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Category: book scouting

Anatomy of a scouting- Jacob Serenius

Hiya bookies. I know I promised more frequent updates here, but life keeps intruding. One of the kids is returning to the nest while attending graduate school, necessitating a massive move of stuff from one room to the next. Yuck. Not what BBG had in mind for the summer.

Anyway, I am often asked how I come across the books that I sell. The simple answer is: there is no simple answer. But today we’ll just at one book and how that came to be in my possession, some of the problems faced in researching it, pricing it and translating the title.

One Friday morning about five years ago I arrived an hour or so early for a private estate sale in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. The yard and house were a bit unkempt, reflecting the elderly nature of the previous tenants. I don’t remember if it was a living estate sale or not, but the middle aged children were holding the sale and one of them was late. We stood around for an extra twenty minutes or so waiting for this son to arrive. Once inside one other bookseller and I rummaged through the books, most of which were hardback science fiction and fantasy.

The other seller was a local lady who is very knowledgeable in antiquarian books and such. She had perused one particular bookcase before I got there, but there was a book with a leather spine that she had missed somehow. I bought it, more or less without inspecting it. Once at home I did what I always do and began going through my purchases. But this one…I could not even make out what language it was in, at first, the only word that made sense was where the publisher information is usually placed at the bottom of the title page. It said “Stockholm, 1727.”

It was immediately evident that this was the oldest book I had ever scouted up. But what was it? What language was it written in? Who was the author? To discover this required backtracking. I searched the net using the phrase ‘Joh. Laur. Horrn. Stockholm’, which lead to a number of books published by this printer. For the language, I assumed that it was either German or Swedish but online translators weren’t much use; as it turns out, the language is Old Swedish, which is quite different from modern Swedish. Who knew? That lead to simply searching for the title itself, which I cut and pasted. In its native language, it is: Engelska aker-mannen och fara-herden, eller: Aker-bruks-konsten och far-skiotslen, sa wal efter philosophiske principer som sielfwa praxin, af de witraste engelske scribenter utdragen, med atskillige historiske och topographiske anmarkningar. To this moment I still don’t have a good translation of this, although I know the first words are The English Farmer and Shepherd, and that the book is a treatise on contemporary English sheep-herding techniques. The book was written by Jacob Serenius, who went on to write the first English-Swedish dictionary in 1741.

This information lead to an old auction price on a really battered piece of the book of about $160. I finally contacted an auction house, who suggested a price of around $500 as being quite fair for what is a nice copy of a rare book. So that’s what I did, priced it at $499.95, and here are the photos. All told I must have twelve or fourteen hours of research in this book.

Some Days You Get the Bear- Part 2

A sweltering good morning to you, bookies! In response to the thousands of requests I get for a peek inside the life of a bookseller, I thought I would elaborate on yesterday’s scouting trip. I don’t do a lot of book-scouting these days, mostly because I’ll be going through the collection I bought back in April for most of the summer. But yesterday I made an exception and hit two estate sales, one of which was held by a company I had sworn never to buy from again because they are too expensive. Yeah, well…

At the first one I bought a bunch of books on North American Indians. It happened this way. Before the sale I asked a lady who worked there if there were really thousands of books, as advertised. She went inside to check and said they didn’t know, but told me there were books in the den downstairs and also some Indian books upstairs. She said this to everybody, but apparently I was the only one listening. Anyway, when the sale opened most of the book dealers and collectors were milling about the fairly modest quantity downstairs, and when nobody was looking I ducked upstairs where the Indian books were in a separate bookcase. By and large such books are not worth much on the secondary market, unless they deal with very specific topics. Some of these did, such as Bob Blankenship’s self-published two volume history of the Cherokee titled Cherokee Roots. I priced the set at $13.95. I would tell you that this puts it lower than any other set on the market right now, but you already knew that, because that’s what I do. I found some other nice general stock items on Indians and Cherokee, but the other nice find upstairs is a lovely copy of William G. McLoughlin’s The Cherokee Ghost Dance, first edition hardback. I was excited because this is a fairly scarce book to find in such nice shape. I put $23.95 on this one, which is probably too cheap, but what the heck. If you feel guilty buying it for too little you can leave me a tip.

At the same sale I found a beautiful copy of Kathy Moses’ reference book for art collectors published by Schiffer and titled Outsider Art of the South. Once again it’s a beautiful copy, only this one is signed and inscribed by the author. I put $29.95 on it, and at that price it won’t last long. Schiffer is known for making elegant and expensive books that are built to last a lifetime and this one is no different.

I almost did not attend the second sale. The morning was in the low 90’s by 9:20 or so when I left the first one, I was hungry and really needed another cup of coffee. But at the last moment I decided to drive the ten miles or so and see what was up. This sale was also in a nice area of Memphis and lemme tell you, the place was mobbed. The online ad had shown some Nazi memorabilia (see yesterday’s blog entry for details) and I had thought there could be some WW2 books there. And there were. But there were other books, too. I cleaned up.

