Esteemed Princeton Librarian and founding editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian Boyd (1903-1980) described former University Librarian, Ernest Cushing Richardson (1860-1939), as an extraordinary man. “…There are few major ideas stirring the library profession today that did not, in one form or another, germinate in his fertile brain.” (Annual Report, 1947, p. 9)
Richardson’s tenure at Princeton was from 1890 to 1920, and his connection with the University continued even later first with the courtesy title of ‘Director’ and later as emeritus. These were vibrant, expansive years for academic and research libraries, when for the first time librarians in American higher learning began to think about programs of national scale. In many respects, their collective thinking synchronized with comparable thinking occurring in the learned professions, government, cultural institutions, and higher education. Richardson’s
ideas ranged from standardized, national rules for cataloguing to various ideas for sharing the resulting catalogue records among libraries. He was insistent on establishing all manner of union lists, including what we now know today as NUC Pre-56. He devised methods for inexpensive distribution of holdings information, using the ‘title-a-line’ format resulting from the easy production of a 100 character lead-type line by a Linotype machine. Richardson also had wide-ranging ideas about adventurous schemes for collection development in academic and research libraries in the United States.
What academic libraries should buy, how they should buy it, and where they should buy it were all open questions in Richardson’s day. In 1891, the University of Chicago sought to resolve these questions initially by purchasing the entire book stock of the learned German bookselling firm of S. Calvary Buchhandlung in Berlin – a projected purchase of over 300,000 volumes and 150,000 pamphlets. In the end, Chicago took only about quarter of all these items, but set a basis for rapid growth. By 1900 they possessed the fourth largest academic library in the United States at over 303,000 volumes. Other libraries continued a program, first begun in the nineteenth century, of purchasing the libraries of learned professors. The progression of these purchases is well documented in the 1912 publication issued by the United States Bureau of Education entitled Special Collections in Libraries in the United States.
Yet another model resolving these questions was individual local work done by a head librarian carefully developing lists of wants, then foraying into the book market to fill those wants. During the 1890s at Princeton, records indicate that Richardson labored over producing a list of over 200,000 wants for the library. This was, in short, his reckoning of what the core collection of a leading American university library should be. Unfortunately, no individual particulars about those 200,000 wants are known; we only know the fact that he intensively developed such a list.
In the document that follows, dated October 12, 1908, we get a glimpse of Richardson the individual at work. He has returned from a long working tour of Europe during the winter of 1907 – 08. He was excited about the outcome of his book hunting, financed partly at his own expense and partly through the support of two long-time boosters of university development at Princeton —— Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921; Cl ’ 1877) and Arthur H. Scribner (1859-1932; Cl’ 1881). The former being a scion of the wealth stemming from Moses Taylor (1806-1882), one of the richest men in New York, and the later of the famous publishing firm. Richardson was constantly aware that they were of the ilk who thought daily about ‘return on investment’ and who sought reassurance that their money was well-spent. Richardson knew that spending other people’s money was an exercise in confidence-building, so the tone of his report is that of providing evidence of cunning stewardship. For him, future gifts were the result of present actions.
[Princeton, October 12, 1908
Annexed to Librarian’s Report to the President and Trustees
By Ernest Cushing Richardson, Librarian]
Special Report on Purchasing Trip Abroad
As mentioned in June and in the report to which this is annexed, the librarian, who was spending last winter abroad, took advantage of the gifts of Messrs. M. Taylor Pyne and A. H. Scribner with certain other provisions to buy something less than 12,000 volumes of acknowledged value, for something over $5,000.
The effort was made to test for his own information and for the information of the trustees how far the market cost of books could be improved on by special methods of purchase when there was capital in hand.
Pains were taken to exhibit as many as possible of the various kinds, classes and ways in which advantage may be had: (1), buying in bulk (2), buying in quantity (3), buying from small dealers (4), buying in out of the way shops (5), occasional bargains from large dealers (6), buying at auction (7), buying of non-booksellers.
Purchase memoranda were roughly classified (1) immediate wants, (2) early wants, (3) books of acknowledged value but not presently needed. Books of the first class included those which it was known would be, if not gotten this winter, shortly bought in routine at the market price. Any reduction at all on the market price for these was of course so much clear gain. The second class, that of early wants, included the books which it was likely might at any moment pass into the first class and the general plan was to buy such if they turned up at half market price. The third class included the very large number of books evidently useful sooner or later. Beyond this class and shading into it is a great mass of minor usefulness or valuable for rarity or curiosity to be bought in general only when the bargain is great. In this class this year were a great many Americana which in many American Libraries would be counted at least in the second class.
