Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Buying Large Lots of Books

Purchasing a large lot of books is a great way to acquire scarce missing volumes to complete a set and at the same time get extras of other books that can be sold to reduce the overall cost. It is a great way to build a set and spend less than buying books separately.

I love buying large lots of books, but I am a low ball bidder. This means that I usually do not win the lots unless the books are rough condition reading copies. I am cautious, especially when the seller has provided poor photos and minimal information. I have been burned multiple times on such lots, so I know to look for clues that the books might be in worse condition than stated and never bid aggressively on those lots.

People lose their senses when large lots of books have dust jackets that appear to be in nice shape from a group photo taken from five or more feet away. They act like the books are perfect and bid accordingly.

I once bid aggressively on a complete set of Outdoor Girls books with dust jackets. I could tell that the books had some water damage from the photo, but I needed Desert Valley in a dust jacket, so I bid to win. I won the books, but I paid way too much because the water damage was quite extensive. I was able to dispose of the books I did not need at about cost, but it was not easy. I learned from that and a few other experiences to be very cautious.

Recently, a near complete set of Judy Bolton books was offered on eBay.

Vintage Judy Bolton "Margaret Sutton" Mystery Books (34)

Here is the seller's photo:

The lot closed at $384.89 and contained some valuable books. The lot was a good deal, provided that the scarcest books, #32, 33, 34, and 35 are in very good or better condition. I sincerely hope that the books are in very good or better condition for the buyer's sake.

I had concerns based on my past experience with the Outdoor Girls lot. In my opinion, this lot was not worth risking more than $150.00 to $200.00 on. Why? The books appear to have water damage.

The second book in the second row from the bottom has obvious water damage. I was also concerned about the appearance of #32 and #34, which are the fourth and sixth books in the bottom row. Why do the covers look so dark?

While the seller stated that the books were cared for and in good condition, several comments caught my eye. The seller stated, "The books smell musty from being stored all these years." That means that the books were stored in a moist environment.

The seller also made the comment that "Book 22 does not have a jacket cover and the cover (front and back) looks like it had some rain on it but the inside is still in good condition." Would just one book get rain on it or get wet? It is possible, but if the books all smell musty, there is likely some damage to the other books. I have bought lots in which some books were water damaged but others were fine, but usually multiple books were damaged. Also, the seller felt that the inside of the book was in good condition, but would we? I have observed that people who do not collect books tend not to notice flaws like wrinkled or stiff pages that have been exposed to water.

Finally, the seller remarked, "Book 35 has the cover (which I believe is 22) on the back of it that stuck and I didn't try to take it off." Covers get stuck when they are have been exposed to water. While the book is wet, the cover sticks and dries stuck in place. This is a bad sign.

Let me more plainly state what the seller meant. The front panel of the dust jacket of #22, which is the second book in the second row from the bottom, is stuck to the back cover of #35 Hidden Clue, one of the valuable books. It is unlikely that the dust jacket can be removed from the back cover of Hidden Clue without damage, so Hidden Clue is not in very good condition.

With all of these clues, I concluded that quite a few of the books were likely water damaged. I hate books that have water damage. I can imagine that these books probably have that nasty gritty dirt-like stuff on the covers that is usually mildew that comes off when the books are handled. Yuck. I always quickly dispose of books that have that horrid stuff on them unless I need the books for my collection. Even at that, I upgrade the books as soon as possible and get rid of them. By "get rid of," I mean sell cheaply with the damage made plain in the description.

I hope my thoughts give others an idea of what to look for when supposedly very nice lots of expensive books are put up for sale. Always be on the lookout for possible water damage in the photos and description.


Lenora said...

I have gotten to where I really hate getting large lots. I'm more often a buyer than a seller, so having to dispose of all the extras is a hassle, even if I make a profit. And, like you, I find the descriptions are something of a joke. No one wants to describe every single book in large lot, and often all you get is a picture of a box filled with something you can vaguely tell are books. Often no titles are listed, the description (if any) is general and often misleading ("decent," "a little worn," etc.). I won a large lot of library bindings a while back that I eventually plan to list as freebies on Bonanzle, as I can't conscientiously take money for them, they're in such bad condition. And finally, I often find that they're extremely poorly packed, with the box falling apart and half open by the time you get them.

beautifulshell said...

On the other hand, when you get a surprisingly nice book in a large lot when you have low expectations (for the reasons you went over), it's so great! I don't usually bid on large lots unless it's for a less competitive series, but I've had a couple of very pleasant surprises from those. Sometimes the seller's lack of knowledge helps to find the steals.