Sunday, October 30, 2011

Raining On Elbert's Parade

It’s becoming a tiresome routine. Every Saturday morning I rise with the chickens and tear around getting ready to head to Akron for an estate sale only to come home asking myself why I even bothered. This week the newspaper ad promised collectible Roycrofter books and implied that some were bound by Elbert Hubbard himself. Of course you KNOW what a crush I have on Elbert, so I was fairly atwitter. Ever since Thursday all I could think about were the gorgeous leather-bound set of Little Journeys and lovely limp suede books marked at the back “Bound by Elbert Hubbard.” As it turned out, my imaginary parade and last week’s bubble had a lot in common. You won’t believe it --I STILL can’t believe it – but among the “treasures” were the ubiquitous Notebook of Elbert Hubbard in the cheap  edition for $65 (I have a mint condition leather-bound one in a box which doesn’t sell for that much!) and various other titles that looked like they'd been attached to the back of a plow and drug through a soy bean field. Actually, they did have one that might have been okay had it not been for the plow and field thing, but the rest were absolute junk, most bearing three-figure price tags.

The other thing they’d advertised was local history, so of course bringing up the end of the Elbert parade in my head was Grismer’s hefty red Akron and Summit County. After much searching for anything with the word Akron on it I finally found two common-as-dirt titles on the coffee table. Of course all this looking for what wasn’t there cost me time, so I was late perusing the shelved books. Eric had already chosen Theodore Roosevelt’s two volume set of African Game Trails published by Scribner’s, but having had the brown first edition of 1910 in the past I liked it, but didn’t swoon over it. I made only two selections myself, both of which list conservatively in the $45-50 range – a first edition of Harry Franck’s Roving Around Southern China from 1925 and a first edition British Christmas anthology from 1928 published by Cresset Press (see pale striped book in picture above).

The British  book would never have jumped out at me had I not had it once before – found in the many thousands of books bought from the much discussed Elmer. I never listed it though because its condition reeked of plow and field, but I HAD looked it up and knew that it was scarce. While less than perfect, this copy is actually quite good even though the cloth binding shows some darkening at the top edge and a few small stains. The cloth used on this book feels like fabric, so I couldn’t try my luck with chemical cleaner. Instead I went over it with a document pad which removed a surprising amount of dirt, so I think it will be fine, as other dealers, including the Strand, seem to have copies suffering from the same problem. The paper is heavy and the art period-pleasing, especially the wood engraving by  the intrepid English traveller and diarist, Celia Fiennes. (see below).

But I think what I like best of what I bought are a couple items produced after World War II by the Japan Travel Board. They don’t sell for a whole lot, but I’m charmed by a lovely book on the tea culture and an exquisite set of eight postcards in their original wrapper depicting geishas in training. I also ended up with a little hardware – two sets of bookends for the mall. Of the two, I prefer the Chinese carved soapstone pair (see photo below), though they’re not as pricey as the birds. Interestingly enough, I looked both sets over carefully, thought they were too expensive for resale, and started to walk away when the estate sale worker came over and asked if I would take them both if the price were less. Rarely does this happen on the first day, so I said I might and we quickly agreed on a deal that worked for us both.

It’s funny --I started writing this in a negative frame of mind, but as the words appeared on the page I realized that the sale, while not all I’d hoped for, wasn’t a total loss either Little by little I got a bit more chipper and now I’m actually happy as a clam, as we are off to Michigan as soon as I get ready for Halloween high-jinks with the little guys. This afternoon we’ll carve pumpkins and eat Halloween cookies with neon orange frosting for dessert and tomorrow we’ll all go to Tyler’s school (baby Dylan gets the day off from daycare) for the costume parade and then we’re headed en masse to the Toledo zoo for the afternoon. Tomorrow night is trick-or-treat – Dylan’s first time and I can tell you right now it will be wild and woolly.

Sadly, Gran and Papa won’t be there to see it though. We’ll be back in Ohio, comatose in the family room by eight!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flamingo's Magic Kingdom

Okay then, no magazines. Nobody wants to hear about them, so I won’t utter the word again in this post. I do have something interesting to talk about, but I’m in a Friday frame of mind which means I want to play more than I want to work. As it turns out, my buddy, Sunday Morning Joe, whom I haven’t mentioned in a while, provided me with a ticket to endless amusement yesterday. It seems that he and a neighbor who lives behind him share a small bit of woods. Rarely do they see one another, but they keep in constant communication via an old rusty mailbox conveniently located in – the woods! Don’t laugh because sometimes there’s even cookies involved. There’s a lot of other stuff in the woods too– a clock (which actually works) nailed to a tree, a bag for collecting the neighbor’s dog’s lost tennis balls (nailed to the tree), and a very old sign that stands NEXT to the tree bearing a secret word that I dare not utter for fear of unleashing mystical and dangerous powers. Presiding over this hidden kingdom stands a tall formidable pink plastic flamingo.

Now this is not any ordinary flamingo. This flamingo is so special that her name (yes, it has been determined that she’s a girl) is Flamingo. That’s right – the one and ONLY Flamingo. Lest you think she’s just a cheap pink floozie, think again – Flamingo just returned from a trip to Australia. Yes, she really did.  And you know what THATcosts these days. The downside is that now that she’s seen Sydney it’s hard to keep her back in the woods. So Sunday Morning Joe and his neighbor decided to send her on virtual trips. You’d think, jet-setter that she is, she’d consider this second rate, but Flamingo is a bird blessed with a quirky sense of humor. She stands back there next to the sign with the perilous word on it laughing her beak off as real snail mail postcards from HER volley across the miles to Sunday Morning Joe and the neighbor  from all over the world. SMJ just got one from Oman. This is arranged of course through the aid of a network of secret agents (one of whom is now officially me) which means that SMJ and his neighbor don't get the same ones. His operatives send to her, hers send to him.

