Once upon a time, before there was a Book Fair, and Uncle Blogsy had never heard of the Newberry, I was an archivist. My job was essentially to keep track of what was there and where it was, and find things for researchers. I also had to find places to keep new things as they arrived. This happened only now and again: administrative files back to 1857 were kept elsewhere, so what I was really in charge of was a mathom house, as explained in The Lord of the Rings. I was in charge of the stuff nobody else knew what to do with.
For much of my time there, I treasured a memo which came in with one delivery. It was from the desk of the Head Librarian and said, “Any value? Or should we send it to archives?”
Oh, yes, you can laugh. But I go through your donations, remember. I see those pages you printed off abebooks of the going prices for the books you decided to send me instead. Two or three of you are a little more thrifty than that: you mark it into the books directly: “abe 5-15, alibris 6-22, 100 if signed”. I wish you wouldn’t write down that last note: I always rush to see if your copy is signed. Never is.
Some of you are not planning to sell, of course; you’re trying to be helpful. You come right up to me and hand me a book and say, “I found this selling online for $100.” No no. If it sold, it wouldn’t be online any more. You saw somebody listing it for $100. It’s like Olympic scoring, see; you need to eliminate the highest and lowest score. If two people list a book for $100, and one person lists the same book for $3, and thirty other people have it listed for $12.50, then that book, dear friend, is probably worth $12.50.
Others of you are just trying to get by. And it’s helpful, really. When I get a box filled with Beanie Babies AND a Beanie Baby Price Guide, I know there’s not much sense rummaging around for that $500 Humphrey the Camel. Same thing when you donate the box of Mylar-jacketed comic books, two year’s worth of Comics Buyer’s Guide, and five annual issues of the Overstreet Price Guide. Detective Comics 27 is NOT going to be in the box.
I was working on records again (that’s what I do on spring evenings: cheapest date in town, just me and Patti Page and Lottte Lenya and Myra Hess.) I think this box of records must have been packed away at some point around the time I was working in that archives, because tucked in among the LPs was an article from the Chicago Tribune in 1976, explaining how to tell whether your records are worth any money. Not one record mentioned in the article was in the box, but this was only to be expected, because most of the record dealers consulted for the article were interested in Chicago blues records.
We didn’t get Chicago blues records even in the days before the Internet made price searching so easy. The only time we ever got a collection of Chicago blues records, they had been played so often the grooves were little more than dark lines in the shellac. I guess there are some things people know instinctively, without needing to look anything up.