Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Monday, November 12, 2012
Life has been in hyper-drive for me these days as much as I try to slam on the brakes. One of the things I did last week though was actually book-related – we went to the annual book sale in Dayton. This one comes with considerable expense since we need to book a hotel, but it normally pays off big-time in both fun and profit. It paid off this time too in high hilarity, but in profit? Eh, not so much. Here’s the ugly truth--were it not for the facts that we have an antiques mall booth and a store and I am insanely in love with paper, we would have chalked this sale up as an expensive disaster. Not only were the books in the “specials room” not special, but neither were the silent auction books. I bid desultorily on three and got none of them in spite of the fact that they were the poorest offerings EVER. Two years ago I bid on two and got two and they were OUTSTANDING. Last year I bid on three that were good and got one of them. So what is it saying about the fact that I bid three times on iffy books I almost hoped I wouldn’t win and got none of them? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if maybe, like me, everyone else was trying to salvage the sale too.
One area I did do well in was children’s books, but they were practically all for a donation to the community center Christmas program. I bought a huge boxful for $50, all like new. Other than that it was a stray book here and a stray book there, none selling at more than $45. I took my time, didn’t panic, looked at everything twice in every genre ( it’s a huge sale too), but ended up buying less books overall than usual. On my second pass through the sale I crawled around on the floor and pulled out a box that was way in the back under the kids’ books, but didn’t seem to be for children. From there came the two art catalogs shown above, one on Korean ceramics and the other on furniture from the Georgia Piedmont pre-1830. Neither went to three figures, but they both bested every book I got. The second I picked up each of them my internal radar screeched like a magpie, loud enough to incite a change in my game plan. Right then and there I decided to give up on the books and follow the paper trail instead.
This actually turned out to be great fun, sort of like a secret game that I was the only one playing. Paper turned up everywhere, but not right out in the open. There’d be a whole box here and there, always requiring much crawling and pulling, but also lots of goodies in between the books, and even IN the books. I bought one book just to get the item inside it! Among my finds were a stand-out fashion catalog from 1961 with awesome color pictures on heavy paper and big in size, plus programs, booklets, and more unusual art catalogs. In the end, I left the sale reasonably content, if not exactly tap dancing across the parking lot. I even know HOW to tap dance if the occasion called for it, but believe me this wasn’t worthy of a single time step.
Sooooooo – what happens when your favorite book sale disappoints that badly? Do you call it an anomaly and go back next year, or do you regretfully cross it off the list? Right now I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is this. I’m mighty glad that I am not relying on traditional book sales to grow my inventory these days..
Monday, October 29, 2012
A couple weeks ago at one of the book sales ( the FOL where I hardly bought a thing for the business) I did manage to get both kids a ton of books. We sat on the floor and I doled them out one at a time. If you saw the three year-old’s unbridled glee at the sight of eight Sesame Street board books you would never again doubt the future of books in the Age of Apple. He squealed, he screamed the names of the characters, and literally whirled and twirled just as I do when my joy runneth over. Though he’s not one to sit down and listen to a story as his older brother did – and oh, how I miss that – he loves to show me what’s happening in the pictures. He also hugs the books to his chest like stuffed animals and tells me “I’m reading now!”
I, too, am reading now and, oh, how good that feels after a draught that lasted all summer and most of the fall. Of course I did read a handful of books during that period, but didn’t really like any of them which makes me wonder now if the books were really that poor, or if my “terrible, awful, no-good , very bad” attitude had something to do with it. Right now I am reading a book written in the 40’s, a YA coming of age story, called I Capture the Castle. There’s a movie of it out there somewhere, but unlike Cassandra, the main character in the book, Netflix appears to have problems with capturing. But that’s okay – the book is so detailed, quirky, and fun that it, too, has “restoreth my soul”. What’s not to love about a book which begins with the line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”!
(Somehow the rest of this post disappeared. A resder told me that it had reformatted itself so there was no paragraphing. I fixed that and then discovered this morning that the rest is gone. I apoligize, but I can't fix it because I wrote it on here and don't have a copy.)
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
We got the books I bid on last week and I am very pleased even though the owner did decide to pull three of them. Two are inconsequential and one is the Audubon elephant folio. Though I would have loved to have had it, I already have a copy which is why I was able to include a photo of it in my last post. It wasn’t price that caused it to be taken off the table, but something every bit as fierce and urgent -- the true biliophile’s strong desire to hang on to a treasured title, if only for a little while longer. I had a feeling this might happen, but I thought the vulnerable title was the Florence Nightingale book, again not because of price, but because of how much its owner loved it. The moment he chose it from the shelf and handed it to me – a plain brown book of small stature and humble binding – I knew he loved it best. He told me with great relish the story of how he bought it many years ago in a bookshop in London, but it’s the reverent way he handled it that clearly, and touchingly, defined its status.