Of course the obvious problem with me being an operative is that I rarely get to Oman anymore, though I AM going to Dayton in a couple weeks which could be good, but, sadly, that’s the full extent of my foreseeable exotic travel. SO after thinking hard on this deficit I realized that I could actually outdo those frequent fliers thanks to something I have up my bookseller sleeve that these other agents lack – a stack of vintage post cards from all over the world! What this means is that now Flamingo no longer must confine herself to real time travel. She can TIME TRAVEL. Every Friday she will send a card to Sunday Morning Joe’s neighbor with updates on bygone events. The first one, from 1940’s Hawaii, left this morning. You’ll note that Flamingo realized she’d need proof of her abilities to zoom back in time so, as you can see from the photo above, she made sure I included pictures of her in action. So far she's strolled beneath the palm trees in 1947 Hawaii, led the Victory Parade in Paris on July 14, 1919, and hung out at an English castle with some boring Edwardian ladies in big hats.

I must confess though that fun as this has been, a wave of pure envy crashed over me this morning as I stood at the patio doors surveying my own little  kingdom. I have a lake, trees, a stone path, and even a slice of cemetery. But, alas and alack, no flamingo, no mailbox, no clock and no sign with a dangerous word on it. Not even any cookies. For a moment I pondered where one might buy a pink plastic flamingo when suddenly two deer, one enormous, loped around the headstones from afar and sprinted into the yard. The male of course tucked right into his breakfast of green ivy sprinkled with raindrops, but the female stopped dead in her tracks and looked me straight in the eye.

“Okay,” she said, in a rather aggressive tone. “Here’s the deal. You can have a Wal-Mart flamingo, or you can have me. This yard’s not big enough for both of us.”

Well, when you put it like that … okay then. I’ll just play with the postcards.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Magazines and Baskets = BUSY!

As it turned out, I had no time to play with the basket stuff at all yesterday, as I had to get the 26 Spur magazines ready to ship. This meant pressing a few creased corners, cleaning them all with Clean Cover gel, and writing a detailed invoice because their prices ranged from $20 to $16 each. All told, they added up to around $500, but I discounted to $400, then added Ohio sales tax and shipping. They’re very large magazines, so they weighed in at around 25 pounds. I had sixty-five of them to begin with, but I sold fifteen from my ebay store back when it was fun to sell there, plus seven more on ABE. I also sold six to this same collector online and a dozen to him in person. A couple summers ago he passed through the area on business and stopped at our store to pick them up after we’d discussed them over the phone. I still have nine left after giving one to a blog reader yesterday.

Anyway, it ended up being quite a job, but of course it was worth it. I know a lot of sellers hate magazines because they take up a lot of room, require more work to sell, and can be slow to move. But I love them – if they’re the right ones – and am willing to go the extra mile because it’s a such pleasure to handle them. I bought the Spurs at auction in 2006 for $150 for the lot, got my money back in six months, and made a very nice profit. Would I buy them again? You bet I would, but I doubt I will ever see that kind of quantity again. Most sellers who list magazines online haven’t a clue how to do it which is why the myth that you can’t sell magazines on the book sites persists. The truth is you CAN, but only if you’re willing to do the work.

The next thing I need to do today is get the mall books ready, so I can drop them off tomorrow before we go the NOBS board meeting. I planned to do it this morning, but then I sold over the phone (no commission – YAY! ) the R.E. Lee Pultizer Prize Edition set I showed you last week and was so downright tickled over it that I decided I needed a reward. So I got out all the basket stuff and my art supplies and made a grand mess all over my wrapping bench. But the good news is the basket’s done and I even made a card which is pictured below. It’s constructed from yellow cardstock, art paper, tissue and a napkin. The portion to the left is raised due to layers and layers of paper, but the whole thing is very textural overall. After finishing it it struck me that I can make something to frame for my office. When I tried before I somehow got intimidated and decided I could only work on a bandbox, but now I think I can do it. Maybe …

So that’s what’s going on here today. If you would like to talk about selling magazines we can do it – just let me know, either here, at my website  , or at my email address If I don’t hear from anybody on the subject I’ll assume you either know or don’t care about it. I do have something else to tell you, so it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t share my passion for paper.

Either way, we’ll talk.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baskets, Books, Fleas & a Wink from Biblio

Yesterday was fun. Nancy needs a gift basket for a silent auction fundraiser at the charter school for which she is Director of Communications. It’s a great cause, as the school focuses on children with autism, especially those with Asberger’s. The money goes toward field trips, so we were pretty jazzed to see if we could outdo past efforts. Nancy is the QUEEN of shopping – she could ferret out a giveaway at Tiffany’s – while I am chief basket builder and decorator. Together we’re unstoppable. We hit on the idea of “cozy” and, as luck would have it, I happened to have three gorgeous, seemingly unread cozy mysteries by Laura Childs all set in a tea shop. So we knocked ourselves out buying a vintage china tea cup and saucer, a pretty tin of Earl Grey tea, scone mix, berry jam, cookies, and even tea candy, though neither of us has e a clue if the latter’s  a good thing or a bad one. I may run out and get a couple more items if needed, but otherwise I get to play with all the pretty stuff today. I think I’m going to make a collage card too as I did for the NOBS basket, so I’ll show you the finished products as soon as I'm done.

Before embarking on yesterday’s mad shopping trip Eric and I went to the Medina flea market around 7:30 just after the weak sun lazily stretched itself across the horizon. On the way there we discussed how strange it is that this flea market seemed to be fading away and now is back to its former once a month schedule. Even the outside vendors were set up, which earns them a gold medal for bravery in my book, as the roofs of the buildings at the fairgrounds were iced with a scrim of frost. Interestingly enough, we almost immediately heard a dealer telling some customers that people are fleeing ebay in droves and going back to the live flea markets and antiques shows instead. About an hour later we heard the same thing from another dealer. Immediately I made the connection to the recent poor attendance at the two formerly good book sales I told you about last week. Something does seem to be changing in the marketplace, but I still can’t get a handle on what it is or what it means.

