens by sliding off the roof, the snow was piled up that high. He caught a milk wagon to the 23rd St Ferry and got to work at Baker &Taylor (then on 23rd St, now in Hillside, NJ, before hs boss). Ed (1904-1991, with Baker 1925-42) knew books. He had appraised the Folger Shakespeare Library while it was still in a bank vault in NYC, before it was moved to its newly built home in Washington, DC. When Ed went into the Army in 1942, Carlton and Nancy Storm helped out, and took the task to U.Mich, where Carlton became Curator of Maps. "It's yours, when you get home," he wrote Ed, and so it was 1945-53, when Bowker wanted out and sold ABPC to Ed and Ramona Lazare. They ran it until 1970, when it was sold it to Columbua University Press, and Ed went on to edit Parke Bernet-Sotheby's index volume for the monumental seven-volume Streeter Americana sale catalog (sales dates), his last major effort.
The series was purchased by Daniel Leab, labor historian, and his wife Catharine,whose enthusiasm for books was inherited from her father Roger Kyes, a book collector, i Michigan. In the interim, 1940-1952, ABPC had to fight off a competitor, published by my friend the late Dr. S.R.Shapiro, who tried to include yet more titles, with realized prices of $3. and up. When, ten years later, I complimented him on the precision of the minutia, he threw up his arms: "Don't talk about this. The book is full of errors, it's an impossible task!"
The Leabs computerized the tedious sorting, alphabetizing and typesetting and proofreading job in 1975, using the then new Digital Equipment PDP134 and a proprietary program from Inforonics. The computer eventually was given to New york Historical Society, wher they did not know how to work it. The Leabs went on, and eventually added Bambam, an online data base for lookup of stolen books and manuscripts, operated in conjunction with the Rare Bk Dealers Asso?? Unfortunately, the ABPC is a great shopping guide for library thieves who want to steal valuable books for resale. There have been many - just recently sevsral security people were fired at the Library of Congress for ... A faccinating rogue, James Shinn, who used electronic detection equipment to bypass library metal detection equipment, was nearly caught by Bill Moffett, the librarian at Oberlin, (later at Huntington Library in California. He also made a splash when he opened the Dead Sea Scrolls microfilms to scholars). Shinn was eventually caught at Muehlenberg College, and sent to the Leavensworth, KS pokey for crooked businessmen.
ABPC is now not only a red-bound annual book ($95) but also a CD/ROM, costing a formidable $2,000 or so, and containing all book auction sale prices 1975-1995,
the life work period of the Leabs. It comes with software, and if needed, one can extract information by consignor, that is seller, by buyer and by topic (e.g., what Americana books did Goodspeed's of Boston buy in 1990).