Buried Treasure for Booksellers

by Craig Stark

3 March 2017

Oak Island's Money Pit

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Perhaps no buried treasure story is more intriguing than the one long circulated about the Money Pit on Oak Island in Nova Scotia - a deep tunnel dug near the shore of the island, presumably in the early 1700's. Speculation has it that it was used to bury pirate booty, though other theories abound, including one that a cache of Shakespeare's manuscripts are down there. Through an ingenious system of tunnels that feed into its lower depths - an extraordinary engineering feat in itself - the water level in the pit alternately rises and falls with the tide, making access to it, so far, near impossible. Many have tried to plumb its depths; all have failed to extract anything but (for example) a few gold chains, coins, a cryptically carved stone and a piece of parchment. And there have been deaths and squandered fortunes spent trying.

The purpose of this article isn't to retell the story that so many others have told over the decades but to explore the bookselling possibilities that radiate from it. If for some reason this mystery isn't familiar to you, I would suggest starting with an original publication of an article from the January, 1965 Rotarian. You may also be familiar with the History Channel's The Curse of Oak Island, which has reintroduced interest to a new generation of dreamers.

First and foremost among bookselling possibilities is a magazine that has been in continuous publication since 1922 and boasts a subscribership in the millions - Reader's Digest. Though it and its associated publications - for example, Reader's Digest Condensed Books - are often looked upon with scorn by booksellers for their why-bother-with-it value, sometimes our assumptions about things like this set us up for missing hidden bookselling treasure.

In this case it's a solitary issue of Reader's Digest published in January, 1965.

Circulation numbers in the US alone at this time numbered some 15,000,000. Ponder this for a moment - 15 million copies of a magazine launched into the marketplace. Given the fact that this was a digest size magazine at the time, it was necessarily more durable than conventionally sized magazines, and given also that many subscribers saved issues of it over years, a sort of National Geographic phenomenon, it's not surprising that so many copies have survived to this day. What is surprising is that they often sell for over $200. Why? Simple, an article in it condensed from an original article in the Rotarian written by David MacDonald titled "The Strange Case of the Money Pit." This details the history of the pit, and the article has inspired treasure hunters for decades.

As always, there's potential for arbitrage here too. I've seen copies tank for as little as $20 or $30 on eBay. Snag one of these and, with patience, a few high-quality photos and a competent, detailed description, you should be able to double your money several times over. The Money Pit is an enduring mystery as well - a gift that should keep on giving for years.

As mentioned above, the Reader's Digest article was condensed from the full-length article that appeared in The Rotarian issued in the same month of the same year.

Copies of the latter, apparently, are considerably more difficult to come by. Their circulation in 1965 was something on the order of 400,00, and given the magazine's conventional format, less likely to have survived. Somewhat surprisingly, however, I could not find any sold comps for this issue, nor any listed for sale, though it does seem that $300 or $400 would not be an unreasonable asking price.

An aside: And lest you think that this is the only Reader's Digest issue worth the trouble, the first issue, published in February, 1922, recently sold for something north of $800.

Not surprisingly, there are other countless other publications featuring the money pit, some that are especially sought after. Here, in no special order, is a sampling of a dozen relatively common possibilities for profit. (Original publication dates are noted, but there is often value in reprints as well.)

Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Mystery. Leo Edwards. 1925. Boys' series book. $30 to $50 with dust jacket.

The Story of Oak Island. F. G. Nolan. 1896. Souvenir booklet. $50 to $100.

The Oak Island Mystery. R. V. Harris. 1958. $50 to $150.

Popular Science. May, 1939. Article. "Mysterious Island Baffles Treasure Hunters." $30 to $50.

Mysterious Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast. Edward Rowe Snow. 1948. $50 to $80.

The Treasure of the Seas. James De Mille. 1873. $50 to $100.

Man's Conquest. December, 1958. Article. Mysterious Pit on Oak Island. $30 to $50.

The Saturday Evening Post. October 14, 1939. Article. "The Money Pit." $30 to $50.

The Money Pit. D'Arcy O'Connor. 1978. $50 to $100.

Rolling Stone. January 22, 2004. Article. #940. "The Mystery of Oak Island." $50 to $75.

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