Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Okay, I’m on a rant today, no question about it. But I absolutely have to go on record as saying that if one more person tells me that a book is “good for its age” I’m going to do a Sylvia Plath and stick my head in the oven! Age has no bearing on how the book looks! What impacts a book’s condition is how it has been handled and stored by its previous owners. A book from the 1600’s can be pristine and one from last week can look like it got run over by the mail truck. What got me so worked up about this is that last night Eric went to see the collection I mentioned in my last post. He’d talked to the owner on the phone previously and had been assured that everything was “good for its age” – a sure tip-off that what you find is not going to leave you reaching for your checkbook. Considering the fiasco of a few months ago when the “old” books turned out to be common novels from the 1980’s, I would have shut the whole thing down then and there. But Eric, God bless him, is the eternal optimist. He'd forgotten all about it.
As I write this, Frank Sinatra merrily sings High Hopes in my head because that’s what Eric had until one sweeping glance at the broken bindings, foxing, insect holes, and silverfishing sent his “high apple pie in the sky hopes” crashing to the ground with a mighty splat. The piece de resistance though was a cloudy plastic bag containing a lone volume. Evidently the owner thought this one must be even better than the rest seeing as how someone had taken the trouble to segregate it. All I can say is he should be eternally grateful that Eric didn’t open it or Stanley Steamer would have making a house call as we speak. The book was in rigor mortis – dead from a fatal case of red rot. I’m sure you’ve seen this – it’s a deterioration of leather bindings that produces a reddish brown powdery substance that stains your hands and anything you touch. You can’t reverse it, though I remember seeing a product in the Brodart catalog that contains and seals it. But for the book-in-a-bag a surface application would be about as useful as painting the ceiling to keep the rain out. Needless to say, seller and would-be buyer held two vastly different estimations of the collection’s value.
What’s interesting about this is that there actually WAS something Eric would have bought. The seller also had around forty-five Franklin Library volumes. I call them Easton Press wannabes, but my husband loves them -- LOVES them. Ask Andrea Klein from Bookseller in Akron. Every time we go to a NOBS meeting at her store he buys one and exalts its many charms all the way home. Turns out, the seller had invited a large Cleveland dealer, who will remain nameless, to have first dibs on the entire collection. But alas, said dealer took one look at the pretty decorated spines of the Franklins and declared them “worthless” which resulted in his forced exit from the premises. So now here’s the one person in all of northeastern Ohio who adores these books and is willing to make a fair offer for them -- and what happens? The seller wants an additional hundred dollars. I’m amazed.
I’m even more amazed that the one person in all of northeastern Ohio who's crazy about them walked! But I'm sure glad he did.
P.S. If you saw this before I changed it, the green book was actually a Signed First Editions Club. The brown book above is a Franklin Library.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The Magical Makeover is back on track. And not only that, but yesterday twenty-four Easton Press titles, all of which look hot off the press, blew in on the morning wind. Oh such rapture! Such elation! Such bliss! The sight of them is enough to make you want to grab the stub of a pencil and compose an ode on the spot. The sad part is that I want to SEE them. I want to walk past them lined up like fetching little girls in formation behind the nun in the flying wimple in the Madeline books. I want them safely snuggled on the built-in shelves in the living room where we can sit before dinner, sip our evening wine, and feast our eyes on their leather loveliness. So put them there, you say. But if only I could! The reality is that there is not enough room for even one more book on those enormous shelves, much less two dozen. I know I could move some others to clear space, but the Eastons would be better off out of the sun anyway. One of the reasons they’re so blindingly beautiful is that they have resided in a cabinet , untouched, behind glass, for more than two decades. Besides, their seclusion in the closet in Moira's childhood room will no doubt soften the blow when they sell.