The good part is I made a couple amazing buys. One guy had a western Americana collection that was jaw-dropping were it not for the fact that even outside the mustiness sent me into a sneezing fit. I would have taken every single book he had (there were about 15), but no way could I do it under the circumstances. After that I felt like maybe we’d just walked away from the only good books in the place, but not so. Not so! For eight dollars I bought three items, including a scarce 1929 booklet published by the Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce to entice home buyers to settle there. A local long-time store has it listed for $67, but I will want to research it a bit more,as that seems a tad pricey to me. The other two things I found were books – an 1887 Macmillan edition of John Brown at Oxford in a pretty decorative binding and a 1928 copy WITH its dustjacket of Thornton Wilder’s Pultizer prize-winning The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It's not a first – the first came out in November for the Christmas season of 1927 and was reprinted regularly from that point on. Mine is a 14th , but only dates from May, 1928. So all told, it’s a nice early one in very good condition. I love the way it feels, the way it looks, the entire “isness” of it.

Online sales remain draggy, BUT I am happy, happy, happy because I sold Tasha Tudor’s Becky’s Christmas which was pictured here last week AND my customer who inquired about the Spur magazines is taking 26 of them! Yesterday fizzled at the antiques mall, but Friday proved good and Saturday VERY good, as the normal array of $15-30 stuff was augmented by the sale of a signed first edition of a history of Elyria, Ohio for $75 and a folio-sized set of prints of WWII aircraft (paintings) for an additional $75.

AND biblio must have overheard my wallflower comment because they tossed a me a little wink last night in the form of an order for an old yearbook I forgot I even had.

Once again, life is good in Ohio.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spurred On

I guess I should warn you that I’m a tad cranky today, but who knows, I may work myself out of it just by talking to you. The thing is, we headed toward Akron in the dark this morning for an estate sale which promised a library and delivered a shelf at Goodwill. The house sat back on a major road and was impossible to find because it’s one of the few detached single-family homes in an area rife with condo developments. When we finally did locate it (after I jumped out of the car in the dark to read the number) we were very early and for an impossibly long time the only people there other than our friend Darwin. He’s the guy I met back in the ‘70’s when he was all the rage for having turned antique Amish quilts into wall art. I wrote several articles for various publications about him and then never ran into him again until 25 years later when we started doing estate sales. All told, if you’re stuck waiting in the dark for a couple hours for an estate sale to open Darwin’s a good guy with whom to do it.

But even so, the grass was sodden from all the rain this week, so my feet got drenched immediately and then it felt like I had two blocks of ice attached to my ankles. The house was quite interesting though, an early ranch, maybe from the 20s, outfittedwith many  classical appointments including exterior dentil molding, crown molding in the formal rooms a foot deep, built-in china closets, and a covered patio with columns. But here’s the funny part – though the furnishings and accessories were lovely and at least vintage, if not antique, they somehow managed to exude a uniform blandness. It wasn’t just me who thought this either because the antiques guys definitely weren’t whirling around singing Oh Happy Day.

But the books. Oh,the sad and sorry books. Two lovely built in bookcases with rounded tops and what do they hold but a shelf of Harvard Classics, several Williamsburg coffee table books, a couple National Geographic coffee table books, a set of the ubiquitous Durants and several sets of beat-up, worn-out, terrible, awful, no good, very bad copies of cheaply bound classics all priced at $5 EACH and described as “a lovely selection.” Needless to say, zero sold. On the coffee table, however, sat the deluxe version of the American Heritage Audubon set from the 60’s in fine condition– two oversized brown volumes in the dusty rose decorative slipcase with the dusty rose ribbon markers and lift. But they had them priced at $100 which is the absolute most they’d fetch in today’s market and that doesn’t even take into consideration the cost of commission and shipping! I dislike this particular estate sale company with a purple passion because they act like everything they have is rare and wonderful when it’s most emphatically NOT. You can actually spend less and do better with the two elite firms. Needless to say, we bought nothing.

On the way home Eric spotted a sign for a book sale at the Fairlawn library. It had already been in progress for an hour, so of course hope and reality immediately met in a head-on collision. I did, however, buy a large Chinese-English dictionary which I just this minute discovered lists for at least $50. I also just a few minutes ago took a call from a customer who works for a prestigious auction house. He’s a collector of early Spur magazines, a publication aimed at  the wealthy (my issues are all from the 30’s) and cover  fine homes, high society, deluxe travel, show dogs, show horses, art,  antiques, and the all-around Good Life. For some reason he never sees them despite being being in the antiques business. They aren’t really all that common, but I’ve had lots of them, primarily because I bought them in large groupings. I think I’ve sold him a dozen or more over the years. During the Magical Makeover I found an additional 36 and put two on ABE which caught his eye. He bought one just now and wants a list of the rest before I ship. So between the dictionary and the Spurs I’m happier than I was when I started this. Which is good because this week’s sales have been lackluster. Even the trusty ABE sent me orders for cheap old stuff I would never buy today. As for Biblio – forget what I said last week about suddenly being the popular girl.

Turns out, I’m not even a wallflower at the Friday night sock hop.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Of Monsoons and Bubbles

As predicted, the rain fell steadily all day long yesterday. You’d think it was Ireland minus the sea and the mountains – that is, you would until it was time to go to the sale. Then it turned into Vietnam during monsoon season. An hour’s drive awaited us, so we left a little earlier than normal even though we harbored no illusions about being first in line. We’ve never been among the first five at this one, but it doesn’t matter because once inside everyone spreads out. Normally we shoot for a two and a half hour wait, but the weather cut  it back to two hours. But guess what? We were the first and only people in line for the entire first hour!

Always this sale is packed, primarily with Columbus dealers, but the minutes ticked by and at forty-five minutes to showtime only three additional people had shown up – one a scanner and the other two a couple of long-time dealers whom I know from NOBS but who live in the Columbus area. It wasn’t until twenty minutes before the doors opened that the rest of the attendees straggled in hauling dripping bins and tubs. The total number of people in line at the final bell was around twenty – a decrease so significant it couldn’t help but catch your attention. What’s interesting is that the turn-out exactly replicated that of last Friday night’s sale when I blamed the sparse attendance on the fact that there had been two significant sales that same week. Now I’m beginning to wonder if some other force is at work here. Yes, the rain may have been a factor, but I have been at sales when the roads resembled skating rinks and still people huddled against the library wall two or three hours in advance. I’m not ready to make any grandiose assessments here , but I do think this deserves careful watching if it continues.