Very rarely have I ever bought anything but workaday books from an elderly seller. Generally the books’owner has moved to a nursing home or has died and it’s the heirs who wish to liquidate the collection. What made this transaction special is the fact that the owner’s daughter, while present and proactive, understood that her father’s keen mind was as able as it had ever been to assess the situation, the numbers, and his own feelings and reach an independent decision. As I believe I told you, my last job(20 years ago) was director of sales and marketing for a senior living complex. It was a decidedly odd job for me, but one which taught me enough to later guide my father through the care system and to understand a crucial life lesson. Even when the mind is sharp advanced age and/or physical fragility has an insidious way of diminishing a person, not only in the eyes of strangers, but in those of caregivers and family members too. I love that this didn’t happen here, but of course because it didn't I run the risk of yet another change of mind before our November 2nd appointment to seal the transaction.
Just an hour before I got the good news yesterday I went to see another collection not far from where I live. This one seemed a very different scenario from the one above though. Not only was this collector no longer living, but unlike the careful handling the above collection had been given this stuff had moldered in a damp cellar for years before it was recently transferred to a bone dry basement in an upscale modern home. The books also lacked the importance of the first collection, though there were any number of fine antiques (referred to as “smalls” in the trade) that would have been wonderful had it not been for their unfortunate storage. The thing I most wanted and couldn't buy was a very early 18th century game in its original box with hand colored cards all seemingly intact – and, sadly, all blooming with black mold.
It took awhile, but eventually it became obvious that there was a commonality between between my two recent buying situations after all. Both sellers were engaged in an intense struggle to let go. Though the woman who was selling the basement stuff claimed both on the phone and in person that her father's belongings all needed to be cleared out promptly, every time we made a fair offer – on sleigh bells, a diary, and a miraculously unscathed scrapbook kept by a student at an Ohio college in the early 19th century – she’d literally pull it off the table.
"Oh, no, I might want that."
"Maybe I should give that to the college sometime."
"I don't know. I think my brother might like it."
Everything in me knew it wasn't about the money. The push/pull that sent her flying in one direction only to yank her back again had little to do with financial gain. It was a bubbling mulligan stew of history, nostalgia, the loss of a parent, the importance of family, and the lure of the past. I suppose some would argue that she shouldn’t have called me if she didn’t really want to sell. But here’s the thing.
She didn’t know she didn’t until the moment she couldnt.
Friday, October 19, 2012
It’s been an interesting book week with two major book sales and the viewing of a very nice collection. Both sales were way down in terms of both quantity and quality, but I know I made out fine at the first one. The second is still up for grabs, as I haven’t yet had time to do the research. Everything is still packed up due to the ongoing saga of dust, noise, and general mayhem. But I don’t want to talk about the book sales OR the mayhem. What’s on my mind today is the collection and the overall problem of bidding on books in today’s pork belly market.
There was a day not all that long ago when we would view a collection and be able to evaluate it just by looking at it and feel fairly confident that we could submit an honest offer and still make money. Today even when we spot books we’ve had before – which in this case included the beautiful Norton Shakespeare First Folio in the slipcase and the glorious Audubon elephant folio in the slipcase published by Abbeville – we’re as skittish as a cat in a car. I explained to the owner the current market and its vagaries and asked if he would mind if we did some research before making a bid. He agreed with no hesitation and I spent all day Tuesday researching ten very nice books, one of which particularly worried me. This wasn’t because it was an iffy title – it’s because it was an excellent one. We are talking here about a first edition of Florence Nightingale’s nursing book, a small, slim, plain-Jane brown volume I wanted so badly I had to bite my tongue until it bled to keep from blurting out a number than might haunt me like one of those nightmares that play out in your sleep a couple times a year.
So how exactly do you arrive at a figure for something so rare and iconic, yet of relatively limited appeal? If you read the ABE books website it will offer this advice:
Do you have an old book and would like know its value? You might think it’s a rare and valuable book but don’t know where to find its value? One very simple method of finding an approximate value of a book is to search for similar copies on AbeBooks.com and see what prices are being asked.<P>
At first glance this actually sounds reasonable and might even BE reasonable sometimes, but we all know that prices on the internet by and large are not based on much more than what the seller thinks he or she might get, or in some cases just WANTS to get. I’ve seen the same exact book range literally from $500 down to a dollar -- ONE DOLLAR – an object lesson if ever there were one in how the internet has skewed pricing. Even when there are only three listings the possibility exists that the first person priced it to the rafters and the other two followed suit, or the other way around. When we are talking books as expensive as the Nightingale much more work must be done. I would strongly suggest that if you have not already done so you join the Heritage auction site where you can research past book auctions to see what price the market set for a like copy of the book you have. But of course “like” is the operative word. It must be apples to apples with no equivocating – same binding, same publisher, same condition, same editon. Heritage does not sell books exclusively – it’s a site for collectibles of numerous types -- but the books CAN be quite excellent (or not). Another good resource is the ABAA site. Just following these two can be an education in itself. To register with Heritage use this link lihttps://historical.ha.com/common/regist er.php. ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America)can be found at www.abaa.com
Of course there are reference books (NOT price guides) that can help with your offer also, but even they aren't the final word. Once you find a comparable that seems right you still have to factor in several important things – the probability of a reasonably fast sale, your ability to attract the right buyer on the venues you have available to you, the instability of the marketplace, and your ability to showcase a special title. Consequently, I did not make my bid for the Nightingale (or any) based on the highest prices I found. At these price points I have no choice but to proceed with a healthy dose of caution. Does this mean I might not get the books? You bet it does, but I don’t want to tie up four-figure money for something that might come back to bite me. So I wound up taking a middle of the road stance with enough wiggle room to go up some if needed. Building in flexibility is a crucial component to the offer process. Remember, these are the owner’s treasures. It stands to reason that he or she wants a chance to be proactive in reaching the final price.
