The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 44, October 28, 2007, Article 10


Last week I asked, "What relatively recent books are 
bringing high multiples of their issue price?" Dave Lange 
writes: "Years ago I heard a saying that applies quite 
well to the market for numismatic books (and other 
specialized books, I imagine). It went something like 
this: 'When a book is in print you can't give it away, 
and when it's out of print you can't buy it at any price.' 
I may have heard that from Cal Wilson or John Bergman, 
but it likely goes back further still.

"Only rarely have I had to stretch to buy a numismatic 
book I wanted, because I make a point of buying most 
worthwhile references as they're published. Of course, 
this has applied only to books issued during the past 30 
years or so, but most of the older references I desired 
were still available in either the original or reprint 
editions. At the time I was building my numismatic library, 
Quarterman was putting out excellent reprints (sometimes 
with additional, new content) of the standard American 
references that were scarce in original editions. I've 
been very fortunate that most of the standard series 
references used by professional numismatists and advanced 
collectors have been either published or reprinted during 
this 30-year period. These days the books I'm buying 
secondhand at above their issue prices are almost 
exclusively titles pertaining to specific areas of 
world numismatics.

"I, too, am amazed by how valuable some once common 
books have become. A title that I'm asked about frequently 
is the Wiley/Bugert book on Seated Liberty Halves. I was 
pleased to buy my copy directly from the authors at its 
debut during the 1993 ANA convention, but it has since 
become one of the most highly sought USA titles and one 
that is almost unobtainable. The same is true for Volume 
One of the Bowers/Borckardt silver dollar encyclopedia. 
As a working numismatist, I've worn out my own library 
copy and have scribbled notes, observations and updates 
all over it. When attributing coins at shows, I now have 
to work from a photocopy of it, the second original copy 
that I used to travel with having been 'liberated' by 
some unknown party, due perhaps to the recent record 
prices for this title in the secondary market.

"To show the contrast between perceived values over time, 
no better example comes to mind than the Breen proof book. 
Though it has been somewhat discredited in recent years, 
it still brings good money when an original hardcover 
copy becomes available. When first published, however, 
this book went begging. The subject matter seemed too 
esoteric 30 years ago, and there were few purchasers. 
For example, I received my copy as a free premium when 
subscribing to NASCA's auction catalogs. 

"Another example may be found in the Akers' six-volume 
series on USA gold coins (7 volumes, if you include the 
gold pattern book). These books came out at a time when 
there was nothing comparable for gold specialists, and 
they did sell quite well. Volume 6 on the double eagle 
series was popular enough that it had to be reprinted a 
few years later. In due time, however, the books were 
all sold, and the demand for them grew at an amazing pace. 
Volume 5 on eagles was particularly rare, as this denomination 
was the most difficult coin series to complete and thus sold 
fewer copies when new. Huge prices were recorded for either 
single volumes or the complete set throughout the late 1980s 
and until quite recently. While these books are still 
desirable, the availability of newer titles in the past 
two years seems to have diminished the frenzy a bit.

"I've always realized far greater profit selling books 
than coins, whenever such occasions arose. For example, 
I purchased my mint copy of Hibbler-Kappan in the early 
1980s, when many copies were available as publisher 
overstock. I doubt that I paid even $10 for it, but the 
recent surge in the popularity of so-called dollars drove 
up its value to the $100-140 range in just the past three 
or four years. Knowing that a new edition was soon to appear, 
I did the unthinkable: I threw my only copy on eBay, where 
it realized a price solidly within that range. I did this 
without any sense of guilt and not wanting to get burned 
once again with a soon to be nearly worthless, obsolete 
book. This had happened to me with the first edition of the 
Breen/Gillio book on fractional gold. I had known of the 
new edition early on and could have sold the old one for 
nearly $100, but I waited too long and ended up just 
donating it to a coin club book sale when the new edition 
rendered it obsolete.

"In my estimation, other books that are likely to become 
valuable once they are sold out include Bob Van Ryzin's 
'The Crime of 1873,' Rusty Goe's historic works on the 
Carson City coinage and personalities and Roger Burdette's 
landmark works on the USA coinage of 1905-21. None of these 
seem likely candidates for second editions, due to the 
peculiar economics of book publishing.

"I suppose it has always been true that highly specialized 
works sell poorly when new, but the best ones are always 
winners in the secondary market once they've gone out of 
print. I don't yet know whether this will be the fate of 
my own coin board book, but I don't see it selling out 
anytime soon. To make it cost effective on a per-unit basis, 
I had to print perhaps more copies than the current market 
for such a specialized work can absorb. I may be wrong about 
this, and I hope that I am, but if book writing and publishing 
were viewed solely as a business undertaking, the only books 
we'd have to read would have titles that start out with 
"How to get rich by [fill in the blank]."

[I've sold a few books under similar circumstances myself, 
such as the Breen-Gillio work on California Fractional Gold. 
I had a nice deluxe hardbound that I couldn't bear to part 
with, but I sold my working softcover copy. One book I 
regret parting with is the Kessler book on Fugio Cents. 
Almost on a whim I threw it in with a consignment I was 
sending to a dealer and I got a great price for it, but 
the new book Iíd heard about hasnít materialized (yet). 

I'm in agreement with Dave about the works of Van Ryzin, 
Goe and Burdette, and could add a number of other recent 
authors to that list. I've also been one to always 
purchase new works at the time they come out, particularly 
the ones in areas where a second edition isn't likely. 
One I regret NOT purchasing (as many of us probably do) 
was the set of John J. Pittman sale catalogs. These were 
priced quite high initially and I'm sure many people like 
myself who would have ordinarily ordered them passed in 
protest hoping to buy them cheaper on the secondary market. 
That didn't happen. -Editor]


  Wayne Homren, Editor

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