Monday, January 30, 2012

Mirror Incidents


It’s fascinating how many connections can be drawn between bookselling and life. One showed up yesterday and I’m still chuckling over it. Eric and I had passed on an estate sale Saturday because in the ad the company had stuck the crucial word books next to the lethal word toys, minus the important word VINTAGE. But my antiques dealer buddy Darwin sent me a note Saturday afternoon to say that they had a lot of books and people were walking around with four or five each. He couldn’t  guarantee their quality, but just wanted to give me the heads up. So yesterday we dutifully piled into the car and headed off to Akron for half price day. At first glance the shelves looked grimmer than the Reaper himself which of course made me wonder how good the departed books had been. I gave what was left a desultory look and was just about to call it a day when I spotted what looked like a brown cardboard box on the coffee table.
I walked over to have a look only to find that it wasn’t a box at all. It was two seemingly new books in plain, but pristine, jackets the color of brown paper bags. I opened  them (backwards and upside down) and found two identical  Missouri history and genealogical titles published in 1959. Well, there’s a nice surprise, yes? Definitely, but  it got even more surprising when an estate sale worker handed  me a plastic bag and said, “Here – put those in there and fill it up for $5.”




Normally I’m not much of a bag day sort of girl, but I had seen some shiny new stuff I figured Eric could use for the store, so off I went, bag flying like a banner. Immediately an older title on the theory of solids (you know how I much I love that mysterious technical stuff) enthusiastically jumped in with the Missouri gang . And then  a 1943 centennial history of a Catholic church in Philadelphia sailed in behind it. After that though it was strictly ISBNville, but never mind. By the time I got done my four books priced out at $170 and Eric’s four shiny new ones at $55. Not bad for a bad sale!
After that we were so pleased with ourselves we headed off to Home Goods to buy a mirror. Three years ago we remodeled the bathroom in the  upstairs hall (which I immediately appropriated except for when the kids are here), but  never got around to getting a new mirror for it because I couldn’t find anything I liked at the time. We had had one of those generic plain plate glass ones, so back up it went and there it has remained ever since. Oddly enough it seemed that the people of Akron must have been harboring similar mirror stories because as soon as we got out of the car we spotted a couple,  a man, and a young woman each lugging a mirror to their cars.

“Maybe they’re having a sale,” Eric said.

They weren’t, but you’d sure never have guessed it. The fairly small mirror section looked like Filene’s basement at the annual bridal gown sale. We whipped out our tape measure, as did the ten or twelve other mirror buyers, and dug in. Finally I narrowed it down to three I liked, but when I couldn’t  make a decision in two and a half seconds Eric drifted away. Naturally, that’s when  a clutch of NEW mirror buyers showed up, pulled out their measuring tapes and joined the fray. What do I do? Get the contemporary one? Or the traditional one with the nice molding? Or the traditional one that can’t decide if it’s gold, silver or something in between  Zap! The contemporary one is gone.  So then – the traditional with the molding, or the traditional that can’t decide …

Zap! The traditional with the molding is gone too, so that leaves only the traditional silvery, goldy, something-elsey. I  looked around for Eric, panic  building like a  tower of blocks, but he’d evaporated into  thin air. There was no choice. I had to wrestle this enormous thing, darn near as tall I am, to the floor and then stand there hanging on to it until he showed up. Which he did. Eventually.
“Does this remind you of anything?” I asked mildly.

“Well, you didn’t seem ready to go, so I thought I’d look for a new pad for the rug.”

All that was visible of me was my head and my fingers clutching the frame on both sides. But slowly the light dawned.

“Oh! Sorry about that,” he mumbled, relieving  me of the mirror. He picked it up like it was nothing more than a large newspaper and strode off toward the check-out leaving me to follow, bemused by the fact that he still hadn’t made the obvious connection.

I thought about mentioning that the reason I could even tussle with a  mirror the size of an iceberg is because of the many times I’ve been backed into corners clutching piles of books as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory with no place to put them.
But I didn’t have to.

“Well, look at it this way, “ he said. “At least there weren’t any scanners.”


Friday, January 27, 2012

Snow Day?


It's a  beautiful day in the neighborhood. Snow falls with serious intent in enormous flakes that remind me of the old grade school craft of folding white paper in complex configurations and snipping fanciful shapes from the edges in the futile hope of replicating nature. On the one hand it makes me want to declare a Snow Day. Remember snow days when you were a kid? My sister and I would jump out of bed, brave our unheated bedrooms,  look outside at the eerie white expanse of Kenyon Street and run to the radio in hopes that WHLO Akron (Hello Radio) would save us from the endless monotony that was school in the 60’s. These days there’s nothing to be saved FROM – it’s more  a matter of the snow channeling silent permission to break from routine and instead choose something I love almost as much but never have time to pursue. On the other hand though, the  need to list, take pictures, cull dead stock, ACCOMPLISH something shrieks in my head like a siren
Cullng dead stock does please me though. Yesterday I removed most of my fiction, some of which has been online for 15 years. Yes, it sells occasionally, but I’m annoyed with a list that doesn’t in its entirety reflect what I’m about these days. I began in 1997 as a  commodity bookseller as did most internet start-ups, but over the years my love of the new and shiny gave way to the call of the old, the pleasure of scholarship, the delight of paper in all its guises. In making this shift the world both expanded and contracted. While ABE grew for me, alibris narrowed down. I still sell there, but my enthusiasm for them has badly waned. I guess to explain that you would have to understand that to the core of my being I am fiercely independent.  I could rant about all the things that drive me insane, but there’s little point. You either live with them. Or you don’t.