Oh, yes, I know all about how their prices have plummeted thanks to sellers who know nothing about quality books and care even less. But I don’t care about those sellers. The first thing I said when Eric brought them in the house was, “I am NOT casting these pearls before swine!” which of course is a biblical way of saying that the book sites aren’t getting their clutches on these babies! I refuse to pay the commission and the extra postage on the large ones. But even more than that, I refuse to play bookseller limbo. How low they go will be determined by me, not by the last seller in the line-up. I will price them fairly, but also with a degree of respect for the books themselves. So that being said, I’m left with only two sales avenues – my secret site and the antiques mall. For now I’m going with the former, but later, I might take a few to the mall for the holidays
Of course all of that will have to wait because we are deep in the throes of the Magical Makeover. Sunday night it started looking like the whole shebang had slipped off track and hit a brick wall. We opened the can of Cashmere paint from Sherwin Williams (which, I might add, came with a cashmere price tag), rolled on a test patch, and nearly had a conniption when the wall took on the color of old underwear. Well, one of us nearly had a conniption. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who. The important thing is that when we woke up yesterday morning it had dried to the perfect shade of grey I had so painstakingly chosen. And I do mean painstakingly because by the time I was done musing over the various hues we had enough little paint chip cards to play gin rummy.
Eric applied the first coat on half the room this morning, which means that all we have to do now is pull out the built-in desk, finish the first coat on everything , slap on the second one, paint the trim, paint and install the new closet door, install the hardware, paint the ceiling, paint the cabinets black, change the overhead light, roll out the new rug, put together the new desk and move everything back in – without going offline if possible. Piece of cake, right?
Well, maybe not. Even though I deep-sixed my annual Fourth of July bash this year, the Michiganders will still be here for the weekend. And – get this -- tonight Eric is off to see yet another collection.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
We have been crazy-busy since I last wrote -- beginning work on my office, buying books, listing books, and once even taking time out for fun. Last night we went to Playhouse Square in Cleveland to see Jersey Boys with our friends Tom and Jessica. We had orchestra seats with a large aisle behind us, so if the spirit moved us we could have danced to, and with, the oldies. But all it took was a quick look around to realize that the oldies were US! However, as I pointed out to Jessica, she and I are young oldies due to the fact that we were not yet in high school when The Four Seasons had their first big hit with Sherry. The year was 1962 and I was eleven to Jessica’s twelve. Unlike our husbands, we didn’t come of age until the British invasion and the protest songs of Dylan, Baez, and Collins. Not only were the clothes way cuter by then (loved that Mary Quant look), but the music had vastly improved too. So, while I enjoyed the singing suits and their stylized dancing, give me Bob, Joan and Judy any day.
But this post isn’t about music. It’s about books, so I have a question for you. What do checkers, Bobby Jones and Chinese erotica have in common? Give? They are all subjects of the new books I bought yesterday and today. The Bobby Jones booklet pleases me most because of that STUPID mistake I’ve told you about at least twice when I grossly underpriced a rare piece of Jones ephemera. I will not belabor that dead horse except to say that while this piece doesn’t hit such stratospheric heights it’s still pretty darn good and gives me a deep sense of partial vindication. As for the checkers books, they aren’t overly valuable – around $25-35 each, but I’ve sold a couple before and now have a half dozen more. The best one I ever had, hands-down (not monetarily), was a book about the seventh American Checker Tournament held at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago in 1929. Samuel Gonotsky of Brooklyn won and I sold the book to his grandson. I could have had another copy yesterday, but I passed on it -- how can you top selling the book to a Gontosky descendent? I’m telling you, I get so excited when I sell some obscure item tied to the buyer’s family I am practically in orbit.
The Chinese erotica on the other hand is – um – virgin terrority for me. I can’t tell you too much about it, as it’s written in French, but I do know that Fleur en Fiole d’Or somehow translates into Jin Ping Mei cihua which was written at the end of the Ming Dynasty and was the first novel to present sex graphically – as opposed to metaphorically, I guess. It’s a two volume set in pristine condition, slipcase and all, printed in the mid-1980’s. I had actually heard of Jin Ping Mei cihua, but couldn't remember how or why. I didn't even deliberate over it -- just took a gamble and it turned out fine.
