Monday, November 28, 2011

The Big Box Blues

Unlike most Americans, we skipped the-stand-in-line-to-gobble-up-cheap-Chinese-imports-for-Christmas thing. We didn’t even venture out on Saturday. As far as that goes, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to shop on Sunday either, but we did because we really do need to get on with it. Interestingly enough, the crowds and mania I feared failed to materialize. In fact, I would say that most stores were no busier than they’d be on any Sunday afternoon and Panera, where we tend to have lunch most Sundays, was MUCH less crowded than normal. You would think, given all that, that it would have been festively fun. But it most emphatically was not.

We decided to concentrate on our little boys for this trip which of course required forays into the big box stores I loathe more with every passing year. But how else does granny buy Lego creatures with a strange name I can’t remember, electronic Scrabble cubes, and other such wizardry? When it comes to the most desired toys the big guys pretty much have you by the wallet. Since Borders closed this year we had to go to Barnes & Noble for books which, thankfully, appeared on the list for both kids. But I so dislike that cold, slick, escalatored emporium that I try to run in and out at supersonic speed. I did get a couple books for Dylan, but Tyler wanted the first two Ridley Pearson novels for kids in The Kingdom Keepers series (which somehow has something to do with Disney), but they had neither one in hard cover. The saleswoman gave me the hard sell, first trying to convince me to buy the paper edition, then wanting to order the hard cover online for me. I told her I could do it myself at home, but she insisted it would be better if she locked it in for me. Guess how much I loved THAT?

Not only did the strong-arm tactic fail, but a small bookstore in Ohio emerged victorious because of it. I got home and thought to myself what if I were to buy them on the secondary market and get one of them signed by Ridley Pearson. Two second after I thought it that’s exactly what I did. I bought via Advanced Book Exchange a fine/fine signed copy from an Ohio dealer, Books of Aurora. Did I pay more? Yes, I did. Do I care? No, I definitely don’t begrudge the extra three dollars. I would rather buy less stuff and support small, independent businesses any day. So actually the whole debacle ended up well if I may say so myself. As for the big box stores, they’ve seen the last of me this Christmas. I bought from Target, Barnes and Noble, and Marshalls, but that’s it. Not another dime goes to any of them even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of my shopping list.

I was thinking about all this this morning when I glanced down at the newspaper and saw a headline which read “Black Friday’s Black Eye.” According to the story, the devious head games the mega-merchants play with their hype, loss leaders, and ever increasing sale hours resulted in escalated violence at stores across the nation. Immediately an image I saw online Saturday popped into my head. Someone had snapped a photo in a checkout line of a shopping cart piled, heaped, and mounded with cheap imported junk and a small baby asleep in the midst of it, off to one side as though she were taking up precious space. I really hate when I rant and I guess this qualifies as a rant, but I truly do think there’s a better, saner way to buy Christmas presents.

Speaking of presents, the antiques mall did very well on Saturday – better even than last year -- so I am very grateful to those who supported us. Sunday returned to a normal Sunday pattern, but I knew it would because we went by twice on our way in and out of Montrose and the number of cars in the parking lot didn’t dazzle me either time. I just hope that once we get over Black Friday and Cyber Monday we can collectively reacquaint ourselves with antiques shops,  old-fashioned hardware stores, galleries (museum galleries have great gifts), toy shops, specialty stores and of course – new, used, and antiquarian bookstores.

I think if we slow down, enjoy the experience of browsing in peace, and put more thought into what we give we just might have a happier -- and more human -- holiday.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

After the Turkey

Well, one down and one to go – holidays I mean. The weather was perfect in Ohio this Thanksgiving – sun shining, not too hot, not too cold. The turkey cooked to a turn, every dish came out the way it was supposed to and – amazing! – everybody liked everything. And that includes the two year-old. We never did bake cookies or put up the tree, but that’s because Catie’s boyfriend Joe left the kids a remote control powered Jeep of rather large proportions when they departed for Maryland. We took it outside several times and both kids had a blast – Tyler operating it and Dylan running after it screaming like a wild man. We also took an after dinner stroll uptown to the square – Moira, Eric, Tyler and I did at least -- and wouldn’t you know I never thought to bring the camera. The turbo-charged one finally fell asleep after banging every kitchen cabinet door, walking around carrying bottles of spices clutcdhed in both tiny fists, turning the dishwasher on twice, coating my glass topped coffee table with mashed potatoes (a second dessert?) and hitting the phone locator button so many times it’s amazing it still works. The second that curly little head hit the mattress we were out the door leaving Dad in charge!

Medina’s town square sparkles like a Victorian Christmas card topped off with a wedding cake gazebo in the center of the town park. If you watched the old Gilmore Girls TV show think Star’s Hollow and there you have Medina. All we lack is the town minstrel, but Christmas music poured from the speaker system, though it did zing a bit erratically from down-home country to the rhapsodic Ave Maria. I never think of Ave Maria as a Christmas song because the mailman sang it at our June wedding back in the Stone Age. I know, I know – it sounds bogus having the mailman sing, but it wasn’t. Honest.

We called Caitie and Joe in Maryland when we got back, but couldn’t use Face Time which was the plan because Gran and Papa, Stone Age throwbacks that we are, lack Wi-fi. Who knew you’d need it? I thought the technology had something to do with the phone! I was a little sad that we didn’t get to see them and they didn’t get to see how big Dylan is now. It also made me sad to think of them in a little neighborhood restaurant eating turkey. But they will be here for Christmas, so that helps.

