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Abe Books

I don’t know how I stumbled on Abe Books last week, but I almost wish I hadn’t. The site connects users with independent booksellers around the world, with the emphasis on those specialising in the rare, out of print and hard to find.

It has many, many temptations. Thus far, I’ve managed to restrict myself to two books that I’ve wanted for years.

A cropped image of the cover of the facsimilie edition of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

I first saw a battered edition of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land - A Facsimile & Transcript of the Original Drafts Including The Annotations of Ezra Pound at school. One of my two English teachers in the Sixth Form, Mr. F., was of the sort who had obviously watched Dead Poets Society one too many times, and fancied himself as an inspirational, groovy teacher. At the time we thought him a terrible embarrassment, but in retrospect he did a pretty decent job of turning a bunch of stoned schoolboys on to Modernist poetry, Joyce, Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter. Martin Esslin’s Theatre of the Absurd is the only textbook I remember referring to, and I still don’t understand how the syllabus slipped past the Head of Department in a distinctly old-fashioned school.

Anyway, the self-appointed grandstanding super-hip teach, Mr. F., produced his annotated copy of The Waste Land with such a flourish that I believed his claims of its impossible rarity and great value, which - aside from the fact that it is a riveting look at a collaborative process that turned an unweildy epic into a dense, beautiful poem - made me really want a copy, while assuming that it would be forever out of reach. A quick search on Abe Books, and I am in touch with Francis Edwards of Haye-on-Wye, antiquarian booksellers since 1855, who have a First Edition. For £30. And now I have it, after a dozen years.

The second book is a little less exciting, and one I should really have bought years ago: Contemporary Artists, the weighty reference tome edited by Colin Naylor and Genesis P. Orridge. It has biographies, brief essays and statements on everyone from Abakanowicz, Magdalena to Zox, Larry. Essential stuff, to the extent that I’m beginning to think lustful thoughts about the 2nd and 3rd editions.

If you haven’t seen Abe Books before, my apologies for linking to it. It’s my most dangerous discovery on the web since I stumbled on that weird site where everything is for sale. It might not be as good as trawling a real bookshop and getting dust up your nose, but the arcane argot of booksellers - can that really be a VG 1st Ed. thus. 4to d/w? And with dec cl binding? - just about makes up for the lack of tactile browsing.

See also: Dotcom chapter of success, a Guardian piece on the site.

Posted at 12pm on 10/02/04 by Jack Mottram to the books, web category.
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  1. Anyone want to lend me 25 grand so I can buy a first edition of Alice In Wonderland?

    Posted by Ida at 2pm on 15.02.04

  2. Only if you lend me same for all the signed Borges stuff they have…

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 4pm on 15.02.04

  3. I have been searching abe books for about 6 1930s authors and it has proved a complete waste of time

    Posted by henry gudgeon at 9pm on 18.03.04

  4. Bad luck.

    Posted by Jack at 10pm on 18.03.04

  5. I have found Abe Books totally unhelpful. I tried to buy some books from an outfit called Firefly and have received no books yet 6 weeks after placing my order and being told the books shipped. I have tried to get Firefly to help, and while they are polite, they are useless. DO NOT do business with them. There are no live people at either Firefly or Abe to help get this resolved. I would NEVER do business with Abe again.

    Posted by barb howard at 3am on 30.03.04

  6. Well, tell them about it then - I can’t do much about it.

    And I should say that I’ve ordered from Abe a few times since making this post, and every time the books have been good value and delivered within a week. So I still reckon it’s a good site…

    Posted by Jack at 7am on 30.03.04

  7. I ordered from Abe books and didn’t receive my order or a refund. They would only contact my through e-mail and refused to resolve the issue. They gave me the run a round long enough that it was impossible for a refund through the credit card company. Abe books is not a reliable book seller.

    Posted by Sebastian at 5am on 10.09.04

  8. looking for a book of Robin Lee Graham called the DOVE 1st edition around 1965/67.

    Posted by Rob Balmer. at 11am on 22.04.06

  9. Dear cyber audience, I really need a book for a student. It’s very price reasonable, but I’m still a skeptic regarding my personal finanical info. being out there. Esp. after reading these comments posted up! What should I do?

    Posted by Edmond Davis at 4am on 30.01.07

  10. Just had first dealing with Abe’s Books. Not a particularly rare book but out of my price range in South Africa. Abe came through via Universal Athenaeum in Denver Col. Received book yesterday virtually brand new at less than half the price than available locally, this includes postage from USA.
    Thanks Abe keep up the good work.

