Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2024 Issue

Charles Agvent: ABAA/ILAB a high visibility antiquarian dealer

Charles Agvent, ABAA-ILAB This veteran antiquarian bookseller is considered a leading dealer in Limited Editions Club (LEC) material. He also specializes in signed, inscribed and association copies, as well as letters and manuscripts

If you’ve been in the book trade for any length of time you’ll have heard of Charles Agvent. One reason is because he shows up every day in your inbox with two or three interesting items at various price points: sometimes as low as $25, but often more like $250, and just as often several thousand dollars or higher. The material he offers is well described, frequently unusual and often signed or with a personal association.

 

So who is this person with lovely taste, a diverse inventory and such a steady, distinctive internet presence?


Charles Agvent started his business in 1987 but became a full-time bookseller in 1994, the same year he was admitted to the ABAA. Prior to that, he worked in Manhattan in advertising, public relations, and the publishing industry, and taught at the university level, drawing on his background in English and Creative Writing.

 

Today, Connecticut native Agvent, 70, is based in Fleetwood, PA where he does an estimated 90% of his business over the internet and also attends a few book fairs. “I did Pasadena in February and will likely do Boston in November, after an absence of a few years. I normally do the New York show in April but skipped it this year.


Prior to becoming a dealer he did a brief stint in stand-up comedy, commenting, “I was good enough, but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue, lots of late nights and smoky bars.” He also collected jazz and rock LP records which led him to books.

 

Of his early days he recalled, “I bought what I could afford when I could afford it. I started from zero with no wealthy backer or money. I never borrowed to purchase either. I had a decent eye and tended to put away most of the better things I purchased.

 

I built my business while teaching full-time for a period of seven or eight years and exhibiting at 15 to 20 shows a year (pre-internet) until I had what I thought was enough to turn to my business full time."

 

One early find was most of a multi-volume History of Woman Suffrage by Susan B. Anthony, with each volume inscribed by the author. The price was a “few hundred for all of them in the early 1990s. I actually bought them on the last day of a book fair when all the underpriced good stuff is supposed to be gone. Those were sold long ago.” Today his inventory includes Volume IV of the series, acquired more recently, inscribed and signed by the noted feminist, but it’s considerably more expensive.

 

Asked his criteria for buying he replied, I pretty much only buy what appeals to me, unless I am filling a request. Simply, it has to interest me and be something that I think is worth more than what I am paying for it. I'm less concerned with minutiae of condition that many collectors of modern first editions struggle with, and more interested in the inherent value of the book itself. This has guided me always to appreciate association copies or copies that make a book stand out from other copies.

 

I tend not to buy ‘popular’ authors and have turned down many offers of Harry Potter books and the like. I buy a fair amount at auction, from rinky-dink places to Christie's and Sotheby's. I also get many offers of material for sale.”

 

Most of my customers are based in the U.S.," he said, “but I sell quite a bit overseas. Most of my sales are one-offs, but I have a number of more-or-less regular buyers too.”

 

How’s he doing? “All of my transactions have been profitable, and most have been enjoyable. Just today I sold a true first edition of Siddhartha in German to a famous artist for $5,000 and a $25 book to someone I'll probably never hear from again.”

 

Modern firsts editions are one of his specialty areas, but he feels interest in this area has waned somewhat. He attributed much of the decline to the Internet. “Before the Internet there was little reliable information on how many copies were available. Once the Internet came along it became apparent that many of these books were not as scarce as once thought.”

 

His taste these days runs more to signed, inscribed and association copies, also to letters and manuscripts. He is considered a leading dealer in Limited Editions Club (LEC) material, and has also become more interested in ephemera, bindings and visually interesting material including hand-colored plate books. 

 

Discussing LEC material he said, “I thought from the beginning that they were, for the most part, well-made books and should have been more noticed. I think I have had a part in helping to get attention for them over the years. Booksellers have long had a reputation of ignoring them, and I used that to my advantage early on.”

 

His LEC prices start at about $50 for more common titles and go up to thousands of dollars for the most desirable material. He recently sold a separate portfolio of the individually signed color etchings by Dean Mitchell that was issued separately from Maya Angelou’s 2003 LEC edition Music, Deep Rivers In My Soul .

 

He said in his current inventory of about 4,000 listings he hasno favorites, really.” But he is “surprised at some of the titles that have not sold yet.” He mentioned that “The Real War inscribed by Richard Nixon to Barry Goldwater is still on my shelves. So is The Works of George Bernard Shaw, 33 volumes, with each volume inscribed by Shaw to one of his favorite actresses is another.”

  

As for autographed material, another of his specialties, he has some advice for buyers:

Don’t get sucked in by Certificates of Authenticity (COAs). While some companies who issue these are better than others, the people who certify for them have made many mistakes over the years, and if you're buying an autograph with a COA and find out later that it was not authentic, the COA company is not going to take it back, but an ABAA seller should. So I tell people they should buy autographs from a trusted seller who will take it back if there is a problem. I did get burned a few times early on. I learned much of what I know, about autographs and books, from experience."

 

He also has some strong feelings about platforms that tolerate “obvious forgeries.”

 

Like others, Agvent has noticed increased attention to ephemera, and socially aware material related to women, African-American and LGBTQ themes. “These are all areas where prices have gone up quite a bit.”

 

Many of us who started as booksellers, are now also dealing with ephemera, such as handbills, posters, and ads. For dealers one reason is they are easier and lighter to handle. The visual component is another. Younger people seem attracted to visual items more than books.”

 

As for influences, “I really admire booksellers who, like myself, haven't created an ‘empire,’ but rather do everything themselves, or maybe with one assistant.” He named Ken Lopez as a person he admires and also mentioned Bob Seymour of Colebrook Book Barn in Colebrook, CT.

 

Agvent said Seymour, who died in February, “was someone I connected with early on. We shared booths. Bob was an old fashioned bookseller, not much online. He made a living by book fairs, right up to his death at the age of 82. He was a gentleman with a sense of humor. He found interesting material and was well liked by the bookselling community in general.”

 

I toy with retirement," he said, looking to the future, "but I'm still having too much fun. For him, “The most enjoyable part of book selling is the treasure hunting aspect, meeting people – some customers have become friends. I do enjoy the camaraderie.”

 

Links to prior video interviews with Charles Agvent

2005  C Span Washington Antiquarian Book Fair

2014 Youtube ABAA

 

CHARLES AGVENT

37 Ridge Drive

Fleetwood, PA 19522-9638

Land: (484) 575-8825

Business cell (610) 483-2150 

charles@charlesagvent.com

https://www.charlesagvent.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions