Thursday, April 27, 2006

When the old bookman dies...

I have been thinking alot about the old bookman, you know the guy. Little shop stacked floor to ceiling with a lifetimes collection of words words words. I have been wondering what happens when the old bookman dies. We have met many of these guys in the past couple years. The sad thing is that even though they have clients and friends and other dealer buddies, they all share the same fatalistic question. What will happen to the books?

One particular instance stands out. While driving a thuck of shakespeariana through New York last summer, we came accross a little sign on the side of the road...Books. It was the size of a yard sale sign, something the average joe would mistake for a campaign sign and never even glance. My eyes have been trained by decades of rummage sailing and the smallest addition to the american lawn will elicit at least a quick glance. I had to question myself immediatly, because a sign saying 'books' on a lonely country road, is like seeing a mirage, especially when you already have 10,000 books in the back of the U-haul you are driving.

We found the next large driveway, and turned around. as we approached, i wondered where the books could be? it was a samll white house offset from the road. farmland and hills around it. Maybe it was a day long rummage sale and the sign was an illusion. No, the sign got nearer and it did actually did say the magic word. We turned into the driveway. As we wove our way around the small house i could catch a glimps through the picture window a table with stacks, many stacks of books. At the back of the house was a small garage. The window displayed a small sign that said 'open'. Just our luck.

It was starting to feeel a little david Lynch like as we exited the vehicle and approached the little building. We knocked. No answer. We waited and knocked again. Nothing. I tried the doorknob and it gave. Opening the door a crack, i spied a wonderland of delicious tomes stacked a clutter and shelved with stacks piled in front of the shelves halfway up. We repeated our call, but there was nothing. i started to look around and was amazed at the selection. oon the counter were a number of pre 1800 small books and under them some lovely volumes, ornate and obviously very expensive. We looked at each other and shrugged. After 3 or 4 minutes of wonderous browsing, we heard a shallow, soft and very kind voice say "hello there, are you here for books?"

He was a small little man, well into his eighties and moving with some difficulty and weilding a lovely can, hand carved.

We eneded up talking with him for near an hour, and he was like the old wise man you meet on the road. MAster wisdom there. We talked books and more books. He had made the transition to the internet and had an impressive 4 thousand listed on abe. That left 15,000 more , which were in the garage. He told us that he had bought out a book store in Florida in 1969, There were 40 thousand books and half were still in storage in a container somewhere. Never got around to unpacking those.

the point of the story is that he also told us his wife didn't really like books, in fact, she assured him that when he finally died, she would throw them all away.

Our hearts sank.

We have heard a variation of this story from many old guys. Some gals too. I think about these folks often, as we build shelves and i think 30 years in the future. Who will take over?

i have yet to meet my generation of bookseller. i see their pale shadows at library sales, franticly punching ISBN numbers into their cell phones, looking for the quick buck, the easy money.

I wonder if we are really that dying of a breed. the last apprentice kind of thing. ...

Saturday, April 22, 2006


As everyone knows, Civil War books can be a goldmine. We recently aquired a few boxes of Civil War related items. The book pictured above sold for 200.00. It is a scarce history of the 75th Indiana Regiment. The woman who bought it saw the picture of her Great-grandfather in the ad and bought it for that reason. He was not a major figure in the book, but the picture was so representative of the period, that we included it. The woman said she had two other pictures of him, but they were both from his later life, after he was quite sick.

We have also started the lifelong task of organizing the sheet music collection. We have an entire two room filled with this stuff. We aquired 6 pallets of music from the New Haven dealer we got many books fro last summer. We finally have it all moved upstairs and that was a huge chore. Thanks to the YIHS kids for moving alot of thoses boxes up the stairs.

We have a nice bound Folio of Popular tunes from the early 1850's listed this week on ebay. The pages are thick like they are maybe Hemp paper.
The book comes from a woman named Mary Darrow. Hmmmm. wonder who she was.


The music all came from Lincoln Square Music in New York City. They apparently had an auction when they closed some decades ago. The music has been packed and sitting there all this time until we liberated it.

A major collection that has emerged from this morrass is a massive quantity of Masses, especially requiems. Hundreds of masses for every Saint and Feast imaginable. Also a huge number of very unique cantatas. Adaptations of the words of Whitman, Joyce, Frost and many other literary luminaries.

My favorite from the Cantatas is the Infamous "Coffee Cantata" written by J.S. Bach in 1732. While Voltaire may hav drank 3 gallons of Java a day, Bach's habit seems to have been a bit less severe. In the 1730's it was still quite risque to have coffee in the house. I think it is the perfect Cantata for our Age. We may try to stage it in the summer if we can find a pianist.

David Rovics is playing in Viroqua Manana. I can't wait. If you've never heard his music check it out for free at:

"When eating an elephant take one bite at a time."
--Buddhist proverb

Friday, April 14, 2006

BOOK is Still a Four-Letter Word

Life has been fast and busy these past couple weeks. A major library sale in Madison last weekend was a big education. The intense vibe in the first 30 minutes of a sale like that is enough to knock you silly. Very contact sports oriented. The amount of folks punching ISBN's into cell phones was ridiculous. If i were running that sale i would ban cell phones. period! The whole game takes the fun and risk away from the experience.
We ended up going back for the back sale and added a great deal to our wisocnsin history section and the Agriculture Periodicals were abundant. The next weekend was a smaller sale in Madison which happens every month. Didn't like this one as much. Too expensive, and the selection was a bit lame. We did find a sweet Masonic Temple sale on the way there. As usual, the mystery find of the Mason sale outdid the library sale in quality of books and price. We picked up some nice kids books and some good gun references and hunting books. Around here, the hunting material is a good thing to stock. If you don't hunt yourself, you probably let your buddies hunt your land. Mornings waking up to a symphony of gunfire.

Speaking of gunfire, we aquired a section of a large Civil War collection from a collector in Florida. We may be getting the rest later in the year. Cross your fingers. The amazing books in this bunch knocked us out, and gave us a real education as to Civil War values. Obscure Generals and little battles. We spent 2 days cataloging it and have a a few books up on ebay.

Ebay has been good to us this week. Some nice soil surveys, yearbooks, and town histories, and farm machinery books paid the bills. I started listing some sheet music again, and that felt good. A scarce and expensive reprint of ottaviano petrucci's Canti B was very popular. We sold 2 copies in 2 days and raised the price a bit on the third. He was the Gutenburg of music printing. The first guy to use movable type for laying out music.
I think we'll hang onto the other few we have and do a bit more research on him.

Bought a new planer, so shelf building will commence this Saturday. Need more wood.......


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