Yesterday performed only like a normal Friday at the mall, so I’m wondering if the Big Box Bonanza took a big bite out of it. Tonight should tell the tale. Last year the Saturday after Thanksgiving rocked and rolled, but with the emphasis on electronic gadgetry,big box deals, and the state of the economy I don’t know that we’ll do as well this time. One thing that brought me up short Wednesday night when I went in to clean and restock was the shocker next door to us – yet another dealer has folded and the booth is empty. That means that in one year both booths alongside ours vacated twice each. I know it will fill rapidly, but the turnover frequency is definitely disconcerting. We are still operating well in the black, but since fall there’s been a decided downturn. Maybe it’s books. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s the mall. I don’t know. What I do know is that this year I have more and better stuff, but I am hearing from other book dealers at different malls that they’ve likewise experienced a drop since summer.

This time I didn’t even entertain the notion of renting the space. I did, however, buy three large bookcases from the ex-dealer at the bargain price of $10 each. She didn’t sell too many books – mostly the cases displayed glass, linens and other smalls. Even if I never expand to a second booth I can use them here for overflow (whatever THAT is), so it’s a good deal no matter what.

Today I need to get with it and work because yesterday I totally vegged out. I’m not kidding. I didn’t do a blessed thing but tidy up the house and read Peter Stoneley’s Consumerism and American Girls’ Literature 1860-1940. Very good and very eye-opening. I love books about books, but after reading this one I will never look at series fiction for girls of the period in the same way. The author is an English professor from Belfast, Northern Ireland, but I think he pretty well nailed the state of American juvenile lit of the period. I guess it could be argued that reading such stuff won't do much to improve sales.  But even with all the very real threats to our profession I still believe that continuing education makes us better booksellers.

By the way, today is the designated national day to support small sellers. I am off right now to buy Eric a Scottish art glass paperweight for his collection from an online antiques dealer. Get thee off to buy a gift from the little guy too. If everyone buys at least one thing that didn't come from a megastore Christmas will be brighter for us all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving High

Sometimes life surprises you in odd ways. Would you believe I actually got a chair for the mall after all? I doubt very much it had anything to do with me and my invocation to the furniture gods yesterday, but you never know. One of the estate sale people at the sale where I got my two chairs inquired as to whether Eric would like to purchase the leftover books for the store at an extreme price reduction. Unless you have an open shop you wouldn’t want these even though they’re all popular fiction in bright, attractive, pristine condition. I don’t know how many books he got, but it was around ten big boxes and he paid $25 for the lot! While he was there he noted that some of the things we liked were still present, so he inquired about them too. As it turned out, the only item unsold was the rocker. The rest were accepted bid items which were to be picked up in the next few hours. But I’ll take it, as it had been priced at $175 and last night was marked down to $50. Ah, life is good in Medina today!

I am so revved up though you’d think I was a NASCAR driver at race time. I got up at 4:30 and had ten books listed and uploaded to the various sites before Eric left for the store. My task now is to get a LOT of books ready to go to the mall for this crucial weekend. Sales have picked up again somewhat there, so a spark of hope burns as merrily as a Yule log. I have some very cool stuff and I’m going to decommission a couple online books too because I’m sick of waiting around for someone to buy them. Online selling is so tiresome anymore. How I long for the good old days, but I doubt greatly they will be returning anytime soon. Let’s not talk about THAT though. I’m in a good mood and would like to stay that way.

The mall Christmas sale is on too, so I want to take part in it this year. Last year we opened the day after Thanksgiving, so it was too wild and woolly to even think about it, but this year it’s definitely doable. The way it works is you pick up these red and green tags and you put one on any item you want to include and mark the discount anywhere from 15 to 50 per cent. I have several sets which need to disappear to clear up some much needed space, so they’re what I’m aiming to highlight. I’ll have to do the work at the mall of course, but we plan to spend some time sprucing up anyway – vacuuming, dusting etc. I would like to decorate for Christmas, but you can’t bring anything but vintage stuff to do it and I don’t have any vintage Christmas stuff. I guess I could bring a little garland, but it would hang down over the books which is not so wonderful, so I guess we’ll confine our cheer to great prices on books that need to be under somebody else’s Christmas tree! But next year remind me to get in gear early and get some old Christmas do-dads.

As soon as we finish at the mall we have to run to the grocery to load up for Thanksgiving, as I’m chief cook and bottle washer again after one year off. For the first time ever we won’t have our younger daughter Caitie and her boyfriend Joe here. They live in  Maryland now and she has to fly to Canada for her job on Monday, so it's not really feasible to make such a long trip.  Today’s her birthday too, so I could get pretty funky over it, but am determined not to. I’m focused on the little guys because it’s also Tyler’s birthday celebration – eight years old this year! How can it be????? I’m doing turkey with all the trimmings of course (Tyler and I like the cranberry sauce best), so tomorrow when I’m not here you can visualize me down in the kitchen slicing and dicing. Actually, I’m pretty  into it this year. In fact, I may even bake Christmas cookies with the kids Thanksgiving afternoon even though Dylan, the little turbo-engine, will create a perfect snowstorm of flour and sugar. But, hey, that’s what they make shovels for, right?

Before I go I have to give you at least one picture of something made of paper, so here’s a photo of an ephemera item I bought at the least desirable estate sale Saturday and completely forgot about due to my dizziness over the chairs. I found it in one of our bags this morning and listed it at $45.As you can see, it’s a Notre Dame football program from 1948 – Notre Dame vs. Northwestern. Great year for the Fighting Irish too, as they ended the season undefeated along with the Michigan Wolverines. Check out the full page color national ads too – isn’t that something?