Late Tuesday afternoon I put the final touch on a lengthy book by book overview of the market and its range with stated sources and attached a list with my offer for each title. Yesterday morning I dropped it in the mail with the sense of a job well done. But before you surmise that it was strictly a hard, cold, cerebral business decision let me assure you that it was not. Unlike some dealers, my emotions still color how I handle these situations. I do what I need to do to stay afloat, but not without considerable angst. The bottom line is I love the books. I want them badly and hope fervently that I get them.
If I don’t I’ll be very disappointed – not just because of the money, but for the loss of the beautiful books themselves. For me it always comes down to that visceral desire to handle them, work with them, find homes for them. Once I fall in love it's hard to walk away.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Monday, October 08, 2012
I‘m sorry I’m so slow to post these days. It finally occurred to me yesterday that I’ve slammed into a brick wall as far as the house is concerned. Since July 3rd I’ve joked and whined about the dust, noise, and inconvenience, but yesterday I realized that I’m really not laughing anymore. I’m edgy, jittery, behind on everything , and hostile around the periphery of my entire being which I think may be declaring a revolution soon if something doesn’t give. Yesterday after a couple of hours of intense cleaning Eric and I poured a glass of wine, ignited the fireplace, and agreed that we have to give WBC an end-date or we’ll still be in shambles by the holidays. We decided on October 31st, which from this vantage point seems like eons from now, but may not seem that way to WBC. All I know is I cannot do this anymore. I really, truly, honestly CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE.
That being said, we did hit two estate sales over the weekend, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. The Saturday one started on Friday, but I didn’t recognize the town name and thought it was much farther than it was, though God knows it’s far enough. My antiques dealer friend Darwin nudged me on Facebook later that afternoon asking why I skipped a sale boasting a 50 year collection of Civil War books. So bright and early the next morning we braved the long and winding road even though I felt sure that the books had been snapped up faster than bacon strips tossed at a junkyard dog. Had things been normal I would likely have been right. But things were not even close to normal. In fact, they were so BIZARRE that I’ve never in all these years of estate sale going experienced anything even remotely like them.
At two minutes to showtime we WERE the line. But an elderly woman came to the door and said she would open only when it was exactly ten o’clock. It was a little weird, especially seeing as how no one had asked her for a two minute advantage over the people who weren’t there, but whatever. Inside an army of worker bees – far more than needed for a small ranch house – took their posts like sentinels while the elderly lady held court in front of the bookcase giving us the hard sell and telling the workers what to do. At first I thought she owned the estate company, but, no, she owned the STUFF! The books, she informed us, had belonged to her husband who had collected them for decades and were very valuable. I think this may be a time when a picture would do more justice to that statement than I ever could. The three volume set below was priced at $200. It dates from 1999 and we have three of them in the basement.
She also had an antique flask for holding gunpowder. Eric gave it a look and passed on it, which launched her into a spiel about how its rareness justified the $365 price tag. Had it been original that would have been true, but Eric has an original in the museum at the store and used to order the one she had from the manufacturer who reproduced it sometime in the 70’s. The NINETEEEN 70’s. Of course, being Eric, he would never say that to her even if she claimed that a Wal-Mart wine glass was the Holy Grail.
Meanwhile, I had mercifully escaped to the kitchen where every available surface was covered with flats of paper. As I started looking through them one of the workers said, “We only had people glance at this stuff yesterday.It’s almost all there.” Surprise, surprise! It was rare too! I did, however, find maybe a dozen small things of fair consequence that she must not have liked and asked the worker in the kitchen to write them up. The very nice worker said she’d take them out to the check-out when she was done and I could get them there. So I looked around a little longer, met up with Eric, and we decided to check out. Immediately the elderly lady zipped across the room and demanded that our items be added up again. The check-out woman told her that the kitchen woman had done it whereupon she called the kitchen woman to come back out and justify it. She did – and she was right too. Holy cow, no WONDER estate sales don’t normally allow the seller to hang around!
Believe it or not, even after all that, we braved the cold and drear to go to another sale on Sunday even though it was the third and final day and located more toward Cleveland than to our beloved Akron. I had spotted a beautiful art deco cedar chest on their website which I wanted to get to replace some of the sold furnuiture at the mall, but I pretty much figured it wasn’t going to happen. Only it DID happen and and I got it for a reasonable, if not especially mind-blowing, price.I also got five unadvertised books and two pieces of ephemera. AND every single worker, plus the owner, thanked me for friending them on Facebook.
