On Saturday, my favorite library sale had its annual Members Early Sale. Those who are members of the Friends of the Library get to enter the sale an hour early and hunt for literary treasures at their leisure. I arrived at 8:00 a.m. to get a ticket for the 10:00 a.m. opening. After picking up my ticket, I headed off for breakfast. It was a classic autumn day in the San Francisco Bay Area — grey foggy skies, a few trees which have already turned color and the scent of an approaching rainstorm in the air. At the cafe, I ordered pumpkin spice pancakes with walnuts and maple syrup. Though I probably should have had something healthy, like steel-cut oats, I couldn’t resist how perfectly the hearty food fit the weather.
Fortified, I headed back to line up before the sale opened. I think those wonderful FOL volunteers must be saving special treasures for this very sale. After finding nothing at another book sale I attended last weekend, this sale offered more than I could carry out in one trip. Fingerspitzengefuhl had returned!
First, a Stanford professor had donated his entire collection of books written about Soviet-era Russia. As I travelled to the former Soviet Union as an exchange student in 1990, this subject is a personal collecting interest. My collection is made up of personal narratives written by westerners who visited the Soviet Union. I found a dozen good books in this subject alone, including some ephemeral, typed reports written by exchange students like me. I love to find primary source material, even though it’s not usually as pretty as a book.
You already know of my love for all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, so it will probably come as no surprise that I also have a large collection of books written by or about pioneer women. Today I was thrilled to find a first edition of Calamity Jane’s Letters to her Daughter.
And speaking of pioneering women, I also found a book about a woman who was a pioneer in the field of astronomy, Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel, by Mrs. John Herschel. (Published in 1876 by D. Appleton and Company). The first woman to discover a comet, Herschel lived from 1750-1848. Hers was truly a Cinderella story. According to my cursory online research, Caroline Herschel was born on March 16, 1750 in Hanover, Germany. Caroline’s mother did not see the need for a girl to become educated and preferred to make Caroline a house servant to the rest of the family.
At the age of ten Caroline was stricken with typhus, which stunted her growth. She never married, and later she became her brother’s housekeeper. Her brother, William Herschel, trained her in voice lessons and mathematics, and eventually she began to help him with his hobby, astronomy and telescope-making. She helped her brother develop the modern mathematical approach to astronomy.
In 1783 Caroline Herschel discovered three new nebulae. Between 1786 and 1797 she discovered eight comets. In later years, Caroline catalogued every discovery she and William had made. Two of the astronomical catalogues published by Caroline Herschel are still in use today. On her ninety sixth birthday, Caroline Herschel was awarded the King of Prussia’s Gold Medal of Science for her life long achievements.
Caroline Herschel, at age 97.
For those interested in my scouting methods, I did not know anything about Herschel when I picked up the book, but it is in very good condition. I could tell by its 19th century binding and the fact that its author was a woman that it might be of interest to me. At first glance, I thought it was a book about a pioneer woman coming across the Rockies. However, when I read in the introduction that she had named comets and then checked the nineteenth century publication date, I just had to have it. Are you wondering if it was a bargain? Such a nice book is not usually found for fifty cents, even at a library sale. It does take an investment. I spent XX dollars on the book and expect to sell it for XXX dollars. After I finish researching and writing a description for the book, I’ll let you know if that works out. I don’t mind paying more for a book I know I can sell for more than what I paid. This is one of the things that makes this sale one of my favorites — this FOL does mark up some of its more significant books, but not so much that a bookseller can’t make a good profit on the book. Because of this, I’ll shop there again and again.
I also picked up some ephemeral items related to old San Francisco. These will come in handy for the San Francisco Antiquarian Book and Paper Fair, at which I am exhibiting in February. Along with these I bought three magazines from 1915 and 1916, titled The Red Man, “Illustrated and Printed by Indians”. The covers were beautiful, and I bought these hoping that research into the authors, articles, and lengthy authorial inscriptions in each will lead to . . . falling deeper in love with the magazines, some interesting time spent on research, and a good sale price.
Finally, I picked up a book I am still researching, Bailey’s Light: Saga of Brit Bailey and Other Hardy Pioneers, by Josephine Polley Golson. Why did I pick it? It’s about pioneers and was written by a woman. It has a great pictorial dustjacket.
Now, for those of you who’ve read this entire lenghty post. I couldn’t get this lucky in one day without finding something to help out my readers, could I? I found a nice paperback edition (reading copy) of the book that started it all for me: A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, by Nicholas Basbanes. If you haven’t read this amazing history of bibliophiles and book collecting and you’re selling books, you need to. The first person to send me the story of his or her favorite library sale find (What did you find? Where and How? What made you choose that book? Did you know right away that it was a great find?) will be sent the book free of charge. Second and third stories to arrive will recieve Stern and Rostenberg’s Old Friends, Rare Books, and Stuart Kelly’s The Book of Lost Books, respectively. Share your story of fingerspitzengefuhl! Email me at chris @ bookhuntersholiday . com. (My email time stamps so I can tell who was first.) And thanks for reading!
Tomorrow: Catalogue Writer’s Block