On that note I’m headed for the basement workbench. But first I just want to say that I am so grateful to you all for reading my silly stories, writing  me comments, and generally making me feel like it’s all worthwhile. Happy Thanksgiving everyone -- I appreciate you more than you know.

P.S. Darwin just checked in to say that yesterday's featured chairs are contemporary with influence from the Directoire period. Well, who knew?! He also liked them which is a very good thing!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Answer Is Yes

The answer to the last question I posed – do the book gods have friends is yes, they do. However, when contacting these friends through an intermediary one must be very specific about one’s wants. And this is precisely where I may have run amok. The good news is I got two chairs for my booth at the antiques mall – matching chairs and beautiful too. But therein lies the problem. They are actually TOO beautiful and too finely made. I got them for a song at $125 each, but I now face several dilemmas. I think they  might be mid-century modern, but I don’t think they were mass produced, but then what do I know?  I cannot discern their designer and/or maker even after looking at hundreds of modern chairs. The quality is exceptional, the design simple and elegant and they may be European, as their previous owner was European and admired all things Italian. But I feel like they’re Asian, perhaps Japanese. I took a photo of them and will be sending it along to Darwin today in hopes that he and his vast design knowledge will come to the rescue.

But even if he does identify them and provide me with an appropriate asking price (which I think could be fairly good) I don’t think they want to go to the mall. Just for fun I stationed them in my formal living room (amazing how there just happened to be two spaces available) and instantly heard a discernible sigh of relief from both – ah, home at last! Of course the merchant in me noted that if I sold one the other one would be free --and then some. But I don’t want them to go. I really don’t want them to go and neither does Eric. So because I failed to lay out distinct parameters for the furniture gods I am right back at square one with no practical chair which means that Cheryl still can’t go to the mall!

However, the merchant in me was very happy yesterday. I am getting over the theft of the bookends, though a woman did email after having seen the original blog post and expressed interest in buying them. But it’s time for that train to leave the station, so I’ve turned my focus to yesterday’s Medina flea market which was exceptionally good. Interestingly enough, I could have confined myself to just a couple aisles and been out of there in a flash, as everything I bought I bought within fifteen minutes from four dealers This has not happened in so many years I can’t even remember the last time it did. I spent $105 and got the following:

Ohio in the War; Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers by Whitelaw Reid (two volume facsimile reprints in original shrinkwrap)

The Autobiography of Captain Alexander McDougall edited by Janet Cole Sanborn and published by the Great Lakes Historical Society in 1968. There are no comparables online.

Pine Bluffs, North Carolina 1884-1976 compiled by the Pine Bluffs Historical Committee

The History of Parma (Ohio) by Ernest R. Kubasek, 1976

Dogs by Albert Payson Terhune (a good mall seller at a better price than online)

The Dog Book by Albert Payson Terhune and the great Diana Thorne, widely admired for her artistic renderings of animals (again better selling price at the mall).

Wisdom magazine, 1958 (features Ernest Hemingway on the cover, plus an article by him and an article ABOUT him)

Heart’s Ease, a gift book from 1909 by Philips Brooks who was an Episcopal priest who wrote the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem.

The First Christmas, another gift book, this time by Kate Whiting Patch (undated). Victorian and Edwardian gift books have their own special following and sell for more than you might expect, but not on the traditional book sites. I will not be listing either one there.

Blondie and Dagwood paper dolls, including Alexander and Cookie, all with five outfits apiece, plus accessories. I will probably take them to the mall, but I am going to divide them by character and outfits into four separate clear bags which will be mounted on a LARGE cardboard and heat-sealed in a plastic bag. I have a hunch that these are imminently shopliftable, so even if my methodology bombs the taker will have to work much harder to get them out the door.

Other than the chairs, Saturday's estate sales held little excitement. Two of them had been touted as having “lots of books”, but I bought only two books total, both from the same place as the chairs and neither is worth mentioning. That house did have “lots”, just not especially good ”lots” and the other had SOME, all of which were bad. It’s amazing how “lots” and "some” are synonyms in the world of estate sales!

But now I'm thinking about Black Friday and wondering  whether I could invoke the furniture gods directly and see if maybe I can scare up a piece of furniture, even if it’s not a chair, before then. It seems a bit presumputous seeing as how I am not an antiques dealer and have no intention of becoming one. It's probably against  the rules to transgress unfamilar territory, especially considering my attitude about people selling books who know nothing about books.

But you know what? I think I'm gonna chance it. After all, Eric's dad was an antiques dealer and Eric loves antiques and buys them for the store. That should count for SOMETHING!

Friday, November 18, 2011


I was in a great mood yesterday, anxious to take new books to the mall, then head off to the little rural book sale that bans scanners. We arrived at the booth, marveling at how barren it seems with no chair, but the clock was ticking and we had a bit of a distance to travel, so we quickly got over lamenting it and began shelving books. While we were at the task a customer came in and looked around – a true rarity, as most of the time if I’m there they will pass on by. This guy examined the bird bookends I bought at the estate sale a couple weeks ago and asked if I could do any better on the price. I had to say no, as my profit margin was truly the size of a bean. I explained that to him, he responded cordially, and left without buying them .

But no sooner had I turned back to the bookcase when an inner voice screeched in my ear like a siren in the dead of night. Before I even turned around to check I knew – not the birds, but the beautiful Chinese carved soapstone  bookends I loved had vanished. I knew they hadn’t sold because I check daily sales online every night. Of course they could have sold earlier in the day, but I knew in my bones that they hadn’t. My subsequent request at the front desk to check the day's log corroborated it.

