You can be nostalgic about something and not miss it a bit. I was just recalling for somebody of a later generation how we used to wait several minutes for a picture to appear on a television set. They were not impressed. “Had to wait for it to boot up, eh?” she said. If I weren’t known everywhere for my exquisite manners, I’d’ve shown her a new meaning for “boot up”. Anyway, I was just thinking of the Book Fair days when little triangles littered the floor.
One of the problems in the book biz is that you never know what’s coming next. For years, for example, inscribed books were worth a premium: those books where the author wrote, “For Pauline, in return for that rhubarb-cranberry pie”. But then somebody came along and said, “Hey, who cares about Pauline and her pie?” and started the move toward books which are merely signed, with nothing but the author’s name. You know how I feel about this: I already knew the guy could write his name; why can’t I learn how he felt about pie?
But that’s merely one example. Once upon a time, booksellers made a fetish of deleting the price from books they were reselling. The customers in those days were really fierce about this sort of thing, demanding, “Why are you charging a whole buck for this book when the original price was only a quarter?”
I still get that from time to time, but nowadays book prices are climbing so fast that people just take it for granted unless they are elderly stick-in-the-muds (remember that before you ask the question, next July.)
Some bookstores had employees (which were also less expensive in those days) who did nothing but ink out the prices on the covers of paperbacks and clip off the corner of the endflap with the original price for hardcovers. (A few would also cut off the words “Book Club Edition” so they could charge more for the book, but never mind about those ratfinks.) And, of course, it was very common, if giving a book as a birthday present, to clip off that corner so the recipient wouldn’t have a clue.
In the beginning, we at the Newberry also did our best to remove prices. To this day we try to erase or cover up old prices pencilled in at other peoples’ sales (or even our own.) But we did have a person who insisted on bringing her scissors and clipping off the corner of the endflap that said “3.95”, just so nobody would come around and demand to know why we were charging five bucks. (It was always the same: “I know it’s for a good cause, but you shouldn’t be gouging the public.”)
After a few years, however, we started to find, while doing our price research, that more dealers were noting of their books “Not Price-Clipped”. In fact, it was becoming obvious that in many cases the point which proved a book was or was not a first printing was that price. (The Cat in the Hat, for example, has a price which reads “200/200” on the first printing, to show it cost two bucks. Later printings of the first edition say “195/195” because the price actually dropped by a nickel.)
Yeah, it took us a few more years to convince that volunteer to surrender her scissors and do something else with her time. She took up spending hours erasing the inscriptions from the front free endpapers. It’s all in the details, isn’t it?