Collecting Used and Rare Books

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by AmateisGal, Jul 3, 2020.

  1. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    Remember that scene in The Big Sleep where Humphrey Bogart goes to the used and rare bookstore and talks to Dorothy Malone? In that scene, he asks her if she has a Ben Hur, 1860, third edition, with a duplicated line on page 116. She goes and looks at a book to look it up.

    My question: what was that book? Is it a book listing all first editions? Or...?

    I ask because my character works in a rare and used bookstore. I want to be as authentic as I can in writing her world, but even though I LOVE books, I'm afraid I don't know much about this world. I found a great resource here https://pages.bookstellyouwhy.com/rare-books which is great for telling me how to do things NOW.

    But, how did they do them in the 1930s and 1940s?

    I figured if anyone on the planet would know, it was people here at the Fedora Lounge!
     
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  2. Bugguy

    Bugguy A-List Customer

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    Sorry, I can't help. But I appreciated the link.
    I've never owned a rare book, but I've bought my share of old books thinking they should be rare. I guess mildew and dust doesn't establish provenance. Looks like I'll be refining my tastes. Thanks!
     
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  3. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    If I had the money, I'd invest in some rare books. As it is, I just have a huge bookshelf full of books I've read and books I want to read. Books are like old friends to me.
     
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  4. M Hatman

    M Hatman My Mail is Forwarded Here

    They did indeed have books on books (catalogs really) of famous library and individual collections as well as auction catalogs. Here is an example of one from my own collection from 1935 (I have others):
    15190827261081334554300.jpg
    Hope that helps.......
     
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  5. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    Oh cool! Thank you!
     
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  6. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec One Too Many

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    It is worth noting that your book store would be a very unique institution in those days. Not one of many. Before WWII there were fewer than 500 real bookstores in the US and most were in the Northeast and college towns. Book distribution elsewhere was through clubs and libraries. MANY in the business knew one another or the reputation of a particular store. This isn't a problem for your story but it would be pretty rare to have an honest-to-god "rare" book store anywhere but a major city. Given that your store would be known and unique because of its location and its proprietress would be known to other dealers. Dealers often had specialties or were known for liquidating known collections/libraries. Check and see if there were library closures early in the depression, if your store had the gas money to drive around and pick up rural library books that might have gotten them started. Starting a business buying rare books would have been hard to finance at the time without some sort of trick or windfall ... like happening onto a particular rare book that was sold for a lot of money or having a low cost supply and the willingness to research which were rare and valuable.

    The limitations of the prewar book business are often staggering to we who grew up in the tidal wave of books that was the latter half of the 20th century. In many ways the physical business is now reverting to its "natural" state.
     
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  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Used -- as opposed to "rare" -- book stores in the Era were more common than retail new-book stores, but they were still largely an urban phenomenon. They were usually found in the seediest possible storefronts in the seediest neighborhoods, and the proprietors tended to be single-minded eccentrics bordering on hoarders. You would not likely find valuable first editions in a place like this -- if they turned up, the proprietor would be more likely to hoard them for themselves than to sell them -- but you'd find stack after stack after stack of the cheap novels of the past forty years piled among back issue magazines, radical political pamphlets, and illustrated exploitation books about the Chicago World's Fair and the assassination of McKinley. Much of this stuff would be laid out on tables made of old doors and sawhorses set up on the sidewalk outside the shop.

    As for new-book sales, the major mail order houses did a booming business in books in the years between the wars. Both Sears and Montgomery Ward featured substantial book departments in their catalogs, featuring everything from the trendiest novels to technical books to sex manuals, all available at less than you'd pay at Brentano's. A great many rural readers depended on these sources.
     
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  8. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    Thank you! Yes, it's a used bookstore with a *few* rare books; let's just say my proprietor is always looking for that coveted rare first edition, but rarely finds them. He just loves books. And my story is set in a college town - Lincoln, Nebraska - so I think I've got that covered.

    But this is valuable information. Some day I'd like to write a really good novel about the rare book business with a splash of intrigue and murder thrown in for good measure!
     
  9. AmateisGal

    AmateisGal I'll Lock Up

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    Lizzie, you have such an incredible way with words. You really should write a novel!

    And thank you for the info! Much appreciated.
     
  10. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Many of those used book stores still existed when I got to NYC in the '80s and they were exactly as you described. The locations where in the cheapest areas / on the cheapest block / etc. The "rare" book stores were in the nicer sections.

    And the used book stores were as you said: books (and dust) everywhere, yes on shelves, but in piles on the floor, in bins here and there, scattered high on tables, etc. The organization was "eclectic" where you could see the original plan and logic, but time had created its own system and you, basically, had to "learn" the store as a customer.