First, I wound up keeping 20 or so of what I bought for myself. (I’m a collector too, you know.) Among these was Nathaniel Chears Hughes’ The Battle For Belmont: Grant Strikes South, first edition hardback, signed and inscribed by the author, as well as a beautiful signed, inscribed copy of Harold Leinbaugh’s The Men of Company K. Winston Grooms’ Shrouds of Glory, From Atlanta to Nashville, The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War, first edition with signed bookplate tipped in. But the big prize was a nice copy of Donald Brownlow’s Panzer Baron: The Military Exploits of General Hasso von Manteuffel, hardback in a nice jacket. There was even a reprint copy of Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army. Gads, what riches. And that’s just the stuff I kept.

The books up for sale are a virtually pristine copy of Kemmons Wilson’s Half Luck and Half Brains, first edition, signed and inscribed by Wilson. I put $29.95 on that and frankly even I think that is too low. A Fine signed first edition hardback of Pat Summit’s Reach For the Summit, $37.95. And a really cool privately printed memoir from Charles C. Jacobs, Jr., signed hardback in gorgeous blue cloth with gold lettering, titled Memoirs of a Country Lawyer. The beloved Mr. Jacobs died in, I think, 2009, aged 90. I almost kept this one, because Mr. Jacobs was a Marine artillery officer in such battles as Saipan and Iwo Jima. I put $37.95 on the book, which seems too low to me, but if it doesn’t sell I may wind up keeping it.

It was a fun day alright, but don’t get the idea that’s how it usually happens. It isn’t. My pile of common stuff that I won’t list is pretty deep and wide. I am wrong frequently. However, the good news is that I’ll be having a huge garage sale soon and all of those beautiful books will be priced to go quickly, probably a buck a piece. So keep your eyes open and, in my meantime, check out my website if you haven’t lately. http://www.billthebookguy.com

ADDENDUM: So, I went back to the second sale from Saturday this morning, Sunday, for half price day. The stuff that was left was great, really great. A second copy of Charlie Jacob’s memoirs, which solves the problem of me wanting to keep the first copy. His mother or grandmother’s ultra-rare work The Master of Doro Plantation, of which not one copy is available anywhere on the internet, several more rare and expensive WW2 books. One was a very rare copy of We Were the Line, A History of Company G, 335th Infantry, 84th Infantry Division by Clifford H. Matson, Jr. & Elliott K. Stein. There are no copies of this book on the net either, but since I’m keeping it for my own collection I’ll value it at $50 for replacement purposes, although I don’t know if that’s accurate. Last, but surely not least, a book printed in Berlin in 1940 describing the composition of a German infantry division. That’s right, printed in 1940 Berlin, capital of the Third Reich. Cool stuff.

The ride of the scanner people

Hiya bookies! Summer might not be here yet, but summer is here, if you know what I mean. It’s hot outside! Ain’t it grand?

Several months ago I bought a collection consisting of at least 3,000 books, at a guess. So, naturally, I woke up this morning and decided that what I needed was…more books! So I went to an estate sale, got there about 45 minutes early and was surprised to be 2nd in line. They advertised 1,000’s of books, which in reality was more like 300 or so, but I doubted the whole 1,000’s thing anyway. While in line I chatted with a new bookseller I had never met before, a nice guy who had already met some of the other sellers. The time passed fairly quickly, although by opening time of 9 am it was getting really hot out there.

So, anyway, as we’re all mulling about looking at books, I realized the new guy was one of the Scanner People. Regular readers know how I feel about them; I don’t get it. Why sell books, if you aren’t going to bother learning about them? Why not sell some other widget, if all you’re going to do is let a bar-code scanner tell you which books are worth money and which ones aren’t? Heck, if a book doesn’t have a bar-code, you’re clueless, and most books don’t have bar-codes. Like I said, I don’t get it.

I bought a box of books at that first sale and went to a second, although I debated this because I was getting hungry. But I had seen some Nazi memorabilia in the photos advertising the second sale, and some books, and I figured that a guy who collected Nazi stuff was into WW2 books, so I went. As it turns out, the guy didn’t collect the Nazi stuff, he took it off the battlefield when he was in Europe with the 84th Infantry Division. And, just as I had suspected, he had some great books. I bought two boxes full, with some stuff genuinely rare, and other stuff signed by some cool people. When I post them you’ll see some neat new stuff in my history categories.

And not one of them had a bar-code. I’ve often used the example of the scanner person who scanned a copy of Cold Mountain and walked on, since the book went through about a million printings and there are thousands of them out them you can pick up for nothing. Why bother looking at it? Except, I did. And it was a rare first edition. Pristine, in fact, unread. And signed. I let it go for $100, which is cheap. But, as my website says, that’s what I do. And the scanner person? He didn’t have a clue what he missed. Just as he would have walked right by all of those great books at the second sale today.

What a shame.

For him, not for me. For my part, I hope he keeps using his scanner and never learns a damned thing about books. He was a nice guy and he probably makes good money doing it his way. More power to him.

I guess.

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