As always, we headed first for the specials table. Two second later -- POP! Bye-bye pink and gold bubble. Not only was the specials table not special, but even the committee couldn’t warm up to their choices. Nothing exceeded $25 with the exception of a first edition Beatrix Potter which lacked a spine strip, was worn through at the corners and had a wobbly binding. They wanted $100 for that one, but I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon. Eric bought a couple minor things for the store from there, but I hit the stacks, as did the vast majority of the “crowd”. Right from the get-go I knew we’d score little to nothing exciting and I was absolutely right. Browsing was a breeze though , as everyone was polite, including the scanners. It’s been our experience that this is invariably the case unless you are in northeastern Ohio, home of the crazies and the brave who endure them.

Primarily I bought for the mall, but I did score a Foxfire magazine from 1974 that’s actually a book that became the issue for the winter quarter. I haven’t had a copy since 2008, so didn’t expect much price-wise, but amazingly, sellers are still offering it in the $45-50 range. I also bought a half dozen fine condition books from a nature series that does well in a retail setting. But here’s the real score of the night. This one is so freaking crazy you are not going to believe it. We got an enormous set of books in mint condition, a series from the early 1950's comprised of  “The Works of” various famous, classic  authors in a handsome binding, all unread and crisp as new for …. are you ready for this? – FIVE DOLLARS FOR ALL OF THEM! I am not kidding, we truly bought 54 books for five dollars. (See photo above, though not all are visible in the wooden crate)

No, the pink and gold bubble didn’t reemerge from the ether. And, no, I didn’t feel as though we came anywhere near  the magical sale of a few years ago. But we had fun, experienced zero stress, and made some good deals. All told, the book gods repaid last year’s selfless dedication to NOBS in spades.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In A Bubble Looking Out

It’s six-thirty a.m. as I write this and a steady rain drums the roof. The sun isn’t up yet, but it’s clear the sort of day it will be – dark and rainy, a day to spend, ideally, reading by the fire. I woke at four-thirty, so got up, made some coffee and a pumpkin bagel and finished reading The Paris Wife, the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. I had assiduously ignored this book even though the author, Paula McClain, is from Cleveland and I have always been enamored of the Lost Generation. But it’s precisely my interest in the topic and the sheer volume of books I’ve read about it that made me recoil from a fictionalized account. In the end though I’m glad I capitulated – it’s masterful.

Last night I went to dinner at the Asian bistro uptown on the square with my friend Jessica (Thai curry with chicken and red sauce) which turned out to be a rather merry event. It’s good to look in the mirror at my dressed up self once in awhile just to know that that verrsion of me still hangs around on the periphery. But there will be no dressing up today and certainly no lingering over wine. I’m gearing up as we speak for a whirlwind of activity. First, we’re going to avail ourselves of early voting around noon and then hit the antiques mall with the weeks’s new offerings before heading off to the fourth book sale in a week’s time. This one is rather far away, so the crazies don’t infiltrate, a fact which in itself makes it worth the trip.

My history with this sale borders on both the neurotic and the mythical. Every year when it rolls around a bubble of optimism forms around me, shimmering in shades of iridescent pink and gold. That is, until I get real and remember that only ONCE was it ever magical. Most of the time it’s so-so and a few times it’s been downright wretched. But one year, maybe four or five years ago, I hauled home so many treasures it’s permanently engraved on my psyche -- angling books, one of which sold for $375, New York fashion catalogs from the 1920’s, the ENTIRE SET of Nancy Drew books from the 60’s, an innocuous-looking book about the Beach Boys that sold for $75 -- and that’s just what I can remember. Last year I didn’t go because it coincided with a NOBS board meeting and I responded (at least I like to think so) to my higher angels in making the choice. But if I’m totally honest about it, the reason I bring that up now is to remind the book gods that past goodness deserves a reward tonight. Yeah, I know, bad karma. But there you have it.

Of course they say that lightning never strikes the same place twice anyway. When it comes to buying books I honestly do think it’s true. It reminds me of this antiques mall in Toledo we used to stop at on the way home from Michigan when we visited out oldest daughter and her family. The first time we went I bought half a dozen books so astounding I thought for sure I’d hit the mother lode of literature. As it turned out, I didn’t discover dirt, much less gold. We bought many books there until it closed, but never again did I get one even half as good as any from that first time. So the fact is, I’m more than likely going to crash and burn tonight.

But until I do, the view from the bubble remains dangerously rosy.

P.S. Photo below of Hadley Richardson Hemingway from Carlos Bakers' Hemingway biography as per comment to post.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I was going to post yesterday, as Friday night we attended book sale number three, but the sheer number of books from it all threatened to turn my office into its former disreputable self. After the Magical Makeover there is no way I’m about to be surrounded by leaning towers of tomes again. So I sorted it all, packed the store stock and moved it to the garage, took the mall books to the basement for processing and the rest (the smallest number) up to the office where I began listing them. I wish I could tell you that they’re all dazzling (some aren’t bad), but the Jalna novels pictured in my last post remain my favorites. Guess what though? Yesterday they sold to a blog reader – all sixteen of them which turned out to be the full set. I couldn’t be more tickled because I LOVE them and know they’ve found the world’s best home.

Friday’s night’s sale is usually one I like, but this time it fell as flat as champagne left uncorked overnight. The weather was cold with a strong wind which precluded our usual walk around the lake across the street from the library. But we did repair to a coffee shop with Paul and had a rollicking time sharing growing-up-Catholic stories. We both lived in Akron then so a lot of the landmarks matched, despite the fact that I’m five years older than he. Little did we know that while we were laughing in blissful ignorance over our mutual fall from grace, back at the library foment brewed. As several libraries have done around here, this one adopted the number system to control the line. It should have worked fine, but apparently didn’t. The three of us were numbers two, three and four, but the number one spot apparently became a bone of contention. Two of the crazies, only one of whom actually was acting crazy this time, got into a verbal sparring match which almost landed the aggressor on the curb when the sale's overseer had to break it up. Drama does add spice, but I’m delighted to have missed it.