Oh, I guess I didn’t tell you about Wednesday’s auction, did I? I got surprisingly luckier than I imagined I would, but it dragged on endlessly and we had to leave no later than 6:30 to get back to Akron to the NOBS book fair committee meeting. Three and a half hours after start time they had so much stuff  left it likely took another three hours to plow through it unless they piled it all up in crazy, unrelated lots and took whatever they could get just to be free of it. We stayed as long as we dared, but I ended up having to leave behind a box of ten pristine copies of the Ladies Home Journal from 1895, a golf book from the 1890’s, and a strange little book buried in a box of junk that I bet went for a song. I can’t remember the title, but I’ve sold it twice at $65. The first time I got it by chance and had no clue that it was a desirable antiquarian Jehovah’s Witness title until I researched it. Now I would recognize it anywhere, though I can’t even tell you what it’s about, much less name it. It’s very unique, that’s all I can say.

Anyway, on the plus side, I bought a flat of Canton, Ohio ephemera from the early 1900’s, primarily dealing with the assassination of  President William McKinley who was from Canton where this auction was also held. In Canton they devour this stuff despite the fact that there’s enough of it there to go door to door and give every resident a piece of it. I also bought 67 holiday postcards, again from the early 1900’s, some of which are pictured below, AND a pretty little Catholic bridal  prayer book made in Belgium which sports a sparkly celluoid cover that replicates mother of pearl. It still nestles in it original box and appears unused (1939) with no writing on the page designated for information on the wedding.

Yesterday's mail also brought me another ebay purchase of note. This one, The City of the Saints, dates from 1906 and celebrates the wonders of Salt Lake City, Utah. Unlike others of its ilk, it actually has 64 oversized pages loaded with real history and meaningful photographs. I’m very pleased with it. Since we last talked I also bought a two volume antiquarian set on a trip to Greece (1830’s as I recall) and another two volume set from the 1890’s about  a woman traveler’s adventures on the Nile. Oddly, I harbor a fondness for vintage travel which is truly perverse seeing as how I’m not at all crazy about travel in real life. Anyway, I don't have them yet, so the outcomes remain to be seen.

Just this second I peeked behind the shade in my office to take a picture of Winter Wonderland only to find that the snow has vanished, replaced with the rain and mud seen above. I guess there’s no decision to be made after all. No snow day for me today!
But you know what? I suspect there wouldn’t  have been anyway. When you love what you do you really don't need a Snow Day.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Boxed In and Heading Out


It’s 6:30 a.m. and I am waiting for Eric to get up to help me finish the packaging of a set of six volumes off to Slovakia today. The postal rates just went up Monday, so the only way I can keep the cost down for this buyer is to use a crazy, weird 23” long box the postal service devised for international priority shipping of large items. We didn’t have one, so I had to have him pick one up yesterday on the way home to see if it would even work. As it turns out, it will with three packages of two volumes each laid flat inside and separated with packing. I have everything bubble wrapped, but this box seems flimsier to me than the regular priority boxes, so I want him to cut some cardboard to line it – sort of a box within a box. I would do it myself except the only cardboard I have that’s long enough is not lined so you can easily score it with a box cutter. No matter what I do I can NOT cut though this  stuff! I know it sounds like overkill to even try, but this box costs an astonishing $61.00!  Anyone willing to pay such a staggering sum to ship a $65 set of books deserves first class treatment.

Today, in fact, I have TWO sets to wrap, but the other one will be departing media mail to a town in Ohio. Even so, it will cost an astonishing $9.60. Every time the postal rates flip it seems to sound a death knell to our sales and yet buyers adjust. But I do believe that even though there are clear signs of adaptation there are also equal signs of resistance. Eventually, as the rates continue to shoot for the stratosphere, which they WILL, we might hit a brick wall on overseas orders. I was talking to a seller last fall at a book sale and he said he never gets European orders anymore. Obviously, I do, but they’re certainly not what they used to be.

Enough of that though. Today is a whirlwind, already gathering momentum. Once the mail is out I have to get books ready for the antiques mall,  then drop them off, and head out to an auction. Though they’re advertising books,it looks like it’s more of  a paper seller’s heaven, so I am hoping to at least acquire some of that. The last time I was at this auction (it’s been a long time – a year I  think) I did great, but that’s not the usual course of events. People go bonkers here, especially with paper as many, if not most, of the buyers are collectors who will pay whatever it takes. I also can only stay three hours, as we have to get back to Akron by seven for the NOBs book fair committee meeting. By ten I should be a sleepwalker, as I got up at 4:30 this morning!

As I mentioned, I have been buying a lot of books on ebay these days. It’s a time consuming job with mixed results – many sellers don’t have a clue what to even TELL you about a book – but when it works it’s been known to send me whirling and twirling around my office. Yesterday, for example, I bought a $90 book on a Buy it Now for $24 with free shipping and a $200 book for $15.00  INCLUDING shipping, on auction. How I managed that last one I have no idea. I had a big bid hidden, as I was sure there were a couple lurkers ready to pounce in the last few minutes, but I guess they wandered off to dinner while I sat staring at the screen balancing a plate of  tuna noodle casserole and spinach salad on my lap while Eric dined by himself at the kitchen island.

I promised to show you some of my recent ebay purchases, so check out my favorite below – a  beautiful set by John Fiske from 1902 entitled Essays: Historical and Literary. A lot of people have cloth bound sets, but these are half leather with beautiful spines sporting raised bands, gilt top edges, marbled endpapers, and pages as white as snowdrifts. For these I paid $38.00, plus $4.00 shipping. Not only do they delight the eye, but I also  rather like old Fiske for some odd reason. I remember once having  had a four volume set of his magnum opus, Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, which sought to reconcile orthodox religious beliefs with the Darwinian theory of evolution as filtered through the mind of Herbert Spencer, with whom he  was most enamored. That was a long time ago though  and this is the first Fiske I’ve even seen since then.