Booksellers were visited in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the South of France and Spain. Few books were purchased in Holland and Germany, except the Goertz: lot of 3800 at Berlin. In Switzerland perhaps a couple of hundred were gotten at Lucerne, Zurich and Stans. In Italy, a few were gotten on the Lakes, a few more at Milan and Bologna, a couple of thousand more or less at Florence, Leghorn, Pisa, Siena and neighboring points, as many at Rome, a few hundred on the Rivera, a thousand or fifteen hundred in the South of France and perhaps half as many more in three or four places in Spain, chiefly in Madrid.
Germany, where the book trade is so well organized, proved as always not so good a hunting ground for individual bargains as Italy or the smaller cities of France but the Goertz collection this year has afforded an excellent example of what may sometimes be done even in Germany by buying a bulk. In general we do nothing with this class of buying (as I said when this collection was first offered) but, properly managed, it may be one of the best methods for cheap buying. The principle of such buying is, to be sure that a certain number out of the lot is worth the price of the whole and consider the rest thrown in. In
this case I satisfied myself before purchase that 1/3 the books would be priced in a fair priced German catalogue at three times what was paid —- having satisfied myself first of all that it was an unusually useful lot, in unusual condition, and with almost no duplicates.
Auctions were attended at Florence and Rome and it was found that, with careful preparation, these Italian auctions are still among the very best sources of reasonable purchase in the world. Among the best sources of purchase when one has a large purchase list and a good memory for prices are the bookshops in the smaller places and those shops in the larger places which have no printed or even written catalogues and where no language in spoken save the vernacular, but when one’s range of wants is small the searching book for book through hundreds of thousands of volumes of stock is hunting a needle in a haymow. The larger and more disorganized stock, the better the chance of bargains, but to look at each one of one hundred thousand volumes takes much time patience and industry and does not pay unless one has so many wants, that he may expect to find, say, 1 in 1,000 volumes examined.
With careful memoranda, another of the most satisfactory sources of purchase especially when the list of wants is moderate is the native shop with the priced slip catalogue of stock. Here one may purchase from his memoranda with mathematical certainty. In Florence where there was most time available, three book-sellers were worked in this way, under the uniform understanding that if more than $40.00 worth was bought, there should be a 25% discount. In each case it would have been possible to have bought two or three times as many books at 1/3 the known market price, if time and money had permitted, but it was necessary to save both for other cities.
It is often asked if one cannot buy just as well from catalogues as from shops and it is true that the catalogues of the smaller dealers are a great possible
source of bargain, but in the first place none of the minor dealers publish more than a small fraction of their stock and, in the second place these same catalogues are one of the chief sources for the organized trade especially in Germany and the most obvious bargains are immediately snapped up. Even a telegram was not quick enough to get for us a $50.00 copy of a $200 set which appeared in a little South Italian catalogue —- a set for which we were glad to pay $90.00 later; as it stood almost to the head of our list of wants.
The only really satisfactory way to purchase is to have memoranda of precise prices. This implies large want lists and very careful preparation, for it requires the utmost familiarity with prices and the kind of things which go to make up values in order to judge from general knowledge. With such familiarity a good deal can be done by guessing prices, and it must often be done. There is for example no way of getting actual quotations on unique documents and there is no great risk either in purchasing say a book on America, before the year 1700 for 25 or 30¢ whenever the opportunity offers. If, however this is done on any very large scale a certain percentage of errors may be allowed for. Mistakes are sure to be made now and then in both directions and one has not only the pain of having paid too much sometimes but often the chagrin of having missed good opportunities through ignorance of values. There were at least two narrow escapes last winter; in one case I hesitated to pay $2.50 for a book which proved worth $35 and at another time hesitated over giving $3.00 for a lot which proved worth several hundred dollars. If another dollar had been asked in either case, Princeton would have lost the bargain.
In general the buying from non-book-sellers in not very satisfactory. If one knows exact values, it seems morally necessary to pay a private individual at least 1/3 of the average memorandum price as being what he might hope to get from a dealer. The dealer in art antiques however often has a few books, and although the prices for these are apt to be extravagant, there are liable to be bargains among them. This was found to be the case at Lucerne, at Pallanza, in one case at
Rome, at San Remo and since returning to America in one excellent case at New London. In purchasing of dealers whether of books or of antiquities, one may purchase in good conscience on the best terms that he can get since the dealer has made his legitimate profit in any event.
While dealers everywhere in general claim not to give more than 10% discount and many of the best dealers are stiff in this, it was found that purchase of quantity often led to a 25% or even 40% discount and one dealer hinted even at 50%. No less than three large dealers practically said that their figures were for amateurs and that they would make the prices “right” for a librarian. Many such dealers offered to consider any offer and to “adjust” any difference of opinion: in one case a well known expensive dealer “adjusted” for about 1/3 the price printed in his catalogue.