I also bought three other little French books, each in a golden slipcase, one signed art book, and a leather Civil War history set complete in four volumes. The latter is a little rough on the outside, but pristine inside and will not be sold online anyway. This is definitely a store item. It would also work well in the mall, but I don’t have a locked case and experience has shown that the first commandment of mall selling is “Thou shalt not leave small, expensive items in the wild” and the second is “thou shalt not leave antiquarian books in the wild because mall shoppers do not know how to handle them.” So off to the store it goes, or maybe to one of Eric’s shows in the fall. There’s no rush – we’re happy to have it hang around for awhile.
If you recall, last summer all I did was whine about my lack of books.”It’s the summer of my discontent,” I wailed, as week after week passed with little coming in.
For the present at least the acquisition blues have passed us by this summer, but of course that’s subject to change at any time. The good news is tomorrow is the Medina flea market which nets almost zero books, but sometimes very nice ephemera. (And sometimes not a blessed thing.) Then on Monday Eric is going to see a collection in Medina. I have given up asking questions of would-be sellers because they always tell you what you want to hear whether it's right or not. But the guy lives close by so we agreed to wing it. As you know though, I hate telling people their books aren’t good, so in case these are not, I'm sending my front man!
Besides, I have serious listing to do
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
On top of that I’m mad at myself for not taking a picture at the antiques mall yesterday. Cheryl, I did it all for you, girl – got the long-requested CHAIR at Sunday’s estate sale and a very nice one too. It’s a Windsor, maybe a little bigger than it needs to be, but I love both the way it looks in the booth and the fact that it will give people a place to sit and more easily look at the lower shelves. I do have it priced, but I’m ambivalent about it. If it sells it sells; if it doesn’t it doesn’t. We also took over the last of those three bookcases we bought at the estate sale this winter to fill the space where the barrister case I sold this weekend had been. This one’s not for sale, but it practically looks like it is because it’s as empty as the library during the summer reading program. Right now I’m at an awkward spot where the existing shelves are getting crowded, but I don’t have enough mall books to fill the new ones. The new case did, however, give me a chance to display a lot of stuff face-out which might, in the end, be a good thing. As you may have guessed, Sunday's estate sale did not offer up many tomes. I did get a few nice, previously overpriced books at half off, but only about five and they’re already over there.
Actually, I’d planned to work on the new box today, but now I don’t know. Sales popped again yesterday, primarily on alibris and affiliates, though I did have a couple nice ABE orders too, including one for the sequel to Emil and the Detectives, which I got at the very first estate sale of 2011. I featured it here back in January -- it’s written in German, so it’s not surprising that the buyer came from abe.de. An uptick in sales always tends to motivate me to work, but getting this office done motivates me too, so I think I’m going to pack up the contents of the bookcase and play it by ear. I am also going to get the books I haven’t listed from the last two auctions and the Case sale off the floor and stashed in the office closet. Besides, I need a can of silver paint for the inside of the box and I probably don’t have one.
Well, a few hours have passed and it would appear that my lack of paint is no problem, as I seemed to be too dithery today to focus. Every once in awhile this strikes me, usually when plans go awry. I start one thing, then wander away and start something else. I might even start a third thing. Since writing that last paragraph I began shelving books from the floor, switched to sorting and packing the contents of the bookcase, and now I'm back talking to you again. But the good news is I’m all done dithering. Literally, ten minutes ago, the phone rang and on the other end flowed the slow, easy voice of my friend and long-time customer Curtis from Philadelphia. Curtis had a stroke the day after Christmas. Sometime in February he called to tell me the bad news, but the stroke had taken such a toll that I had to struggle to understand him.
Here’s the interesting part though. I always send Curtis his books as soon as he orders them and he pays me when they come. It’s like playing 84 Charing Cross Road, only reversed -- he’s Helene Hanff and I’m Frank Doel. This time though the books turned up on his doorstep the exact same day that he had the stroke, which means that he never had a chance to open them until February. Initially when no check showed up I was surprised, though not overly worried. But when one still didn’t come after his call in February I knew with certainty that things had taken a sharp turn for the worse. In fact, I thought maybe the worst had happened which is why I never sent a follow-up invoice. What I didn’t know until just now is that he’d had a second stroke not long after we spoke and had spiraled down deep into the mine shaft of depression. He called today to tell me that he’s much better and to let me know that he can take care of his bill now.
