|Two vol. set $20|
Last week I got a call from a world class professional model maker who was closing his studio. The market and its fashions had changed, he told me, and rich guys were no longer commissioning his beautiful models. He might still make a few things to sell in ship model galleries, but after they took their cut his hourly wage would be about what he'd get working at McDonalds. So he took a position as a museum curator and moved his workshop to smaller quarters. He planned to keep about half of his extensive reference library and he was hoping that I'd sell the rest for him on consignment.
|Fine condition, in dj. $25|
So I went over to his shop and took a look at the books – about 400 of them – and realized immediately that I'd lose my shirt on a consignment deal. They weren't bad books, I explained to him. In fact, they were excellent books – standard reference works in very good condition - the kind of items I used to make my living buying for $5 and selling for $35 or $50 or $150 to people just like him. I was a specialist dealer, and ship modelers, or marine historians, or writers, or curators or collectors who needed particular books in this field would contact me because these were the kinds of books I gathered and resold.
|Fine condition in dj. $20|
Of course, the Internet ruined all that. With millions of titles listed online, those specialized books were revealed to be more common than we'd thought, and now there are dozens of copies of most of them available online in a wide range of prices and condition. So I explained to him that his consignment idea would not work. It would require hours cataloging, photographing, putting them online, and then storing them, waiting for them to sell – which they would not. Not when there there were 20 other copies of each title online in similar condition, competing for the customers' dollar. He nodded sadly and told me he thought that might have been the case. Then, before he could ask me what he should do with them, I did something strange – something I'm still trying to understand.
|Fine condition in dj. $25|
I said, “I'll give you $2000 for the lot.”
At that moment, I think I had a fleeting idea of putting them across the street in the art gallery, for summer tourists to browse. People come to Gloucester because of the ocean, and they stop in Flatrocks Gallery
And maybe I will. And maybe they will. And maybe I'll have my $2000 back before the summer season ends. But I think something else was going on.
I think I bought those books because I missed them. After years of puzzling over ancient, arcane manuscripts, letters, documents, photos, charts, and journals, I missed good old honest Twentieth Century hardcovers, with ISBNs and dustjackets – Real books! Whose salient features could quickly and easily be entered into “title,” “author,” “place of publication,” “date of publication,” “pagination,” and similar database fields. Here, at the far end of my career, I wanted to spend a little time again with these denizens of my early days.
Sort of like going to a high school reunion and seeing old classmates, most of whom never amounted to much, and never had much going for them in the first place. But you grew up with them, and were comfortable with them, and after the initial shock of seeing them old and gray, you realize you look that way, too, and that you never amounted to much, either. And then you realize it's not about "amounting"; it's about living a good, decent life, and having a healthy, happy family, and enjoying your job and your friends. And that's what you see around you, and it's not so bad – except for the guy over by the bar who went to Yale and sold a startup, and now has millions. But everybody knew he was going to do that, anyway, and they felt kind of sorry for him, in a funny way.
Somehow, that's the song those 400 books sang to me. I got an excellent workout boxing and removing them, and then unboxing and shelving them here in my office, and then I started in on cataloging and photographing the collection. Not in a frenzy, but pretty steadily for a couple of days. I mean, I'd take breaks and do other things, but I was definitely focused on the job. And it was fun. I mean, it was fun in the same way that raking leaves or painting the house might be fun. Tedious, actually. But you don't have to think.
This morning, just to see how far I'd gotten, I pulled up an inventory list on Bookhound and printed out a Value Report. Here's the top of the first page. Salient numbers are on the second line – 65 books with a total retail value of $1695. Oy.
Value of Inventory April 27, 2015
Total Cost 0.00 | | Retail: 1,695.00 (65)
37831 Figureheads and Ornaments on Danish Ships and in Danish 0.00 | 50.00 (1)
37832 The Old Wrecks of the Baltic Sea. 0.00 | 0.00 (1)
37833 The Art and Archaeology of Venetian Ships and Boats. 0.00 | 20.00 (1)
37834 The History of the French Frigate. 1650-1850. 0.00 | 50.00 (1)
37835 Brick de 24 Le Cygne 1806-1808. 0.00 | 50.00 (1)
|Very good condition in dj. $15|