Books, Worms, Bookworms

One of the perennial entertainments of this job is the joy of conversing with people who hate booksellers. They somehow exempt me from this contempt…mostly. Some do have suspicions that I may share the sins of those people who let mere money stand between books and the people who love them.

My most notorious hater of booksellers (once blasted in a newspaper letters column by a bookdealer whom she had offended) said to me about a book she wanted my help selling, “Just slap a fancy price on it, the way you do in Collectibles. Some idiot will buy it.” (She’s always making friends that way. Risks dental injury every time she shoots herself in the foot.)

That’s not EXACTLY the way it works. We do research, see, poring over old catalogs or, nowadays, scrolling through pages of data on bookselling websites to make sure we have the right edition and to find out what the other scoundrels are charging the poor, hapless public. (This way we can charge ten cents less.)

Even with the mass of information available, we still sometimes wind up with a mystery book that no one has offered for sale recently, that we cannot find in old catalogs or in the BAR and BPI (another blog some day.) Once upon a time this meant one of two things: either the book was so rare nobody had a copy to sell or the book was so common nobody bothered to list it. Them days are gone forever: check one of these bookselling sites for the Da Vinci Code and you’ll find hundreds of choices.

So I can only conclude that this dainty is really, really rare. It’s a mildly battered copy of The Silkraiser’s Manual, or The Art of Raising and Feeding Silk Worms and of Cultivating the Mulberry Tree, published in Boston in 1836. You guessed it! This is the very book which led to the famous New England silk industry, and those mighty forests of mulberry trees stretching from…yes, cranberry cupcake, I am being sarcastic. There is a New England silk industry, but its story is one of many false starts and it doesn’t seem to have paid well until the end of the century. (One silk mill was accused of staying in business simply to sell mulberry trees to other suckers who wanted to start silk mills. There’s a book on the subject, and THAT is easy enough to find a price for online.)

The book I have has a modest stain, and a previous owner wrote her name in the book (which one of her descendants copied on the next page a century later), but it’s a nice copy otherwise, with the folding plate showing all the equipment you need for rounding up your herd of silkworms. All I can find out about the book, though, is that it is held by a dozen or so libraries. I haven’t checked the WHOLE run of BPI and BAR, but I can’t find any copies sold in the recent index volumes.

What’s a scoundrelly bookseller to do in this case? Well, maybe my dealer-hating friend has the right idea. I’ll ask a million dollars for it. Then we can haggle. I’d settle for half. 

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