“I wouldn't leave you hanging for a penny, Miss Tess, and certainly not for $140.”
Well, of course he wouldn't -- any more than Helen would have left Frank hanging.
I knew that.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
But before we do all that stuff we are off to an estate sale. I had planned to go yesterday, but it never happened and, besides, I’m more motivated today due to the fact that I sold a three-stack barrister bookcase at the antiques mall yesterday. This is my second piece of furniture to sell – the first was that drop-dead gorgeous French table awhile back. – so I’m thinking it may be a good idea to try to find something to replace it. The sale did advertise books, but in a rather desultory fashion, so I don’t expect to be dazzled by the tomes. I’m hoping instead for some big-ticket item. As with online sales , books fell from grace a bit at the mall as soon as June 1st rolled around. While they’re still paying the freight, they’re not flipping off the shelves like acrobats.
The truth is, it feels a little weird to me to be buying stuff other than books – not that I have all that much, but I don’t want to morph into an antiques dealer either. I really doubt I will though because I don’t have a passion for it. Once in a while something jumps out and says hello – like the French table – but overall I can take it or leave it. So I think it’s safe to take a little foray into uncharted territory every once in awhile, especially in the middle of the summer doldrums. The other safety control is the fact that I’m a bit inhibited by my lack of space at the mall. The booth is small and I don’t yet have enough books to rent a second space. I think I would do it if I did, but it warrants caution. Without a steady flow of merchandise a combined $600 a month rent could blow the whole gig.
As I write this Eric is at the dreaded Litchfield flea market. I HATE this thing – the English language does not come close to having enough adjectives to describe its loathsomeness. But last Sunday he came home like a little kid whose pockets sag under the weight of two cookies, a quarter, four Matchbox cars and a live toad. Even I had to reluctantly agree that he scored big-time with the purchase of two muzzleloading rifles, both of which he originally sold years ago (they retained the store’s price tag with his handwriting). Already he doubled the total price for the two at the Indiana show last week with the sale of one. So the guy’s on a roll with optimism running like sap in the spring.
We had planned this afternoon to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary (it’s tomorrow) with a trip to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and lunch in Little Italy, but it being Father’s Day, we quickly scratched that idea and will pick a day during the week instead. It’s not that we’ll be celebrating anything with our kids today -- Caitie’s in Maryland and Moira and Brian will be here with the little people for the Fourth of July -- it’s the crowded restaurants that put a pall on it.
I’m happy with the plan we have though and am now off to get ready to rock and roll as soon as Eric gets back from the dreaded Litchfield flea market. The vintage clothing people will fly into the estate sale in a vee formation if only for the 100 pairs of Italian shoes advertised, so we need to get to Akron no later than eleven.
So on that note, I’m outta here. Happy Father’s Day everyone!
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Woke up this morning and the very first thought I had was what it would be like if there were no bookstores anywhere. I know exactly what triggered it – just before I went to bed last night I pulled out some old copies of Biblio magazine from 1997, the year we began Garrison House Books, and took one of them upstairs with me. For some reason they emitted a gravitational pull back to the days when internet selling seemed radical and the Kindle wasn’t yet a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Back then I thought – no, I KNEW -- I would do this glorious thing for the rest of my life. I had an internet friend from Florida who was 82 years old and had launched her business about a month before I launched mine. She went to the sales with a little fold-up cart, listed her books, and had more fun than probably should be legal.
“Sign me up for that and I’d die happy,” I told Eric. It never occurred to me that not twenty years later books, my solace and faithful companions since childhood, would spin like a top around the eye of a tornado.