    Posted by Peter Flicker at 9am on 11.04.07

  11. Please help locate the following books:Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning, Handbook of School Counseling by Debra Cobia & Donna Henderson need books as soon as possible.

    Posted by Pam Johnson at 4am on 07.07.07

  12. I have been purchasing books, some old, some new, from
    AbeBooks for several years. Thus far, I have had no disappointments, but you must take into consideration
    the sometimes exorbitant mail rates. The book may appear cheap, but adding the postage may be more than you think.
    This is not controlled by AbeBooks, rather by the individual

    Posted by Joe Taylor at 6pm on 18.07.07

  13. Abebooks is now a first choice authentication source, and value rendering base from what began as simple inquire.

    Now, after establishing a reasonable value to parts of my collection for insuring purposes, I would like to find out how to sell my 12 volume, 2 part set of ” The Works of Henry Fielding”.

    The info from Abebooks has pinpointed exactly what I have. But….I collect books and have no idea where to go to realize their actual value from a sale.


    Posted by Logan Hornung at 1am on 28.08.07

  14. I don’t recommend Abe Books to anybody. I just ordered about 16 books, each from a different book seller. I ordered in two separate orders. Abe Books processed each book individually, and then processed the payment for each, individually. The third payment from the last that they processed did not go through.

    They did not try again. They didn’t wait a bit and try again. They cancelled my order and let me know they couldn’t process my credit card. They said to notifiy them if the bank said there wasn’t a problem with my account so they could process the order.

    I spent two hours trying unsuccessfully to check my bank account. I forwarded my notification from them to work. After teh bank told me nothing whatever is wrong with my account, I e-mailed them from work, enclosing the entire e-mail they sent me with the e-mail address and the order number, and putting their own subject line with the order number in the subject line. I got back an automatic reply saying that they couldn’t accept my e-mail because not from an address associated with any account - but I could phone a certain phone number.

    I phoned the phone number, and to start with, I asked for the name of the president of Abe Books, so he knew how angry I already was. He told me that once a payment doesn’t go through they cancel the order and they can’t put it through again.

    I just re-ordered the book - and several others - from, for a bit more money. But with Amazon I know I won’t get bull shit.

    Posted by Dora Smith at 2am on 29.08.07

  15. I learned today that complaints about Abe Books should be submitted to their local Better Business Bureau.

    BBB of Vancouver Island

    220-1175 Cook Street

    Victoria, BC V8V 4A1

    Abe books appears to be known to that organization as

    Include your own name, address, and phone number, and names and dates as well as anything in writing.

    They have a number of a variety of sorts of complaints about Abe Books. In their own judgement they don’t have a greater number of complaints than normal for a business of “that sort”. In other words, what’s needed is for them to get more compaints.

    Also, when people complain about orders not received, the complaints are apparently resolved - though it does not say how.

    I sent my complaint, even though it concerns new meaning to poor customer service rather than a complaint. It sort of looks like they may actually handle such complaints, but anyhow, since this company’s handling of any matter at all follows the same pattern, I reported my experience so that they can see the pattern.

    Posted by Dora Smith at 12am on 30.08.07

  16. ABE Books are a grand fraudulent Scam. I have notified the BBB and filing a complaint with the Attorney General. This company never intended to send my book, but charged my card with a quickness. I would NOT recommend anyone to do business with these crooks. This book was coming from California Books, no such thing Crooks!! I will do everything in my power to expose these scam artist.

    Posted by LaJoyce C. Brown at 2am on 18.09.07

  17. i have ordered from AbeBooks twice thus far.
    The first order went without a hitch.
    However the second didn’t fare so well.

    Desc: Ordered a book using a coupon for 10% off up to $10 on the last day (6/17/2008) for a text book I need this coming 08FA semester. I received the normal confirmation email.

    6/18/2008 I get an email that the order is canceled due to my credit card being declined. There was no attempt at contacting me to resolve the issue.

    Dear Sonny T Hung,

    We’re sorry to let you know that we weren’t able to charge your credit card for the book(s) listed below.

    There are a few possible reasons why your card might have been declined; our credit card processing service does not specify the cause. We recommend visiting your AbeBooks account to review your credit card details. If this information is correct and up-to-date, your credit card company may be able to provide further details regarding this transaction.