After that it felt so good to be back in the real world that we went to Panera for lunch to celebrate. Then we polished up the cedar chest, hauled it over the antiques mall, and went back home to clean our dusty house.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
The real thing looked a lot like the above, except for maybe the rain and the darkness of the building in which it was held. But think about it – when does real life ever give you every single picky little thing you imagine? Not often. And sometimes it even gives you something BETTER than you imagined. So let’s look at all the good stuff here. The crowd was great, and happily, readers outnumbered sellers two to one. Scanner people were evident too, but their magic wands likely didn’t get a heavy-duty workout because old books trumped new ones by a margin wider than a football field.(Okay, so much for the everybody gets what they want thing.) But the room WAS cavernous and there WERE lots of books and also a happy peppering of old-school book dealers to talk to. But, best of all, a sale that used to be noted for its pie-in the-sky price tags, magically morphed into the dollar store minus all the cheap Chinese doo-dads. Seriously, books were priced anywhere from a dollar (pamphlets and art catalogs fifty cents) to no more than $10. And even the $10 ones were rare – I spotted only one!
So what gives with this? I don’t know, but I suspect that there was a huge donation from one person involved, as many books centered around medieval and renaissance topics across all genres, including magazines.Either it was an estate or else the inventory of a former bookseller. I am leaning hard toward the latter because I bought some magazines on medieval history and the name of a certain bookseller I was crazy about, but who sadly died a couple years ago, is on the mailing labels. I suppose in the big picture it doesn’t matter either way whether or not they were his, except that it DOES matter -- to me anyway. This dealer was the first one of the “real booksellers” to treat me like I had a brain in my head and might actually turn out to be a “real bookseller” myself some day. Since that finally happened I would consider it an honor to sell his books which is why I’m so fervently hoping that these are them.
Will I ever know? Maybe. Or maybe not. Tomorrow is half price day and the tables will likely be picked over like a turkey carcass the day after Thanksgiving, but I'm going back anyway. To buy books, yes, but also to find out if my theory is right. He lived in the town where the sale was held and ran a store not far from thre, so I think the odds are about fifty-fifty.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, so let’s lose the sentimentality and cut to the chase. Were the books valuable? Yes. No. That is to say, it was a mixed bag on two different planes. I got a few high two-figures ones on Mennonite history, several exceptional pamphlets and art catalogs, a two year consecutive run of an uncommon magazine, and a fair number of books priced at $25-45 each, all online stock. I also got a plethora of books for the antiques mall which,oddly, are the ones I love best. Something tells me my bookseller friend may have owned most of those and quite likely some of the others too. I’d heard that his son is selling his former stock online, but I also know that some of it has been around for awhile and likely suffered the slings and arrows of wannabe sellers which means that they very well might have been donated to the sale. But there’s no point in speculation. I’ll either find out, or I won’t.
The important thing is that the new season got off to a rip-roaring start (if you don’t count the FOL sale the previous night) which we won’t. For me the official launch was yesterday and all it lacked was a bottle of champagne, a couple crystal glasses and a few rays of sunshine.
Oh yeah -- and enough high-ranking books on amazon so the scanners get to be happy too.
P.S. Isn't the new photo at the top FABULOUS? I wish I could say I took it, but I did not. It was sent by a reader to whom I am grateful, as it's exactly what I was thinking when I wrote the above.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
It’s not that I have a lot to say today, but here I am because I am so happy to be back out to the sales again after the summer hiatus I’m fairly crackling with joy! I haven’t been to an FOL, but I did go to two productive estate sales this past weekend. After looking at the ads for the mostly disappointing local sales we decided to venture farther afield. So Friday morning we pulled out of our driveway at 6:30 a.m. to be there in time for a 9:30 opening. It was strange to know no one in line, but that got remedied quickly enough because I’m a talker (yeah, really, I am sometimes). The first guy I talked to was a book guy (but not a dealer), so we chatted about industrial designer, Viktor Schreckengost’s, book, a book in his collection that had been signed and inscribed by the author to two different people at two different times, I. M. Pei, and various other fun stuff. I actually even allowed myself to engage in conversation with another guy who IS a book dealer about the state of the book world while we picked. Now THERE’’S a first!
Normally at a book sale I am yakking away in line, but as soon as that door opens I’m focused like a laser But three walls of books, all older, enveloped us and it was just the two of us looking, so we chatted while we perused the titles, showed each other which were book clubs, and ended up having a pretty fun time. Our tastes weren’t the same anyway, so it was no big deal. I bought about fifteen early 20th century theology books in like new condition for the antiques mall, plus three more that wound up being good enough to go online, and three WWI histories, also for the mall. By today’s standards that was a fairly big haul! Meanwhile Eric ran around gathering up some (expensive) goodies of his own. The first was a curio cabinet with a light which we can use at the mall to secure smalls, and should have acquired 22 months ago when we first opened up. Sad to say, it’s beginning to look like I “lost“ an antiquarian set – Memoirs of General Grant – though how a huge, thick, two volume set could be whisked out the door in the summer with no one seeing it is anybody’s guess. But I’m not going to get into THAT. I’m happy today and I’d rather stay that way. Eric also got a gorgeous, very high quality set of bronze bookends, replicas of the Lincoln Monument that weigh twelve pounds combined! In the new lighted cabinet they’re truly DAZZLING, though you might not guess it from the photo above. We were flying out the door Saturday morning to get over there with the new items before it got busy, so I snapped a quick photo on the kitchen island before Eric packed them.
