I’ve been trying hard to finish pricing all of my books for Saturday’s fair. One inexperienced bookseller mistake I have made was to buy books and shelve them without pricing them. As I add books to my website, I price them. However, I haven’t had time just yet to price and properly catalogue all of them. The upcoming book fair is getting me closer to caught up, and from now on, I will price the books and describe books as I buy them (sure I will). I have priced about 100 books in the past couple of weeks. That means I look at the price I paid for the book, research the book — in some cases extensively — write a description, choose a price and save it in my Bookhound database, which keeps track of all of my books and sales. I also print the descriptions for books over $100 and lay them inside the books so that a browsing customer can understand why that book is significant and worth $100 or more. While pricing books with the deadline of the fair in mind has been good for getting me caught up, it has been detrimental in another way — not enough time to do as much research on each book as I would like.
Just to clarify: I’m not talking about research as to whether a signature is authentic or whether a book is truly a first edition. I always complete that sort of research before I sell a book or I don’t offer it for sale. I’m talking about the kind of research that is always interesting and that in a few cases can add value to the books you sell.
I bought the book below at a book fair a couple of years ago. It has a beautiful cover, and American women in the 1800s is an area in which I want to specialize. I bought the book, put protective mylar around it and shelved it.
Today, two years after its purchase (eek!), I began the research to price this particular book. It’s a story written for the author’s descendants so they could know the “truth” about life in Virginia before and during the War Between the States. Both the verso and recto of the front endpapers had bookplates. I always research the names of people on bookplates and previous owner names pencilled in the book before I price it. You never know when that could be someone important.
Here are the bookplates:
I Googled the name on the plate, Harold Chandler Kimball, who looks to have been a man from a prominent Rochester, New York family who were in the tobacco business. He appears to have graduated from Harvard and died in World War I. Interesting, but not really of value to this particular book. What is more interesting is that an image of the first plate appears in my Google search. His bookplate is featured in a book about bookplates: The Rise of the Book-plate, Being an Exemplification of the Art, Signified by Various Book-plates, From its Earliest to its Most Recent Practice by William Goodrich Bowdoin. 1901. A Wessels Company.
I’d love to take the time to look at this book. The entire thing is online, text and images, and it’s filled with beautiful bookplates. Click on the title above to see what I mean. It turns out this Harold Chandler Kimball’s bookplate (he had several different ones) was designed by Claude Fayette Bragdon. Now I Google his name. He was a New York artist, architect, and author. I also discover a great blog, Bookplate Junkie. Time spent (and this is only on Google. I haven’t checked any real, book references yet): 30 minutes, most of it looking at all of the different bookplates people list online. I still have to determine a price for the book.
Now, mind you, I’m not complaining. I love to do this type of research, and it’s one of the things I like most about bookselling. The rub is knowing where to draw the line on that research. With just this one book, I had several different rabbit trails of information I could pursue. Was Harold Kimball Chandler a descendant of the author whose book holds his bookplate? Did Claude Fayette Bragdon become well-known for his bookplate designs? Will we ever really know the true meaning of the Voynich Manuscript? Don’t be lazy. Google it. I’ve just written 1,000 words on research here. Put them to good use. (By the way, even Googling something is still kind of lazy. Always check your reference books, too.)
Because I need to take this book to the fair, I must draw the line here, and I’ll never know the answers to those questions. It’s hard for me to do that, and failure to do thorough research could in some cases allow one’s customer to buy a goldmine at a bargain price. As a seller, that’s hard to stomach, but as a buyer it’s a great feeling. In this case, if the buyer has significant information I haven’t turned up that adds value to the book, I can only congratulate the astute buyer.
Only ten more books to price, but just looking at the example of A Girl’s Life in Virginia, you can see that thorough research takes time.
Lesson learned: Research and price books as you acquire them, or a couple every day!
It’s now 12:15 and I have to pick up kids from school at 3P.M. After they get home, I put the books aside for the day so I can help with homework, making snacks, and hearing about their day. Then it’s off to guitar lessons, and finally it’s time to cook dinner and get them ready for bed. Whew! After that, I’m ready for bed, or at least for some relaxation:
Yes, it’s a book-shaped teapot. Yes, I know it makes me a book geek, and yes, I am PROUD to be a book geek. (Just wait until you see the mug I drink from. But I don’t want to reveal all in one day). Yes, I love my book teapot and my daily cup of Earl Grey served from it. Even more relaxing is a piece of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate Bar to have with the tea, but in my frenzy of research and anxiety over shelving this week, I’ve already devoured my chocolate allotment!
See you in the stacks!