It occurred to me today that one has to have a lot of faith to be a bookseller — faith that you will find the next great book, faith that you will eventually sell that great book you’ve had for a few years and whose potential none of your customers have yet recognized, faith that you’ll succeed in your business endeavors. A surfeit of faith, it seems, is needed in the antiquarian book business. It’s not always easy to keep the faith, to know how it will all turn out, or whether and when you will eventually find or sell the next great book. Though a few booksellers I know appear to be cynics, I would argue that we booksellers are all optimists at heart. All good booksellers make informed buying decisions (and at the right times, even a few uninformed buying decisions) and take calculated risks in purchasing books for resale, but if we weren’t optimists — trusting that ultimately the books we buy will sell — we wouldn’t be in this business of seeking and hoping to find treasure, of buying and expecting to sell, even when it’s on speculation.
I had the good fortune to be free to attend my favorite library sale over the weekend, but I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to it as much as I have in the past. It’s been a while since I’ve found any significant books or ephemera at this particular sale. It’s not that there are no significant or good books there. It’s just that recently I haven’t found many of the type of books I like to sell. While I’ve been selling books long enough that library sales are no longer the main source of my purchases, it’s still disappointing to use my free time in order to shop for books only to come home empty-handed. I decided I’d go to the sale, but I also had already silently decided I probably wouldn’t find anything good there. I went anyway, forcing myself to repeat the “anything can be anywhere” creed I’ve declared so many times before, but not really feeling it in my heart.
Oh, me of little faith! 🙂
Clearly, I needed a reminder not to lose faith and today I was not disappointed.
I arrived at the sale at 8:00 a.m. and got in line for a ticket. This sale is a crowded one — it opens at 11:00 a.m. and people of all sorts line up in anticipation of what might be inside the main sale room. After getting a ticket at 8:00, I left to go get some breakfast down the road and return to the sale in time to line up for the opening. (The ticket tells you what number you are in line, so you don’t have to stand there for hours to hold your place.) As I walked away from the building, I stopped at the 20 or 30 bins of ephemera the Friends of the Library group puts outside the main sale room. The ephemera bins are open at 8:00 a.m. and 99 out of 100 times have held very little of resale value for me. I stopped at the bins anyway and decided that, as I had plenty of time until the sale room opened, I might as well look through each bin.
After 30 minutes of picking through the many bits and pieces of paper, maps, postcards, and photographs stacked in each bin, I finally left the ephemera area with no fewer than 56 items purchased, a record for me! I don’t know what came over me. Oh, wait. Yes I do! Fingerspitzengefuhl. Thank goodness ephemera doesn’t take up too much storage space and that I have a customer in mind for many of the items I bought today. I bought some early (pre-1915) automobilia, some 19th century advertisements, documents, and trade catalogs printed in San Francisco, and what looks to be an interesting typed and signed manuscript (or perhaps mimeographed, signed copy?) of the history the US military in Hawaii. More research is definitely needed to know whether my hunches about these items will pan out, and having bought so many things at once, it is almost certain that some may prove to be “mistakes”. Despite that, when the price is right (and at a library sale, the price is often right), it makes sense to follow your book hunting instincts and to buy those items which in some way catch your attention.
The patron saints of print and the gods of book buying were smiling on me this weekend, and it feels good to be reminded from time to time that it is important to keep the faith, even — perhaps especially — when I don’t expect I will find anything worthwhile or I begin to doubt my book hunting ablilities. The next great “find” may be right around the corner, or at the bottom of that dusty box of books under the table, or in the ephemera bins outside of the libary sale, or even at that book hunting stop I thought might be a waste of time.
I know that some of you reading this may not understand why I’d keep going to a monthly sale where I haven’t found many good books lately, but I hope those who are book lovers and book hunters will understand. I once read somewhere that faith is not belief without proof; it is trust without reservation. Haven’t found any great books in a while? Keep the faith. Eventually, you will.
See you in the stacks!