So once in a while, people bring us books from other people. “My neighbor cleaned out her shelves” or “My local library was getting rid of these” or “My mother had no idea what to do with her old books”. For a while, there was an outfit you could hire to tidy up your life for you, a sort of cross between a cleaning company and a hired nag, whose representatives would say “Are you ever going to read this again? Then let us give it to a worthy cause for you”. We were the worthy cause.
The most memorable occasion of this came several years ago, when a lady brought us seven large, heavy boxes. Her neighbor had actually set these out at the curb for the garbage, and she felt this was a sin and a shame. She hunted around for somebody who would take just any old books, and heard about us.
I offered her a receipt, which she declined. “They aren’t my books,” she said, “So why should I get credit?”
She should have gotten credit because they were art books, nice, solid art books. Art books do brighten up a Book Fair so, and the money people pay for them brightens faces in other parts of the library.
When a donation comes in which seems to be all the same subject, I try to price it then and there: why bother sorting it onto a table and then pricing it? Pricing these, I couldn’t help noticing that a lot of them were signed, not by the authors, but by the artists. This is the point at which witnesses swear dollar signs appeared in my eyes.
Half a dozen artists, in fact, had added a full-page sketch. One man, whose book had gray endpapers, had applied a white background to the page first, and sketched on that. Most of these were artists I had never heard of, but a) that’s not too difficult to achieve and b) in any cases, their sketches are worth more than mine any day.
There were also some of the Chagall lithograph catalogues, the kind with original lithographs for jackets, and the first volume of Francois Daulte’s Catalogue Raisonee of the works of Auguste Renoir. (This was the only volume ever published; the current market value runs between $3,000 and $5,000.) There was also a very beat-up volume on Rouault, which we’re still thinking about. It is inscribed by somebody named Rouault, though it doesn’t look like the artist’s signature. Even if it turns out to be Rouault’s daughter, nephew, or second cousin, you’ll understand why we don’t sneer at dumpster diving.
There’s an art to it.