    To review or edit the credit card information we have on file for you, please click the following link:

    Again, we’re very sorry for any inconvenience. The book(s) will be restored to our inventory shortly; we do hope you’ll place your order again.

    I contacted them through their website and get the following response.

    Hello Sonny,

    Thank you for contacting AbeBooks Customer support. I’m sorry to hear that your credit card was declined for this order. When your order was placed, an email notification went to the bookseller allowing them 4 days to process the order before it expired. When the bookseller went to confirm and ship the order, indicating ‘Will Ship’, AbeBooks at this time attempted to process your credit card on June 18th. As your card at this time was declined, we sent you an email notification indicating this had happened and you can see this email within your account.

    Unfortunately, I cannot apply this discount to your declined order as it is no longer active and because the coupon has unfortunately expired. I’m really sorry that this is the case and can let you know that you will be eligible for coupon promotions in the future.


    Megan H
    AbeBooks Customer Support Passion for books.

    Basically they don’t give a hoot - Too bad your out of luck.
    No clarification what the exact issue was other than the order was declined because the charge cold not be processed. Of course I used that card that same day. Hm….. I wonder if someone screwed up on their end huh?

    Enough said - Basically DO NOT order anything important through them. There is NO REAL CUSTOMER CARE. Just a, ’ Sorry, you can try again next time’. you are so SOL (So Out of Luck!)

    Posted by Sonny Hung at 1pm on 20.06.08

  18. works well as long as everything “works well”. They are so virtual, that if the smallest thing goes awry (as evidenced in the last post) you will never get it rectified and will probably lose money. Some tips—, Never order from abe, order direct from the supplier. Of course, some suppliers are virtual also with no phone contact, etc. These should be avoided anyway. The combination of virtual abe and a virtual supplier “virtually” guarantees that if there is a problem, it will be very difficult to resolve. Also, Paypal (used through the abe order system) has been problematic. I have obtained over 200 books using paypal, and have found that it is always best to order direct from the listing dealer.

    Posted by rpeters at 7pm on 04.08.08

  19. Bottomline: I have been victimized by I never received my book. I was suppose to receive my book on/before Sept.8, 2008 (I ordered on Aug.27 and paid extra cash for 4-8 day priority shipping). I live in North Hollywood, CA and the book is being shipped from San Jose, CA . There is no way that it would take this long to receive my book—- if the book was ever shipped out. The days are still counting and I have class work and reading assignments that are due. I got poor customer care. I followed the steps to rectify the situation and I haven’t gotten any further than I was before I took any action. I will never order through that website again. They are a bunch of dirty birdies that are looking to make a quick dollar but unwilling to deliver the service that they boast about. I am going to file a complaint with the BBB. Thanks a lot for providing unreliable and less than quality service. And thanks for stealing my money!

    Posted by S K Thomas at 9pm on 13.09.08

  20. I ordered a book and canceled the order. However, after a week, the money is still not refunded back to me. I had submitted a complaint to abebooks concerning this and I am waiting for them to reply me.

    Posted by Grace at 5pm on 05.10.08

  21. I ordered 2 books from abe books. I recieved my $8.00 book but my $104.00 book has never been sent to me. After reading everyone’s comments I am begining to realize I’m never going to get my book. I have emailed them and emailed them asking to speak with someone and no one cares!! I am going to file a complaint with the BBB and I have told them this. I hope action can be taken. This is not right what this company is doing. It is unethical business and although they are selling with independent book stores abe is still responsible for getting this book to me.


    Posted by Michelle at 9pm on 10.10.08

  22. I am not finding a problem with selling to Abebooks only reaching someone by phone..most annoying…I have never bought only sold and have had no problem and payment is very prompt.
    As for some information of book dealers…and the need to find..
    try Leedy books in Orlando, Fl
    and I believe Brandywine books in Winter Park, Fl is still in existance.

    Posted by Barb L at 2pm on 09.09.09

  23. First Edition in Oswestry owes me £3.40 for the book I didn’t receive. I found them through Abe Books. Abe says they will refund my money but NOT via Paypal or cheque: I must send them all my bank details. Given their bad publicity and all the negative reviews this is a risk I’m not prepared to take. I’m glad the amount is so small. Moral: AVOID ABE BOOKS! There is no satisfactory redress.

    Posted by Kate Birley at 11am on 17.09.11

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