BookQuest: So you want to be a bookdealer
October 8, 2008 1:25 PM   Subscribe

What is it like being an (antique) bookdealer? How does one become a bookdealer? Are there people out there who actually have the job title of "bookdealer"?
posted by Rora to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are definitely such people, but they don't say "antique", they say "antiquarian". The internet has made the barriers to entry lower than ever before, but to really make it a career, you're going to need a substantial base of capital (for acquisitions) and knowledge to get started. I've never been, but I've heard pretty good things about the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars as a starting point (I don't know if there's anything similar in Canada). Rare Book School is a little more library-oriented, but extremely good. You would also do well to think about getting an internship or part-time job with an antiquarian dealer in your area (the membership list on the ABAC website can help there).
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:55 PM on October 8, 2008

I know a couple of people who are full-time bookdealers. They say that it is very hard and not as much fun as it used to be, because the barriers to entry are so incredibly low now that there are a zillion amateurs out there ready to undercut you on price on! auctions. because they do it as a sideline and don't really need the money as such. This applies even to stuff you would think would not be sold over the internet, e.g. 200+-year-old printed material.

The ones who seem to be happiest are those who have (a) momentum (so, yes, a substantial base of capital to get you started), (b) a niche (sure, I can find anything I want online, but if I go talk to seller X I can be confident of finding great books on topic Y I didn't even know I wanted), and (c) a bunch of rich regulars who don't know/care about the internet and would rather just pay someone a premium to hunt down and obtain stuff for them—people whose time is more valuable to them than any amount of money, in other words.
posted by No-sword at 3:00 PM on October 8, 2008

George Orwell has a rant about the subject here. His POV: "But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro."
posted by jet_silver at 3:34 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hope this is only a slight tangent, relevant for searching: wouldn't someone in that profession call him or herself an "antiquarian book dealer" (with "book dealer" being two words instead of one?) Even if both spellings are permitted, you'd want to know to search both versions.

Also - it would make sense to get it right, since your customer base would probably be word-oriented.

Googling for "bookdealer" turns up a lot of hits with only "book dealer" visible in the summaries.
posted by amtho at 4:37 PM on October 8, 2008

I met a guy who did decent business specializing in early edition Dickens.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2008

Not strictly answering the question, but I know of antiquarian book dealers who are also appraisers. Without actually having to sell the books, you get to use your knowledge of history and chemistry to evaluate their market price (this is usually for insurance purposes; possibly for estate planning or other uses.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:26 PM on October 8, 2008

The small quote from George Orwell does not ring true across the board...I've talked to several independent bookdealers who loooove to talk books, and not just in the nuts and bolts financial rarity sense.
posted by redsparkler at 12:24 AM on October 9, 2008

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