Crossover Hits

by Craig Stark

#4, 27 October 2003

Making Local History Books Work Harder For You

One of the most productive areas a bookseller can specialize in is local history. This is a power flashpoint of the first order. Histories of towns, townships, counties, and sometimes small regions comprising several counties consistently attract strong interest. These books are most often printed in small numbers and frequently held onto for extended periods of time (i.e., few exist at the outset and fewer copies yet are circulated in the open market), producing a kind of artificial scarcity that plays directly into a bookseller's hands. Best of all - and at first glance this may seem to contradict the above observations - they're not difficult to find because nearly every town or county that's ever appeared on a map has probably had its history written at least once.

Sound ideal? It is, especially if you're selling online. A history of Concrete, Washington, might be a, ahem, hard sell in an open shop overlooking the soft, white sand of Palm Beach, Florida, but once a seller ventures online, the globe shrinks to the size of a pea, the market expands into outer space, and buyers all over the map have immediate access.

One of the reasons local histories are in such demand is that few things hit closer to home than histories of home towns. Friends, neighbors, classmates - the people we grew up with. Homes, schools, churches, businesses - the places we grew up in. This is stuff we want and want to keep because it helps us recall and to some extent relive our best memories, helping to keep the fabric of our lives intact.

If there's a problem in selling this type of book, it's that good prices aren't always realized by less than savvy sellers. Elements are frequently overlooked that, if presented effectively, could significantly raise final values. Many sellers will simply shoot a cover shot of the book, use the book's title in their auction heading (which is often anything but reflective of what the book contains), and look for the first ten bucks that comes their way. In some cases this is a big mistake, and careful attention to flashpoints will often help prevent you from making it - and perhaps help you to go home with $50 or more.

Apart from taking pictures and/or emphasizing textual elements that obviously intensify buyer interest in their roots - for example, street scenes, movie theaters, farmsteads, etc. - it's sometimes doubly rewarding to present elements that attract what could be called crossover interest. This brings buyers in who would ordinarily not even look.

Once again, we're returning to this important theme: knowledge will enable you to build value into books. In this case knowledge isn't used to determine edition state; it's used to identify, selectively spotlight, and ultimately profit from otherwise uncollectible books that contain elements of interest to collectors.

Consider this flashpoint: logging. There's strong collector interest here, and local histories are often superb vehicles for it. Both the United States and Canada were extensively forested once, to some extent still are. It stands to reason that many communities, especially those in once densely forested areas, were built in part on revenues from logging operations, and thus many local history books contain textual and illustrative elements of logging. Antique photographs of loggers, logging equipment and locales of actual tree felling may hold great interest to collectors, especially if things get specific - that is, if photographs are annotated with actual surnames, precise descriptions of tools or equipment, and place names. Specificity sells.

In the case of logging, we may even be able to lead with our knowledge - that is, use it in deciding what to buy for resale. The states of Washington, Oregon and Michigan (to name a few) have deep backgrounds in logging. Focusing on local histories of towns in these states, looking specifically for them, could repay itself many times over.

Many similar opportunities exist in other collectible areas. Here are a few examples:

Ice harvesting

As stated in the October 13 Update, ice harvesting is cold stuff turned hot by collectors. Even so much as a single vintage photograph of ice cutting operations can be sufficient to attract a buyer who otherwise would have no interest in a local history.


They have to grow up somewhere, and if it's in a small town, chances are there's a history of it, an equally good chance that a photograph and/or biography of the celebrity is present, and a very good chance that collectors will be interested.


Circuses traveled almost everywhere once and were often a major event, especially in small towns. Detailed photographs of early circus operations, animals and performers are in strong demand.


Floods, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, fires and more. The bigger the better. Wherever there's devastating destruction and tragedy, collectors aren't far behind. Photographs of actual disasters in progress or post-disaster damage can also intensify interest from non-collectors.

Black Americana

Damnable or not, slavery was a fact of life once, and many communities participated in it and later told their story. Look especially for detailed textual history or photographs of actual slaves.


It might not occur to collectors to look in local history books for information that would assist in reproduction or restoration of architectural examples or, more specifically, decorative elements, but if you come across a book that has these things in spades, a good presentation can bring them in.


An obvious choice because local histories are often dense in genealogical information. Nonetheless, don't forget to emphasize this aspect in your presentations. Buyers of history and buyers of genealogical references are not always one and the same.

Military history

For many communities, wars were a big, big deal, and this is reflected in how much emphasis this is given in so many local histories. If rosters or pictures of veterans are present, march them out front and center.

Native Americans

Another common theme in local histories. As with Black Americana, detail and photographs of actual Indians sing - or whoop.

Agricultural machinery and implements

Lots of collector interest here, and examples - i.e., detailed photographs - are ordinarily plentiful in local histories. Spotlight them.

Fashion or costume

Costume is a perennial flashpoint. If a given book is strong in examples of vintage dress, emphasize it in your presentation.

< to previous article          

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

| Forum | Store | Publications | BookLinks | BookSearch | BookTopics | Archives | Advertise | AboutUs | ContactUs | Search Site | Site Map | Google Site Map

Store - Specials | BookHunt | BookShelf | Gold Edition & BookThink's Quarterly Market Report | DomainsForSale | BookThinker newsletter - free

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC