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By the way, if you have not explored freecycle, I heartily recommend it
There are local chapters in many cities. Their goal is to keep items out of the landfills by giving them away. I have acquired many a free box of packing peanuts. I've also given away books I didn't want to haul to the thrifts or to Half Price Books, so it is also a potential source for books. That is how I met Lou - she came by to pick up a stack of yearbooks I inherited and did not want to sell.
Lou introduced me to some of her favorite garage sale routes, and, in return, I introduced her to my favorite thrifts. That's when I realized how much of my book scouting occurs before I even lay my hands on the book.
Lou kept asking me, "How'd you know to pick that one up?"
"It had a Mylar jacket. I knew it was ex-library."
"But I though ex-library books were worthless."
"Sometimes, but not always. Especially when it comes to children's books." And besides, no matter what "commandment" you follow when it comes to bookselling, there are always one or two exceptions."
So, here are some "commandants" to help you while scouting thrift stores, garage and estate sales for children's books. Remember, unlike those given to Moses, these are not written in stone, and there are exceptions to every one of them.
Always, always, always pick up any children's book with a Mylar jacket. Why? Because that almost always means it is an ex-library book. Remember, as I stated in my first column, when it comes to children's books, ex-library is often all there is, so it is not the kiss of death as it is with so many adult books. Check the copyright date. If it is prior to 1964, you might have a winner, or at least a quick sale on your hands. Do flip through looking for crayon marks and torn pages, etc. - after all, we are talking kid's books.
What is the subject? Fairies, mice, cats, dragons, witches, horses and fantasy of any sort have a ready market. Think outside the box here. People who breed collies often collect books about collies. People who quilt collect picture books about quilting. Beverly Cleary, best known for her Ramona series (still in print and not worth reselling, by the way) also wrote Lucky Chuck, a story about a boy and his wish for a Harley Davidson. And I've sold copies to Harley-Davidson riders. Also, check the illustrations. Are they especially charming? Do you recognize the illustrator? Do they have shabby chic appeal?
Grab any book rebound in buckram (often referred to in book descriptions as "stout library binding"), and take a second look at it. The presence of a buckram binding tells you that the book was popular enough to be read to death and yet important enough to the library that they were willing to spend the money to have it rebound. Do not be put off by a less than attractive appearance. 1960s and 1970s era buckrams are notorious for lurid color combinations, and yet just as often the interiors are clean. This binding is practically indestructible as well, and it's likely the pages will not be falling out. Finally, a grubby buckram binding cleans up fast and easy with any household spray cleaner.
Open up, flip through it and ask yourself the same questions you would ask about a Mylar-jacketed book. At one store, I spotted a thin, little picture book bound in the most unattractive brown binding you could imagine. It turned out to be a copy of Alexander the Gander by Tasha Tudor. This book, with all flaws clearly described, still sold for $45 on eBay.
Every year the American Librarian Association awards the Newbery and the Caldecott Medal to the best novel and picture book of the year. They are frequently given as gifts - they must be good books because they have won an award, right? Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! The award winners are books adults think a child should read, not one a child might actually want to read and often not one an adult would remember fondly later in life. The print runs on these are enormous, all libraries own them, and they remain in print forever. The thrifts, in turn, are littered with like new copies of these titles. There is a small niche of collectors who gather up the award winners but only as first printings published in advance of the awards. If the book has the gold or silver award seal on it, it is not a first edition. If you can get them cheaply, however, they can be sold in lots on eBay to home schoolers or teachers building classroom libraries.
One exception is Chris Van Allsburg. The Polar Express won the Caldecott Award in 1985, and it's very popular, especially around Christmas time. In fact, all of his books sell quickly. Since he won't allow paperback editions of his books, they are only available in hardback, and even the ex-library copies do well. As you might suspect, Van Allsburg's firsts are very collectible. A first edition of The Polar Express just sold for $142 on eBay.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
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