So now, having checked in with you guys and fulfilled my promise to play show and tell, I’m off to the basement to saw cardboard by myself. The only thing Eric appears interested in sawing is logs!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Out of the Ball Park


As you may have seen in the Comments section of my last post, there was no rockin’ and rollin’ for me last night. A much ballyhooed winter storm alert shut down Party Central, so no Christmas and no champagne for Dandi’s big wins until a later date. Most likely it will be the week after next, as every one of us had a conflict on a different night of the upcoming week. For me it’s a NOB’s book fair committee meeting on Wednesday which I MUST go to since it’s almost countdown time to the book and paper fair in April. I’m excited because the first day of the fair falls on my birthday this year. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate, that is if you even celebrate such a thing as turning ... yeah.
It’s funny what just popped into my head this second. Last week I read a short piece in the New Yorker in the Talk of the Town section about a bunch of serious book guys meeting at Bauman’s Rare Books in NYC. The writer commented that they were all dressed in “bibiliophile regalia” which consisted of grey sweaters and spectacles. Oh my. I am definitely not in gear here. As I think about the Akron book fair the male dealers seem to wear either sweaters or sport jackets, but I am drawing a complete blank on the women which is not a good sign. There are not that many of them, so you’d think I’d know, but I don’t. Now all of a sudden I have a hunch that I am a tad too frivolous, especially given the fact that two of the long time dealers we like once told me that when they first saw me they thought I’d be gone in a heartbeat because I looked so “girly-girl” which I think is a nice way of saying that I don’t look like I have a brain in my head, much less know anything about books. Hmmmmmm – this is worrisome. And like I need something else to obsess about right now.

It does of course bring up the question of whether it’s more important to look like you belong, or to be true to who you are. I can wear a serious gray sweater. And I can lose the dangly earrings and the high-heels. But should I? Is there some rule that says you can’t know stuff and still be fashionable? I’m not a fashionista for Pete’s sake. I just believe in lipstick, earrings and skinny jeans. Oh, I’m not going to think about this anymore. It’s freaking me out and I’m sorry I even remembered it.

I think the reason I did is because Bauman’s has been on my mind since yesterday when I dragged out a rare baseball book I got this past summer but never listed because I couldn’t satisfy myself as to why it was so expensive. I was at a NOBS board meeting this past Wednesday and Andrea and I got to talking about it and then Brian, the, NOBS PR guy,  got in on it, and the ensuing discussion convinced me  that it’s high time to list it. I looked online for like copies and found a beat-up example priced under $200 with most people in the $400-500 range for nicer ones. But a google search showed that Bauman’s Rare Books had it listed at $2000 and marked it SOLD. I forwarded the link to my bookseller friend Paul Bauer of Archer’s Books who wrote a baseball book and is a collector of same. He said he’d never seen it before (Bauman’s had a great photo), but  that with baseball books age is paramount, so my 1910 copyright is a good thing. Also, the cartoons inside are rendered by C.A. Briggs who worked for newspapers in both Chicago and New York and was considered the best sports cartoonist of his day.

It’s interesting how we came to have this little treasure. Eric went out on a house call by himself back in the late summer or early fall AFTER a very respected long-time seller had already skimmed the cream off the top. He bought everything that was left, which included many very nice books that I could take to the antiques mall and sell in the $30-$50 range, which I did. The only wildly expensive one was this one, but what a little sleeper it is. I think maybe, given the rapidity of the sale of Mathematical Investigations in the Theory of Value and Prices, I will hold it back until after the show. It would be very nice to have something that maybe would create a little buzz. Last year I had only a three volume diary kept by an Ohio college girl at the turn of the 20th century replete with dance invitations and pictures of the sorority girls smoking, but I sold that before the show even began to my book guru. The first year though I brought the fabulous Salvador Dali Cookbook and a first edition Mark Twain. So I think I need this baseball book to hitch a ride over to the John S. Knight Center and get in on the action.

Especially if I can’t find a serious gray sweater between now and then.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dandi News, Good News!

I’ve been remiss here I know, but after all that computer trouble I had to catch up on listing, not to mention deal with all the photos in need of renaming and uploading. But I finally got a handle on it which is great because I plan to have a rip-roaring good time tonight. It sounds a little wacky I know, but I am off to my writers’ Christmas party at 6:30. I guess to understand this you have to know that for writers time is a very fluid thing. You have a Christmas party in December. Or you have it January, or March, or even August and it’s STILL a Christmas party with presents and Christmas food. So of course I had to wrap the goodies in festive paper and bake a cake. I settled on what has become known at our house as Darwin cake – as you may recall, it’s the one I threw together  out of sheer desperation on New Year’s Day. But it was good enough to warrant a reprise, which is handy because it’s a small cake and we are a small group of four who have been together since the early 90’s.

