Feeling that you do not have enough to do all day, what with e-mail and voicemail and Worlds of Warcraft and computer solitaire, I thought you might like to hear about book catalogs. We have a lot of those for sale. Maybe you’ve noticed them, lined up in flip boxes around the Books and Authors category.
If you are like a WHOLE lot of people I know, you are wondering why we bother. “I can see selling an old Montgomery Wards catalog,” you’re thinking, “So I can laugh at those pictures of Victorian long underwear or reminisce about that snowcone machine Mom and Dad never bought me. But isn’t a book catalog pretty much useless after two or three months?”
Let’s not talk about useless, friend, or I’ll ask you about that bread machine you have tucked way back in the closet, or those eighty-eight pairs of shoes up in front. Book catalogs have lost a little of their commercial usefulness with the onset of online bookselling. Bibliographic information you used to get from catalogs or reference books (did the first edition of this book have a red tint on the tops of the pages or not?) is now available through our great community brain at the flip of a switch. But they have lost none of their readability.
Readability? A catalog? Sure! Right over here I have a book catalog the dealer used to advertise books by eccentric and “marginal” poets. Item number 4 is a book of “Poems on God, patriotism, the love of mothers and the role of Ohio in world liberation”. Here’s another catalogue, from back in 1954, listing “Familiar Quotations in Their Earliest Appearances in Print”. For just $15 you could have bought the first book to print the line “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke” or, for $175, the first printing of the verse “Thirty Days Hath November, April, Iune, and September”. (Not the way I remember it, as usual)
Here’s a catalog all of books from Irish history, and here’s one about books dealing with immigrants who arrived in New Orleans. Here’s one that lists a lot of books about books, which makes it a book about books about books. This one is nothing but books that were made into movies (with a small section on movies that were made into books.) This one comes from a special sale of the original art for Winnie the Pooh by E.H. Shepard. I can’t ever buy one of those drawings, but I can look at the pictures.
In fact, that may be the best part of all about reading old book catalogues. I may be tempted to buy, but I can’t order anything from these outdated listings. Which leaves me my money to spend in July at the Newberry Library Book fair. All’s Well That Ends Well. (What would it cost me to buy the first book with THAT in it?)