Adventures in
Book Scouting

by Catherine Petruccione

#48, 25 July 2005

Part I: The Running of the Books

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Ahhh, summer! Early morning coffee, grab the hats and book bags, and out the door we go - on our way to another Friends of the Library (FOL) book sale. Not all booksellers feel this way, but I happen to love FOL book sales. Large or small, a library sale is always suspenseful and full of possibilities, and each sale is different in its own way. It's a crazy way to get out and see the countryside and meet people. Granted, you'll see some people at their worst, from the bewildered and un-showered all the way to the pushy and downright rude. But there are always some friendly, thoughtful and interesting individuals, and all are intriguing to watch. The whole scene usually reminds me of crazed children at an Easter Egg Hunt or Pamplona's running of the bulls. Ron has dubbed a certain sale in our area "The Running of the Books," and believe me, a person could get trampled there.

I have learned that it pays to stay calm at a book sale, and often it is the turtle who wins the race. I have observed wild eyed book gatherers who sprint into a room, plucking up stacks of books without examining them, stepping on toes, reaching around in front of people and casting all protocol to the wind. At the end of the day, what do they have? I suspect it's a considerable load of books with missing ffeps, cracked hinges, soiled pages, remainder marks, not to mention loutish reputations. I am constantly surprised at what these treasure seekers pass over on their mad dash through the stacks.

My favorite part of a book sale is a few hours (or in some cases, days) into it, when the frenzy has died down. Inexplicably, I have found real gems that have been passed over, and this only adds to my delight.

Recent examples:

  1. A first edition Work of Art by Sinclair Lewis in a near-fine, unclipped dustjacket (under a table three hours into a small sale, after nearly everyone else had left - listed for $250).

  2. First Edition Tarzan and the Ant Men in very clean, solid condition (just before closing: under a table, but on top of a stack in plain sight - listed for $200).

  3. Inscribed and signed third printing of The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (after-lunch browsing - sold for $100 within a week).

  4. First American Edition The Baker's Daughter - (second day of sale - sold for $100 two days after listing).

  5. First Edition A Winter of Content - (picked up after another book dealer picked it up and put it back - sold for $120 within 2 weeks).

  6. First Edition, Second printing of Seven Years in Tibet - Signed by author in English and Tibetan, with unclipped clean dust jacket (listed for $900 - hundreds of people had swarmed the area before Ron casually picked up this book).

Everyone has their own method of scouting for books and tackling FOL sales, but here is how we do it.

First, be flexible.

Second, take the old car (you'll see).

Third, be early or be late, but be there.

Some luck is involved in finding marketable books, but 95% of my success is due to being there and being knowledgeable about what to pick up. The majority of books we sell for $100 and up are titles which are not familiar to most people. They are, however, sought after by enough people to make reselling them very profitable.

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