09 July 2008

Very silly prices on Ebay or Great Expectations

At the Rare Book Finder website, they list top of the market (price wise) Ebay books. It's a useful site if you just want to see the rare and classy stuff, but books with ridiculous price expectations creep in. Last week a guy wanted a starting bid of $30,000 for a cloth bound set of Thackery (sic) probably worth no more than £50 ($100). He was very jazzed about the dedicatory preface by Thackeray which he showed in a picture, merely a printed page without even a facsimile signature.

You could get a limpid 30 volume full leather set with ornate inner dentelles, watered silk endpapers, loosely inserted letters, drawings and even substantive manuscript material for $30K. Instead you get a late Victorian reprinted cloth set that most dealers would attempt to leave behind if they bought a lot of books with them in it. The seller appears to have withdawn the items possibly after flabbergasted emails. I nearly sent one myself but there is very little satisfaction in informing a fool that he is a fool.

Almost as silly is the chap who wants $25000 for a late Harry Potter printed upside down. I know that some Harry Potter collectors are lunatics, bedlamites, bereft of reason, 'away with the fairies' and mad as march hares but none are so deluded as to even pay a fiftieth of this price (surely?) The traditional wisdom is that misprinted books, unless they establish some kind of precedence, are basically defective and thus without value and to be thrown in the eco bin. However self generated dealers and collectors on Ebay seem to have established a new market, possibly influenced by stamp collecting where faults count. Many sellers have tried to sell defective Potters, occasionally with some success--usually only $30 or $40 but there is talk of some chancer once getting $400.

If enough people want something it becomes a market, there are no enforceable rules in collecting but no one will be looking for upside down GWTWS or Joseph Conrads, in fact JK (and possibly Tolkien) is really the only author the misprint thing works for. Deep searching on the web reveals where the seller may have got the price from. A listserve chat room from 2005 reveals the following cheerful banter:-

Person A. Ok, i went out to my local store and was browsing the books. i picked up an edition of harry potter and the order of the phoenix, i opened it and it didnt have a chapeter one or even the front page with the copyright thing. it starts with page 721 to page 786, after that it continues with page 68 onwards untill the end.

Person B. Weird

Person C. Sell it on Ebay for bajillions.

Person A. Do you think its worth something?

Person C. E-Bay it. I bet you'll get between $20,000-$30,000 for it.

Person D. If its a misprint then it could be worth A LOT. These types of mistakes are sometimes very rare. If you think it is a legit thing and real misprint, well lucky you. But I wouldn't ebay it until you find out how much it is worth.

Person F. I was working on a job in Tesco's the other day and they had one in the returns pile which was mis-printed but I thought it wasn't worth picking up.

Person C. There there my friend. Poor you lol.
Missed out on millions, man..
The equally bathetic words of the seller are worth preserving also:-
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Very Rare Book! This is a brand new book never taken out of the bag except to discover the ERROR! So it is in Perfect Shape! This book is completely printed UPSIDE down, every page! How is that for a mysterious fact for a mysterious book! I have been looking and have never seen that as an error. I have seen some of the silly errors people report, but to me this is the best. ... I have 100% rating and this is all truthful... We will require insurance with the sale.
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