Oddly enough, the crowd was way down, perhaps because everyone was spent, both financially and physically, from the previous two days. You would think this would be good, but it actually made little difference, as Paul, Eric and I, and one dealer from Columbus were the only non-scanners in the place. Plastic tubs are banned in the sale rooms, but the new volunteers didn’t seem to know how to .enforce it which meant the aisles resembled obstacle courses. As usual, I headed to the specials room and stayed there until the tension eased off. Always we have been able to buy at this sale with confidence no matter what the price on the book, but  our long-standing comfort zone collapsed like a tower of alphabet blocks. I realized it immediately when I picked up a book about the early days of the Shaker Heights rapid transit system and spotted its $35 price tag. I’ve had this book twice and the second time sold it for exactly that amount. From then on I bought carefully, but, even so, paid $20 too much for an art book I’ve had in the past. Fortunately, I more than made up for it on the R.E. Lee set featured in the main photo above.

When we finally got over to the main room the crowd (such as it was) had thinned and it was possible to walk around without stepping over tubs, or in my clase, slipping in behind them. I found two signed first edition children’s books, one a winner of the Kate Greenaway Prize, and a nice copy of Tasha’s Tudor’s Becky’s Christmas which is not often seen unless it’s an ex-lib. But, even with all of that, the evening seemed painted in shades of grey and muddied ochre. A woman I had never seen before lugged three enormous bags of books to the check-out only to ask where she might sort them.

“Sort them? Why would you need to do that?” the volunteer asked.

“So I can decide if I want them.”

“Why would you pick them if you’re not sure you want them?” (Great question!)

 “Because I have to scan them.”

The volunteer, thoroughly baffled, reluctantly consented and off went the woman and her bulging bags of books to the narrow hallway leading to the exit where she promptly plopped down on the floor, whipped out her scanner, and created a whole new obstacle course. Over an hour into the sale and a mountain of books that others might have actually purchased wound up discarded in a heap on the floor. The sight of them filled me with an overwhelming sense of desolation.

But now on this Sunday morning I feel better. As always, once I gained perspective and realized that I did better than I felt I had,  hope  blossomed again. In addition to the children’s books mentioned above, I got the gorgeous four volume set of Freeman’s R.E. Lee in the Pultizer Prize Edition from 1936 and a six volume boxed set of Andre Norton’s Witch World series published by Ace in the 60’s replete with its scarce Witch World map. So, in the end, I am ready to face another round of book sales 21st century style.

Which is fortunate because several dot the calendar this week.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Battle Warriors!

Well, here I am again – battleworn and weary from an incredible 12 hour day of book sales which began at 6:30 a.m. when we left our house to 6:30 p.m. when we returned to it. To give you an idea of my exhaustion I was asleep on the couch by eight, woke up at midnight, and staggered upstairs not be heard from again until 6:30 this morning. That’s an hour and a half past my usual wake-up time, so I had to hustle like a used car salesman to get the orders wrapped – two day’s worth because we had no time to ship yesterday.

The first sale, made tolerable only due to breakfast with our seller friends Paul, Carol, and Ed, was akin to sharing a pile of glowing embers in book sale hell with the people who drive you the craziest. Had it not been for the pre-sale conviviality I think I would have so thoroughly self-destructed I wouldn’t have left behind a speck of dust. Crowds, hordes, and mobs, scanners blazing like six-guns, ran around like a pack of frantic ants after somebody kicked the anthill, each lugging at least two plastic bins or Rubbermaid tubs, used of course to thoroughly block the aisles. The volunteers worked hard to get them to take their books to the holding station, but it was about as effective as trying to get feral cats to eat out of the palm of your hand. Whaaaat??? Stop the scanfest for two seconds??? Not a chance!

The funny part was the books which, despite their number, consisted of three-quarters well-used ex-library copies and the rest titles as ubiquitous as the common cold. Eric bought some military and fishing stuff for store stock and I bought exactly one thing, though I do believe it was the best thing in the whole place – 16 volumes of Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna Novels in the Whiteoak edition from the 40’s replete with their hard-to-find dustjackets (see photo of sampling). I had had a smaller set of six, also published by Little Brown in the 40’s, but with different dustjackets and sold them for $65 on April 9th of this year. So, not a bad buy! While Eric checked us out I chatted with an elderly man who commented that he has seen us at sales quite a lot and was amazed at how calm we are.

“This is very undignified,” he said, nodding at the swarm. “But I notice you never participate. Are you a book dealer?”

At that moment I think an angel got its wings. Oh, listen to THIS! Now I’m reduced to quoting from the most treacly Christmas movie of all times.

On to the next sale then! Last spring we had a lovely time there, but this was about as lovely as a tar pit. The same gang from the morning, plus many more, prompted the volunteers to make the same old stern speech about fighting. But the crowd didn’t bother me here, as we headed straight to the specials room and stayed there until after the natives had calmed down. The problem was that all the beautiful books from last time were replaced by the wonkiest bunch of stuff I ever saw and priced to the heavens. Here are a few examples – a ratty copy of the Holland volume from the My Travel Ship set priced at $24, Cherry Ames reprints with ratty jackets (not the tweed bindings) at $8 each; and a well-used set of first edition Little Golden alphabet books at $35. But the real shocker was the railroad titles. Brace yourself – this makes your roller coaster nightmares look like carousel rides. They had maybe eight or ten train titles that were good except that in every instance their price exceeded $100. Profit margin? Forgetabout  it! Not a single dealer bought one and that included at least three who, like me, have spent that much in the past for a single book. I did get some stuff from this room, but I have to dig it out of the bags to tell you what it was. If there’s anything good I’ll show you later, but I rather doubt it.