Turning to report on the net result or purchasing last winter as compared with the routine purchases at the market rates, two or three things should be stated. In the first place 10% must be deducted from catalogue prices in reckoning the net catalogue price compared with cash price paid. In the second place it is true that the catalogues differ a great deal among themselves and no doubt the prices of many of them are excessive, but in point of fact the more expensive dealers quoted are those recommended by the American Library Association’s Committee on book buying and who are known to have sold largely to American libraries and Professors in our a University recently, at a maximum discount of 10%. The comparisons made are generally on a basis of 20 cts. to the franc and .25 to the shilling or mark.
In comparing prices it is always necessary to take into account condition and binding and these have been so taken into account go far as possible, but it has not always been possible to discriminate in detail between auction and catalogue and cash prices.
The comparisons of prices here given are of necessity chiefly by comparison of the price paid with the auction or catalogue prices. The very best comparison would be with prices known to have been actually paid by American libraries for the same books. This is by the nature of the case difficult to get at, but in a few cases this method may be applied to duplicates among our own purchases and to books bought by Professors for their own use. In one important case the Goertz collection, we are able to make a pointed illustration of this most concrete of all bases, that of prices actually paid by another library.
This Goertz collection is the chief, and practically the only example of buying in bulk among these purchases. The collection consists of about 3800 or (if separate works bound in the same volume are counted) 4,000 volumes printed in the 16, 17, 18th centuries, in admirable condition. They represent that part of an excellent library, collected in the 18th century, which was not wanted by the Berlin Royal Library, simply because it already had the books. They represent, therefore, books which had been deemed worth adquiring for the Berlin Library and presumably thus form on the whole the more immediately useful, if less rare, portion of that library. We paid less than $750 for them on the spot or perhaps .18 a volume. The bulk was so disproportionate to price however that they had cost over $1,000 when laid down here, although the expenses of packing and transportation were reduced to the lowest terms.
In this matter we have the following clear case of comparison with the actual purchase price of another American library. At the Sunderland Library sale, some years ago, Professor Hartranft of the Hartford Theological Seminary, of is library, checked through in the catalogue those numbers for which he saw definite scholarly use, checking in general history and philology as well as theology. The numbers were checked with 1 2 3 4 5 or 6 crosses to indicate the order of importance and directions were given to the agent to purchase only such as went cheap. In the Goertz collection are some 356 volumes which were in that sale. 113 of these volumes are unavailable for comparison because the Sunderland copies had special bindings or autographs which affected the price, but 243 volumes sold for 2225 shillings and of these Hartford got 92 volumes for 906 shillings. These books represented what the agent counted select bargains among the much larger number of books checked. These 92 books, now in the Hartford
Library, cost it about $225 on the spot while our copies of the same cost us $18. The whole 243 volumes that we have cost us $45., while the corresponding copies cost Sunderland buyers $550. Examining whether the Sunderland prices are excessive we find recent quotations on twenty two of the volumes. These cost at Sunderland sale $58.75 and in the recent catalogues $110. – or nearly double. It appears thus that the 243 volumes which cost us $45, cost in the Sunderland sale $550 and are presumably priced in recent catalogues at not less than what we paid for the whole 3800 or 4000 volumes.
2. Another test was made in Italian History and 38 out of 87 volumes in Italian History have a market value of 290 lire or say $1.40 per vol. against 18¢ paid by us.
3. Again of 54 volumes on the History of Holland and Belgium, 17 are found in the two most recent catalogues at a value of $40.65, which with 10% off gives a comparison of $36 to $3 cost.
4. Once more: the section of this collection which was counted least useful for our purchases was that of theology, this department being cared for by the Theological Seminary. This section was happily surprisingly small, being only about 1/8 and nearly half of these of direct value in history and philology. The financial value of these as rarities is such that 110 volumes are priced at $298.50 in standard catalogues.
5. Again: Natural Science and medicine. 13 vols. priced at $30.50 cost us $2.30
The question how useful old books of the sort of this Goertz collection are is one which is often asked. It is not easy to answer such a question concretely, but it may be said in the first place that many Professors who have examined these books have found things useful for their purposes. One of the chief points in getting such books and one of the chief reasons why American scholars are so handicapped in their work, when they are working in this class of material, is the fact that it is only by having the material to use that men find the use that it is to them; not having they do their work without it and their work suffers. It is a pity that no record was kept as to actual use of these books during the month after boxes were opened but there were two or three things which are to the point. One of the first books that Prof. Paul Van Dyke saw was one that he had wanted for immediate use, and for which he had already put in an order slip which he canceled when it was found there. At another time another Professor came and said that “Scaliger Poetices 1581” was needed and that three of the departments had agreed to share the expense of getting a copy; could we tell him how much it would cost? We had pleasure in telling him that it was here and bought for a sum quite within the united resources of the three departments, having cost, including importation expenses, perhaps 25 cents.