But getting back to the far-away sale …. After we loaded our PT Cruiser with all the goodies (even the cabinet fit!) we headed over to Peninsula to a sale owned by a local artist. Art books abounded -- literally they inhabited every nook and cranny – and yet they were all stunningly common. Many were too new for the mall, so I switched gears and snapped up art catalogues instead. I did buy two art books, one of which was signed by the author at the Boston Mills annual art show not far from there. But that was pretty much that. Still – a very good day and great fun, though I did miss a Rockwell Kent from 1937 that my antiques dealer friend Darwin scored two hours after we left! But it’s okay. I’ve had it before and you do see it from time to time.
At the mall we were presented at the desk with a note from a person who’d stopped by the booth and wanted to sell us some books.I called her and we have an appointment for Thursday afternoon. I have no clue whether or not there will be anything we can use (You will note that I refrained from saying “anything good”, though I came dangerously close!.) She, like most people, said she had “a lot of stuff”, “this and that,” “too much to even remember.” I’m trying not to be negative here, but experience has shown that these phrases are code for “I don’t have a darn thing anybody would want, but I’m taking a shot at it anyway!” We’ll see soon enough.
Sunday found us shivering in the frigid air at the Medina Flea Market where I found three very good books. You can find interesting paper there sometimes, but not a lot of books. One is about Freemasonry from the late 1800’s in excellent condition. The second is a first edition of the housekeeping book Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote with her sister. The condition is good, but not great, on that one, though the good news is that the problems are confined primarily to the spine bands – the interior is clean and bright. The third book is an oversized soft cover local history published in 1906. I’ve never seen it before and can’t find a comparable online. It’s not perfect on the outside, but the inside, other than first page, is clean and bright and it’s tightly bound. The freemasonry already went to the mall, but the other two will go online as soon as I can find out more about the latter.
So there’s my good book news. But there's still one more thing to whirl and twirl about. The bath will be finished today! I extracted a promise – the cross your heart kind -- from WBC so I’m trusting him to deliver. Once he finishes that and hangs the new closet doors in the bedroom the second floor of the house will be mine again. I can hardly wait.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
During WWII shared sacrifice extended to all corners of daily life including how people indulged their bookish inclinations. We’ve all seen older books of the period in a smaller format accompanied by the caveat that the petite size was due to the need to be patriotic and conserve paper. But a smaller size wasn’t the only change in the look of books in the 40’s. Soldiers got oddly shaped paperbacks and Liberty Condensed Books provided readers with hyper-condensation. Each “book” was an oversized pamphlet of about 16 dense pages designed to be read in a single evening. Both text and cover (such as it was) were printed on cheap rag paper and came with a crossword puzzle on the back in case you were a fast reader and had some time to kill before calling it a night. Those of you who’ve been around awhile may recall that a few years ago we bought from the estate of a guy named Elmer an incredible number of books (35,000 in the first go). God love him, he hoped to one day haul them all out west and open a store, but he died and never got the chance to run up a whopping trucking bill. Anyway, Elmer was an equal opportunity book buyer. He bought what he liked and he liked a lot of things – the superb, the good, the bad, the ugly and the quirky. It’s that brave show of quirk that I liked best about Elmer.
These Liberties, of which I have around fifty pieces , give or take, came in their entirety from Elmer’s stash. For years I’ve had them stashed myself in the closet for the simple reason that I can’t find out anything about them. But I do think they’ve overstayed their welcome so the whole lot is off to the mall to be sold as a single unit if at all possible. Notice that one in the main photo on top was written by the famous Gypsy Rose Lee, though as I recall, her fame had little to do with writing.
I DO know about the yellow and red paperback in the picture below though and thought I’d share some info in case you ever run across one, or two, or three of them. Some of them used to be fairly collectible, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it now. Still they’re an interesting piece of history. Ever wonder why they are wider than they are tall? What’s with THAT? Why not just print a regular paperback to fit in a knapsack and be done with it? Wartime economics – that’s why. These books were printed on rotary magazine presses designed for a larger format, so they’d print two books simultaneously (they called it printing two-up) and slice the page in half horizontally. I did a little fact checking this morning and learned that between 1943 and 1947 123 million rolled off five presses. But there were only 1322 titles involved, which sounds like a small number to an avid reader, though may actually be a lot when you consider how little leisure time the audience actually had.
I got to wondering this morning how the books for troops program got started, so I poked around a little in that other book up there in the picture (the green one ) and learned that it was the bright idea of an army officer named Ray Trautman who headed the Library Section and a government graphic art specialist named H. Stahley Thomspon. The pair hauled the idea over to the Council on Books in Wartime which was comprised of the leading publishers of the day. The publishers offered to help, but extracted an agreement that the project was not to include text books, science or technology. In the end it ended up being an amalgamation of bestsellers, classics, genre fiction, history, and poetry. The books were distributed by the government which bought them at six cents a book plus ten percent with a half per cent royalty going to both the publisher and the author. One patriotic and better heeled author, Irving Stone, offered to give up his royalties for the cause, but the Council turned him down flat because most authors needed the money!