All told, I suspect the day was better than it feels because we got lots of store and mall stuff too. But what a way to do this. Call me old, but give me the good old days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat ... From Server to Server

Okay, so what’s going on with Biblio? Is everybody getting orders, or am I suddenly the popular girl? Seriously, this site only throws me a bone on the fourth Wednesday of the first month of every third year and then only when it rains. But in the past couple days I’ve received the following orders:

Forty Years of Pioneer Life; Memoir of John Mason Peck -- $75 (an antiqurian title from 1864)

The Tombs of the Doges of Venice -- $80 (just got that one. It was pictured a few days ago.)

Best Guns -----$45 (bought from the online customer I told you about)

Fleur En Fiole -- $85 (the erotic novel written in ancient China and produced in a two volume set in French. Got it this summer and had a photo of it here)

Dillie Delights --- $20 (a book about tatting I somehow acquired 13 years ago. I knew I had it though because for some reason I have a mysterious neurotic hatred of it.)

Anyway, I thought I’d mention this little blip on the biblio radar as it ties into something I read in the Auction Bytes newsletter the other morning. A few posts back I remember mentioning the controversy over whether or not sites have multiple servers which make visible only part of your inventory at any given time. The discussion in the newsletter was focused on ebay and their nefarious behaviors which caused me and many, many other sellers to take a hike. I’ve been gone over a year now, but apparently the games not only continue, but have taken on new shades of ugly. The point, however, is that the server issue came during the conversation and an IT person chimed in on it. Of course being an IT person the responder got into gates and portals and other such esoteric stuff, so I’ll spare you the long version.

The bottom line is, yes, there are indeed multiple servers at large sites due to the staggering volume of listings. One server is active and one is passive --a euphemism for invisible inventory -- and they alternate which explains why you look up one of your own books and don’t see it listed and then three weeks later you do. It also explains why you might receive a cluster of orders from the same geographic area. Back when I sold on Amazon – this would be years ago when they had z-shops – we always puzzled over why every order originated from west of the Mississippi one day and then were all from New England the next.

I would surmise that this may also be why for a period of time all of your orders are for old stock. Whenever this happens to me I’m as nervous as a piano protege trying out for Julliard since some of this stuff dates back to the 90’s. In those days sites (there were only a few then – ABE, alibris and bibliofind) kept their noses out of your business, so if you mistakenly forgot to remove a sold book the world didn’t fly off it’s axis and hit you in the head. Whenever I don’t have a book the odds are good that it traces back to those days. In fact, whenever I actually locate some arcane old title I feel like I’ve made it to the peak of Everest – breathless, panting, and relieved to have survived. For years I’ve been talking about needing to do a physical inventory, but when you’re a one-woman show time doesn’t exactly pour over you like scented shampoo.

While we’re on the subject of old stock, it occurs to me that I haven’t played my old game of forcing a sale on a book that’s overstayed its welcome. I keep trying to get you guys to join in – it’s very fun, really, but nobody has so far. To refresh your memory, the idea is to choose a book that should have sold but didn’t, most likely because the devotees of the you-don’t-gotta-know-nothin’-to-sell-books school of pricing undercut your copy so many times the book’s in a coma. But sometimes you don’t even have to cut the price. All it takes to make magic is focus. The book gods reward you for picking it up and looking through it, changing something in the listing, adding a photo, or sometimes even RAISING the price. I’ve sold every one I tried to do here which I think is maybe four. It doesn’t always happen fast – it has taken me as long as two months and several changes – but I always did it. I guess you could argue that if it takes two months it would have sold anyway. But I would counter that it had been listed for YEARS and hadn’t.

Okay then, I’m going to make this hard. I have 17 volumes of what should be 19 of the novels of Edward Payson Roe, a Civil War veteran and minister who was actually a popular author in his day. I have not listed these yet, but I think given their limited appeal and the fact that they’ve been stashed in the closet for too long they’re fair game. I know you’re thinking I’m three sandwiches short of a picnic for having bought them in the first place, but wait! I had the full set of 19 previously and sold them on January 1, 2007 for $175. So when I saw them at an estate sale for $15 for the lot I figured I’d take a second shot at it. The condition is great, so that helps, and I have considerable latitude on price to make up for the missing volumes which makes it even more worth giving it a go.

Anybody else want to try moving a mountain? It’s fun. REALLY. And, who knows --you might even sell it on biblio!

Saturday, October 08, 2011


The lush, leafy umbrella of our enormous tree is gone and suddenly our formerly dark except-in the-winter family room fills with a lovely light. It’s a northern exposure, so it’s not blinding, but with  two skylights, one window, and eight feet of patio doors the world just got much brighter. What is not so bright is the reason we came to bask in this light at this particular moment. We had had two removal quotes previously in the $1600 range neither of which  included disposal of the wood. Each time we hemmed and hawed, but ended up not doing it. Then last week the owner of a tree company who was doing a small job in our neighborhood knocked on the door and inquired if we would like the tree taken out. He was desperate for work, he said, and would remove it, cut up the wood, haul it to the store for the fireplace, and prune the trees in the front yard, all for $1100. The only thing was he’d lost a lot of his equipment due to the economic downturn and no longer had a saw with a circumference great enough to wrestle the giant all the way to the ground, which meant there would still be about four feet of trunk left standing. I wasn’t there when he said this, but Eric told me his humiliation was acute and complete.

It was. I saw it this morning in the stark outline of what remains of the tree.

What’s left is unsightly of course, but we will deal with that. My husband will dust off his forestry degree and hack away at it. He already has a plan to split it in two and take it out in parts. So aesthetics are not the issue. The issue is the four men who worked from nine a.m. to seven p.m, two of whom then came back the next day and worked another four or five hours loading up the many logs and dragging them down Rte 42 the ten miles to the store. Including the owner, all have been reduced to piecework – a day here, a day there. The youngest, the father of a newborn, had to move in with his in-laws because the cost of keeping an apartment had proven unsustainable. The oldest, a man in his 50’s, has a bad back, but in spite of his boss’s admonitions to be careful, cleared away a mountain of limbs by himself

As we stood in the backyard Wednesday night ankle-deep in tree debris Eric said, “Those guys -- they’re the faces of the recession, you know.”

I  know.

