True Customer Tales: Dickens

On the flip side of the Hobbit post from yesterday, our neighbor across the street had what he thought was a rare Dickens book.  He buys storage units and sells the junk, when he comes across weird books I help him out with appraising.

I headed over last night with Fuss in tow.
"C'mon, let's go look at books across the street," I proposed, and he went to his bookcase and picked out a couple before joining me at the foot of the stairs, my funny, literal boy.

"We're going to look at their books, we can leave yours here!"

They have a huge inflatable fan-powered snow globe in their yard so it took us a while to get to the front door.
Family was visiting for Christmas, so Fuss joined the tumult in the living room and played with the baby.  He's getting to the point where he'll occasionally acknowledge the existence of other children, and he'll even deign to play with the older ones.

Checking out the book, a small, tan gilt stamped copy of A Christmas Carol, and just from picking it up it seems legit.  Looking at thousands and thousands of books over the years gives you a fairly accurate subconscious radar for what's 'right' for older books, and this one felt right even before I opened it up.  The title page was printed in two colors, which is a good indicator of a first printing- publishers usually go with a one color title page on subsequent printings to save costs.  Flipping through it had a number of attractive plates that appeared to be hand-colored, another indication of quality.

"Yeah, I did a little research, and it seems like it's worth $5,000?"

I need not proclaim my reflexive skepticism to longtime readers.

"Well, let's poke around and see if it's the real thing.  It certainly looks like the first printing from this publisher, but copy write in the 1800's was unsettled and a lot of American publishers just printed anything and everything they could from Europe without paying anybody anything."

I hit a couple of sites (one advantage of the modern age- if you know where to look and what you're after, you can glean quite a bit from publicly available sources without resorting to your library of printed bibliographies) and it certainly looked like the legit 1st American publication.


Now the tricky part- explaining that the beat up copy he had wasn't "worth" $5,000, no matter the hyperbole of the internet.  One, the 'true' 1st would be the British edition, that's the really valuable edition, predating the American by a full year.  And the reality of  genuinely collectible books is that the sort of buyers willing to pay top dollar are obsessed with condition.  If your book can satisfy the gimlet eye of a book obsessive, then you can expect those kinds of prices.  If it can't, you're left to haggle over every nick, scrape and tear with someone who's only interested if you'll meet their price.

For book dealers condition is leverage.
With it you can move mountains, without it you're trying to shift a boulder with a chopstick.

So, while the book is a genuine rarity, it's a rarity I'd grade at 'Good', or maybe 'Good Minus', hardly collector bait.  The gilt on the covers is nearly worn away and in any case it appears to have been re-bound at some point, the front matter was well foxed, the pages well thumbed...what we in the business call a "reading copy".  Structurally intact, but obviously well used.

I explained all of this, explained the reality of internet selling (if you want the sale, you need to be cheaper than everyone else, and by a good bit) and gave him my diagnoses- if I were pricing the book, I'd ask $900 and be very forthcoming about the condition issues.  At that price, it would move.

But he had those Scrooge McDuck $$$ in his eyes, so we'll see what happens.
In any case, it was a cool book to see in person.

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