The ABA Code of Practice, reproduced in full below, was introduced in its modern form in 1997. We felt at the time that it was that it was pretty robust – certainly stronger at that time than any of the comparable codes then applied by similar bodies, not just in the world of books, but across the antiques field in general. It has served us well and our Standards Committee, introduced at the same time, has done quiet but effective work behind the scenes. Complaints have been dealt with. Honour upheld.
The Code has not remained static – the clauses on plagiarism and provenance, for example, are more recent additions – but the world moves on apace and we now work in a rather different environment. The internet was only just beginning to make an impact back in 1997. All such codes need to be revisited from time to time and following some discussion at the last ABA Council Meeting, I have been tasked with undertaking an initial review. The need for this was reinforced at the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), at which I was substituting for our normal representative, Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop). A discussion there focussed on the need to re-examine our various codes of practice in the light of modern circumstance – some of our colleagues in other organisations have already tightened their codes considerably.
Looking at the Code in detail again, after an interval of some years, I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, reflecting its distant origins and antecedents – it was very much based on earlier codes drawn up by the International League (ILAB) and our colleagues overseas – is the way in which our general obligations to the public at large and our specific obligations to our colleagues in the trade have been muddled together. My first recommendation shall be to separate these out more clearly, but this is perhaps a minor matter.
The second is that much of the Code is advisory rather than mandatory – many of the clauses contain an advisory ‘should’ rather than a mandatory ‘must’. I now feel that in almost all cases a ‘must’ would be preferable. What we need above all in this global and internet age is to distance ourselves ever more clearly from the soi-disant booksellers (you have seen them all on ABE, Amazon and eBay), who acknowledge no professional code of practice at all and have never been willing to submit themselves to the judgement of their peers by joining a reputable trade association. It is perhaps not a matter of ‘should’ any more.
Elsewhere, we might well now look at strengthening the Stolen Property clause, with requirements (at least for material of any significant value), for the exercise of formal due diligence checks, for following the joint ABA/CILIP guidelines on library thefts, the retention of records for a period of years, requiring signed warranties from vendors, taking and retaining photo ID, etc. The codes of some comparable bodies are now much stronger in this regard, as they are on such things as import and export regulations, which may also need to look at.
There may also be a case for incorporating references to recent legislation – statutory regulations on money-laundering, dealing in tainted cultural property, and so forth, have all been introduced since the Code was first published – although we have to be careful here not to give the impression we can police or even investigate activities which are plainly criminal. We do not have the statutory powers, we can do no more than co-operate with the proper authorities – these are firmly matters for the constabulary.
We might look at some fresh clauses, perhaps something on restoration and repair, possibly requiring or requesting members to record all repair work on material of significant value and to keep, where appropriate, before-and-after photographic records. These will all be matters for discussion and detailed line-by-line work in committee. Such things are always a collaborative exercise – consensus on what is wise, necessary or desirable has to be negotiated and agreed. Such regulation can only be imposed by consent. The point of raising these matters here is to give you all a chance to comment, to make suggestions, and to have your say – whether or not you are one of the surprisingly small number of booksellers (perhaps only 10% of UK booksellers) who have signed up to the Code by joining the ABA. What would collectors like to see in our Code? What would all those non-ABA booksellers like to see in the Code which might persuade them to join? What do ABA members themselves have to say? How strong would we like the Code to be? Does it need to be strengthened at all? But let us at least collectively try to assemble something which will stand us in good stead for the next twenty years. I shall be happy to collate all suggestions received and put them forward – just click on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the foot of this post.
This Code for members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association applies to all commercial transactions in which they are engaged. It is intended to regularise such transactions and to ensure that they are conducted according to the highest professional and ethical standards. Members are also subject to the Code of Usages and Customs of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Although similar in intent and purpose, the two Codes are not identical: should any dispute over interpretation arise, the ABA Code shall take precedence in all instances except where the matter in dispute lies between members of different national associations affiliated to the International League.
1a. DESCRIPTION AND DISCLOSURE. Members are responsible for the identification and accurate bibliographical description of all material offered for sale. All significant defects, restorations and sophistications must be clearly indicated. Unless the parties agree otherwise, a full and prompt refund shall be available to the purchaser of any misrepresented material. Members must understand and be responsible for the proper use and interpretation of the technical terms of the trade.
1b. AUTHENTICITY. Members shall vouch for the authenticity of all materials offered for sale. Should it be determined that such material is not authentic or is questionable, then it shall be returnable for full refund, or on some other mutually agreed terms. Material shown not to be authentic, or of disputed or undetermined nature, shall not again be offered for sale unless all facts concerning it are disclosed.
1c. PLAGIARISM. Catalogue descriptions and images are a species of intellectual property: members or their representatives should not steal or plagiarise from their colleagues; any quoted material should be acknowledged, and if substantial use is made of another bookseller’s text or images, permission should be sought in advance.
2. PRICING. Members are responsible for the professional, fair and informed pricing of all material offered for sale. Members should ensure that the selling price of all material offered for sale is clearly indicated. Material not for sale, or reserved, or being processed, should be appropriately segregated.
3. OFFERS TO PURCHASE must be fair, informed and honest. The offer should be valid either for an immediate transaction or for a stated period.
4. STOLEN PROPERTY. Members shall be responsible for passing to the buyer clear title to all material sold, and shall not knowingly purchase, hold, or attempt to sell stolen material. They shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that material offered to them is the property of the seller. They shall make every effort to prevent the theft of antiquarian books and the distribution of stolen material. To this end, when making purchases from private individuals or institutions, members are advised to:-
♦ record the vendor’s name and address,
♦ record details of significant purchases,
♦ make payments by cheque wherever possible,
♦ ensure that this record be signed and dated by the vendor.