“Somebody could be walking around with them right now,” the young girl in charge said. “Or they might have ended up in another booth.”

Both options are plausible of course, but I knew that neither one was the case. For the seventh time in a year my booth had been shoplifted. I can’t even explain what this feels like. It’s not just anger – though anger is in there of course. It’s not even just sadness, though that’s in there too. It’s something primal, a personal violation. I know that sounds overly dramatic – they’re just bookends after all, not the Hope Diamond. Their disappearance represents a $50 loss of revenue which, though nothing to sneeze at, isn't the end of the world either. The real thing, the thing that gnaws away at me, is this -- when someone abdicates their own humanity for self-gain they not only lose a piece of their own soul,  they snatch a piece of their victim’s soul too. They steal your openness and trust and leave in its place the seeds of cynicism. I don’t want to be a cynic. I really don’t, but I have to say that between the Japanese postcards, Alice Underground, and now the bookends (the three things I had a soft spot for) I’m really struggling.

It’s odd  too that of all the things to be taken it was those bookends. Just last Sunday morning when we walked around the lake at Hinkley Nancy mentioned them.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw those Chinese bookends on your blog,” she said. “It reminded me of something funny."

It seems that when Nancy was little she and a gang of neighborhood kids decided it would be fun to have a rummage sale. The only pesky little snag in the grand scheme was their lack of rummage. But  they hatched a plan to go door to door with a big red wagon and see if maybe the neighbors would donate some. Turns out they would and it wasn’t long before the wagon abounded with junk of every variety. Only one lone Chinese soapstone bookend, a mottled green in color with a carved vase spilling out a  lush plant held any fascination. Nancy, for one,  thought it was the most beautiful, exotic thing in this universe. There was a chip to one corner, but even that didn’t take away its luster. Neither did the fact that nobody bought it at the rummage sale. Treasure is treasure whether people get it or they don’t. Years passed and  somehow she  lost track of the bookend until a couple years ago when she went to Utah for her nephew’s graduation. There, in her niece’s bedroom sat the bookend, still being used and still beautiful in a room that seemed to have sprung up around it, down to the color of the soaring twelve-foot walls

On the way to the sale I told Eric the story and we marveled at how a damaged bookend missing its mate had managed to hang around for decades in the same family when a perfect pair left our company in two weeks. But of course their perfectness is the reason for their departure. Crazy as it sounds though, Nancy’s story ignited the tiniest flame of hope that somehow they’d still be found. As soon as we pulled into the garage after the sale I leaped out of the car and bounded up the stairs to check the daily report, knowing full well what I wouldn’t see but  hoping I’d see it anyway. Believe it or not, I actually thought I had.

The second I glanced at the screen the word bookends leaped off the page and into my arms. “YESSSSS!”  I shouted down the stairs to Eric. “They sold! They sold!”

But they didn’t.

The guy who’d looked at the  bookends with the birds  came back and bought them after all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do the Book Gods Have Friends?

Lest you think I fell off the ends of the earth, I didn’t. I just fell into a lot of work. After having been gone two days to Dayton and then with the weekend coming up right after it, I haven’t exactly been burning up the computer over here. Monday I listed some of the new stuff I bought and uploaded to ABE, Biblio, my own website, and Alibris and then starting photographing special titles for upload to same the following day. Yesterday was free listing day on my secret site too, so I had to hunker down and blast as much stuff their way as possible to maximize my discount.

As it turned out, I only worked a half day Monday though because I got a call over the weekend about a collection of books that were supposed to be fabulous. Of course I sallied forth with high hopes, but once again – define fabulous. How can it be that a beautifully appointed home would be furnished with such lackluster books? I would have bought two, but they wanted a hundred dollars each! They were worth $35 and $75 respectively. I also stopped at T.J. Maxx on the way back to get some new socks for the winter. Well, I guess it’s officially Christmas because as I browsed the wares looking for something that would differentiate my socks from Eric’s socks in the dryer what do I hear playing over the sound system but Christmas In Killarney!

WHAAAAAAT? Irish music in T.J. Maxx? Oh well, it was fun to sing along in my head, “It’s nice you know to kiss your beau, and cuddle under the mistletoe. It’s Christmas in Killarney with all of the folks at home!”

Believe it or not, I also got a second call about books yesterday, this time from a young woman who had been charged by her  family to get rid of the books owned by her rcently departed aunt. I talked to her a few minutes, but she clearly didn’t have the old stuff I want, so I referred her to Eric. Within an hour she was at the store bearing three big bags of like- new titles, none older than two years. He snapped them up of course, but the big surprise was what he brought me. I am already planning the basket I’m making for the NOBS Book Fair and had been wanting The Autobiography of Mark Twain for it, but haven’t yet seen one at sales. So when he walked in bearing a pristine copy I was so excited I forgot all about how unfair it is that he got books brought to him and I had to work for mine – only there didn’t end up being any mine. This is truly the coolest thing! Happy, happy!

Tonight I have a NOBS book fair meeting and tomorrow is the little rural sale we like because hardly anybody goes to it since they banned scanners. As I’ve said before, it’s never dazzling ( well, one time it was, but that was then and this is the unmagical now), but at least it’s peaceful and you don’t have to sit around for three hours. My expectations are low, but I’m sort of looking forward to it anyway. Then of course it will be estate sale time. The good part this weekend is I don’t have to see the word books in order to go because I need to buy two pieces of furniture which I would like to do before the day after Thanskgiving. We opened our booth last year on that very day and sales were SO GOOD that I’m afraid I’ll get my hopes up too high, but I want everything to look great and well-stocked. Oh, that’s another thing I did – readied a ton of books to take over there tomorrow on the way to the sale. Of course I will buy books if I see good books at the estates, but what I really want this weekend is FURNITURE!

