The Books We Find | Newberry

The Books We Find

Busy weekend, I call it. Someone seems to have alerted the greater metropolitan area that our deadline for accepting book donations is fast approaching and everyone had better donate books. I WISH they wouldn’t do that. For five hours on Friday I did nothing but drag books into the building and think of new ways to stack them. There were interesting things, but this is hardly useful if I have no time to price them for July.

But you gave me kind of a break on Saturday (only about thirty shopping bags and four boxes…and six phone calls asking when I could send somebody out to make book pickups) so I was able to look over some of the recent collectibles.

This turned out to be a pretty decent pile. The person who dropped off books with labels saying “This is Rare and Valuable” turned out to be pretty much correct: a nice collection of Caribbean folklore and history. The boxes of Sherlock Holmes collectibles could be worth, if one were greedy and had time to wait for the right customer, about twenty thousand dollars. I found a seventeenth century book which, with some misgivings, I priced at $500 (it’s not in perfect shape, but go find a better one) and an eighteenth century book where I paused, took a deep breath, and wrote $4,000. (Oddly enough, last week I was given a set of magic lantern slides based on the same book. The timing of these donations is something amazing.)

But this book in my hand is a real collectible: unique and irreplaceable. It lacks the pristine beauty of an untouched rarity. In fact, it’s a cheap-looking little thing, so cheap and common that no book dealer currently has a copy listed for sale on line, and WorldCat, which keeps track of such things, locates only three copies in all the thousands of library catalogs it can search. So it’s a rare, cheap-looking little thing. Still, if it weren’t for the inscription, I’d’ve marked it at two bucks, max, and rolled along.

It is Young America’s First Book, and the Century Publishing Company brought it out in 1919, to benefit from the surge of American patriotism during World War I. Century also published St. Nicholas magazine, one of the most popular children’s magazines of the day, filled with stories and pictures and poetry and letters from readers, and so forth. This provided an easy source of material for children’s anthologies, so that is what is in this book: pictures of the American flag, poems about great Americans and why America is great, photographs of American children holding flags, and anything else that might benefit young Americans. (“Did you plant a tree on your birthday?”)

The first thing I noticed was that someone had noted “p.19”. I looked at page 19, and flipped back to the front where, a few pages in, someone has written “If found, please return to X. It contains pictures of my children.” More of the story is written on page 19.

See, what happened was that in 1916, a young lady sent a picture of her two little brothers holding flags to the St. Nicholas League page, and it was published. “This was my first acceptance,” the young lady writes on page 19. No one was told that the picture was being republished in this book, and, when Mom found out, she bought it to treasure (at least, no one has written “this was evidence when we sued St. Nicholas magazine”.)

So this is a SIGNED copy of a reprint of the very first work of a widely-published photographer (well, she must have had at least one other thing in St. Nicholas or she wouldn’t have written “my first”). If that isn’t rare enough for you, how about a book signed by an older sister who thought her younger brothers were cute? Anyway, you’ll find in next month in Collectibles, not too far from that four thousand dollar book. I think it deserves that spot.

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