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Ogserver readers are SMART PROGRESSIVE INVOLVED INFLUENTIAL GOOD LOOKING are ‘6server oavertisers r Get noticed by Texas Observer folks all over the state and nation. Let them know about your bookstore, service, restaurant, non-profit organization, event, political candidate, shoe store, coffee house, boutique, salon, yoga studio, law practice, etc. \(i n TheTexasObserver ADVERTISE IN THE OBSERVER! REASONABLE RATES GREAT EXPOSURE Call 512-477-0746 and ask for Julia Austin or e-mail [email protected] ke g , 0-6’server readers r Consider advertising your business or non-profit in the Observer. GOOD FOR YOU GOOD FOR THE OBSERVER McWilliams, continued from page 7 buy one. Then eight more will appear. Before you know it the invisible hand is smacking people around left and right for their gullibility. In short, with online trading the supply that one sees is nothing more than snapshot of a much larger, hidden story. Beyond deflation and imperfect information, online book trading is rife with fraud. Old school dealers might have played on their knowledge to scoop a competitor, but young dealers entering the business through the Internet today too easily play on their fecklessness. Much of the fraud is petty, and it has everything to do with the way the Internet has allowed amateurs to invade the ranks of the professionals. Culpin estimates that about 20,000 online dealers have swamped what was once a cozy club of about 1,300 traditional dealers. “Most of them haven’t a clue,” he says of the arriviste hordes. MacDonnell, who owns the largest private collection of Twain first-editions in the world, thinks they do have a clue about at least one thing: stealing. He speaks passionately about fraud because he’s so often been on the receiving end of it. Here’s how it typically works: MacDonnell acquires a rare book, spends hours and sometimes days tracing its provenance, checking the bibliographies, verifying the authenticity of the binding, researching the print type, and authenticating the frontispiece. Then he writes a description, lists his sources, and places it in his paper and online catalogs. An anonymous online seller who happens to own an inferior version of the same bookperhaps one with the cover replacedproceeds to swipe MacDonnell’s description, post the book on , and sell it for $5 less than MacDonnell’s copy. Thus MacDonnell, with his diligent trips to research libraries and hours poring over bibliographies, sees his work demolished by a part-time dealer practicing what Culpin calls “a nice little side business.” On one occasion the online buyer of a Twain first edition who suspected he’d been ripped off called MacDonell for advice. MacDonnell asked him if he had a copy of the Bibliography of American Literature, for starters. The buyer had no idea what he was talking about. After mentioning this detail, MacDonnell, a kind-looking man with a gentle smile, looked at me, crunched his eyebrows, andwith a wall of the world’s best collection of Twain books behind himsaid, as if he were addressing the duped buyer, “You shouldn’t be fucking around with Mark Twain!” In the pre-Internet days this was the kind of buyer that MacDonnell might have taken under his wing and educated rather than cussing out. If there is a single aspect of rare book dealing that traditional dealers miss the most in the Internet age, it’s the social aspect of working with collectors. Graham recalls how his best customers were the ones who, as young book lovers, started tentatively but, with Graham’s guidance, evolved over the years into serious and confident collectors. Decades of this kind of bit-by-bit interaction have enabled Graham to stay in business. “Most of my sales remain on a person-toperson basis,” he says, with buyers he’s known for a long time. “Buying books is about growing, learning, and being exposed to things.” He relished being able to discuss books with clients who held “the object in hand” and worked with him to develop a philosophy of collecting. MacDonnell \(who spent almost four hours talking nonstop to mission seriously as well. Over the years he has advised collectors about how to build a reference library, how to recognize original binding, the intricacies of broken type and issue points, and how to amass the most comprehensive collection they can afford. The art of cultivating serious clients not only gives MacDonnell emotional and professional satisfaction. It pays off in the old fashioned way, too. Last year, over $250,000 of his total income came from five sales to long-term clients. For clients and dealers entering the business in the digital age, there’s almost no chance to form these kinds of relationships. “The clients I only deal with online,” says MacDonnell, “don’t give a crap about me.” AUGUST 11, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25