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The one that got away…

We’ve all been there – missed out on a book that we’ve seen but someone else beat us to it. Will we ever see another again? How confident can we be that another will reappear?

In my many years as a book seller, I’m sad to say that I regularly meet plenty of dealers (and private book collectors for that matter), who are, quite literally scarred.


Bar-none, most carry a haunting memory of missing out on a book that they saw, but didn’t act on quickly enough. Someone else pounced, and to their mind, this was the book they wanted that simply ‘got away.’


For some, this sense of loss can be seen in their faces as they retell this story.


It’s a regret that is still alive, and as raw to them today as it’s ever been, even though the incident they are describing may have been years previously.


It’s happened to me too. While it's happened lots of times, there’s one that I simply can’t let go off, and still think today – a fine condition Live and Let Die that was all but mine, until the seller decided to have it appraised, and the appraiser she took it bought it there and then on the spot.


Like with what happened to me, the common denominator across many of these stories is that the book in question is usually the cleanest, and the best condition book they’d ever seen. Oh, and topping it off, was also at an unbelievable price.


Yes, I still regret that lost Live and Let Die.


But was it really ‘the one’?


Losing out on a book is just one of the painful parts of book collecting. But, to some extent, it comes with the territory.

Partaking in 'the hunt' means it’s inevitable there will be the disappointment, and that someone else will have always got there first.

I was reminded about this just recently, after seeing an auction a few weeks ago where a first impression Casino Royale sold for £10,000 at auction (that’s minus auction fees).

It was bought for £1 at a car boot sale ten years ago (see below). I hope whoever sold that book at the boot sale doesn’t realise what they let go, for so little.

But here’s the thing.

While stories of a £1 Casino Royale no doubt perpetuate the myth that there are steals out there that we may have missed out on, maybe we have to ask ourselves this question:

Was our book that ‘got away’ really something we'll never see again?

Because if not, are we needlessly beating ourselves up about losing out on a book because we’ve been conditioned to think we’ll never see the likes of it again.

Maybe... we just need to keep looking?


The theory of continual supply


I’ve touched previously on a subject related to this, when discussing survival rates and rarity of books, and the natural tendency of people to assume that with every passing year, books will invariably get rarer due to books unknowingly being binned or deteriorating.


At the time, I observed that this might not actually be the case, and that there always seems to be a constant supply of books circulating, and even temporary gluts of some titles coming up for a sale.


What’s different, I think, about having regret over a book that’s ‘got away’ is because even though common sense may tell us another will eventually turn up, our own experience is in conflict with this, nagging away at us, and convincing us that it won’t, because our past book-hunting experience is yelling back at us, and shouting that if this book we lost was a ‘once-in-a-ten-year’ emergence (or even rarer than that), then will we likely never see one come up again.


To some extent, this thinking is right. It’s our life experiences that inform us about the likelihood of something happening again if we missed it the first time.

So if we’ve only seen a particular book at a particular level of condition (and at a price we want), then ergo – that’s the chances we ascribe to it coming up again.


But if you think about, writing off your chances of finding a book again is a totally concocted reality.


One book turning up one day is no predictor of another coming up (or not coming up) in a another time frame.


Psychologists call this mental approximation we make about events ‘catastrophizing’ – the process of overestimating the likelihood or consequences of our worst fears.

And that's the problem. Losing out on a book is exactly one of those collection worse fears.

But what if we reframed things? What if we said, OK, instead of thinking one may not come up as nice and so favorably priced again, what if the next ten-year period saw even ‘more’ examples of a particular title come to light. Have we ever considered that?!


Let me give you an example: About five years ago I bought a first impression Casino for a rebinding purposes.

It was the first one I’d seen for at least five years’ almost constant searching. I bought it, because it my brain was telling me ‘when would I find another?’.

It was also saying ‘don’t let this opportunity pass you by.’ I didn’t want to be the person to think I’d let this one go.


Well, the fact is, over the last couple of years, I’ve since bought another three first impressions - all books suitable for rebinding.

So that was my theory about the likelihood of seeing another going up in flames!


What will be, will be...

Rebecca Rego Barry, former editor of Fine Books & Collecting magazine, has written an excellent book: ‘Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places’ – where she details some remarkable rare book finds. To anyone interested in the lore of one-in-a-million books being unearthed, this is it, and it's a smashing read.


Included in the book are stories about everything from the discovery of a 1937 Action Comics number one [the first to feature Superman] in the basement of a family home in 2010 (it later sold at auction for $434,000); to a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle found under someone’s bed; to dumpster finds; and unearthing a first edition Gone With The Wind amongst a pallet of old worthless books.


At first glance, one might assume that stories such as these simply re-affirm the narrative that these once-in-a-lifetime discoveries are literally just that, and are getting less and less frequent over time.

However, in her introduction to the book, she offers a rather different view. “There are weeks,” she says, “where it feels as if some rarity is unearthed everyday.” [Such as a first edition of The Origin of Species found in an Oxfordshire home in 2009].


But, she adds: “These finds are not historical anomalies; they happen decade after decade. I have very little patience with people who say that all the killings and all the discoveries have been made. One hears about the golden age of book collecting, and the temptation is to mourn for that vanished age, until one discovers that each repetition of the phrase refers to a different age.”


Should we learn not to regret a missed opportunity?


What Barry seems to suggest, is that rare books, wherever they are, are still to be found, and that the number of good books left are maybe more than we might think. It’s just that they haven’t been revealed to the market yet.


This all makes for very positive reading; suggesting that a book you once regretted not buying will (sooner or later) emerge again, by someone else who’s just found it.


Of course, some might still suggest that as more time passes, the less likely it is that a rare book will go relatively unnoticed (ie no more £1 Casino  Royale finds).


But Barry indicates there’s just as much possibility that a book will emerge for someone to pounce on again, as there ever has been, and we just need to accept this.

But I get it. This point of view still might not soothe some people’s fears that a book they’ve missed out on will cross their path again.


So perhaps I should leave you with one last thought.

It's very possible that we just might be entering into a golden age of Fleming book ‘discoveries’.


The sad fact is that people who bought Bond books new in their teens will, sadly now be passing away.

Across the world, there will be libraries being sorted by family members of recently deceased collectors. That’s a lot of potential for previously unseen books to hit the market for the first time.


All of which mean, a different fine condition copy of Live & Let Die - a book I thought I might never see again - could be about to appear, at any moment.

It’s this potential that certainly keeps me on the hunt, and I doubt, countless others too…



To some extent, we know how difficult it is finding news sources of what feels like ever-rarer books is like.


We only seek the very best condition books too – which doesn’t make our task any easier. And yes, sometimes this means we spend a lot of time searching, for very little reward.


Sometimes – after fruitless hunting – it’s hard not to wonder if you’re searching for items that just can’t be found anymore. But then, you strike lucky (or should I say hard work brings you success), and your faith is restored – at least temporarily.


I would argue the real cure for catastrophizing is being given confidence – in this case, confidence that books will come up again.

We hope we provide this by offering what we do. Fleming first editions are still out there, if they’re searched for assiduously.


And we like to think that by scouring the planet (literally – we buy from all over the world), and tapping into a whole variety of different sources – we can give you the confidence we list a book, it’s been hunted down, and bought, and we’ve not let it get away - from our eyes at least.

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