5. EXTRA RECOMMENDATION. If a bookseller unwittingly purchases, in good faith, and with due diligence having been exercised, material stolen from another bookseller, it is recommended that, all legal proprieties having been observed, the material should be returned to the bookseller from whom it was stolen, but that he should pay to the purchaser one half of the price paid to the thief. This constitutes, between two booksellers, a “gentleman’s agreement”.
6. PRESERVATION. Members are committed to the preservation and study of historical materials and should not break complete and intact copies of books or manuscripts. It is recommended that wherever possible members record in identifiable detail and publish in their descriptions all observable marks of prior ownership (including details of binding) in any way illustrative of provenance or origin, as well as maintaining a full and permanent record of all matters relating to the purchase, provenance and subsequent sale of individual items of manifest interest or value.
7. TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
The following are the standard terms approved by the Association:
Catalogues. The contents of catalogues should be priced and books should be genuinely available at that price subject to prior sale. Costs of carriage and insurance are normally extra.
Offers for Sale. It should be made clear at the time of offer whether or not this is subject to prior sale. If the offer is not subject to prior sale, an option should be assured for a specified time.
Payment. Members must pay colleagues in the trade in full for all materials purchased either (a) within thirty days of date of invoice or (b) within seven days of receipt of goods, whichever term is the later unless otherwise agreed.
Bank Charges. The supplier must be paid the full amount of his invoice; the buyer is responsible for all clearing and bank charges relating to the transaction.
Damage in Transit. Damage or loss in transit is the sender’s responsibility. Members should attend to the careful and appropriate handling, packing, shipping and insurance of material to ensure that it reaches the buyer in the same condition as when purchased.
Returns. Any article may be returned if it does not correspond with the seller’s description. Returns should be advised as soon as possible. The cost of returning material incorrectly described shall be the responsibility of the seller. The material should be in the same condition as when supplied.
On Approval. Consignments “on approval” requested by a prospective buyer must be supplied with a clear indication of the term allowed for a decision. When this term elapses the sale shall be deemed to be concluded if the goods have not been returned. If returned, postal and insurance charges both ways should be borne by the prospective buyer. Members who ask for material “on approval” or “on consignment” shall hold themselves responsible for such material from its arrival until returned or fully paid for.
Trade Discount. Members should permit any other members of an association affiliated and in good standing with the ILAB to buy any material offered for sale (i.e. priced) and should extend to such buyers the customary and reciprocal trade discount of at least 10%. Although not a formal arrangement, members are encouraged to offer comparable terms to members of other antiquarian associations.
8. VALUATIONS. Valuations must be fair, honest, impartial and expert. Members offering valuation or appraisal services shall be responsible for being conversant with and complying with whatever local or national fiscal regulations may be in force. Fees should be by prior arrangement.
9. AUCTIONS. The Association opposes all forms of malpractice at auction. No member shall engage in any activity, or be party to any covert or undisclosed agreements, whether with buyers, sellers, or auctioneers, that artificially distort the price paid in open sale. No member shall for any consideration agree with other persons not to bid at auction, or take part in a private re-auction of lots bought at public auction. Furthermore, every member shall pledge full support to the Council of the Association in its opposition to the activity of any ring within the trade in antiquarian books.
10. AUCTION COMMISSIONS. Members who accept commissions to purchase books or other materials for a client at auction will be expected to inspect the material prior to the sale and will not rely solely on information supplied by the auctioneer. Members should, of course, also exercise the utmost discretion and eliminate any risk of conflict of interest. Unless otherwise agreed before the sale, a commission fee, on the hammer price, of 10% is normally charged on successful bids only and all consequent invoices will be for immediate payment. The member is also responsible for collating and verifying the description of the material bought and returning to the auctioneer material which is defective or wrongly described where such defects and mis-descriptions are covered by the terms and conditions specified by the auctioneer. It is strongly recommended that terms between the member and the client are agreed and recorded in writing before, or on acceptance of the commission.
11. BOOKSELLER’S PREMISES. Members or their representatives should never solicit custom in another bookseller’s shop, book fair booth, or place of business without the introduction or consent of the proprietor.
12. EXPORT AND IMPORT REGULATIONS. Members are required to observe all restrictions, regulations and controls regarding the import or export of rare and valuable antiquarian books and manuscripts in whatever country or countries they transact their business.
13. INVESTMENT SCHEMES. Members must not promote antiquarian and rare books, or allied materials, as investment vehicles in themselves, or as part of investment schemes.
14. COMPLAINTS AND DISPUTES. Complaints and disputes regarding Association members are to be resolved in accordance with the precepts of this Code and under the disciplinary rules and procedures of the Association. Formal complaints against members should be made in writing to the Chairman of the Standards Committee of the Association. Customers can ascertain the procedure for such complaints through the ABA Office. Breaches of the Code may constitute grounds for reprimand, censure, the imposition of a compensation order, suspension or expulsion from the Association.
15. SUPPORT FOR THE CODE. All members are requested to place the shortened display version of this Code* in prominent view at their principal place of business. All members are required to pledge their full support to the Association in promoting and upholding the provisions of the Code. All members are likewise under a formal duty to assist the Standards Committee of the Association in any investigation that may be made. Any obstruction or wilful non-disclosure of relevant information shall of itself be deemed a breach of the Code.
* SHORT VERSION
The display of the Association’s badge pledges members to:-
the authenticity of all material offered for sale
the expert and proper description of all such material
the disclosure of all significant defects or restorations
the clear, accurate and professional pricing of all material
and the fairness and honesty of offers to purchase