Tonight is extra special though because one of our members, Dandi Mackall, has scored not one, but TWO major victories. Wow – for a writer this is dream stuff. First she sold her novel My Boyfriend’s Dogs to Hallmark who plans to make it into a Valentine’s Day movie, tentatively scheduled for next year. This book is so cinematic it begs to be on film – in fact, I said that to her after I read the manuscript. Imagine this as an opener  -- a woman wanders into a St. Louis cafĂ© late on a rainy night dressed in a wedding gown and holding a leash to which is attached a gaggle of dogs. This sale took place a couple weeks ago and we were definitely planning to raise a glass to it, but then yesterday brought even more mind-blowing news. It turns out that Dandi’s  YA novel The Silence of Murder just got nominated for an Edgar which to a mystery writer is the equivalent of an Oscar. It almost doesn’t even matter if you win – just getting to don an evening gown and show up in the Big Apple to schmooze with the mostly famous nominees is heady stuff enough. http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html

Of course after all THAT glittering news anything else I say is going to drop like a blob of lead on a concrete floor, but I did score a sort of victory myself on Tuesday. You may recall that when we bought the books from the House of Torture I mentioned that one very innocuous looking one appeared to be quite valuable. It looks like a complete zilch, but I picked it up, set it aside immediately, and took it home the first day before we even brought the truck. This book is so blah that I would bet an FOL sale could put it on the free table and nobody would take it. Why I felt a little zing!  when I picked it up is anybody’s guess. It’s from the 20’s and is titled Mathematical Investigations in the Theory of Value and Prices by Irving Fisher, SIGNED and inscribed by Fisher to Mercer G. Evans who served as Labor Relations Director for the Farm Security Administration. Online copies ranged from $395 to $750, but I’m not greedy, so I priced mine at $395 also, even though it was a tad better than the lowest priced one. To my amazement it sold overnight on ABE as a want match. Of course I like the money, but it’s an equal kick to have recognized  a diamond embedded in a lump of coal. It also makes the two days of misery packing all those books a lot more palatable.

Speaking of book buying, would you believe that there are STILL no estate sales this weekend. We went to a small book sale yesterday morning which we hadn’t been to in two years. It used to be a humdinger, but right now it’s the doggiest of them all. Strangely enough though , there were ZERO scanner types and a small crowd, so I was able to get six books for the antiques mall and one I wanted to read. The amazing part was that we walked in and were greeted like the Queen and Prince of England. They thought we’d gone out of business when what we actually had gone out of was patience with scanners and bad books. I think the reason they like us is we used to spend a lot of money, but not this time.Their glass case “specials” included six Rover Boy books with no dustjackets and broken spines at $6 each. I don’t think so ….

Which is why tomorrow  will find us trudging  off in the snow  to another small sale of dubious value and then on Sunday to the Medina Flea Market which lately has been a bit better, but is  worth going to only because we live two miles from it. But I am not complaining too much because I did buy some nice stuff on ebay this week, some of which I’ll show you in a future post.

Until then, let’s all have a toast of virtual champagne ( I vote for Veuve Cliquot) for my friend Dandi. Here’s to good news in all its guises!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Little Boxes, Little Boxes ...

I now truly understand hell. Hell is the place you land as soon as your computer declares its independence. You tell it to delete a photo. It says, “No thank you.” You try to move to the next photo. It assumes a posture of defiance and announces that it most emphatically will NOT. And then for good measure it adds that just in case you’re thinking of renaming all these photos, think again, Missy. After about a week of contrariness I finally decided to take matters in hand. Because I am forever hearing about the need for “cleaning up your computer “(the occasional spritz of Trader Joe’s Cleaniness Is Next to Godliness apparently doesn't count) I broke down and spent almost $40 on Norton Utilities which provides 15 services such as optimization and defragmentation, all of which sounds soothingly medicinal.
As soon as I downloaded  the magic software  the bad news appeared. My computer was not balky because it’s old (almost four years) and cranky, but because it’s sick – overall health Poor. So I begin running  the fifteen utilities and gradually -- oh so gradually --I rise to medium health and then onward and upward to High Health. Alrighty then, am I smart, or what? So I close it out and head happily off to my Pictures program prepared to slam book photos at Abebooks until they scream for mercy. All I can say is, there are times when glowing health does not displace crabbiness. This was one of them.

So now what? I’m completely out of home remedies and have the computer skills of a chimpanzee. All  I can do is bite the bullet and call the boys from Brunswick, Larry and Shawn of Net Effects, who have bailed me out more times than I can count. In fact, they never even need to figure who I am when I call – they KNOW and it’s not just because of the frequency of my problems  either. I think a certain amount of computer stupidity is in there too.  Anyway, I talk to Larry, feeling pretty pleased with myself for have taken the problem as far as I have on my own. Who can argue with such a gargantuan leap of computer well-being performed without assistance by a book geek, huh?  

Larry.

“NOT a good idea,” he tells me. “The program duplicates what Windows already provides on your computer (like who knew THAT?) and the two programs end up fighting with each other.”

“But it’s NORTON,” I protest. “Norton’s the gold standard.”

“Yes, for virus protection, but not for this.”

I KNOW, I know. This is Larry talking here, but I still find this hard to believe. Anyone who watched the program’s multi-colored grid go from a scattered mess to rows of neat, orderly, pink, blue and yellow boxes lined up with the precision of a Rockettes' kick line would feel compelled to defend poor  Norton. But Larry wasn’t buying. Shawn either.  So I decide to let it go, sit back in my fabulous  purple chair and watch as Larry takes control of my computer from afar. Mysterious hidden diagnostics suddenly appear from behind  never-explored icons, spilling numbers, letters, and symbols like glitter across the screen. I watch this display in rapt fascination until I see 97 problems appear in the first fifteen seconds. After that it gets a bit jumbled, but somehow we meet up with the ominous BLUE SCREEN.

“Uh-oh,” says Larry.

“Did we just crash?” I ask.

“Might have,” he says.