I wonder if there are furniture gods … If there are, you think maybe the book gods know some? Maybe I could slip them a twenty and they could take the furniture guys out for a beer on my behalf.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Bullish Marketplace: A New Perspective

The phone rang last night. Just after dinner a volunteer from the Dayton sale called to inform me that I had won an auction. Not auctions. Auction. Singular. I got the pretty leather volume from 1852, Companions of My Solitude. I was happy of course, as this one spoke to me in dulcet tones, but I was  oh-so-disappointed over the Steinbeck. And yet I’m not as deflated as you might expect, as I think my bid on the Vonnegut approached the danger zone. In a sense I ended up with a double win – the book gods saved me from myself!.

After I posted yesterday I sorted through the many boxes and isolated all the store stuff which consists of most of what we bought. I wound up with three boxes, two of which are headed to the mall and one small one online. That’s the way it always is though because I don’t list much other than ephemera at the lower end of the spectrum. If it’s not at least a $20-25 book it doesn’t get listed unless I like it a lot, or can sell it on my secret site where I pay no commission. Years ago we sold much more volume, but these days I’m operating on a model that sacrifices quantity for higher selling prices.

Even so, for such an enormous sale I expected to acquire more than I did. But I’m not complaining TOO much, as I excavated several books I had forgotten about, including a wonderful two volume set, the Journals of A.H. Maslow, the famous psychologist noted for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a pyramid that outlines what a self-actualized person requires to live in harmony with herself. I would try to list them all, but I doubt I can, so just know that it’s a very sensible thing and the guy was no slouch. The set lists for around $125, so I’m even happier with it than before. The other goodie is Springfield Armory; Shoulder Weapons 1795-1968. I have no affinity for weaponry, but over the years I’ve acquired just enough knowledge to let me pick those gun books with the rest of the guys! This one sells for $90 and I paid a modest $3.

I think the thing that gratified me most though was a sleeper I got while trying to wend my way through the boxes, bins, and body parts in the art department. I made it to the fringe where I caught up with Peter, a seller I like from Cleveland. He, too, had failed to negotiate a look at the wares, so we stood at the edge chatting as we flipped through a couple small boxes of art ephemera which also contained literary ephemera for some odd reason. I glanced up once just as he picked an index to the early Paris Review. Oh! I WANTED it, but I went back to my own box and eventually struck gold. I didn’t exactly know it, but I had a hunch that the three soft cover volumes from Sotheby’s, Fine Moderns First Editions from the Collection of Jonathan Goodwin were good. OMG, the guy collected everybody who was anybody and the catalog is peppered with photos and descriptions that would make you want to hock your house to get in on the action. Best of all, the previous owner had penned in the realized prices. I looked the set up on Abe and there are only a few listed, all at $95 by ABAA sellers so I’m settling in at the same price. It won’t be fast sale, but who cares? Meanwhile I might learn a thing or two.

The other thing I got that’s laugh out loud funny is my famous, and even infamous, 1934 gazillion pound Webester's New International Dictionary, Second Edition. I got one last year and had a picture of it on here for some reason and then wound up selling it at the mall. I will probably take this one over there too because it would cost a king’s ransom just to ship it down the street. But what a glorious thing it is! I LOVE this dictionary! I can’t believe I forgot it, as it was one of the first books I chose in the specials room. But that’s what happens when you get brain freeze – you can’t register a thought, much less a memory.

Speaking of the mall, sales have improved a small bit (emphasis on small), but I no longer have a chair again. Yes, the second chair sold Friday. Remember how I was going to pick an uglier one than the first one so it would stick around for customers to sit on as they browsed the lower shelves? Well, so much for that idea. Now I need to buy furniture again. Not only do I need a chair, but I still have space where the immigrant trunk was. I can’t remember if I told you about that, but we had one – really cool too from Scandinavia, hand painted on the front in beautiful script that read North Amerika. Furniture is good for three reasons – when it sells you can make money if you buy it right, it adds interest to your booth and draws in non-bookies, and provides customers with seating and you with display space for special items.

Which is exactly how my beloved Alice Undergound in the slipcase with the color art got stolen!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bulls In the Book Sale

Whew! We’re back, but I feel like I’ve been run through a wringer and left out to dry. Overall l would say it was an okay trip, but, as so often happens, it failed to live up to expectations from last year. Everything about it, from the antiques malls, to the hotel, to breakfast yesterday was off-kilter. As for the sale – well, we’ll get to that soon. Meanwhile suffice it to say that when I got home and read the comment by a blog reader who has personal experience with this exact sale I actually snapped back to life long enough to laugh out loud. Do go back to the last post and read the last comment before my reply. You’ll laugh too – unless of course you’re AT the sale when the bulls charge in from Pamploma.

The first thing we did Thursday after lunch at Applebee’s was stop at the antiques malls. Believe it or not, I actually found the booth where I’d seen the first edition Out of Africa last year. Crazy as it sounds, I recognized the metal legs of the display table next to the bookcase. What I didn’t find of course was the book. I did, however, make a couple mall observations. Not only did there appear to be fewer books overall, but fewer dealers selling only books. Consequently, the quality of the available books, with a few exceptions, held all the appeal of a pallet of cheap Chinese imports. So much for scoring bargains.