Both the Army and the Navy got the final say before a title was approved, but the broad guidelines included the following: nothing offensive to the Allies or to any racial or religious group, and of course nothing that would aid the enemy. Other that it was supposed to be fair game, but of course there was plenty of political nit-picking over what that meant. One of the books that got the boot was Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage for attacking Mormons. Later, Robert Taft, who was running for office at the time got a bit of legislation passed that caused censorship to rear its ugly head. In the end seventy tiles had to be abridged to -- as the Irish so colorfully put it -- “take out the mucky bits.” These included everything from Moby Dick to Forever Amber. If I’m not mistaken the Catholic Legion of Decency didn’t care for Amber too much either. I bought a copy in Ireland back in the 70’s and enjoyed it greatly while holed up in a nice hotel in Killarney with the worst sore throat of my life.
But that’s another story and I already told it here anyway. So what do you think was the first book shipped out to the troops? Bet you can’t name it! I couldn’t either. Anybody ever hear of The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten? I thought not. It certainly didn’t make the fan faves list which included Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and anything by Louis Bromfield and Kenneth Roberts. The reason some wartime titles became collectibles is the fact that they appeared in print for the first time in this format – two of which include Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily and Other Stories and the Selected Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.It’s strange how so many red and yellow books were printed and yet so few have survived. It’s been attributed to action on the battlefield and abandonment when the soldiers left the war zone to return home. In fifteen years I have only seen the occasional title and ALWAYS on the “specials” table at an FOL sale, but I never bought one. So how then did I get this one?
Elmer – of course!
P.S. I just had an email from a military historian who tried very hard to get the robot who keeps watch over my comments to let him through, but it refused. So here it is: "An advantage to the Armed Services Editions was that the short spine didn't crack or break when stuffed in a pocket." Good to know that economy reaps unexpected rewards!
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Woke up this morning to cold air wafting through the open window, a sign that fall with all its pleasures will soon be here. I love the leaves, cold weather food, winter clothes, blankets, knitted afghans that don’t match the rug, red wine and cozy nights reading by the fireplace. Oh, and book sales. I still like book sales. Saturday’s mail brought two reminders of upcoming library sales, the sight of which fills me to the brim with cockeyed optimism. I know, I KNOW. I rail about the scanners and the “race to the bottom” and all that other bad stuff that turns me into a grouch. But the thought of tables and tables of books, most of which I know will not be “good”, might possibly hide a treasure that I alone will recognize. Always, always, as long as I live I think fall will trigger that deep pleasure in hiking the book trail.
The word “good” does bother me though. When I was a kid “good” when used to describe books meant something altogether different. A “good” book was the one I couldn’t put down, the one I HAD to read no matter what dreaded math test loomed tomorrow. Betsy and Tacy, Jennifer Hill, Little Women, Katie John, Beezus and Ramona – I loved them all. Today at the sales these are not “good” books. They’ve all fallen out of too many closets, enjoyed too many reprints, got in the hands of sellers who didn’t appreciate them, and were devalued. In a monetary sense, unless they are first editions (and in some cases even THAT’S iffy), they are not “good.” I really hate it when I make that value judgement, when I say “they had a lot of books, but none of them were any good” because it’s not true. LOTS of them were good – Alice Hoffman’s The Probable Future, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, anything by Richard Russo, Wally Lamb, oyce Carol Oates, Robert Hallenga, and Gail Godwin are VERY good. I loved them when I read them and I and love them still. So this year I want to stop saying that there was nothing good at the sales when good books were so plentiful I tripped over them.
Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t want to find treasures. I do. Of course I do. But I have to tell you that selling books at the mall has been wonderful for my perspective. I’ve sold three-figure books there and ten dollar books there and have loved both ends of the spectrum, something which is not true online. It pleases me when someone finds a good book they can afford and enjoy as much as I enjoyed choosing it. I love that I can scoop up something that catches my fancy with no worry about what’s happening online, or will happen an hour after I list it. At heart I don’t really think I was cut out to be an online seller -- which is not to say that I don’t love getting lots of orders and wonderful thank you notes from customers. I love all that good stuff. Maybe what I mean is this -- I WAS cut out for it the way it was in the beginning, but am less so now. I do have it worked out better now though – no more selling on any sites that make me break out in hives. These would be (in no special order) ebay, amazon and alibris. I’m happy to keep it simple these days with Abe, Biblio, my own site, and my secret site. It’s enough. And it has renewed my pleasure in being online greatly.
So then. Book sale season begins in a week and a half or so. It’s time to ferret out my Friends of the Library membership cards, my canvas bags, my favorite book sale jeans and sweaters, add a pair of reading glasses so I can see what I’m doing, and prepare once again for the fifteenth consecutive year to take my place in line.
Friday, September 07, 2012
It’s a rare time when I am without words, but this summer may be one of them. It feels to me like time is stuck, like the hands of the clock got cemented to its face. Every day it’s the same thing – house, house, and more house. The work drags on and while it IS progressing there’s still a lot of stuff on the list. I suspect I will be living with World’s Best Contractor for at least another month because every job takes three times as long as you would expect and of course I’m not his only client. I think all those TV shows where they make over a house the size of the Biltmore in a week raised my expectations and atrophied my brain. As a result, I’ve refrained from blogging on the grounds that I am simply too boring at the moment.
