Rare Secondhand Art Books
ART BOOKS CAN BE
Rare secondhand or out-of-print
With book publishers coming under increasing pressure to reduce costs, fewer art books are being republished. Worst hit are monographs of Old Masters, and scholarly books on art movements, styles and schools. At the same time, English translations of high quality titles are becoming less and less frequent. As a result, with so many scholarly works now out of print, secondhand book dealers are usually the only source for such titles.
But sourcing good quality Antiquarian or old secondhand art books is not easy. Many online dealers offer insufficient information about titles in stock, and postage rates can be prohibitive. As well as this, not all rare book dealers are sufficiently pro-active in seeking and acquiring quality collections.
As a website devoted to visual art, we are constantly searching for detailed information about painters and sculptors throughout the ages, and our favourite rare book dealer is the Time Traveller's Bookshop.
First, let's deal with the question of terminology. What is an antiquarian book? In fact, what is the difference between a rare book and an antiquarian book?
These two rather vague terms are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are subtly different. An antiquarian book is an "old" book whose value stems from its early printing date, together with its general rarity, historical interest and the like. It is almost certain to be scondhand. However, a book does not need to be commercially valuable, in order to be labelled "antiquarian." By contrast, the term "rare book" carries the clear suggestion of commercial value. Furthermore, a "rare book" does not need to be old - it might be relatively or even brand new - it simply needs to have "rare" attributes.
So what attributes/factors make an old art book valuable? Why do certain old secondhand art books command a premium price in the market? According to some experts, in order to be considered "valuable", an antiquarian art book must meet one or more, of the following five criteria:
1. Limited Print Run. The total number of printed copies must be relatively small. The Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (1912), for instance, would be an ideal instance of this. However, being from a limited print-run alone, may be insufficient to create value. A self-published volume of watercolours, for instance, may be in exceedingly short supply, but still have no value.
2. Special Edition. The book may be a specially produced edition. First editions are usually the most valuable, but first translations, or specially amended versions may also be highly valued. Alternatively, it may be a specially illustrated edition with illustrations by a famous painter, like the 1916 edition of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, published by Harrap and illustrated by the Irish virtuoso Harry Clarke (18891931); or the 1857 edition of Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson, illustrated by the Romantic painter John Everett Millais (1829-96); or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907), illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).
3. Print Materials Used. An edition may be highly prized by collectors because of its characteristics as a physical object. For example, it may be printed on valuable type of paper or other material. Books on Chinese art and calligraphy, for instance, have been printed on silk, while nearly all books produced prior to 1450 were inscribed onto vellum. Less often, a secondhand book may command a high price because of its (miniature or exotic) format, or pop-up content.
4. Added Value. Almost any object may have value "added" to it, and books are no exception. Thus for instance, a mass-produced, secondhand book on Installation Art, published in 1995, which would normally be worth (say) $2.00, might be worth a hundred times more if it contained the signature of a famous modern artist such as Damien Hirst. A copy of the exhibition program to the Armory Show (1913) in New York, autographed and inscribed by the avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) might be worth a six-figure sum.
5. Physical Condition. While insufficient by itself to add rarity or intrinsic value to an art book, its physical condition - especially the quality of its colour plates, illuminations or illustrations - may be crucial to its value.
All rare antiquarian books must fulfill at least one of these five criteria: some may satisfy several.
If you don't want to waste your time on the Internet, searching for endless hours, make use of these special so-called Meta-Search-Engines for the antiquarian fine art book market:
(1) vialibri.net or (2) addall.com
Enter a topic, author or Keyword and the search-engine runs a combined search of all book-related websites. You can further refine these searches by using the more advanced options provided.
Even better, you can buy most of the books directly from the booksellers. Let's say for example you found a result of a search for a rare monograph on Picasso, with an original lithograph. At "Vialibri" and "Addall", they will most likely show the results of listings at Amazon, Abebooks and Choosebooks, but in many cases you can also see the very same book offered "Direct from Bookseller". The link "Direct from Bookseller" will take you straight to the booksellers' website, which is often your friendliest and best option. For details of our favourite online dealer, see: Time Traveller's Bookshop.
(1) Inaccurate Information
There are two potential problems when buying rare secondhand art books online. To begin with, not all websites provide sufficient information about the items in their rare books catalogue. Also, websites have been known to list books as available, when in fact they are not in stock at all. Bottom line: ideally, shop around until you find a reliable dealer. He/she will be worth their weight in gold.
(2) Shipping Costs
Nearly all websites dealing in antiquarian art books charge for shipping. This can be expensive. Bottom line: find a reliable dealer who doesn't charge for shipping. See, for instance, Time Traveller's Bookshop.