I thought of that last night when I stumbled on an article about Baldwin’s Book Barn located in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. I remember seeing their listings from my earliest days on Advanced Book Exchange and I frequently see them still. I’m sure I read the article 14 years ago, but probably not as avidly and emotionally as I did this time. Rarely am I without words, but as I write this they come slowly, so slowly, as though they, too, are in danger of extinction. Baldwin’s started in 1934 in the basement of a real estate office with a small collection of history titles, a pile of postage stamps, and a gravitational pull all its own. Gradually it grew until 1948 when the present stone barn opened its doors to book lovers seeking treasure, a good read, pleasant hours, literary conversation, and balm for the soul. Today ownership has transferred to the second generation.
“…. And for all the booksellers of the world.”
A stray line – something about God, blessings, and booksellers sprang to mind as tears sprang to my eyes. It teased and bedeviled me, that line, but the harder I tried to retrieve it the more obstinately it refused to name itself. It seemed important that I remember it though, so I climbed out of bed, went to my office and took from the shelf a tired old copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations that I got as some sort of reward from the Book of the Month Club the year I was married. Fortunately, there was only one listing with the key word booksellers.
“For I bless God in the libraries of the learned and for all the booksellers in the world.” Christopher Smart (1722-1771) Jubilate Agno.
I have no idea where I ever heard those words in the first place, though they ring with similarity to the Jubilate of The Book of Common Prayer, but I know one thing for sure. I needed them in the dark. And I need them still in the light, if only to assauge the fear I press hard between the pages -- out of sight and out of mind. Until …
P.S. I just saw on the internet that Baldwin's Book Barn is for sale.
Monday, June 13, 2011
My youngest daughter Caitie – the one’s who’s moving to D.C. – stayed overnight last night, then hit the road about noon for RockVILLE, Maryland (I keep calling it Rockwell) where she will be living. Her boyfriend had to be at work June 3rd, so he left last week, but she stayed behind to tidy things up in Sylvania, which meant I got an extra chance to see her. Eric’s in Indiana so it was strictly a girls’ night in. I made chicken caccitorre with spaghetti and spinach salad and we talked, watched a movie, and hung out with Max the boxer and Leo the Himalyan cat, both of whom you’ve met previously. This morning I got up at my usual five a.m., but let her sleep until the animals hauled her out at eleven. Once I wrapped my few orders the tubs of collage stuff starting calling me like Jeanette MacDonald calling the Mounties. So I went upstairs, made a pot of coffee, toasted a bagel, and sat down on the basement floor and didn’t get up again until I’d touched every piece of paper in all three Rubbermaid tubs. Yeah, I’m feeling kind of arty today.
As you know, I have the famous purple office chair, a new rug, and the glorious black desk Eric got me for my birthday all waiting in the wings to transform my office into a model of efficiency and beauty and me into a neater and more elegant bookseller. A week ago yesterday we bought black paint to paint the cabinets and light gray paint for the walls and when Eric gets home (Thursday) we are going to begin the great transformation. I already bought a new wall clock to go with the new décor, but it looks like none of the current art is going to work. So I have decided to take a giant leap and make something to fill the biggest space. In the past I have always worked on boxes where everything is three-dimensional. The only flat thing I ever did was the card I made for the gift basket that served as a door prize at the Akron antiquarian book fair in April and that was SMALL. I’m talking big here, as in maybe 20”x20” give or take a few inches. Nothing like going for broke, huh?
But I’m excited because I actually have a concept in mind and had a glorious time picking out scraps and sorting them into four color piles – black, white, grey, and purple. Trouble is, I don’t think I have anywhere close to enough scraps which means I need to look again. When I’m making a box I sort of sense when the paper supply hits the right amount, but I haven’t a clue about this so I think I’d better get back down there this evening after Antiques Roadshow and give it another go.
But meanwhile there’s most of an afternoon to kill and since I have leftovers from last night I can do anything I want until I go to bed! So first, I’m going to go out on the porch and finish the last chapter of Reading My Father, Alexandra Styron’s memoir of her brilliant but seriously disturbed father, William Styron, who is perhaps best known for the unforgettable novel Sophie’s Choice. Then I think I will sashay up to the square on foot, get some new books at the library, and visit with my librarian buddy, Liz Nelson. Do I know how to have a good time, or what? In a nerdy, booky-girl sort of way I’m practically a party animal!
