Fifty Years On | Newberry

Fifty Years On

I don’t believe I make any GREAT secret of my age. That is to say, I have not tossed the actual number out on the waters, but neither do I deny the fact that working thirty-five years at the Newberry means I have to be over twenty-one. (I blame all the book dust for the fact of my hair turning white: nothing to do with years.)

The point I wish to make is that I was old enough to buy books fifty years ago. I bought most of mine through a school book club, or the cardboard box on the floor where the local pharmacist put the books he’d stripped the covers from to get a refund from the publisher. But I was buying books in 1970, which my calculator insists was fifty years ago.

It’s easy enough to look up the bestseller lists and see what other people were buying. I could probably buy one of those school book forms and find out what I was buying. But what SHOULD I have been buying? What books from 1970 would have been more valuable to me than even this possibly game-changing lottery ticket in my pocket?

We have spoken before of fantasy items, items which exist in such tiny copies that you or this book fair are unlikely to turn them up. Here, for example, is a copy of the 1970 first edition of Trumpet of the Swan, one of E.B. White’s classic children’s books (after Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.) You or I MIGHT have bought the book, but we had no chance to score this twenty-five thousand dollar copy, so valued because it was inscribed by White, who also drew a little swan in the inscription, to the woman who worked as secretary to him and to his wife. This kind of association item would not have come anywhere near any of the places I bought books (I wonder if I had wandered into my first Waldenbooks or B. Dalton yet in 1970.) It is unique, and cannot qualify as a Might-Have-Bought.

On the other hand, books which were extremely limited BUT available for purchase DO count, even if the chances were slim at the outset. Everybody KNEW this book, a little travel book by the first three men to sail to the moon and signed by all of them, was going to be worth money someday. It was hardly a sleeper, and even then hardly within the price range of someone fishing through nickel books at the drugstore. It now runs over twelve thousand dollars, and I do not expect to see one coming into the Book Fair fifty years on. There is a chance, of course.

There is also J.G. Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, which was published in England in 1969 but then kind of published here in 1970. I say “kind of” published because the book (by the author whose most famous work, Empire of the Sun, would come out years later) was so controversial in England that the U.S. publisher simply destroyed every copy in stock before it could be released. A few copies slipped out to reviewers and such: one of these will run you six or seven thousand dollars.

If you want something that actually would have appeared on a bookstore shelves, and does not require a special autograph to be valuable, the champion for 1970 would seem to be One Hundred Years of Solitude. If signed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, that first edition will run over ten grand, but in fine condition even without the autograph, it seems to be worth about half that. It would have cost you less than ten dollars at the time, so the mark-up is certainly acceptable. If your time machine is working….

Actually, if your time machine is working, stop off at my drugstore and hand me this list of paperback pornographic novels written under a pseudonym by a science fiction author who has since denied them, driving the price up to about a thousand dollars each. Yeah, the covers may be torn off in that drugstore box and, yeah, you will technically be contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but look what I grew up to be anyhow. At least I could be a RICH senior delinquent.

Add new comment