The antiques mall seems to be humming along though. We’ve already made the new higher rent plus a profit, but it’s important to note that half of it came from things that are not books. Wednesday we sold a four-point Hudson Bay blanket Eric bought at an estate sale AND that gorgeous blond cabinet that’s really a cedar chest. Oh, the angst when I saw that the latter had sold! I have a hunch that I priced it too low and it was snapped up by a dealer. But I doubled my money and sold it in less than a week, so I really can’t complain. What’s bothers me most is that it gave the booth a dash of panache and made a great display piece for books and now there’s nothing there but a gaping hole. Great antiques, like great books, do not sprout out of the ground. Most of what’s out there is either primitive, common, and/or dreary. I look at that stuff and it makes my teeth hurt. I spent an hour scouring Auction Zip yesterday in hopes of finding a decent auction to go to, but in every single instance all it took was a glance at the pictures to nix that idea.
Believe it not, I need books again too. The forty boxes Eric brought me before he left have all been swiftly dealt with and provided me with only a small boost in inventory. Sixty per cent returned to the store, thirty per cent went to the mall, and ten per cent landed online. I remember the day when the whole shebang would have gone online and created a nice bang in return. But that was then and this is now. I tell myself that a lot these days.
Anyway, I don’t have an abundance of books left after dragging so many to the mall, so I am mulling over the idea of slamming something really good on ABE and Biblio. Speaking of Biblio, I had a whopping twelve – TWELVE – orders from them last month. It’s unprecendented. It’s practically unheard of. It makes me sound like a pathological liar. But it really did happen. Since then, however, there have been a measly two. (Sigh). So, here I am considering what I have squirrelled away and what I might part with without having a meltdown. For sure it will NOT be the Frank Lloyd Wright goodies under the guest room bed. That stuff is the gold standard to be trotted out at next year’s Akron show just in case it’s the only decent stuff I’ll have. So that leaves me with a three-figure book on kilims, the second copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book, or a first edition of The Ambassadors by Henry James WITH the linen dustjacket. I was leaning toward the James.
But then I read that Henry liked it best of all his books and that made me feel like maybe I should wait and take it to the show too. I don’t know. At any rate, I thought I’d at least take it out of the closet, as you might want to look at it in case you ever spot one. I have to tell you though it’s not exactly a book that jumps off the shelf. I didn’t know I had it until I unpacked that collection we bought this spring in Cleveland. And even when I first picked it up I still thought it didn’t have a jacket! As you can see in the photo below, the dustjacket is made of linen and fits the book like a second skin. Very cool, especially if, like me, you like the look of naked books.
And THAT’S how I got the provocative title for this blog which is probably boring and for which I apologize. Eventually the sawdust will clear and so will my thoughts. I promise.
Saturday, September 01, 2012
We did it! We moved into the new booth at the antiques mall on Thursday. As I believe I mentioned, the window of opportunity to launch it this weekend had barely cracked open, as Eric had to go back to Malvern for the second phase of the Great Trail Festival. We had called and asked if we could get in earlier if it was vacant and they kindly said we could and they would even let us know the minute it happened. Day followed day though and no call, so Wednesday night I resigned myself to the possibility of a mid-month move.
The glass wall and shower door were due to be installed by the glass people on Thursday morning anyway, so I let the mall go and turned my attention to the house. Well, actually I turned it to the books we just got. If you recall I was worried about not having enough to fill the new space. Well, early in the week a long-time seller (he’s been around longer than our fifteen years) came into the store with forty boxes of books to sell. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his utter disgust with what the business has degenerated into, he decided to close up shop. Eric loaded up the car with them and surpised me Wednesday night. World’s Best Contractor (WBC) was still there sawing crown molding in the driveway, but I whirled and twirled around him like a pinwheel. He already knows I’m like that anyway. I jump up and down like a pogo stick very time he creates something wonderful.
Thursday morning I was having a blast sorting through all those new books when the glass guy called me and WBC in to see the finished product. One look and my vocal chords froze like an exposed pipe in the dead of winter. WBC turned so white I thought he’d keel over. They’d custom made both the door and the wall with the wrong glass! It was supposed to be clear so you could see the tile in the shower – an important design feature for this small space. But instead it was opaque with sort of a rainfall look. When my vocal chords finally unlocked I mumbled something about it not being what I expected, but I supposed I could live with it -- which was not even a little bit true. WBC’s eyebrows shot to the top of his head at that, so I just shut up and stared miserably at it.
Fortunately, the phone rang.
It was Jean from the antiques mall. The booth was ready and we could come right this second if we wanted. I wanted! Oh, did I want! I called Eric and in fifteen minutes he and the truck were here and an hour later we were rambling down Rte. 18 loaded with books and furniture. Before we left home WBC assured us that he was taking the glass situation to the mat.