Oddly, I don’t panic. Instead I calmly calculate the cost of a new computer, decide it can still be done for under $2000 and resign myself to my dismal fate. Only wait! We have not crashed after all. Or we did and then we recovered. Either way we’re back up and Larry is deleting stuff I’ve never seen before. To make a long story short my computer had a parasite, a malicious cyber tapeworm which ate up the functionality of my Pictures program and was  introduced by some sort of grocery coupon site. It’s pretty funny considering that I’m lucky to get to the grocery at all, much less with a checkbook. If I have a list we consider it a red letter day. But if I ever slouched  into  Buehler's clutching a wad of crumpled coupons the entire place would erupt with more shock than it did the day a deer wandered in. Which of course leaves one big question -- how did a grocery coupon site take up residence on my hard drive anyway?

“When something on the internet says it’s free, it’s not,” Larry says in  the voice of a sage.

I believe him. I really do.  And why shouldn't I? My computer works again,  I either didn’t crash or  survived a crash,  I didn’t have to spend a bunch of money I can ill afford, and I can once again upload pictures to ABE. I even believe him about the Norton Utilities program. Sort of.

The little pink, blue and yellow  boxes may be made of ticky-tacky, but whatever else might be said of them, they still put on a damn good show.

I bet the Rockettes would back me up on that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Binging On Books

I’ve had a cold the past couple days which is why I haven’t been lurking over here. I never really took to the couch, just sort of dragged around doing what needed to get done. Otherwise I spent most of my time sneezing and trying to buy books on ebay. Usually I’m rather lucky with this, but in the past couple days I bid on six and got none. One of them I really wanted too – a gorgeous, and I do mean gorgeous early copy of Cecily Barker’s The Flower Fairies with a DUSTJACKET and 72 plates rendered in saturated color. I took the bidding to $150, but lost in the last couple seconds. My only consolation was that the “winner” did too because the reserve wasn’t met.

So this morning, in a fit of desperation (no estate sales this weekend), I hit ebay again with a new tactic. Instead of trying to hold my ground on the higher end stuff, I decided to bid the minimum on stuff that would either be a.) great for the mall or b.) profitable online, but of interest only to a small audience which means a slow turn-around. I left five bids which I will not change. This time it’s a deliberate crap-shoot. I figure it’s kind of like buckshot – shoot a bunch of it over there and some of it’s bound to stick. I know what you’re thinking because one of you already mentioned this to me. Why am I feeling bereft of books when we just bought that mountain of boxes from the House of Torture?

The short answer is I know for a fact that they contain only a small number of additional online titles (I had sequestered some and already listed them and all that’s left to be found are the sequestered ones I hastily packed after the explosion) and a larger, but by no means huge, amount for the antiques mall. The rest go straight to the store. Even the ones for the mall, though reasonably plentiful, don’t get me out of the woods because they are ALL military and I’m loathe to turn my booth into Wars-R-US which means it will be a gradual process. (Whoa! I just won four auctions -- a town history for online, ten magazines which could go either way, an antiquarian title on the Brownings in Italy for the mall, and a coal mining equipment catalog from 1935  for online. NOW we’re talking! If I get the last one, the antiquarian two volume leather set of essays, I’ll be batting a hundred, or a thousand, or whatever it is you bat when life is good.

Lest you think all I did yesterday was hang around on the internet, I did add some new listings too. As I’ve mentioned many times, the fastest way to jumpstart your sales is to add new titles. You may not sell those, but you’ll sell something else at least. I don't know if it works that way everywhere but it does on ABE and of all my current sites ABE loves me best. Except for an $80 book about a Hessian mercenary in the American Revolution and a $30 book on the Dobama Movement in Burma, I confined myself to adding magazines and paper this time. I had been stockpiling books for the antiquarian show, but in a moment of hysteria after Christmas I listed a boxed set of six fantasy novels by Andre Norton from the Witch World series which contained a rare Witch World map. I thought I was safe because even though I was the only one who had the map I was twice as high as everybody else at $75. You got it – they sold yesterday on ABE after being online a mere twelve days.

There’s no question that books sell faster than magazines and paper which is why I HAVE to engage in this buying frenzy. I have a ton of magazines and paper and a scarcity of books. However, magazines and paper HAVE been selling on ABE this week. Two customers bought multiple issues of the very elegant Double Gun magazine, one bought ten china painting magazines, and I just sold a 1925 travel booklet for an around the world cruise for $35. So no complaints.

Meanwhile I expect the buying binge to continue, especially since I won my final auction just this second for the two volume leather bound set. Buying online isn’t the easiest way to replenish your stock, and it’s definitely not as cheap, but there’s one big advantage. I COULD be huddled in some estate sale line tomorrow shivering in the snow, or I could be here in my sweats sitting in my fabulous purple chair drinking coffee from my favorite mug with the green pear on it.

Truth is -- I'd rather go to an estate sale.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Life-Givers




Yesterday was Aunt Ruth’s memorial service and I was dreading it. Having grown up Irish Catholic the buttoned-down Congregationalist funerals of Eric’s family always left me feeling desolate as though the person who died had somehow disappeared into the ether never to return, even in memory. No one told stories, no mementoes ever graced a table. In fact, if anything, everyone worked hard NOT to talk about the deceased for fear that pain would stride unbidden into the room, pull up a chair, and boorishly refuse eviction. At an Irish wake, or an Irish funeral, emotions pour like Guinness, dark, thick and blanketed in froth. Great howls of laughter ride the waves of mournful despair. My skin, my blood, my bones remember yet the prayers, the fog of incense, the rise and fall of voices reciting the rosary in a singsong cadence, “Hail Mary, full of grace …”