Anyway, I just wanted to check in and let you know that that’s the plan. Meanwhile you can look at my piles of paper and try to imagine what they might turn into.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
“It was a dark and stormy morning …” which meant the light was terrible for taking photos of books. Yes, I could have listed other books and, yes, I could have tweaked the article for the upcoming NOBS (Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society) newsletter which I owe the editor as we speak, but neither task called my name. Instead I took to Eric’s birthday Recliner-That-Doesn’t-Look-Like-A-Recliner and finished the biography of author Jim Tully I started last month. Between auctions, sales, that cold and larynigitis thing I had going on, and the fact that the book is too beautiful for my slipshod reading habits, I had to tackle it in dribs and drabs. A few pages over coffee at breakfast (carefully), some more at night sitting bolt upright so I wouldn’t doze off and drop it, and then today – finally! – a sustained push to the surprising and even shocking ending.
I promised myself I was not going to write a blog about this because I didn’t want it to be a shameless advertisement for my friend and fellow bookseller, Paul Bauer’s, biography, written with Mark Dawidziak who used to write for the Akron Beacon Journal and is now at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I intended to stick to that too – that is, until today when the grey matter in my brain suddenly lit up like Vegas and I GOT it. For almost twenty years Bauer and Dawidziak researched an unschooled Irish-American writer from St. Mary’s, Ohio who had more lives than a cat. They even trekked out to California where they pored over the Tully papers at UCLA and sought out anyone who still remembered him even though he died in 1947.
If Jim Tully is not a household name to you, join the crowd. But the thing is, back in the day he was a popular wordsmith, penning any number of novels based on his life experiences – Shanty Irish, Circus Parade, Beggars of Life, Ladies in the Parlor, and The Bruiser, to name a few. Tully wrote in a dark gritty style that shocked his readers who had not as yet been exposed so rudely to life's underbelly. But all that happened only after he got his first break -- a job writing for Charlie Chaplin in California. The journey to literary fame and fortune began way before Chaplin when as a teenager he jumped off a train in Kent, Ohio and did his time making chain in a factory, reporting for the local newspaper, and even working as a tree surgeon for Davey Tree while he scribbled stories and dreamed of cobbling together a literary career.
Jim Tully grew up dirt poor, wound up in a hell-hole of a Catholic orphanage in Cincinnati when his mother died and a few years later got hired out to a farmer and spent a winter lining his clothes with newspaper because he had no coat to work outdoors in such terrible cold. It's little wonder that he jumped the rails and took up the hobo life. The circus and the boxing ring came next, but I’m not going to get into all the details of his life because the book reads like a novel and I don’t want to spoil the plot. Tully was short in stature (shorter than me by half an inch at 5’1”) with a mop of curly red hair and a tough guy attitude. But the man could write and his sister knew it well before he did. Maybe it's my own Irish dysfunction or some residual Catholic conflict seeking resolution in Tully's story, but this morning I truly understood why Bauer and Dawidziak did this incredible thing –devoting nineteen years to a guy few people know, a guy who held them firmly by the collar even as he moldered at Forest Lawn. Once you meet Jim Tully though I promise you will not forget him.
The authors compare him to Hemingway with one important difference – Hemingway wrote tough guy stories in an idealized way about how men should be in the world, whereas Tully wrote tough guy stories about the way men actually ARE in the world, which, the authors posit, is why one writer met immortality and the other seeks resurrection. Paul mentioned to me that in all his years as a bookseller he had never met a woman interested in Hemingway. I told him I’m not interested in Hemingway’s writing either, but I am most definitely interested in Hemingway himself, both as a person and a writer. I bet I have twenty books in my personal library about him and many more about those who surrounded him – Scott and Zelda, the Murphys, Sylvia Beach, Dos Possos, Ezra Pound, Martha Gelhorn, Gertrude Stein, Alice B.Toklas, Maxwell Perkins etc. While I have found glimmers of vulnerability and even softeness in Hemingway, to me Tully remained always the freckle-faced little boy packed off to the orphanage at the tender age of six, too innocent to realize he’d been sold down the river by the parish priest and his ne’er-do-well father. Imagine doing such a vile injustice to a little boy whose heart was broken over the loss of his mother, Biddy. I'll bet if it were in her power to do it Biddy would have flown out of the grave like a wild woman and knocked their two heads together like a pair of cymbals.
