Monday, October 29, 2012

Lighter and Brighter!

As you know, I’ve been cranked up like a tin Lizzie for the past two months. I probably still am, but this morning I feel lighter than a dirigible. We settled up with the contractor on Friday and he put the finishing touches on the house on Saturday, so I am officially here, blissfully, mercifully, ALONE. It feels so great I can hardly sit still to work which I desperately need to do, as we spent the weekend in Michigan with our grandchildren. That, too, was good for my soul though – we went to our oldest grandson’s soccer game (where he scored two goals and made several assists), enjoyed a hilarious lunch at a Japanese hibachi restaurant, carved pumpkins and gave them dental implants with marshmallows, baked Halloween cupcakes and watched The Avengers which the two little guys acted out for us just in case Gran and Papa were too dim to understand the action on the screen. I laughed a lot and temporarily forgot everything that seems to loom so large.

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

Letting Go

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

Bidding On Books

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 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 li er.php. ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America)can be found at

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

Of Time and the Bookseller

I know I already told you this, but I’ve been building stress like a high-rise tower, one brick at a time, ever since July. But now as book sale season kicks into high gear and work on the porch (finally!) commences there may be a pause – not a dramatic one, but maybe a small quiet space to regroup as we head deeper into fall. I missed so much this summer. We hardly went anywhere or did anything. I sat out on my porch exactly twice before the screens came tumbling down and had dinner on the patio a paltry once and that’s only because Darwin came for the Fourth of July. But the thing I miss more than porch sitting, summer fun, and dining outdoors is reading. I sorely miss reading.When I was a kid I’d check out the allowed four books a week from the library every Saturday and tear through them by Thursday. Later, I’d rip through a couple adult books a week and at times even more than that. But ever since work began on the house I have read only six books in three months and two were over the last two weeks! No wonder I’ve been edgy and snappy – a life without reading is NOT a life well spent.I can’t blame it all on the house, though that was definitely the biggest contributor. Moving into the second booth at the antiques mall and trying to keep it continuously stocked added significant anxiety too. I know it sounds easy -- just buy some stuff and haul it over there -- but I’m here to tell you that it’s most emphatically NOT that simple. In order to float this expensive boat I need more than books and there opens up an entire new thing to focus on. When I launched in September with the second space I had the combined area tricked out to the nines, but by the end of the month I’d sold every single non-book item I had! Seriously – every single one. That includes two Danish modern tables, a Danish modern chest, two Hudson’s Bay blankets, a 20” antique slide rule, the Lincoln bookends, and a celluloid photograph album that contained a music box. Of course September totally rocked financially, but now it’s October and October is NOT rocking. It’s okay, but let’s put it this way -- I‘d better start channeling my inner antiques dealer ASAP. I tried all weekend to do just that, but came up empty. The one thing I liked – a vintage Japanese screen that could be hung on the wall -- is impossible to display for the simple reason that I have NO wall space!As I peruse what I just wrote I’m amazed at the first paragraph and the notion that there might be some relief from the racetrack I call my life these days. Yes, the house may very likely get done soon, but we are off today to see a collection of books in North Royalton and later in the week will attend two crucially important book sales, plus any estate sales that pop up -- and this on top of two major book sales attended last week, plus the one estate sale yesterday. There are still a couple more the following week and in November we’ll be heading off to my favorite sale in Dayton which requires an overnight stay.Then of course there’s been the stress of the mess! Remember when Eric did the Magical Makeover of my office and I swore on a set of Kipling that I would never, ever, ever, EVER let my office be anything but a page out of a decorating magazine? Yeah. Well, take a look now.
If Martha Stewart laid her critical blue gaze on THAT (which is only one section of a greater problem) she’d have a spell of the vapors! Of course the mess adds greatly to my overall dis-ease, but even my time for listing has been compromised. So the books run rampant and will probably run even “rampanter” yet. What you see here doesn’t even include the leaning stacks all over the “ell” of my wrapping bench, the shelves beneath it, AND several of the shelves temporarily left empty after the Great Purge of old stock.I really didn’t mean this post to be a downer and/or a rant, but now I feel like it is. It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy because, believe it or not, I have enjoyed much of this stuff even as I have melted into a puddle of despair over other parts. The real reason I’m sharing all this is because I miss you guys in the same way I miss reading. Several times I tried to write, but each time I quit because I felt whiny and boring. Which of course I AM! But maybe it’s okay if you see that right now so you know that:I am not giving up on the blog.I am not all written out.I still love doing this.And I appreciate you all very much.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Difference of a Day

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.