But my soul remembers best the stories, the lifegivers. My grandfather died when I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t supposed to have happened. The surgery was a success, no cancer, and yet he died anyway. On the same day my Latin teacher, Mr. Wahl, who somehow managed to make a dead language hilarious, died of a massive heart attack. As pallbearers carried my grandfather’s body out of the church another set of pallbearers carried Mr. Wahl’s in. The day felt surreal, an out of body experience through which I moved  like a flat cardboard paperdoll. But after the concelebrated Mass everyone piled into cars and wound their way through the streets of south Akron to my grandparent’s brown brick house which seemd to me in childhood a fortress. People filled the two parlors, congregated around the food in the dining room – my favorites, soda bread with raisins, and black currant cake eight inches high -- and squeezed into the kitchen where the old formica table served as a makeshift bar. Within minutes, the old house on Princeton Street that my grandfather had so loved and had nearly lost during the Depression, thrummed with energy. And there in the middle of all, sat himself, puffing on a cigar and holding court, alive again in the stories. I never wanted it to end.

All this week I’ve wrestled with myself about the propriety of telling a story about Aunt Ruth. Did I dare, or should I just read some agreed Bible verse? I finally opted for the middle ground and decided to send her an old Irish blessing in lieu of prayers.

“May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Yes, I would do it. Even though I knew I’d cry I’d take the leap and do it anyway. But my feet dragged as we trekked up over the rise in the small old cemetery in Lodi to the very back with its panoramic view of the exposed sedimentary rock of the enscarpment. There were only about eighteen people because that’s what happens when you are very old and have outlived most of your friends. There was also no minister, which struck me odd, until I realized we might be better off without one after all. Eric’s sister began with a reading from Rosamund Pilcher’s novel September (Aunt Ruth loved Rosamund Pilcher) which begins, “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged …”

Halfway into the passage her voice broke and through the crack a door swung wide open. One by one people told a story or shared a memory. Only the women shed tears, but the men told stories too -- wonderful stories of Aunt Ruth and two of her girlfriends packing up a camper truck and heading off on a lark to Alaska back in the 70’s. How she always ordered mashed potatoes in restaurants only to be surprised when they came smothered in gravy. She’d gaze down at them, murmur “Oh my,” and then dutifully eat them. Finally after several repeat performances and her inability to ask for  something off the grid her fellow diners would shout at the waitress in unison, “NO GRAVY!”

We also laughed over some of her more infamous misinformed beliefs. The woman held a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve and yet could never be persuaded that cutting a head of lettuce with a knife would not “cut through the vitamins.” One by one each great-niece told of baking cookies, sleeping over at Auntie Ruth’s apartment, trips to Sea World, making crafts, learning recycling before it became commonplace, and as my oldest daughter put it, “always being there for us.”

For more than half an hour we stood in the sun, unmindful of the cold, and told stories. I told how we would not even HAVE our oldest daughter had Aunt Ruth not convinced the social service agency she worked for to take a chance on us back in 1974 when adoptions from Korea were about as common in Akron, Ohio as visits from international dignitaries. I recalled how warmly she welcomed me to the family in 1970 when I was a very young bride. And how when she came every Christmas Eve to spend the night she and I would stay up late and watch old movies – The Bishop’s Wife, Holiday Inn, Christmas In Connecticut. And then I spoke the Irish blessing from memory and conjoined my tears with those already shed.

Afterward we went out to lunch and sat, all eighteen of us, at a common table. There were no spirits of the alcoholic variety, but lots of food, and even more laughs. And there in the center of it all sat Aunt Ruth, quietly holding court, and snapping her endless pictures so as never, ever to forget this time.

As if we could.

(The photo at the top is Aunt Ruth, taken in 1946. I apologize for the size but cannot shrink it.)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Hanging On to the Boards!

This has been one strange week. Rarely do I find myself gone for days at a stretch with no time for listing, photographing, facebooking and twittering. I don’t miss the last two, but if I don’t get back to work today on the first two occupations my sales are going to dry up like a creek in a draught. So instead of cleaning my house, which I should also do, I will be cranking out listings from now until six p.m. when the store closes. The sad part is Wednesday’s auction provided precious little new stuff, most of which is languishing in the SBB, and yesterday’s estate sale provided even less. Make that none.

We hit the road for Aurora at seven a.m. yesterday, not because the sale sounded so fabulous, but because it was the only game in town, except of course it wasn’t even close to being in town! It took an hour to get there and the “lots of books” advertised in the paper turned out to be “some” books, none of which proved worthy of their $5 a book price tag. We’re talking Danielle Steele here – and I mean that literally. This particular estate sale company used to be good, but I haven’t bought a single book from them in a whole year and it’s not because I haven’t gone to their sales. What’s interesting is that the house was a contemporary glass and marble palace and yet we’ve hauled better books out of inner city row houses. On the positive side we did get one great thing for the upcoming Akron Antiquarian Book and Paper Show.

I sold paper at this show last year, but for the first time NOBS has extended an invitation to ephemera dealers, so this year the competition will swell faster than a sprained ankle. I’ve noticed even at the mall that boxes of plastic-bagged items, even when there is adequate space to flip through them, do not attract buyers like items laid flat or hung on the wall. I had been envisioning some sort of bulletin board apparatus that would stand up against the back of the tables where items could be tacked up for high visibility. We’ve been mulling over such a thing for weeks now and what do we find in the basement of this house – not one, but TWO, folding boards exactly like I had in mind. And get this – the price was $10 for both! So it could be argued that the trip and the many hours lost were not in vain after all, especially since I can use one at the mall after the show. We’ll have to remove the legs and find a way to anchor them to the tables, but Eric is very crafty at things like that. So I’m not going to give it another thought except in terms of what items will grace them.