    The owners and employees were all a quirky lot. Usually, they were book lovers; some were incredibly friendly and you could talk to them about books forever; others seemed modestly annoyed that you were in their store. Lizzie, you are also spot on about the inventory, a lot of "last forty years" stuff, an insane amount of random paraphernalia from the last hundred years and all but no "rare" or expensive books - or maybe a small section behind the counter or right up front of some kinda rare or expensive books, but nothing like in a rare bookstore. And, yes, the politics of the owner and employees - the vibe if you will - were left, further left or even further left.

    I used to spend hours in those stores on the weekend; I'd be in one of those bookstores two out of three weekends a year. When the '90s combo of the chain stores and then the internet killed those stores, it took me a long time to get over their loss, both having a place to go and a way to find/stumble on old books.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
  11. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    We had a shop along these lines here in town for many years. It was run by a little gnome-like man who seemed to get smaller the older he got, and when he finally had to close down due to a combination of age and getting priced out of his storefront by downtown gentrification, he held an open house where he gave away what was left of the stock. I came home with an armload of stuff, including a "hard hitting expose of the Washington mess" c. 1932, a copy of the U. S. Army Manual of Courts Martial, 1928 edition, an unread copy of the 1938 edition of John Gunther's "Inside Europe," a Max Shulman novel about the advertising and television business c. 1964, and a do-it-yourself guide to building your own high-fidelity sound system, c. 1952. I'd have grabbed even more, but I only have two arms.
     
  12. ChazfromCali

    ChazfromCali Familiar Face

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Oregon
    That description is so spot-on.
    In the early 80's pre-gentrification, there was still an old downtown area in San Jose, CA in which were a couple used book / record stores. One on a larger street with more traffic was 80% records, the other store on a back street was 80% - 90% books. It was stocked with such "insane amounts of random paraphernalia" it was difficult to navigate through the tiny aisles without knocking stuff over. And the smell! You know the smell ;-) In other words it was a book lovers heaven. I miss those types of places.
     
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  13. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec One Too Many

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    The bigger venues often had a specialty (Orientaila in NYC) or Zeitlin and Ver Brugge (Nicknamed "The Red Barn") in LA. Josephine Ver Brugge arrived from the midwest sometime in the 1930s. She married Jake who was a struggling used book dealer. He took a boatload of scientific periodicals off someone and she started marketing them as a specialty product. LA being the center of aerospace, computer, chemical, and photographic development on the west coast, it turned out to be a minor windfall. Zeitlin was well connected with the literary and arts community of LA when that really meant something, liquidating the libraries of numerous luminaries and exhibiting people like Edward Weston and Diego Rivera. He also was a published limited editions or various sorts.

    Jo and Jake were the "God Parents" to much of the specialty book business on the West Coast. Many of their employees went on to establish the next generation of dealers, and specialty publishers.
     
  14. Bushman

    Bushman My Mail is Forwarded Here

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    I enjoy collecting old and used books, or at least books that look the part. Some of them in here legitimately are old or rare. The Mark Twains were printed in 1920, and the blank blue one above "Treasure Island" is a first-edition of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." I received it as a birthday present. The book itself had been gifted to its original owner prior to the owner going on safari according to the inscription in the inside of the cover.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2020
  15. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    Location:
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    In my city, on the seedy side of town is a used & 'collectibles' book store. Just after Salinger died I was walking past and he had a ratty hard cover of "Catcher......" on display in the window. I thought it would be cool to read again after 50 years so I went in. I asked the proprietor how much for the Salinger in the window. $300 was his reply....I guess he read the look on my face and he went on to explain it was a rare first edition that had a picture of Salinger on the book flap. Salinger was so reclusive he balked at even the picture and demanded it be removed. A few of these made it to market and are worth some money.
     
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  16. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Those Twains are part of a complete set of Twain works put out by P. F. Collier between 1917 and 1921 -- the full set had 25 volumes, and was sold on a subscription basis thru ads in popular magazines of the time -- if you pick up any issue of the American Magazine, Collier's, Harpers, or the Atlantic Monthly during these years you'll probably find an ad for it, promoting Twain as the greatest of all American authors and the foundation of any well-read person's library.

    Collier picked up the rights to the series from Harper, which had been Twain's publisher during his lifetime, and made much of the idea of the series being "the only Authorized Editions." The company was known for putting out big, impressive sets like this, capped by "Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf of Books," which still turn up regularly in used book stores. They're very nice editions to have, and with many variations in the various releases they're challenging to collect.
     
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