As soon as we were in the mall excitement splintered into a cross between stress and elation. The clock was ticking and we had only five and half hours to complete the task. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not because people come by and talk to you. Also ideas that worked so well in your head don’t always work that well in reality. You move something from here and end up dragging it over there. You pull all the books out of a case and distribute them in narrower categories. I felt like we were competing in a reality TV show. Just as they sounded the end-of-day warning about selecting your items etc. etc. we called it a done deal. But even so I looked over my shoulder at it until it fell out of sight. It reminded me of the first day of kindergarten when I left my babies in the hands of strangers.
WBC was still there when we got home so that abruptly shifted me into house mode. He was fairly shimmering with excitement to show us his latest handiwork. He’d grouted the tile on the foyer floor. Blue, grey, green and brown tones glowed in the late afternoon sun, so beautiful you could weep. And yet try taking a picture – it can’t be done. WBC also told us that a new door and wall were being made of clear glass and we are welcome to use the rainy one while we’re waiting. We also owe not a penny more. I was so tired (more from the stress than the work), but I still whirled and twirled a few turns over so much good news. Later I remembered that I’d never taken pictures at the mall and, in fact, had forgotten to take the camera.
So today Nancy and I went over and I got to unveil my little store – it DOES look like a little store (Andrea even said so and she HAS a store). We took a ton of pictures of which the one on top is the best for getting a handle on the long view. Of course there’s much more I want to do, but for now I am a very happy and hopeful bookseller.
Friday, August 24, 2012
I’m almost disappointed that I so quickly solved the conundrum of the scrap of letter in the Whittier book, but it looks like I very likely have. One of you smart people deciphered a word on the envelope which contained said scrap and ended up adding great credence to what I’d already learned. But more on that later. The important thing is that I am ninety-nine per cent (at least) sure that Whittier wrote it – and here’s why. Samuel Pickard, the author of the little green book and the one who sent the scrap of letter to the unknown Ohioan, was married to Whittier’s favorite niece Elizabeth (Lizzie) to whom Whittier had written the letter in 1868 while she was away in Richmond, Virginia. Whittier also hand-picked Pickard to be his literary executor and biographer.
If you recall, on the envelope containing the scrap Pickard stated that he was sending the small snippet of the poet’s handwriting because it came from a letter that “could not be used” due to the fact that it discussed personal matters. Initially, that comment shot up red flags for me because I viewed him only as the author of a minor book which I thought was more of a tour guide than anything else. In a sense the book IS that, as it gives the reader a tour of the Whittier house and grounds, but there is also much biographical and anecdotal information. It’s rather ironic -- I spent hours combing the internet when some of what I was searching for was right there IN THE BOOK, including a picture of Elizabeth Whittier Pickard (see image above). Once I realized that Pickard was closely allied to both Whittier and Lizzie I could see why he wanted, and had the authority, to use his own discretion about what was kept for the historical record and what was jettisoned.
The next big game changer came in the form of the private email referred to above. One of my readers somehow made sense of the word “freedmen.” I had already verified that Lizzie was in Richmond, Virginia in 1868 just as Pickard had said she was, but all I knew was that she had likely been teaching. The word “freedmen”, however, coupled with the reference Whittier made to “school” and “scholars” on the back of the scrap) shed a whole new light on it. Whittier himself had been a vocal abolitionist, so it stands to reason that after the emancipation of the slaves his beloved Lizzie, like many young white women of the day, would head south with a missionary group to teach in the schools set up for the freed slaves by the Freedmen’s Bureau. In fact, one of the earliest freedmen’s schools had been built in Richmond in June of 1865 and immediately attracted 300 students. By 1868 figures showed that the age of students ranged from four to twenty-nine! I’m still puzzled though as to why Pickard chose to cut up the letter’s contents, as there was certainly nothing incendiary, at least in the north, about volunteering to teach ex-slaves, but there may have been other things mentioned. Of course we’ll never know.
What I do know is that Samuel and Lizzie figured large in Whittier’s life until his death in 1892 at the age of 85. Ten years later Lizzie died also after a sudden unnamed illness overcame her as she was decorating her famous uncle’s grave! Samuel and Lizzie had just one child, a son named Greenleaf, who grew up to make major contributions in the field of radio communication. Below see a photo of Whiiter's funeral in the garden.
But what does all this mean in terms of bookselling? Do I have a valuable book here? I suspect that I do not, at least monetarily. Whittier was a popular poet during his lifetime, especially after he published the long poem Snowbound, and even for a lengthy span after that, but these days it seems that he's been largely excised from the study of American literature. In fact, I read that though vistors still enjoy Whittier House the Pickard family actively works to keep his name in the vernacular. Whittier, it would seem, is not Whitman. But having said that I also think the book DOES have some value to the right person especially given the provenance that exists.But how MUCH value is a huge question. Everyone I told about the book and its secret had heard of Whittier, but only two could pin down an actual title of one his poems. One said Barbara Fritchie and the other, my friend Nancy,said A Barefoot Boy. Of the two, only Nancy could provide a quote.
Blessings on thee, little man, Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
Nancy was a poetry major at Ohio University back in the day, so whenever information is needed in a poetic emergency she's the woman! But here’s the kicker – Nancy hadn’t heard Barefoot Boy from a professor. She’d heard it straight from the lips of a moose.
Remember Rocky and Bullwinkle? Bullwinkle was a Whittier fan!