As soon as we hit Dayton we headed straight to the fairgrounds (oddly located downtown) to check out the state of things. It was five o’clock and already boxes marched in a short line to the front door. We placed ourselves as numbers seven and eight, amazed that last year we didn’t stake out our territory until after dinner and were still closer to the front. A portent of things to come, perhaps? Oh, yeah.

After that we headed over to the Grand Dayton hotel, formerly the Doubletree. We hadn’t even parked the car when the bloom began to fall  from that rose too. Goodbye valet parking. Goodbye welcoming cookies. Goodbye friendly, helpful staff. The room was still nice, but goodbye speedy check-out in the morning too. Of course none of this matters that much, but it WAS a disappointment. Dinner at Thai Nine with our friends proved to be the only constant of the trip.

Friday morning we pulled into the fairgrounds at six a.m. only to sit in the car and watch the medical staff shiver across the parking lot on their way to the hospital. There was exactly one car in the lot with someone sleeping in it -- last year you’d have thought it was Motel Six. The line, however, had grown to about fifteen and remained that way for at least half an hour. Little by little new people came, but no one congregated, as it was colder than the back end of Antarctica. We looked around a little, didn’t see anybody we knew and so at seven gave up and drove over to the restaurant by ourselves for breakfast. We were cozily ensconced at a table for two when in came Carol and Ed and a couple we like from Toledo.

“Where were you? We looked for you and finally just came over!” they said.

"Ditto here,"  we replied.  They snagged the last available table for four -- across the room.

By the time we got back to the sale, the sun had finally dragged itself up over the horizon. Time passed slowly, but finally it was ten o'clock and the bulls (that is, the booksellers) who by this time numbered in the hundreds, charged the doors.

“No running! No running, please!” the volunteers hollered. They might as well have saved their voices. The herd was not be deterred.

As always, I ducked into the specials room (See? What did I tell you about my great pronouncements?). Immediately a dealer started grabbing everything without even checking prices. Each time he chose something -- thwack! – onto the stack it decisively went. By the time he thudded three full sets onto a new stack my brain had frozen solider than a Butterball turkey. I guess I recovered, but it’s hard to say whether the books just weren’t all that great, or I blew the first few minutes. By the time I made it out to the stacks the art section was chock-a-block with bins, tubs and crawling bodies. Getting to the tables required steel-toed boots, a walking stick, and a can of pepper spray. Since I lacked any of the above I made a beeline for the old books, only to find that they’ve been moved. By the time I located them a pack of Amish women bearing large bins and boxes surrounded them like a SWAT team. I didn’t wait to see if they’d whip out a scanner or two – I headed off to parts less occupied. In the end I got some stuff, mostly for the mall, but nothing that stands out. In fact, I had to dig around in the boxes to find something worthy of a picture. The one above ought to be good.

By the time I caught up with Eric I felt deflated as an old party balloon. “Okay, “ he said, "you clearly need a break. Let’s go see the auction.”

Well -- this perked me up more than I would have expected. The book I wanted had a detached board which I strongly suspect got that way during the sale. My heart sank like the Titanic until I glanced to my right and saw three books that made my heart stop – a first American edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano; a fabulous hardcover limited edition auction catalog of John Steinbeck’s books and manuscripts, AND the loveliest small leather volume from 1852 called  Companions of My Solitude. How had I missed them? I don’t know – I guess sometimes seeing is believing. But here’s the bad part. Of the three the only one that didn’t have a bid was the Steinbeck catalog. Vonnegut had two. I bid conservatively on all three, an approach that worked well last year when I ended up two for two. But I don’t know ….that was then and this is the decidedly less magical now.

I hate to admit it, but I’m actually trying to cut a deal with the book gods as we speak.. Let me have the Steinbeck and Companions of My Solitude and I’ll give up the Vonnegut. I think that’s fair, but so far it's been silence of the lambs over here.

At least I’ll know by tonight. No phone call, no books.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I’m absolutely flying today, but a promise is a promise, so here I am revved up like a 60’s muscle car for our trip tomorrow. It’s not that I like to travel – I don’t – but I am so anxious to be back in Dayton to see our friends and also to be surrounded by so many books. This is a huge sale that is handled very well. Everything is categorized with precision and the best part is you get a grocery cart in which to put your stuff. You park it somewhere and volunteers watch over it while you gather. How good is THAT?

I did take some time this morning though to look one last time at their silent auction catalog. Surprise, surprise! Something jumped out at me after all. The opening bid is $50 which is okay seeing as how the book is a leather bound title from the 1700’s. It says it has a repaired hinge which worries me a little, but it might be fine if it’s done well. So maybe, maybe, I’ll be bidding after all. I’d seen it the first time I looked, but for some reason thought it was a modern reprint, as there is one. Now, fingers crossed that it’s esoteric enough to be of no interest to the masses!

