Saturday, August 31, 2013

Antique Surprise

Photo courtesy of author
I've recently relocated to Rhode Island.  A few weeks ago I wandered into an antique store in the quaint historic downtown of Newport.  Most of the items in the store were expensive.  Interesting stuff, no doubt, but when I spied a beautiful marble bust for three thousand dollars, I knew most of the items (or as you’ll soon see, almost all of them) were out of my price range.  After a few minutes, however, I discovered a side room and in it a very small stack of books.  In between two large, non-descript books, I found a slim book, about the size of a piece of paper.  It looked to be in good condition.  There was nothing written on the spine, so this of course made me curious.  

I pulled out the thin book and read the title: Washington, The Nation’s Capital by William Howard Taft and James Bryce.

I was excited to learn that William Howard Taft -- our 27th President and later Chief Justice -- wrote a book about Washington D.C.  And I later learned that the coauthor, James Bryce, was the British Ambassador to the US.  

The owner was asking five dollars for the book.  A pittance for some beautiful images and illustrations that made up this slim work.  After further inspection, I realized the binding was beginning to come off the spine.  That would explain the price.  Oh well.  One man’s trash is another’s they say.  

I plucked down my cash and walked out with my find.  
William Howard Taft(c) and James Bryce(r) via Wikipedia

Later, when I got home and gently turned the pages, I smiled when I came across a picture in the book (circa 1917) which showed a few sheep grazing in a green pasture.  The caption read, “In the Suburbs of Washington.”  My guess is where there was grass, there is now a mall -- or a highway.  

Oh, how times change.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hidden Treasures

When I travel across the country -- or whenever I stop in any city for a few days -- I try to find a used bookstore.  I enjoy Barnes and Noble, but why pay full price for a book you can find for half the price at a good used book store?  

If you love books and become fond of a particular author, genre, or illustrator, eventually you'll start looking for first editions.  It is the first symptom of becoming a "bookman.”  And there is no better place to start looking than a good used bookstore.  Sometimes you'll find a store stocked with mass market paperbacks;  chock full of Stephen King, Daniel Steele, Louis L'Amor, James Patterson, and so on.  You'll probably not find a first edition of your favorite author in such a store.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the antiquarian bookstore, technically "used" books, because they had probably been read by someone at sometime, but due to their age, subject matter, and scarcity they are considered antiquarian -- or rare and expensive.  Somewhere in between these two types of bookstores there is the used bookstore that stocks a bit of everything -- mass market, first  editions, rare, and of course, expensive.  

Recently I ventured into a used bookstore in the Houston area.  It was of the latter type -- full of books of all types, all prices.  In it I found what I like to think of as my first hidden treasure.  And what an exciting find it was.  In the shelves of the mass market fiction, I found a first edition, British Printing of the great comic writer P.G. Wodhouse’s The Golf Omnibus.  It was marked on the outside of the book for $3.95.  I pulled it off the shelf, surprised.  Surely there must be something wrong with it?  A prior library book maybe?  Nope.  Clean and with no markings, it was in near fine condition.  In fact, when I opened the book and looked in the first few pages, there was still a pencil marking with the price from another used book store...$50.00.  Wow!  Now you can find a copy ranging anywhere (depending on condition) from $15.00 to $130.00 from a major online book retailer.  Apparently, after short examination, the bookseller simply looked at the book flap price, which in 1973 was $7.95, and simply did what most used booksellers do when selling something they believe is not valuable (or when their stock is so large they are simply trying to get stuff on the shelves), they sell it for half the cover price. was marked on a sticker on the outside of the book at $3.95.

Now it isn’t like I found a Shakespeare first folio or a page of the Gutenburg bible.  No, no.  The joy however, is discovering something you know is worth more than what the seller is asking for.  And to boot, you enjoy the author or book in question.  So win-win.  I am looking forward to reading Wodehouse’s little gem.