(3) Dealers Better in the Long Run
Since approximately 1996, thousands of specialist antiquarian bookdealers worldwide are offering rare art books online. Some antiquarian bookdealers are part of larger trade associations, like the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) (website: ilab.org) or the International Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) (website: ioba.org), but there are also numerous independent booksellers who are selling the same books and offer a similar service. Dealing with members of bookseller-organizations or professional booksellers - rather than private individuals selling secondhand art books on eBay or elsewhere - does not guarantee quality of descriptions or fair trade, but it does help you to establish a commercial relationship in the market, which may be valuable in the long run. Furthermore, a minimum of common sense can help you to determine the professionalism of a dealer: look at their websites and their book descriptions; don't be afraid to ask a few questions by email; and you should get a feel for the service they offer.
We recommend The Time Traveller's Bookshop for two reasons:
(1) It has a wide and highly informative online catalogue of out-of-print and antiquarian art books. (2) It offers worldwide FREE shipping on any item.
Furthermore, the firm has good contacts with important book dealers around the world and regularly obtains art books from private collections of serious collectors, scholars and booksellers, located mostly around the most important universities in North America and Britain.
For more, see: Time Traveller's Bookshop and Gallery.
Need information about who publishes the best art books? See below for a list of book publishers, in Europe, America and worldwide, specializing in all types of art, notably fine art. Publications include all subject areas, including monographs on the world's greatest visual artists, history of art movements, as well as reference works on: painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, crafts, design, illustration, aesthetics, museum exhibitions and collections, objets d'art, and more. Plus learn-how-to books on drawing, colour charts, mixing colours, linear perspective, oils, watercolours and acrylics, for children and adults. See also: Best Art Schools.
Antique Collectors' Club
Architectural Association School of
Art Books International
The Art Institute of Chicago Publications
British Museum Press
Cameron & Hollis
Conran Octopus Ltd
Eaglemoss Publishing Group Ltd
I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd
Kodansha Europe Ltd
Kube Publishing Ltd
Laurence King Publishing Ltd
Liverpool University Press
N.G. Art Books
National Galleries of Scotland
National Gallery Company Limited
National Portrait Gallery Publications
Phaidon Press Ltd
Philip Berrill International Ltd
Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd
Prestel Publishing Ltd
Reaktion Books Ltd
River Books Press
Royal Collection Publications and Picture
Slovart (UK) Ltd
Thames & Hudson Ltd
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
Wiley-Academy A division of John Wiley
Windsor Books International
Yale University Press
For up to date news, see: Art News Headlines.
Aventinum Publishing House
Thaning & Appel
Couleurs Contemporaines Bernard Chauveau
Dessain et Tolra
Editions Citadelles & Mazenod
Editions de I'Amateur
Editions de la Villette Ecole d'Architecture
de Paris La Villette
Editions du Musee Rodin
Editions Marval Edigroup
Editions Menges / Sand
Editions Xavier Barral
Hazan (Hachette Illustre)
Images en Manoeuvres Editions
Terrail / Edigroup
Die Gestalten Verlag GmbH & Co.
Elisabeth Sandmann Verlag
Melissa Publishing House
Arsenale Editrice-EBS Group
Gabriele Mazzotta Editore
Grafiche Vianello Vianello Libri Publishing
Hopefulmonster Editore s.r.l.
Johan & Levi Editore
Libro Co. Italia Srl
Magnus Edizioni SpA
Maurizio Corraini Srl
Mondadori Electa SpA
Amsterdam University Press
Veenman Drukkers B.V.
Bosz Publishing House
Agey Tomesh/WAM Publishing House
Slovenska Narodna Galeria
Ciruelo-Fanlasy Art DAC Editions
Documenta Artes y Ciencias Visuales
M. Moleiro Editor, S.A.
Monsa Publications Instituto Monsa de
Edition Dino Simonett
Edizioni Periferia Flurina & Gianni
JRP Ringier Kunstverlag AG
Scheidegger & Spiess Publishers
Verlag Museum Rietberg
Ars Libri Ltd
Booklyn Artists Alliance
Dover Publications, Inc.
Empire Editions LLC
F + W Publications, Inc
Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Hudson Hills Press LLC
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Monacelli Press
Museum of Modern Art
National Gallery of Art Publishing Office,
Pennsylvania State University Press
Players Press Inc.
Serindia Publications Inc.
University of Illinois Press
Walter Foster Publishing
Yale University Press
Israel Museum Products Ltd
Asia One Product & Publishing Ltd
Graphic-Sha Publishing Co., Ltd
Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd
PIE Co., Ltd. (PIE Books)
Victionary Viction Workshop Ltd
For more about rare art books, secondhand or new, see: Art Encyclopedia.