Anyway, it’s a great story even though I doubt I’ll read any of Tully’s books which have been reprinted by Kent State University Press in tandem with the biography which they also published. It’s not that the authors weren’t selling the product. They were, and with great conviction too, because it’s through the books that they made Tully’s acquaintance in the first place. But, as with Hemingway, my interest lies in the complexities of Jim Tully both as a person and a writer. Imagine the leap of faith it took to entertain the notion that you could write when you have no real education to speak of and have to scrabble like a chicken in the dirt every single day for your very existence.
It’s far more faith than I ever had. And I certainly do admire it.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
I hate to tell you another auction story so soon, but the auction I spent six hours at yesterday is worth the ink. Rarely do you find one of such high caliber around here, but be forewarned -- treasure canters in on the back of a horse named Harsh Reality. Bottom line -- the average book dealer cannot play with the big boys. And, yes, they were once again all men. Well to be fair, you CAN play, but you will not be bearing off the stuff that takes your breath away. What you will do is spend an obscene amount of money on second-tier items, have heart palpitations while you’re waiting to check out and then carry to your car one fairly heavy box, made so only by the outsized (beautiful condition) set pictured above. Oh, and you will also pay a ten per cent buyers’ premium on the total.
The auction consisted of one single collection so large and fine it brought dealers and collectors from Michigan, Connecticut, and who-knows-where. While I was palpitating in the check-out line the guy in front of me dashed off a check for $13,000 and he wasn’t even the biggest player. Just to show you what I’m talking about two of the auctioneers wield the gavel at Wes Cowen’s (Antiques Roadshow) auction house in Cincinnati. Another guy, also connected to Cowen’s, explained the items and why they merited serious consideration. When such a person even exists, and especially, when he is wearing a sports jacket to do the honors, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Here are a few examples of items and their realized prices:
Signed typewritten letter by Humphrey Bogart -- $800
Photograph of a dirigible by Margaret Bourke White in the original frame fashioned from metal salvaged from the dirigible -- $2600
Document on vellum signed by Andrew Jackson -- $900
Two handbills, one advertising a play starring John Wilkes Booth and the other a play featuring his brother who was also an actor -- $900 for the pair
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. For much of the auction I jotted down notes in a state of stupefaction, but did enter the foray three times. I lost once on a box stuffed with stereopticon views each featuring President McKinley, including his funeral following the assassination. The other two times I won, including the two volume set above which I got only because the crowd fixated on the political stuff and didn’t care much for the Civil War or for esoteric books, which is also why Eric got a huge drop-dead gorgeous old print of General McClelland in full regalia on horseback in its original and very handsome frame for the store. And also why I won Observations Topographical, Moral and Physiological Made in a Journey Through Part of the Low-Countries, Germany, Italy, and France; With A Catalogue of the Plants not Native of England, Found Spontaneously Growing in Those Parts, and Their Virtues by John Ray, Fellow of the Royal Society, published in 1673. (Photos below). All I can say is it’s not the most I ever spent for a single book, but close enough to curl my hair.
After that I shut up and watched until the very end when the promised bargains finally hit the table. In many cases the gavel came down on true deals, but we’d already dropped a bundle, so I set my sites on one box only. This should have been a piece of cake, but wasn’t because they paired it with a box of very common McKinley books. The auction was in Canton, home of McKinley, and down there they’re nuts about all things McKinley, so it drove the price into three-figure land and I didn’t even WANT the damn McKinleys! But the main box held a truly rare Ohio volume and a lot of other good Ohio stuff, as well as a nice book on the Lincoln Memorial from 1927, so I forged on against my better judgment. It could have been a bit squeaky for comfort -- yes, there was buyer's remorse all the way home -- but in the end it actually turned out okay, due to the fact that the book gods felt sorry for us peons and granted a Hail Mary in the form of a surprisingly good Ohio mining book that I hadn't seen hidden in the bottom of the last box.
