Finding Titles on the Web

The Internet provides lots of places to look for Modern Library titles. Bookstores abound, as do bookstore collaborations - book sites that let you search the stock of lots of bookstores at the same time. And now there are even auction sites.

Using Individual Dealers

Everybody and his sister are selling books on the Internet these days. Because anybody with a computer and a savvy 14-year-old in the house can set up a sexy Web site, it's tough to know if you're dealing with somebody who's reputable. By "reputable" I mean somebody who wants to make you happy, gives honest descriptions, ships what you pay for, and accepts returns.

The following dealers are Modern Library specialists with whom I've had multiple transactions. They have been more than generous with their knowledge about the Modern Library, and without their input this site would have much less information than it does.They are honest and reliable; I recommend them all.

Henry Toledano literally wrote the book on Modern Library collecting and was responsible for my current ML addiction. (I bought my first ML from him.) His patient instruction accounts for my fussiness in book condition. He's a great source for ML firsts! He lists on ABEbooks but it's best that you e-mail your ML requests.

Sharon Biederman is reputed to have the most astounding collection of ML flexi's in the universe. How else could she offer so many on a regular basis for auction at eBay? Check out her auctions or send requests.

The late Amy Comeau raised the bar on book descriptions at eBay. She mentioned every flaw she could find, as well as providing terrific descriptions of each book's points. Her business is now in the capable hands of her husband Albert Robbins. Look at his auction listings or write with your needs.

John Wolansky has been a constant contributor to every section of since forever. He sells on eBay under the name jwol900l. Here's a link to his listings:

Searching at Collaboration Web Sites

A collaboration book site is a Web site that provides access to the stocks of multiple bookstores. A site that I use frequently is ABE. Literally thousands of bookstores list the majority of their books here.

Advanced Book Exchange (ABE)

This is an excellent Web site. They claim to have over 12,000 dealer-members listing millions of books, and I believe them. A reader tells me that dealers don't get first crack at ABE listings, so this might be your best shot to check first.


I recommend against Alibris. Alibris charges dealers a 20% commission on the selling price up to $500 and 10% after that. They then mark the book up another 20%. They invite dealers to increase their prices up to 25% to cover the discount to them. So the prices of books could be substantially higher than they would be buying directly from the dealers on or Further, many dealers who list on Alibris also list the same book on but the price for the same book is substantially higher on Alibris.

Using BookFinder for a Title Search

BookFinder is an excellent facility to use when you're searching for a specific title or author. You can specify publisher as part of your key-word search criteria, but you need to click Advanced Search to get this option. BookFinder searches all of the collaborative sites listed above as well as a few others, and a bunch of independent booksellers to boot.

A note about Powell's Bookstore

BookFinder searching includes Powell's Bookstore in Portland Oregon, probably the largest used bookstore in the world. The store covers a city block and occupies several floors and a maze of rooms. It's a wonderful place to visit; I've spend many happy hours there.

But from a collector's point of view, their Internet listings suck. They give no indication as to condition nor if a book has a dust jacket. Additionally, I know from personal interview that several of the people who work there are avid Modern Library collectors, and the Good Stuff seldom sees the light of open shelf.

Comparing Prices

I've seen listings of the same title for $45 evaluated as VG/VG, $25 with no dust jacket and major defects ("Hinge broke, cover scuffed/soiled"), to $12 NF/NF including shipping. A range like this is quite common.

Several elements determine the range of prices: what the dealer paid for the piece, the condition the piece is in, the rarity/scarcity of the piece, and - perhaps most important - the demand. In the last analysis, a piece costs whatever the price the dealer sets. And that price ultimately depends on what the dealer thinks s/he can get.

Bottom line: Even if the first hit you get is the book you want in the condition you want, search through the rest of the listings. Compare all the hits, and then make your decision. You're liable to find just what you want at a surprisingly good price.

Interpreting Results

Be sure that the piece you buy is really the piece you want. For example, just because you've used the search phrase "modern library" doesn't mean that every hit you get is for a title in the Modern Library series: you'll often find stuff like "in a modern library binding" or "The modern library contains computers as well as card catalogs."

Often the listings can be cryptic, even deceptive. Not that the dealer means to be deceptive; it's just that s/he expects readers to be familiar with bookman's terminology. For example, the following four descriptions refer to hardbound books WITHOUT dust jackets:

Most dealers use words that refer, more or less, mostly less, to the terms for describing condition from AB Bookman's Weekly. Be sure you understand them before you search the listings.

Using auction sites

The hottest thing to hit bookselling of late seems to be auction sites, most especially eBay. Every day dozens of Modern Library titles in all manner of condition are put up for bid. Sometimes you can get a bargain, but more often then not you need to be prepared to pay top dollar against the bids of other maniac collectors. In 1999, somebody paid close to $100 for a 1932 matchbook advertising Modern Library releases!
And maniacs abound on eBay. People pay fabulous sums for some copies, including copies I wouldn't have in my collection. Still, you'll occasionally see the piece you've been lusting after for years.
If you are cautious about buying a book from an Internet dealer, you need to be nearly paranoid before you bid.
  • Verify all first editions. If the seller says "first edition" but doesn't present proof, e-mail asking for the verifying statement on the copyright page (if appropriate to the copy), the number at the top of the back of the dust jacket (if appropriate to the date), or a description of the binding style (because many of the 1990's reprints say First Edition when in fact they are not).
  • If good pictures aren't included, ask that you be sent some. Get pictures of the back, spine, and front. If the seller can't or won't, ask for detailed descriptions.
  • Remember that many sellers are not book dealers and may know nothing about books. So be very specific when you ask for added information. "Are there any pieces missing from the top of the spine?" "Is there any underlining anywhere in the book?" "Are there any spots, smudges, cup rings, or stains on the back of the dust jacket?"
  • Find out how much "shipping and handling" charges are added to the price of the book. A $10 bargain turns into a $15 not-so-good deal very quickly!
  • On eBay, be sure to check the feedback comments of sellers before you bid. Use these criteria:
    1. The percentage of positive feedback comments versus negative feedback comments—if the ratio is less than 50 to 1, I won't bid. Actually, if positive feedback is less than 99%, I read the feedback to see what the negative comments are all about: I feed the seller's eBay name into The Toolhaus eBay Negative Search and see what comes back.
    2. The number of comments—I generally won't bid higher than $20 on an item where the seller has fewer than 30 auction comments under hir belt.
  • Also on eBay, check the feedback records of people bidding against you. If they have a "0" number, or if they have negative feedback based on failure to pay, they may be just "playing"—but their game builds the bid up, and you may have to bid too much against these fraudulent numbers! To see the records, click "bid history" and then click the number in parentheses next to a bidder's name.