I thought of them  this morning as I stood at the back door in the early gray light with my coffee looking out at the butchered corpse of our once vital tree. Its shape, even minus arms, brought to mind a trip to Arizona and the outline of a lone saguaro cactus standing sentinel on the mesa. The silhouette of both the tree and the cactus is defined by abrupt lines, too much space, and a harsh scarceness of symmetry. Of course the dead tree lacks the saguaro’s needle-like spines, or seems to at least.  But it isn't true. Appearances to the contrary,  the tree is fairly abloom with spines.

Just ask the four men who rubbed up against it this week.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Bookseller's Christmas

We got it! We got it! The antiquarian collection we bid on I mean. I was beginning to think the answer was no, as we bid on the weekend and only just found out late yesterday that the offer had been accepted. It definitely perked me up, as we had gone to see another “collection” so bad it was fairly stunning. You know you’re in trouble when the owner opens the basement door and the smell of must not only rises up to greet you, but nearly slams you against the wall. But even that hardly mattered as the books looked like they’d been run over by a tractor and buried in a peat bog. And even THAT didn’t matter because they weren’t any good to begin with. As I’ve mentioned many times, it’s endlessly frustrating the way people present their books over the phone even when you practically give them the third degree. This owner announced that his were all “antique”, part of an estate, and greatly loved by their former owner (his mother), which of course implied they’d been well preserved. Like so many others who’ve called, he couldn’t remember exactly what the collection consisted of, but was sure it was history for the most part. Turns out, the only history it ever brushed up against was its own. Novels. What he had were novels. By minor authors. Authors so minor I didn’t recognize a single one.

After declining them (in the nicest possible way) we stopped by the antiques mall with some new stuff for the weekend. It seemed pretty draggy over there, but the nightly report did show a couple sales. I think I’ve become a tad paranoid though after the shoplifting of Alice Underground because almost right away I spun into a panic when I couldn’t find a valuable Ohio title – Cherry’s The Portage Path. Eric formed a one man search and rescue party and -- voila! – ferreted it out of the children’s section. While that was a great relief, I was still fairly wired and had to do the grocery shopping yet. We ran around the store like trainees for the Boston marathon and got most of it done pretty effortlessly until I picked up a carton of eggs and wound up with egg white all over my hands. Words cannot convey the grossness of the moment. So the news about the collection when we got home was like winning t he lottery.

As it turns out, we even HAVE the books already. Eric got them this morning and dropped off my two big boxes on his way to the store. He wasn’t even out the door when I began rummaging for two specific books. Years ago we bought a collection of railroadiana from an elderly man who was moving from Medina to California. With it came a sole odd 18th century volume entitled Miscellania Curiosa, one volume of a set of three from the 1720’s. For years I’ve kept an eye out for the others, but never encountered any until we viewed this collection. Not only was there one of the missing books in it, but possibly TWO of them. It had been a long time since I’d looked at ours, so I wasn’t sure which one we had. They’re fairly pricey even at a single volume, so the whole set would be cause for dancing in the street. But do I HAVE a whole set? No, I do not. I ended up with a volume two and two copies of volume three. (See photos of books above). For one split-second I thought had them all because they were marked volumes one, two and three. The problem came when I looked at the title pages simultaneously and realized that one volume was a from different edition and the sequence of the volumes in it had changed.

Of course it was a long shot anyway, so I’m not really too disappointed. The collection as it stands is quite good and I’m pleased with it. I haven’t been through it all yet, but I’ve already pulled out some cool stuff, some of which I remembered and some I didn’t. That’s the fun part of buying a lot of books at once though. You can’t possibly remember everything, so it’s always a bookseller’s Christmas.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Thoughts At Lakeside

As I write this the sound of chainsaws fills the air with a music I both appreciate and rue. The reason they’re singing is because an enormous tree which has needed to depart our company for at least 20 of the 24 years we’ve lived here is about to be felled. Four tree surgeons arrived at nine to perform the operation made delicate due to the tree’s proximity to power lines, the garage, and our neighbor’s screened porch. I know it needs to go – it’s too close to the house – but what a lovely thing it is overarching the brick patio. I can’t bear to watch, so every blind is closed and I am hidden away in my office as though it were a windowless cubicle and I a corporate worker bee (oh, perish the thought!). The good part is I can finally write the blog I promised you about the Lakeside Press books I bought last week at the FOL sale. If you’ve never seen these be sure to read on, as this is something you definitely want to file away in your memory for future reference.

Until I saw these in two cardboards boxes priced at $40 for all I had never seen a Lakeside Classic with the word Christmas on the title page. But I HAD read about them, so all it took was one glance to send a thousand neurons firing – zing! zing! zing! zing! – until my brain practically exploded with Roman candles. I got all but one of the 1940’s annuals, all of the 50’s and 60’s, and the first six from the 70’s. And every last one says CHRISTMAS on the title page. I know this practice stopped at some point – Chistmas being replaced by December -- but I cannot seem to find out when this was. All I can tell you is that at least through 1975 the word Christmas is spelled out in block letters.

But before we talk about the salient points of these pretty little volumes (all are in fine conditon) a bit of history is in order. The Lakeside Classics are the imprint of the R.R. Donnelly Company, a venerable publishing house created by a Canadian immigrant named Richard Robert Donnelly who hung his first publisher’s shingle in 1864. The business incorporated and reincorporated many times over the years, but was already successful with its Lakeside imprint when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the Lakeside building and its contents. It’s said that Donnelly traveled to New York in a borrowed coat with a free train ticket to seek a loan to regroup. Not only was his integrity and reputation rewarded, but he bounced back with a brand new product that proved to be a big hit with readers. Donnelley published hardback fiction in soft cover, added woodcut illustrations and sold his Lakeside Library novels at a dime apiece, launching the second revival of the paperback novel which had first been introduced in the 1840’s (yeah, surprising, isn’t it?), but had faded away.