Last year when I went to this sale I headed straight for the special priced stuff, but with the quality of the auction items as poor as they are I’m considering jumping into the fray in the main area. The big question is will I have the courage? I often say things like this and then chicken out at the last minute. Actually, I’m wavering as we speak because I just remembered a couple sellers made that choice last Thursday at the big sale I told you about and I found both the Akron book and the German book in the specials room. Oh, what to do? What to do? Fortunately, there are also two huge antiques malls on the way so we’ll stop, and with any luck, find a few bargains there too. Last year I found a first edition of Out of Africa for just $50, but for some idiotic reason didn’t buy it! I keep wondering if it’s still there and if I can find it if it is. Probably not though, huh? :-)

Oh, here’s something to start the trip off well. A long-time picker whose been plying his trade for decades stopped in the store yesterday with a GREAT book. He comes in from time to time, but like the rest of us, struggles to find the quality he enjoyed in the good old days. He actually had two good books, but the one was a 19th century ex-library which I would have bought anyway due to the attractive library bookplate and overall condition. But I couldn’t live with the one flaw – someone had removed a sticker from the bottom of the spine and it had marred the cloth frightfully. So I ended up with the book you see at the top of the page. It’s Western Americana from 1948, a limited first edition signed by the author in a print run of just 1000 copies of which this is #35. It’s in very nice condition too and has great color art at frontis as seen above. The title is Wyoming Cattle Trails by John K. Rollinson, published by Caxton Printers Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho. Most of the few copies on ABE share the same price of $195 which is where I plan to be too.

Okay, time to get cracking here! I need to clean the house (this is a weird thing I feel compelled to do before I set foot out the door to anywhere that involves even one night away) and get my clothes ready, but that’s only because I’ll need dress-up clothes for tomorrow night which requires so many accessories – an extra purse, jewelry, shoes, a different coat etc. etc. So on that note I’m off and running. We’ll be back on Friday night and I’ll tell you all about it either Saturday or Sunday.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Catching Up!

Last week was a whirlwind of activity with the Halloween trip to Michigan, two book sales, and an extremely busy and good sales day on Friday that kept me hopping. If you saw me flying around filling orders you’d think you’d just emerged from a Time Machine and were observing the bookseller circa 2005. I have no idea what sparked it, but I’ll definitely take it, as the mall performed dismally this weekend – the worst since I opened there a year ago this month. I could get crazed about it, but I’d rather think about the surprise collector and the magazines on Friday and the fact that also on Friday I sold a $400 book on ABE purchased from the late, great, and infamous Elmer.

As for the book sales, both were ho-hum, but both also were less well attended than normal, particularly the big one we went to on Thursday night. This used to draw sellers from as far away as Vermont and Pennsylvania, but not anymore. Even the local scanners have dropped off some. There’s any number of reasons for it, but I think what bugs the serious sellers is the rampant pre-picking, the crazy pricing, and the general decline in truly worthy, collectible books. They did have a table of specials and a couple actually were quite good, but the prices were terrifying. My bookseller friend Paul took a flyer and bought one for $50, but only because he wouldn’t mind keeping it for himself. As it turned out, the price was good enough to sell online. But the one I wanted was $100 and what scared me was the fact that even the ex-library discards had been marked to the rafters. Having said that though, Eric made a deal on a 17 volume set about Ohio geneaology which he wanted for the store. The asking price was $135, but somehow he got them for $50. I guess he must have convinced them that online sellers wouldn’t want to deal with them, nor would most buyers. I don’t know – I didn’t get involved in it.

What I did get – and Eric again scores for finding the best underpriced book in the place – is a signed first edition of this VERY scarce Akron title – Pictorial of Akron and Summit County of Yesteryear. I had one once, but never saw another until he came over holding it and said, “Isn’t this a book you like?” The man’s a master of understatement. So for $8 we scored a $125 book. Other than it I got some stuff, but would be hard pressed to tell you what it was without unpacking it. No, that’s not true! I got a German children’s book by Erich Kastner, the same author of the German children’s book I sold earlier this year for $100. This one isn’t a first printing, but neither was that one, though both were from the first edition. Trouble is, I can’t find an early copy to use as a comparable – just paper reprints. What REALLY frosts me though is the way this library and others slap stickers on the faces of older books. I tried so hard to remove it from the delicate paste-on cover art and still it wound up defaced. WHY do they do this???? (see below)

The second sale was on Saturday. The only reason we went is because there wasn’t an estate sale worth touching with a ten-foot bone folder (I know, I know – but I love book repair tools and I never get to work them into a conversation). It’s always been a small affair, but this time it was Lilliputian. The books numbered in the low hundreds and the number of buyers might have been ten. This one never did entice a crowd, but there was a day when two sellers from Pennsylvania never missed it. Eric got maybe ten books for the store and I bought three, all in the $35 range which is good for this sale. I especially like this one pictured below about portrait painters from the Ohio Valley. Oh, I did get one other thing – a horrible allergic reaction to something there. My eyes burned and my sinuses screamed and it didn’t get any better until late in the afternoon. I have no idea what it was, but it sure made me sorry I made the effort.

This week we are going again to the sale we went to last year in Dayton. I am not holding out a lot of hope though because they published a list of silent auction books that are anything but glorious. Last year I won two items – that gorgeous architecture set and the beautiful (and still not listed) copy of Emily Dickinson’s  herbarium published by Princeton University. I doubt I’ll bid this year which means we better make it up in underpriced hidden treasures. It probably won’t prove to be a money-maker, but we’re going there also because we love staying at the beautiful downtown Dayton Grand Hotel (which last year was a Doubletree) and having dinner in the historic district with our friends from Medina, Charlie and Mary Lynn. So it’s a little mini-getaway as well as a business trip.

I’ll try to write another post before then, but I am working frantically to list or store all the books I have acquired lately so my office can return to its former beauty before the next onslaught (providing there is one). At any rate, I’ll at least post something small. Promise.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Medievalists -- Oh My Indeed!

This is utterly amazing. AMAZING!! Remember last month when the guy ran across my blog about the Chinese autograph book and called wanting to buy it? Well, it happened again today, only this time it’s the medievalist magazines I bought at a book sale in Cincinnati, Ohio a year ago last summer when we were there for our wedding anniversary. I wrote about them some time after that and then a few weeks ago submitted a variation of the post to the NOBS newsletter where it appears in the current edition. So it’s funny that this happened right now, especially because, like the autograph book, the magazines have never been listed.