The auction resumes today and there are still more books that had been held back. Books I would love to have. And a signed Medina County Jacquard coverlet Eric would love to have. But are we going?
No, we are not.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Late again! I know it, but after being off for the holiday work demanded my attention yesterday. Finally all weekend orders have shipped, new books have been uploaded, and I am feeling sane and righteous once more. The holiday turned out to be busy to the max – never really sat down ‘til I went to bed any of the days. Sadly, while the weather cooperated for the mural, the driveway remained the color of concrete. First of all, the house somehow acquired a revolving door with people coming and going and some even coming back again. Secondly, little Curly Head, my almost-two year-old grandson, has become a force of nature. His house is totally baby-proofed to the point where he can safely travel anywhere on the first floor. But our house lacks the modern open floor plan his does, so each room is a cornucopia spilling out goodies like a bountiful harvest. He loved them all, but the best was his latest discovery – the outlets for the central vacuum system which come equipped with little doors that snap shut with a sound so satisfying it would practically be criminal not to give them a go -- at least forty or fifty times. I think you can see why art, much as I love it, didn't even make the short list.
Anyway, an interesting thing happened Monday. I got a call from a rep at Choosebooks responding to the non-answer to an email question I had previously received from another rep. As many of you know, Choosebooks, a primarily European site, has been snapped up by ABEbooks. One would think that since ABE designed the ideal system for dealing with bookseller requests for additional shipping this system would migrate over to the Choosebooks site. Well, one would be wrong. The new system there allows you to set a shipping charge for both first class and priority. What it does not do is take into account heavy books and sets, thereby creating a classic Catch 22. If you set the price too high to accommodate the high end your sales will resemble the Dow Jones in free fall. But if you don’t do this your postal losses will start rivaling the national debt. Oh, you can ask for extra postage, but here’s the kicker – it can’t exceed five per cent of the stated cost. Yeah, like that helps.
So this very nice rep calls blissfully unaware of the American holiday and I’m so glad to talk to her I wouldn’t care it were Christmas. Just an hour before I had reluctantly (with much mumbling and more than a little swearing) accepted a heavy, oversized order to Germany for a $175 book for which I received $16.00 to ship in the required priority box which, as you know, costs over $40.00. I considered rejecting it, but didn’t because the buyer was a repeat customer. I tell this tale of woe to the rep and – lo and behold -- it turns out she’s actually from ABE and immediately sees the inanity of it. But, she informs me, ABE did not design this system – ZVAB did. And who is ZVAB? The short answer is it’s the German counterpart to Choosebooks. She then tells me that in the future I may ask for the additional postage and privately invoice it through paypal, provided that the customer has a paypal account. Ideal? No. But I could live with it if only I could remember whether the customer’s email address was visible before I agreed to ship. Anyway, I tell you all this in hopes it will be of help. Soaring postal rates, falling prices and the increased cost of acquisition demand that we keep an eagle eye on the bottom line.
Well, well, as I was writing this yet another missive arrived from Choosebooks. Their new rates are as follows:
A further change concerns the price model of Choosebooks.com. With the return to our core competence we will change the fees for all second-hand booksellers with price model "S". To align our price models across all countries, the following price model will go into effect from 1 July, 2011:
Basic fee: $25 USD
Listing fee: $5 USD per 1000 titles or part thereof
Sales commission: 9%
An example calculationwith 9,500 listed titles, you would pay in July:
$25 USD + ($5 * $9 USD) + 9% depending upon sales volume. The minimum commission of $0.40 USD and maximum commission of $30 USD remains.
All of which makes my above comments moot points. I am SO not choosing Choosebooks.
But enough of that. I wasted too much time on it as it is. Here's something with much more razzle-dazzle. I found it on twitter this morning and it's so cool I wish I could snap my fingers, say “Beam me up, Scotty,” and suddenly be in Iowa City. Check this out – it will make your day. All the king’s Kindles and all the queen’s Nooks could never come close to approximating it.