Now fast forward to the early 20th century – 1903 to be exact. Donnelly senior is dead, but his son, Thomas, snaps the reins and launches the Lakeside Classics which would be finely bound, small books (16mo) issued one per year and always an uncommon title generally on American western history that’s long been out-of print and known primarily to historians. But here’s the kicker – these books were purposely NEVER sold. They were published and distributed as annual gifts to employees, stockholders, vendors and associates, which means that the first time a reader or collector ever bought one was on the secondary market! The book that launched the whole shebang in 1903 was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It’s estimated that a thousand copies came off the press but, even so, it’s pretty hard to find one and VERY expensive if you do. Only a few complete sets of Lakeside Classics are known to exist and their volumes are multi-colored because Lakeside has made it a practice to change the color of the binding every 25 years.

Here’s the breakdown by year:

1903-1927 – dark green

1928-1952 – red

1953-1977 – navy blue

1978-2002 – dark brown

2003 – turquoise

 Not surprisingly, a few sellers on ABE, clearly of the “you don’t gotta know nothin’ to sell books” school of pricing,  have listed these ridiculously low, but research shows that experienced sellers are listing in the $30-50 range. I will be doing likewise, but probably not until after the Akron Antiquarian Show in April.

Until then back into the box they go. And me back to work with the chainsaws still whirring away outside the window killing my beautiful tree that sits, ironically -- near the lakeside.

P.S. To see early examples of specific Lakeside titles get thee to this impressive website and have a look. It clarified my recollection of what I'd previously read and also provided dates for the various colors for which I am most grateful.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Degrees of Gratification

Finally, my cold is pretty much gone, so the weekend proved to be both fun and gratifying. Eric was supposed to have been in Maryland, but due to weather reports from the area decided not to spend the entire last week selling books in a tent. As it turns out, Saturday brought in local customers to the store who had gone to the show and returned with horror stories about cars stuck in the mud and people not being able to get to Merchant’s Row. I had been totally bummed because it was also the weekend of the first Cleveland Antiquarian Book & Paper Fair sponsored by NOBS. But as “luck” would have it it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I didn’t take a booth after all. I would have been hard-pressed to fill it, as I don’t even have most of what I took to Akron in April, much less enough that’s new and noteworthy. However, that may be about to change.

Over the weekend we saw a collection that I would very much like to have. It’s going to be expensive if we get it, but it’s entirely antiquarian with a range of titles, primarily history and fishing. We submitted a bid this morning and now must wait and see what happens. I’m not sure if other dealers are looking at it too, but I got the impression we were the only ones – at least at this point. Again though, I will only be buying a section of it with Eric taking the majority for the store. I bid $500 for two boxes, though Eric said there are two additional boxes that had not been offered initially and we could maybe get them too. But of course there are no guarantees of anything yet..

Meanwhile I did buy some books at an estate sale in Akron Saturday morning. The rain poured so steadily that everyone, even the most loquacious, huddled in their cars until they passed out numbers. We took ours and repaired to Panera for coffee ( it was FREEZING) and returned about fifteen minutes before show time. The house, a massive Tudor (usually my favorite, but this one had a weird floor plan), had been owned by an antiques dealer, so was filled with all kinds of goodies for his former competition. The books were more of an after-thought, but I did get a few very minor titles (see representative photo above), so all was not lost. I just wonder when, or if, I am ever going to go to a sale where we actually get a decent pay-off. I’d say we’re due, so if the book gods are listening here’s the deal. While I’m very, very grateful for what we get, however less than dazzling it may be, I do think, if I maybe so bold, that we deserve a smidgen better – especially after what happened when we left the sale.

Steady rain had given way to high winds and the forty-day flood. Here’s the visual. Eric lopes down the street, books protected by his jacket while I fly past him hanging onto an enormous pile of tissue paper (think gift wrap and gift baskets) all of which was still encased in its original plastic. Down the street and around the corner I run like a banshee in the watery gloom, packages slip-sliding around like an armload of eels. By the time I get to the car a tissue paper trail worthy of Hansel and Gretel lies in my wake. Four packages hit the drink and somehow got soaked even with the plastic. But I picked them up, took them home and festooned the floor with the soggy sheets until they dried to a crinkly texture that’s great for collage. So I ended up with four packages of art paper and a dozen for gift wrap.

Saturday night Nancy and I drowned any sorrows we had at Santosusso’s, a nice Italian place right up the main road from my house. We had a glass of wine, a great dinner, lots of laughs and a fashion parade. It turned out to be Homecoming night so we saw it all – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the OMG-honey- what-were-you-THINKING-when-you –bought-that dress?! This led to hilarious tales of our own dances of the past – the dresses we loved and the boys we did not. We also noted that girls seem to go in dateless packs to formal events these days. A dozen such young women shared a huge table, all dressed beautifully and clearly having a blast. The interesting thing was that most of them were more attractive than the ones hanging off the arms of the boys!

And now for the best part of the whole weekend.  Late Saturday afternoon I got an email from the buyer of the Chinese autograph book. Just when I thought it was perfect, it gets even BETTER. He had told me initially that he had in his collection a carte-de-visite of a young Chinese boy who, though unnamed, was clearly part of the Chinese Educational Mission. The clue was the photographer’s name and location which matched one of the participating towns. Well, he opens the book I sent and there inside is a cheaper identical photo identified in the boy’s own hand, not only with his name and the date, but his home city in China. He also discovered that this young fellow was the book’s owner! The reason the mysterious album started out in America and wound up in China only to wind up back in America is that its owner left the U.S. in 1881 with the rest of the kids, but then snuck back into the U.S. in 1884 where, with the help of a Protestant minister, he went to college and became an engineer. After graduation he married a young American girl he’d met in high school and they moved to New Jersey where he worked as an engineer and fathered two sons. The sad part is he died in 1909 at around age 43 assuming he was eighteen when he began college.

My buyer also told me that he’d called his friend, Dr. Eric J. M. Rhoads, a professor who is the leading authority on the Chinese Educational Mission and has written a book about it. Of course nothing will do but for me to buy the book, Stepping Forth Into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81, published this year by Hong Kong University Press. I cannot express how honored I am to have played a small part in the  documentation of this event, or how truly gratified I am to have noticed value in what appeared to be nothing more than a teenage kid's friendship book.

This –THIS -- is why I do this work. And why I wish I could do it forever.