August 9, 2008

You Win Some, You Lose Some

One of the fundamental guidelines in buying any type of collectible book through the mail is “know your seller.” In other words, make sure you’re dealing with someone knowledgeable and reputable. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting burned. This, of course, is the big chance you take when buying books through eBay.

I’ve found many great books and bargains over the years through eBay, in large measure because I look for a detailed description and read it closely, ask questions, and always want to see pictures. My advice is to scrutinize the seller’s feedback and make sure you know what the return and shipping policies are. On the few occasions when I didn’t do these things, I often ended up disappointed.

Which is what happened this week. I found a copy for sale of William C. Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and its Lost Opportunities. Not the exceedingly rare Neale first edition from 1905, but the Morningside reprint which sells new for $50. The initial listing had no pics and virtually no description but I knew what it was and thought I might be able to score a bargain. I asked the seller to send me a few scans, which he did, but it was still tough to ascertain the book’s condition. Nevertheless, I put in a low bid and ended up getting the book for $6.50. What I foolishly didn’t notice until after the fact was that the seller is in Canada. So I ended up having to fork over an additional $14 in postage plus the seller tacked on $3 for the shipping mailer. This guy clearly is not a professional bookseller because the “mailer” was nothing more than an oh-so-slightly padded bag that the book was merely tossed in to. Tip – always make sure the seller uses a sturdy box with ample padding.

The book itself was beat. Bumped tips with heavy sunning to the spine which the pictures did not reveal, plus the spine was loose and “shaken.” Bottom line – I ended up paying about $24 for a well-worn reading copy because I ignored my own rules and ended up paying the price. Live and learn.

It is a desirable book to have for its contents however. According to the Morningside webpage,“This book describes the great sectional conflict as seen and experienced by a field officer in the Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel William C. Oates (pictured), an outspoken, candid, ambitious, and aggressive man, tells the story of the people and events that surround him. And what events they are! His regiment, the 15th Alabama, was the regiment that grappled with the 20th Maine and made itself famous on the rocky slopes of Little Round Top as the day’s battle and possibly the fate of the entire Confederacy hung in the balance at Gettysburg. Oates’ superb account must be read in order to fully understand how the actual conditions, the decisions of small unit commanders, and the chances of fate combined in one of the most heroic, desperate, and gripping actions of the war. Oates’ regiment was a member of Trimble’s and later of Law’s brigade, and he keenly records his observations while campaigning with them at such locations as the Shenandoah Valley, the Second Manassas (including battles at Groveton and at Chantilly), Fredericksburg, and Chickamauga. He also takes us to the Lee-Grant confrontation of 1864. Included in this volume is a completely detailed roster of the 15th Alabama, as well as sketches of the other four Alabama regiments of Law’s brigade. In addition, Mr. Robert Krick adds a detailed introduction on Oates’ life which certainly makes this reprint a bargain. Written in 1905 and first published by The Neale Company, William Oates’ The War Between the Union and the Confederacy is indeed among the rarest of today’s Confederate books.”

That last sentence certainly rings true, for as you can see here, there are only two first editions currently for sale and with hefty price tags at that. The Morningside hardcover reprint certainly offers a handsome alternative to the pricey first edition.

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