It’s like being any other sort of local champion. Somebody has to come and prove you can lose, whether it’s politics or tiddly-winks. I just have to write about the books which require me to become an instant expert, and donations come with challenges anew.
I believe this little red book from 1917 is the first volume we’ve ever had which teaches the secrets of exhibiting prize chickens. I hardly know whether to put it into Nature or Sports. The price is not quite enough to justify putting it into Collectibles (nor is the subject) but looking up the price taught me something about the world of old books. There are, on abebooks, three copies of Mr. Heck’s 1917 volume for sale. There are 54 print-on-demand and eBook versions available.
A large and beautiful collection of books in other languages arrived: the donors, who are not Italian, were fascinated by Italy and books in Italian. There are art books, history books, books of poetry, and novels. In fact, it includes what is probably somebody’s Holy Grail of book collecting: the Italian paperback edition of Valley of the Dolls.
It also includes, alas, a great deal of poetry.
Now, I am not adamantly opposed to verse. I have been guilty of it myself on occasion. There are poets whose entire works I have read, though the effect on the poet or on me is still a matter of debate. But these are poets who, being Italian, wrote their poetry in Italian. Unsporting of them, I think, but I am a peace-loving soul and will not debate their right to do so, if they insist. The same goes for that part of the collection which, written by poets from Spain, Mexico, and Chile, seems to have been written in Spanish. A number of these books are signed, showing them to be true poets. (I think at least thirty percent of the books of poetry by one poet come in signed.)
The trouble is that my literature classes in school never got very far into the twentieth century, and I really don’t know all that much about post World War II poetry in English, let alone all these languages from other countries. Which of these autographs represent a high point in modern literature, and which represent one more poet who spent her bonus money on getting a book printed, and inscribed it to anybody who couldn’t run fast enough?
Yes, as I have said, there is the Internet, that meeting place of many opinions. I can simply stack up all these books of poetry and look up each and every one. But the profit returned on that expenditure of time is about the same as what I expect from sitting and looking through all those family photo negatives I got two weeks ago. At least with English poetry, there’s a chance that I’ve heard the name before, so I can make an initial culling and ease the burden.
And the sources I use–booksellers’ sites–are hardly infallible. One collection of Italian poetry proved especially elusive. The late poet was a pop singer, and I could find his records and CDs everywhere, but only one book: not this one. Was I dealing with something rare and valuable, or something so cheap nobody would bother to list it? As I’ve mentioned before, in this day of Interwebs and such, everything really worthless gets listed somewhere, at least on eBay. Having thought that, I checked eBay.
One seller, in Italy, has this book for sale; he calls it “Raro”, which I can interpret without too much Italian. He was asking over $200. This left me pretty much where I was, only now the problem was more a matter of whether this eBay seller was a sober, knowledgeable bookseller or just another greedy eBay merchant.
I priced the book. You’ll find it on the Collector’s table, thanks to that perceptive ability which separates Book Fair Managers from mere Bookhoppers. I realized that at least it’ll be hard for anybody else to look it up and contradict me on the price.