My dearth of books, however, is becoming serious. I cannot believe that after all these years we hold so little inventory. I bought huge collections – and in the case of the infamous Elmer, a MASSIVE collection -- and yet have little left to show from them. Of course partly that’s because I maintain around a thousand books at the mall, but even so, most of what I got from these big buys has been sold. All through the fall we were book sale junkies, including that trip to Dayton, and yet here I am still singing the bookless blues. Yesterday I even hit ebay again and scoured the joint for bargains. Several hundred listings later I finally found a good one on auction, locked in my highest price, and never looked at it again. So I was rather surprised when I saw I’d won. The opening bid was $10 and I got it for $20 including shipping, so it wasn’t too terrible, but I’d still have liked $10 a whole lot better. As nice as it is, it's also just ONE book and I spent way too much time acquiring it.

Well, here’s a weird thing! I went out to the garage just now and dragged in one of those folding displays upon which I planned to tack up some bags of ephemera to give you an idea of what it will look like at the show. But I opened it up only to find that it already contained a display. And not just any display either. This is a high school science project about Lodi Park in the Mississippian Period. I ran and got Eric who went nuts over it and tried to get me to let him have the whole shebang for his store which is located in – ta-da! -- Lodi. But nothing doing. The display is mounted on brown paper stapled to the boards, so he can remove the staples and take the display along to the museum where his customers can peruse information about the exposed sedimentary rock cliff until the next millennium.

But for now at least that board is MINE!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Girlie-Girls at the Auction

The 2012 buying season launched yesterday with a country auction conducted by my favorite auctioneer, Don Wallick, who can actually sing auction patter to the tune of Ten Little Indians. I’ve mentioned him here before, but every time I hear him, which is maybe three times a year, I get such a kick out of it it’s like a whole new experience. This time the ad promised better than reality, but I did get some stuff – all paper. The books were truly terrible -- broken down, worn-out, odiferous tomes in need of serious plastic surgery. So I let those go and honed in on paper, some of which still required the “nose test.” I will not buy overwhelmingly musty items no matter what they are, but I will break down and get those with just a light whiff because I’ve had great success getting rid of minor odors. The downside is you have to tie up your money for a full month as they languish in what we refer to as the SBB, or Smelly Book Box.

The process is simple though. I use a large plastic tub with a lid and a product called, plainly enough, Book Deodorizer, which I buy online from http://sicpress.com/book-deodorizer. This stuff is biodegradable and not too pricey at $16 a pound because it lasts for a long, long time. I know non-clumping kitty litter is dirt cheap, but these magic pellets are much better. Because of them I’ve been able to buy gems I wouldn’t have looked at twice and that includes books as well as paper. So when you consider that it provides you with a chance to seize the moment as well as make a nice profit, Book Deodorizer quickly pays for itself. And, no, this not a paid advertisement!  I truly like the stuff and am passing it on to you in case it helps. Below see a photo of some items in the SBB. The pellets are visible in the upper left corner.

One thing that was funny about the auction was that I wound up for the second year in a row with girlie-girls, my affectionate name for the pin-ups of the 40’s. Last year I had great ones, all bought from the same estate sale, including Esquires, the scarce Springmaid calendars, Earl Carroll’s showgirls, and the coveted Vargas. This time I got MacPhersons, but they’re colorful and gorgeous inside and retain their original envelopes. I only got two – they had three – but the third lacked the envelope and was smudged on the front, so I passed. Here’s an interesting fact about them that I may, or may not, have shared in the past. For some very odd reason, unknown to me, women buy these much more frequently than men do – at least in my experience. Every one I sold, except for one from the Akron Antiquarian Book Fair last year, was purchased by a woman. Even my one male buyer bought the Varga for his artist wife. One other one, the Springmaid calendar, was bought by a woman, but for the historical society in the town in which it originated. The only theory I've ever come up with on the subject is that perhaps some women buy them for the same reason  African Americans buy old racist advertising -- as part of their exploited past. But it could be too that women just find the girlie-girls fun. Sometimes we risk overthinking stuff.

Anyway, the other thing I got were lots of Ohio related booklets and a couple great oversized booklets on steamships. Some of these are currently residing in the SBB, but will be fresh and perky long before the show in April. My favorite is a booklet about the Cleveland Coloured Gospel Quintet which has some snapshots of the group laid-in. But happy as I am with the spoils, my old auction complaint remains viable. As always, at the end of an auction they gather stuff up into lots, which would be fine were it not for people rummaging through them and mixing it up and the fact that like things don’t always get boxed together. Consequently, it’s easy to miss something you had previously picked out. I had had my eye on two Electrolux catalogs from the 30’s with GREAT illustration, but when I went back to see where they’d landed I couldn’t find them. All I can think of is they must have gone into the box heaped with wretched looking Physical Culture magazines, as it’s the only one I didn’t plow through. I was pretty disappointed  because I have a customer to whom I could have quoted . Grrrrrrr …

But overall, long day that it was for relatively few items, I enjoyed being back in the groove. As you probably know by now, I whine and kvetch like a broken record, but in the end, I still love the thrill of the chase!

