From time to time, I get the question “What do you do when somebody gives you a book if you can’t find pricing data for it?” Like everything else I do, this is not a situation that allows for a simple answer. There are three possibilities, all of which I have used: Skip It, Wing It, Let the Market Decide.
Enough items came in this year which are unique or so rare that I will have to use each of these methods. There is a file of personal pictures and documents which a Famous Person kept on hand to use for advertising purposes. There are pictures of the family, pictures of the log cabin once occupied by the family, pictures of the various buildings used by the family firm, newspaper clippings, advertising materials from the company, etc. The file came to the Newberry, which carefully kept one of each of the items, but the company had a lot of duplicates, to be used whenever the marketing committee (or whatever they would have called it in the 1880s) felt the need. A few of the advertising materials are valuable in themselves, but there must be some way to sell the whole thing as a lot. I may think that one over for another year.
For the second time in our history, we have been given a book so pornographic that no book dealer will admit having a copy. This one is SLIGHTLY less pornographic than the last one—I don’t think we’d be busted—at least in Illinois—for selling it. But, um, I think I will explore that a little more carefully. (I did find one LIBRARY which owns a copy: they call it a psychological study).
We have that book by Pulitzer winner Robert E. Sherwood, which he has inscribed. It also contains a personal letter telling a lady he’d be glad to inscribe a few copies for her, saying he’s sorry he missed her at Moss Hart’s party, and promising he does SO recall when last they met, because someone made a remark about his wife at that particular party. This is rather chattier than most celebrity letters I get in, so I have plunked a large price on it. I don’t happen to know what anecdotes about Mrs. Sherwood are worth, but maybe this is one you haven’t read.
In the past, we have put things up for Silent Auction: a book quilt, a celebrity bookstand. This year we are going to put up three such nifties, partly because we think they’ll amuse you and partly because I have no idea what to charge. In the estate of Helen “The Cemetery Lady” Sclair, we received her personal copy of the Andreas History of Cook County, Illinois, in an undistinguished library binding and with dozens of her bookmarks sticking out of it. I’ll let the market decide what to pay for that. Rev. John M. Buchanan, of Fourth Presbyterian, sent over a number of books from his office as he moves into retirement. Among these was his hymnal: just a plain basic hymnal in which he has written his name. I don’t see any other notes in it, but it is an Association Item, and I’ll be interested to see what the market will do to the price of that.
And among the Roger Ebert donation were three or four books inscribed to him. The books inscribed by Harlan Ellison will be found at exorbitant prices in the Colectors’-Signed section. But the one in which Elmore Leonard has written “As Saul Bellow would say ‘Best Wishes’” is going to the silent auction shelf. An inscription like that is not picked up in every balcony.
Drop by, look around. Ask about the box of pictures and stuff from the Famous Person, if it intrigues you: we can certainly make a deal. Do not ask me about the pornographic book. Officially, I haven’t even seen it. Probably read about it in a book somewhere.