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Three years ago, I took part in one of the ABA's Book Collecting Seminars at the University of London: Book Collecting and the Web. Now, there are many different views about what the internet has done for booksellers (watch a few of the earlier interviews conducted by Michael Ginsberg) and for collectors (a very recent view here). For my part, I like the internet: it has given me access to a wealth of information previously unavailable to me to help me research the books I have for sale, and given me access to a much wider audience than before it existed.

But what about you, the collector? Certainly, any worries you may have about buying books on the internet are nothing new. In the late 1990s, when people first began to look for books online and booksellers began listing their stock, the exact same concerns were voiced then as they are now: is the person with a PO Box address in the middle of nowhere a real shop, or just someone with a few books in his garage? Can you trust his description? Does he know anything about condition? Or rarity? Or price? (Of course, you can buy with confidence from any ILAB-affiliated bookseller.) And the websites which allow you to look for books haven’t really changed, either. Facilities to search only for first editions can still result in first American, first illustrated etc etc. A description for a particular copy may appear twice (or more) on the results page. 

Browsing is still very difficult. Some websites have tried to increase the chances of your finding a book you didn’t know you wanted by offering you more search criteria (such as subject categories, date range, or language), but most booksellers find it much easier simply to upload their descriptions and perhaps a photo or two rather than knuckle down to produce all this behind-the-scenes tagging, which means that the ease of searching for books online, by use of author name or keyword, will only really ever be as good as the bookseller’s description.

Compare the experience of going into a bookshop, or visiting a book fair. You can see all the books. The bookseller is there, physically, on hand to answer any questions. You can assess the condition of a book yourself, without having to ask lots of questions, or wait for images to arrive by e-mail. Perhaps the bookseller has just bought something, not yet catalogued, which may appeal to you. It’s sitting on the desk. No one’s been offered it yet. It certainly isn’t listed online.

Building up relationships with booksellers means getting in first on recently-purchased stock. A good bookseller will know what it is that interests you, be on the lookout for it, and let you know when it arrives. A bookseller has more time to look for books than you do. It is, after all, her or his job. 

Next week I, along with many other booksellers, will be exhibiting at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. I don't run an open shop, so a book fair is a chance for me to show people what I do, and for people to browse my stock in the flesh. Sure, I've produced a list of what I'm bringing to the Armory, but none of it is listed on my website yet. It's new stock, freshly catalogued and ready for the fair. The show is my shop. I hope to see as many of you as can make it.  

I can promise you there will be lots of wonderful books right across the fair. But perhaps more importantly for you, as a collector, it's a place to meet leading booksellers from all over the world. They want to help find books for you. Come.


Find Items for SaleView some of the featured items for sale at the 2015 New York Antiquarian Book Fair...