Non-Donations, or Is That a Book In Your Pocket?

This is the last day of September, which is not ordinarily a national holiday. Nonetheless, so many people are reading our website these days that the word has gone out that we do not want book donations in October.

I will go over the rules one more time. We discourage donations in October, but we know sometimes you need to clean out all those Charles Dickens first editions. If it becomes a matter of “I have to donate these to you or throw them away”, you may certainly bring them in. We will not turn you away. We accept that the world will not always cooperate with our needs.

Some people, of course, bring in books they never planned to donate. These kinds of people are quietly taken to a sub-basement and given a choice between turkey liver pizza and a firing squad. I wish they wouldn’t always insist on the firing squad: those guys insist on minimum wage plus bullet money.

Just last week a kindly soul brought me a book he had bought new for about $20, and asked how many books he could swap this for. The barter system is not used at the Newberry, at least not at my level. (Occasionally we get a wildly expensive book and a curator swaps it to another institution for a wildly expensive book the collection needs. I’m still waiting for my medal for helping the cause.)

About once a month, I get a call from somebody who has a bunch of old books and wonders what I will pay for them. There is an extremely short answer to this question. Despite my reputation for snarling, I am always flawlessly polite in these situations. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and, after all, who am I to complain about someone selling books?

Once every two or three months I hear from somebody who wants to know what those old books Grandpa left behind are worth. I generally try to direct them to the pertinent websites (I use abebooks, myself, but some people prefer alibris. And vialibri has an amazing amount of material as well.) But often they want to bring the book in for me to look over and give advice.

One of the most interesting books somebody brought in for me to look over was a massive family Bible which had been in way too many damp basements over the past century and a half. It apparently started falling apart even before it went moldy: those big Parlor Bibles, like unabridged dictionaries, are liable to this kind of thing. Perhaps ninety years ago someone had made a complex cloth cover, held secure by a very complex system of knots and ties.

In my opinion, the old Bible, though indeed big and old, would not have been worth fifty bucks even if its color had not been completely changed by mold. In its current condition, it would have to have been a manuscript Bible of the thirteenth century for anybody even to consider buying it. The person with the Bible, thank goodness, had already guessed both of these things.

“However,” I said, both because I need to say something positive and because I really meant it, “That arrangement of knots is ingenious, and the print on the cloth is really interesting. I’d still throw the whole thing away, but you might want to photocopy the inside and outside of the less moldy cover.”

I am SO twentieth century. In fact, she had already scanned the cloth pattern into a digital file to use in scrapbooking. I nodded with approval. Not only were we in agreement about the pattern, but we had also agreed that she should take the moldy object away so I wouldn’t have to look at it any more.

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