Again, I answered the phone to a very nice man, who told me he chanced on the blog through google and couldn’t believe his eyes, as he’s been searching for a copy for years (I have two). I know for a fact it wasn’t an exaggeration either because The Knight Errant only had four issues of 500 copies each before going belly-up. I’m telling you, this was one déjà vu experience! As with the Chinese autograph book, he badly wanted them and I badly wanted to be sure that he was the right guy to have them. His interest lies in the cover art which was rendered by the architect Bertram Goodhue who designed the capitol building in his state. Not only does he admire Goodhue who worked on the designs of several New York City Episcopal churches with Ralph Adams Cram who himself designed the imposing Cathedral of St. John the Divine and was involved with the magazines as well, but he knew enough about Goodhue to park me in a chair. As you may recall, I do not sit down to talk on the phone. Unless the caller offers up something so fascinating that I’m mesmerized I prefer to wear out the floorboards.

Well, I was mesmerized all right – in fact, I was fairly stupefied. As the words, the anecdotes, the stories of his own travels and reading to learn about Goodhue and the medievalists poured out I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the book gods had not only given him a nudge, but had even dialed my number for him. The call came in this morning -- hours ago -- but I’m still reeling from the serendipity of finding yet again another serious collector whose passion for a rare item transcends monetary value.

Could a bookseller BE any happier?

P.S. To read more about the The Kinight Errant  refer to the post of Thursday, August 12, 2010.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween and the Aftermath

We’re back from Michigan! Got in last night around six and, as predicted, crashed on the couch for the duration of the evening. We didn’t even pass out candy this year to the trick-or-treaters because we were literally Halloweened OUT! The pumpkin carving proved to be its usual annual success, as Tyler, who is eight, pronounced Papa the best pumpkin carver in the world. The little one, who is two, literally grabbed the biggest pumpkin we brought and bestowed upon it a hug so enthusiastic it’s a wonder it didn’t explode in orange profusion all over the beige and white kitchen. The amazing thing was that he stood on a chair and scooped out the insides for over an hour – THIS from a kid who doesn’t normally stay still for two seconds. At nine o’clock that night he was still wide awake crouching like a downhill skier on the edge of a sofa cushion screaming “Tree! Five! GO!”,  before leaping onto a row of three pillows he’d lined up on the floor for a crash landing.

The next morning bright and earlywe headed to school, about a block away, to watch the entire kindergarten through fifth grade march around in their costumes. By far the funniest was a pint-sized Dorothy from Oz in a blue gingham pinafore and sparkly ruby-red slippers which sported clearly much-loved little heels. No braids and Kansas corn for this one! She flipped the ends of a long blond wig with one hand and toted Toto in a designer bag with the other. After the parade made two revolutions we left for breakfast at Coney Island around ten, came back to collect Tyler at noon, and then headed off to the Toledo Zoo. Halfway there (it takes an hour from Ann Arbor) the sky darkened, the clouds opened, and rain fell coldly and miserably. But did that deter the little zoo-goers? No it did not, nor did the fact that there were only six cars in the entire parking lot. Given a choice we’d have declined the adventure, but where the little people goeth there goeth Gran and Papa. As it turned out, Tyler was thrilled because we had two umbrellas in the car and he had never before used an umbrella. Also, the lack of an audience meant that not only did the animals come out, but did so spectacularly. Our little one screamed with delight at the sight of a mother elephant and her baby up close and personal, so of course that made all the difference. How can you complain about being wet, cold, windblown and miserable when a wild-haired two-year old hollers, "Hi babeeee! Hi babeeee!" and throws a baby elephant extravagant kisses.

Of course a trip to Michigan invariably extracts a price of another kind in the form of orders which arrive in our absence and demand immediate attention. I easily gathered everything (ABE and Biblio) except for one piece of railroadiana that I KNEW I had, but couldn’t find. After much running up and down the stairs Eric insisted I stop looking and have a glass of wine while he made spaghetti. Too tired to argue, I finally gave in and sat at the island rending and gnashing while he cooked. I had had two similar titles of this manual from 1944, each with some of the same, but also some different, numbers of time control mechanisms. An order for one of them came in several weeks ago when our daughter Caitie was here and she somehow noticed that I had matched the wrong copy to the order  -- which was easy to do given all those wretched numbers. I remembered going back for the right one, but had no memory of what I did with the wrong one which was NOW ORDERED!!!!.

First thing this morning  I popped out of bed at five and went off in search with new vigor, only to turn up empty again. So I wrapped the orders that needed to go, including one that came through while I was wrapping, and Eric bore them away while I sat glumly in front the computer wondering what I had ever done to cause the book gods to retaliate by wrecking our Halloween afterglow with this much STRESS!

And then -- out of nowhere -- came a memory. Though blurry around the edges, it filled me with new hope. Had I placed the wrong book on top of the computer tower so I could return it to its storage box? I jumped up, removed an 1898 paperback called Secret Service by General La Fayette C. Baker, a beautiful 1920’s vintage book about the Columbia River which shouldn’t even BE up here, an envelope of postal ephemera, a picture of me and my writing group at Dandi’s daughter’s wedding, a coffee mug with dregs from Sunday morning, and a new box of paperclips. And there it was.

Coded Carrier Control System for Use with Time Code Control Systems Type L -- Forms 504-B, 504-C, 506 and 506-A (Manual 507)

Peace reigns.