Monday, January 02, 2012

News of the New Year

If the start of the new year is any indication of the rest of it I am both a happy person and a happy bookseller. Yesterday we had planned to have our New Year’s dinner around six, but early in the afternoon we got a surprise call from our estate sale friend Darwin asking if we’d like to come for dinner. We said we would and I offered to bring a dessert, which I did, but it ended up on par with the loaves and fishes – something made out of nothing. The grocery store was closed and I lacked at least one ingredient for anything I tried to make. Out the window sailed pumpkin pie, apple pie, gingerbread, cranberry cookies, brownies, and cheesecake among a cookbook collection worth of other ideas ranging from exotic to predestrian. In the end the ONLY thing on the planet I could concoct was a plain vanilla made-from-scratch cake with white frosting upon which I crumbled chocolate-covered Cadbury cookies to give it a much needed zip. Actually it tasted pretty good, so it wasn’t a bad finale to pork roasted in beer and sauerkraut, ceasar salad, mashed potatoes and fresh green beans with caramelized onions. The antiques dealer, it turns out,  knows how to navigate his way around a kitchen!

Adding to the pleasure was a nice dry white wine, the company of cats (oh, I so miss my Mickey), a wonderful old house (show me a good old house and I’m weak in the knees) and spirited conversation sprinkled with high hilarity. It doesn’t get much better than that. Except it did. First thing this morning the phone rang – Eric had just left for the store, so it wasn’t even nine – and on the line was a collector wanting to buy a signed first edition of the rare George Schreyer Sr. & Jr., Gunmakers of Hanover, York County, Pennsylvania priced at $275. He’d seen it on alibris, but called me direct, which is a rare phenomenon itself from the alibris site. It happens fairly regularly on Abe, but I think this is the first time, or at least a rare time, from alibris. May the momentum continue!

Just as I finished the above paragraph I got a call from Eric’s sister to say that Aunt Ruth died this morning. Perhaps you remember that we celebrated her 92nd birthday at a small party at the nursing home two weeks ago where I gave her the Dickens pop-up book. In a way I’m not really surprised by the news because Moira and Brian and the kids and Catie and Joe went to visit Christmas Eve morning and reported that she didn’t seem to know who they were. She knew they were family, but that was about it. For the last couple days she’s done little but sleep, so in the end she just peacefully drifted away. I feel sad, but mostly glad that the end, when it came, was as serene as the way she lived her life. None of us can ask for better. If there’s a heaven Aunt Ruth’s a shoo-in. Below you can see a picture of her with our oldest grandson Tyler when he first came from Korea eight years ago.


Given this unexpected news, I think I’ll finish this later. In no way is it a bad start to the year though – not at all. It’s a surprise that isn’t really a surprise. And a dignified end to a good life spent doing good. Imagine a world in which everyone lived that way.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Onus of New Year's

Happy New Year, everybody!

It’s ten-thirty in the morning as I write this and Eric and I almost have the tree down and packed away. This is a process that never fails to turn me into a tug-of-war rope. I want it gone – tug to the right – no, wait, I don’t! – tug to the left – until I finally holler “Uncle!” from sheer exhaustion and start yanking off ornaments. There’s something so renewing about reclaiming your space and returning to real life after the frivolity of the holidays and yet there is something wistful too about the passage of another Christmas.

I am both amazed and grateful today for my end of the year sales wrap-up. This week at the antiques mall, particularly yesterday and the day before, was outstanding. In those two days I made up for two weeks of not-so-hot. They bought Civil War stuff, the two volume set of Howe’s Historical Collections, books on collecting, The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam, a movie souvenir booklet for The Longest Day, art books, magazines, a couple children’s books, and I don’t know what all. I was in there Friday to bring new stuff (the Rubyiat was one of them) and the parking lot looked like a crazy-quilt of cars, so I wasn’t surprised to see the aisles filled with browsers, many of which turned into buyers. If the owner’s smile got any brighter you’d need protective glasses just to check out. I like her very much and this is her first year of ownership, so the sight of her joy doubled my own pleasure. Even online sales improved over the last couple days, so the month ended better than I dared hope.

Last night we stayed home and had a quiet night. I had planned on making our New Year’s dinner then, but didn’t because we decided to bail on the auction planned for today and substitute another one Wednesday, so I just made a pizza and salad. We had two movies from Netflix, but both were duds and we didn’t watch them. Of course after having seen Woody Allen’s fabulous Midnight In Paris earlier in the week a gazillion dollar extravaganza would look like a first grade pageant.. So we read instead– I’m half way through Verghese’s Cutting For Stone at page 347 and still love it – and fell asleep before the witching hour. Eric woke up in the nick of time and woke me up too so we saw the ball drop on Times Square, wished each other Happy New Year and went to bed. Do we know how to party, or what?

Of course New Year’s always arrives dragging in an onus of responsibility for us all Every year I vow to be a perfect person. Seriously, I look at everything about me that needs improvement and decide to tackle it all in one go, which means of course, that when the next New Year rolls around I’m my same imperfect self. So this year I’m honing in on one thing – that balance we talked about in my last post . I hate to say this, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for success. Nancy and I walked yesterday (five miles) and as the conversation on this topic unfolded I realized that what I STILL want most is to sell books. Both of my daughters think I should be writing, Eric thinks that too, and so does my writers’ group. I even think so myself sometimes.

But for me the call of the books is the Angelus at noon. The bell peals and I am Pavlov’s dog with an ex-Catholic’s conscience, still in love with the ritual of bookselling and still mumbling the old familiar words – “Very nice, clean book in like jacket. Oversized at 9”x12-1/4” with no bumps to boards, no names or writing, no tears or chips, and jacket protected by brand new mylar …”

Never mind that I hate the proliferation of junk sellers, the craziness of book sales, the invisibility of quality books, the escalating cost of buying stock, the greedy paternalism of the listing sites etc. etc. etc..

For better, or for worse, I am a bookseller.