Another way of seeing the value of such books comes out by the fact that the prime object of the purchasing last winter was sources for history, this being the object for which Mr. Pyne had given his money. In this line the Goertz collection includes 56 sets properly under the head of collections, 11 of these being series of Scriptores while there were also 27 volumes of Treaties of Peace and 234 volumes of early historical periodicals giving the current events
of the time and most useful for historical purposes.
And finally: Shortly after my return last spring the library had specific suggestions from two Professors (one of the Prof. Osgood) as to whether we couldn’t do some thing in the way of Neo-Latin writers in which we were weak. Dean West had previously made a suggestion to the same effect and it had been with a good deal of interest that the librarian had found this collection rich in this line. When considering purchase, it was with much pleasure therefore that the was able to tell Mr. Osgood and Mr. Critchlow that there were no less than 108 items in this field in the Goertz collection.
It may be said in brief of the Goertz collection that the total number of volumes embraced in these five sample tests is 421, costing us $74.80 having a catalogue valuation of $975.50 or more than was paid for the 4,000 volumes. These 4,000 volumes at the same ratio would be worth more than $9,000 (less 10%) and, although the ratio of the remaining will probably be less, it is fair to say that a reasonable market price is more than was paid from all the 12,000 volumes purchased last winter.
Turning from the Goertz collection to the remaining 2/3 of the purchases, it is not quite so easy to get a definite statement for books purchased in such various methods and places without a complete working up of catalogue prices for all but there are two or three lines of analysis which give a pretty good view of general values.
The chief object in purchase was historical sources for which Mr. Pyne had given money. The figures for these books is especially interesting on account of the fact that the majority of items fall within the first and second classes of purchase i.e. those in which it is a decided economy to buy for 50% of the catalogue price. A report made to Mr. Pyne in January included 343 volumes for which we had clear market prices of $719.60 and which cost us $333.50. To this may be added now 186 volumes giving with the others a total of 529 volumes having a market value of $1149.00 and for which Princeton paid $418.00.
Another good example is in the field of maps and atlases. Just before going abroad a collection of about thirty early American maps were offered for sale to Mr. Pyne. He asked if we would like them and if the prices were fair. The matter was referred to Prof. Bingham who was our specialist and who had an elaborate system of price memoranda. He pronounced the maps desirable and the prices fair and his judgment was confirmed by quotations from recent catalogues. Purchasing during the past winter it was often necessary to get several maps in a lot or a volume and this resulted in a number of duplicates of these maps and from these we get a basis of actual comparison with our buying at ordinary good rates.
Nearly 100 volumes of atlases were purchased and perhaps 200 separate maps for not more than $200.00. 27 volumes of these atlases seem to have a fair market value of not less than $785.00 and one of the separate maps, purchased with 59 other for $3.00 is quoted at $80.00, several others being worth $10.00 or more each. Circumstances proved that it is much cheaper to buy maps at wholesale than at retail, one of the best ways being to get imperfect atlases —- although it is hard to tell often in the case of atlases what is perfect as copies were published with very different selections of maps. One not very perfect atlas contained, together with several other American maps and many foreign ones, two duplicates of maps purchased by us for $5.75 each. The cost to us of the whole
atlas was the cost of one single map and the cost of each American map less than $1.00 as compared with the regular market price of $5.75.
One more illustration may be taken from the works on Latin America purchase through the aid of Mr. Scribner. The price of these have not yet been so well worked out as in the above cases, but 80 out of 196 volumes, costing Mr. Scribner $109 have a catalogue value of $ 463.
Among these books too we have a cross check for actual purchase prices as one work of first importance cost one of our Faculty $20.00, and appears in English catalogues for £4-8-0 or more, but was gotten for $6.00.
Another somewhat different line of illustration is found by analyzing all the purchases made at a smaller center: Toulouse. This is as good as any in prices and the condition of the books is very superior. 1053 volumes were bought here for $551.00. A selection of 101 of these volumes indicates a market price of $553.60 leaving the remaining 952 a clear profit. Quotations are now in hand for 468 volumes out of the whole 1053 and these indicate a fair market price of $1104.75 for these volumes and, although these are quite the more valuable portion, indicate a total value of not less than $1800.00 or 2000.00 for the 1053 vols. costing $551.00.
In bringing this matter to your attention it is not pretended that foreign purchase is the only method of purchase or that other librarians may not exercise this as well as ourselves. The same principles apply to the auction and book-shops of our own country. Only by the nature of the things the bulk of the books wanted even in English are foreign books. These are found here less often and this fact although it now and then works for cheapness on the average tends to a very much higher price. There are few instances in which other libraries do work the foreign travel method in a practical fashion but there is no reason why anyone would not. It is simply a matter of patience, industry and above all of adequate preparation.
The net conclusion is that with capital, preparation and attention books may be bought for this library at one third or one fourth the market value for books not needed at once.
Original typescript located in the Board of Trustees Records (AC120), box 25, folder 2 (15 October 1908)