Sellabrate | Newberry


Crowded calendar today: Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and the first full day of the First and Foremost Campaign at the Newberry. You may choose which you wish to celebrate most (no reason you can’t do any combination of the three, especially the bit about sending a check to your local blog-supporter) but we mustn’t forget there are holidays coming up as well.

Tomorrow, for example, is February 15, celebrated in my neighborhood as National Halfprice Valentine Candy Day. (So are February 16 and 17, if it comes to that: as long as your local retailer doesn’t give in and puts out the Peeps and jellybeans.) The next day the Year of the Dog begins. But, of course, the most important holiday coming up is President’s Day on Monday.

And why, cherry chowder, is that an important day to note?

Aw, you must’ve read this blog before. That’s right: the Newberry is CLOSED for three days over President’s Day, so there’s no real point leaving us your books on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. No one’s available to haul the books in, and if you leave them on our dock, you’ll be getting in the way of the renovators. (They’re working over the weekend because they have some really noisy business in hand, and this IS, after all, a library.)

We certainly want your books: some of us may have been a little fierce in January, carrying, “Get thee hence with thy scurvy books!” We were a BIT worried about how this was all going to work with the Grand Renovation starting up and all. We don’t REALLY think your books are scurvy, and we’d like to see them any day that we’re not closed.

Other people are bringing us books: why not you? Someone brought us a couple of boxes of gardening books, ranging in date from 1834 to about 1920. We were very happy to see these (despite the aroma, which suggested they’d been sitting in the garden shed since at least 1920.) One of them is an object lesson in the temptations of bookselling.

That book from 1834, which had suffered some damage to the spine in the not quite two centuries it has been waiting for the Newberry to find it, is moderately scarce, and in perfect condition sells for, oh, four hundred dollars. The main reason for this is that it is packed with beautiful hand-colored prints, some of them double-page and others full page, of flowers. Flower prints, especially those done by people who knew what they were doing, are always in demand.

Here’s the temptation. These hand-colored plates in this (perhaps) four hundred dollar books will sell, if they’re framed, at fifty to sixty dollars each. I haven’t counted yet, but there seem to be about twenty of these in the book. That, um, comes to three times what the book sells for.

You see the problem. If I rip out the pictures and throw the book away, the take triples. That’s why the book is scarce: lots of people since 1834 have been doing just that. It’s not especially fair to people who want to read the book. Yes, yes, there are probably places where you can download the text. You can buy a postcard of the Mona Lisa, but the Louvre isn’t throwing away the original to save on space.

The book is certainly in good enough condition to sell (not for four hundred) , and I plan to do that. Maybe it will sell immediately because the knowing will realize they can tear it apart and at least triple their investment. I plan to let the customer make that decision. This is, after all, a BOOK fair, and not a Sale of Bits and Pieces. (Though I DO have this flower print someone ripped out of an eighteenth century book and framed. What’s done is done.)

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