People ask me what my greatest challenge is as High Panjandrum With the Button on the Top at this Book Fair. I don’t like to suggest that your Uncle Blogsy has the attention span of a gnat, but my answer is usually related to whatever challenge I’ve encountered in the previous 24 hours.
AMONG the major challenges I face as a book pricer is the book which looks collectible but cannot be pinned down. No one has a copy for sale online. Nobody has mentioned a copy in their catalog, at least according to the finding tools I use. Nobody has sold a copy at auction in the last twenty years.
Once upon a time, as I have mentioned, this was not so urgent a matter. When we had to rely on printed sources, there were two possible reasons a book might not appear: a. it was so rare nobody had a copy, or b. it was so common nobody wanted to waste the time and money to add it to a printed catalog. Nowadays we have the (apparently) limitless resources of cyberspace, and people will list the veriest trash for sale. (You can, for example, find people selling odd volumes of the Viking Columbia Desk Encyclopedia at prices ranging from $1 to $55. You wouldn’t have seen that in the olden days.)
So a book which is not to be found these days is bound to be rare. As I have also mentioned hereintofore, a book which is rare is not necessarily valuable. THAT depends on customers, and the way to get customers to appear is tell them you have these delectable, desirable dainties.
The reason I mention all this at this time is that, for my sins, I have come up with two such books in the space of a mere week. They came from two different sources, and will appeal, I think to different audiences.
One is a slim brown volume called Asa Willcox’s Book of Figures. It is one of 150 copies produced in 1918 by a system called “multigraphing”, which I haven’t quite figured out yet. It was muligraphed by, of all possible publishers, the Newberry Library in Chicago and is a transcript of a manuscript in the collection, a Book of Figures written by (wait for it) Asa Willcox. Willcox was a musician of the late 18th century, and played for assemblies in the thirteen colonies and then the thirteen states. The book is nothing more or less than instructions for dances enjoyed where he played, from “The Accadian Nuptuals” to “George Washington’s Favorite Cotillon”. (Look, he spelled his own name wllcx,). This little volume is legendary as a reference to dancing in Colonial America AND Regency England, which is a little disheartening, because although the book is nowhere available, the TEXT can be downloaded from a couple of historic dance websites.
The other volume is a large red book almost of coffee table size, called Rhapsody in Nude. Not only can I learn nothing about the book, I can find out nothing about the PUBLISHER, the Harrisburg Book Club. There are Harrisburg Book Clubs in the world, but none of them I have traced so far will admit to having published in 1949 a 157-page guide to nudism in America. It is a real nudist book, by the way, and not one of the fly-by-night publications that sought simply to print a lot of pictures of naked people to the heavy-breathing crowd. It’s easy to tell the real thing from the phonies, because the phonies would never have bothered with so much text: poems, philosophy, and, above all, descriptions and advertisements for specific nudist camps, with schedules of events and conventions. The history of nudism is a topic that has gotten a lot of research, but no one seems to mention this publisher or the book, and the main library of nudist history, down in Florida, has not put its catalog online yet.
Please don’t write in to ask to buy these for, as mentioned, I haven’t quite decided on a price yet. I just wanted to mention them so you’d know it isn’t always just odd volumes of encyclopedias and The DaVinci Code around here.