Like Larry McMurtry, Bill is not only an accomplished writer, but a true book lover. He sells used books at the site listed above. See if he has something you’re looking for.
Good morning bookies! It’s a hot morning in Memphis after a very surprising but welcome thunderstorm last night; the grass has grown six inches in six hours, I think. I was up at 3 am letting Sadie out, which is very unusual. Sadie is our Pharaoh Hound-mix rescue with the bum leg who is probably the sweetest dog we have ever owned, but for some reason she really had to go outside at 3 am. For obvious reasons that was the preferred alternative among my choices.
Anyway, I was thinking about the proliferation of book descriptions out there on the web these days and how bizarre some of them are, what they mean, what I think they mean, and what they should mean. I decided a ready reference list for my bookies might be useful in helping them judge exactly what condition a book they are interested in might actually be, since so many ‘dealers’ currently out there have no idea what they are doing. An example of my own experience is that a few years ago I bought a box full of John Ringo first editions on Ebay, including the very hard to find Gust Front. The books were described as ‘Like New.’ In fact, however, half of them were ex-library and the others were, at best, Very Good. I was POed. The guy wound up giving me most of my money back and I kept the books, telling him that I considered it fraud, but I really think the guy was some doofus with no idea what he was doing. This list is for you, then, the bookie, the customer who buys books because you love them and expect the ‘dealer’ to be just that, a professional dealer.
Keep in mind, these are not necessarily the terms I use. The ones I do use I will put in bold red letters. So, without further ado, the list:
Brand new– Straight off a bookstore shelf. Might be in publisher’s shrink wrap. Zero flaws. Has not been read, or even leafed through to any great extent. Brand new is not a term I use often, but others seem to use it more than it warrants.
Like new, or as new– Slightly different than Brand new in my mind. Maybe a cover doesn’t lay quite flat, or some other very minor difference, but still a bright, unread and pristine copy.
Very Fine – I do not use this term, but to my mind it is synonymous with ‘Like New’.
Fine – A traditional term that means a book without flaws, the jacket is bright, the spine is straight, the corners are not bent. It may have been read once, carefully, but the reading did no damage and left no marks. This has traditionally been considered the highest collectible grade, although ‘Like New’ and ‘Brand New’ would obviously be at least as nice. Copies in any of the grades Fine or above should command a premium price.
Near Fine – Not long ago, this term was not used by established sellers, and it requires a short explanation as to why not. In the days before the internet, the used book business was a fairly small knot of dedicated people, many of whom knew each other. Book searching was a big part of that business, and within such a relatively small community there was a high degree of mutual understanding. The term Near Fine was not used at all because it was not needed. With the advent of the internet, however, it came into common use.
Near Fine means a nice book that would be Fine if not for one small flaw. In a jacket, perhaps there is some light shelfwear (the rubbing that occurs when a book comes in contact with a hard surface, usually another book on a shelf), maybe there is some light soiling. It’s a very attractive copy, just not quite Fine.
Very Good – The book has been read and shows it. There’s no terrible flaw, the front free endpaper has not been cut out, for example, or the spine is not broken, but neither does the book resemble a Fine copy. Although still a collectible copy, it would not be mistaken for pristine.
Good – Now we come to what is easily the most abused term on the internet. Let’s concentrate first on what Good actually means to booksellers. Simply put, and to borrow the definition of others, “Good ain’t Good.” A ‘Good’ copy is one that is heavily used and shows it. The boards might be worn through in places, there could be a severe spine lean, or it could have heavy water damage. Major flaws are present. It is considered a collectible grade only in the case of ultra-rare books. Find a ‘Good’ condition Shakespeare First Folio while rummaging about in someone’s attic and it will have value. Otherwise, it means a pretty well beat up book, although it may be suited for a reading or research copy.
However, the term ‘Good’ is used quite often by all sorts of hobby sellers these days, and it’s how you can tell someone who knows what they are doing from someone who does not. If, by ‘Good’, the dealer means their copy is a nice one, then you automatically know they are an amateur who has no experience or aptitude for grading books. Maybe their ‘Good’ copy is actually ‘Fine’. Or maybe it’s actually ‘Good’, which ain’t good. Either way, when you see this be dubious of the seller’s ability to accurately convey the condition of a book. Mostly you see this on Amazon and Ebay, where the people don’t know what they are doing.
For example, a few weeks ago I went to a house where the lady had a garage full of books. Boxes and boxes of books. She had bought some inventory from a used bookstore that went out of business and decided she wanted to be a book dealer. The ones in the garage were what was left over after she culled them. I checked them anyway, and found some very nice, very expensive books that she had no idea were valuable, because she had no idea what she was doing. Sure, this benefitted me, and I was glad for it, but it illustrates the larger point that this woman could not even cull her own inventory, so how could she properly describe a book on the internet? More than once I have seen a title that I wanted at a very good price, only to back off when it was described as ‘Good.’ Either the dealer had no idea what ‘Good’ meant, in which case they didn’t know what they were doing and I could not trust their judgment, or the book really was a ‘Good’ copy, in which case I didn’t want it.
Fair – Time was, you almost never saw a book described as ‘Fair’, because in bookseller jargon ‘Fair’ means ‘beat to a pulp.’ A ‘Fair’ copy may literally be falling apart. Lately, though, I have seen more of these. All I can tell you is, caveat emptor. A ‘Fair’ book may still be useful for research, or because of some odd association. I recently sold a ‘Fair’ copy of a rare Marine Corps title that was worn out by a recruiting station, but those notes and stamps are what made it valuable to the purchaser. So there is a place for such books, but don’t be mislead. Know what you are buying. ‘Fair’ is not a collectible grade.
Poor – If you need me to tell you what this means, there is probably no point in doing so. But for the sake of completeness, a ‘Poor’ copy is even worse than a ‘Fair’ copy, completely destroyed and good for little except lining your garden before you put down compost. I can’t remember ever listing a ‘Poor’ copy.
Ex-Library – This one is tough. An ex-library copy is considered not a collectible grade, by definition. And yet, to some degree I disagree. I have seen some XLs that were never read and were awfully nice. If you collected a given author, say, Robert Crais, and you turned up a nice ex-library copy of Lullaby Town, it would really look nice on a shelf until you could find (or afford) a collectible copy. Yet ex-library copies still have the card pocket, or stamps or other things libraries put in books. Yuck. However, one value in an ex-library copy of a collectible book is the jacket. Very often, the jackets are in nice shape, and if you can get those stickers they insist on putting everywhere off without damage, you can then marry that jacket to another copy that might be collectible but without a jacket.
For instance, I have a copy of Jon Jackson’s hard-to-find first novel, The Diehard, without a jacket. If I could find an XL with a nice jacket, I could then clean that jacket and marry it to my copy. (Note: whenever this is done it must be noted. That is, if the jacket is a substitute. That would read something like this: ‘Fine copy married to Near Fine Jacket.’ If the jacket is not the correct state for the book, that, too, must be noted. That might read: ‘Fine first state copy married to Near Fine second state jacket.’ If you don’t understand ‘states’, we’ll get to that in future blog entries.)
Whew! Hope that helps people. In Part 2 we’ll examine the knuckleheadedness present in today’s bloated internet book buying scene.
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.