A Nose for Books | Newberry

A Nose for Books

I sold a book without a cover for $300 once upon a time. The person who bought it turned around and offered it in his catalog for $3,000. I know telling you this means you’re going to toss all those paperbacks with the covers ripped off into your next donation, but I can’t help it. They keep coming around asking me about strange things we’ve had at the Book Fair, and I can’t ALWAYS shake them off with the story about the squeaky toy in the shape of Michelangelo’s David.

I do not, by the way, have a dartboard photo of the purchaser of the book. I sold it to him knowing very well he would resell it at a higher price (not much sense doing it at a lower price.) In fact, I waited around for his next catalog to find out what HE thought it was worth. I believe it was in his next three catalogs, as a matter of fact, so it took him a while to get his three thousand. I was sure he’d get it eventually; he had better connections than I had. We got our money; he got his (at length): it was all good as far as I was concerned.

It was a picture book from the wonderful world of Walt Disney, a spiral bound compendium of pictures from his classic animated Pinocchio. There were color pictures, rough sketches, and a short, none-too-difficult telling of the story: in fact, a Disney picture book not unlike a thousand others. The covers were stiff cardboard and, as noted, the front one was entirely missing. No, it was not signed by Walt, nor even by Cliff Edwards, who was the voice of Jiminy Cricket. Guess again.

What made the book unusual was that it had been published before the movie was released. In fact, it was published before Pinocchio was even finished. It was a promotional book sent by Disney to possible backers and distributors, people who might invest in the film. Disney had made a hit, and history, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but there were plenty in the industry who considered it a fluke. Everyone waited to see what the SECOND animated feature film would be like. The studio was stretching its resources, working on several features at once (Bambi, intended to come out first, was proving to be more time-consuming than expected: all those animals and forest scenes. They were also working on a “concert film”, eventually known as Fantasia.)

Only a hundred copies of this promotional picture book were produced. The spiral binding was plastic, and easily broken; we were lucky our copy lacked only the cover. I always hate collectibles with fragile bits: everybody who handles these and doesn’t buy them is likely to do more damage. I was glad we got our $300, whatever he charged.

I did always kind of resent that he quoted my description of the book almost word-for-word in his catalog. It’s not that I expect to get paid for writing things–this is not the lot of a blogger–but a little credit would have been nice. Still, it was interesting to have been associated with a bit of behind-the-scenes Disney, a company one doesn’t think of as needing a little extra help. It’s like that letter we got from a publisher to a Chicago talk show host, asking for a plug for a new magazine which eventually became the most widely-read weekly magazine in America.

But I have to save some of these stories for our thirty-fifth Book Fair.

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