“Journal of a Whale Voyage to the Pacific Ocean on Board the Ship Samuel Wright, John Pitman Master. Kept by Wm. E. Percival Second. June 14, 1833 – Sept. 8, 1837.” (more below)
Shoulder surgery July 8, to be followed by a month in a sling. No driving, hence no book scouting. The plan was to spend this interval learning how to scout books on the Internet, and to report on my progress in this blog each week.
What was I thinking?
My first five minutes on eBay were excruciatingly boring. Then over to Americana Exchange, which I’d vowed to master. Three minutes was about all I could take. I’ll just have to face the fact that it really IS hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
But there was enough going on in the analog world to make me forget the Internet for a while.
Seems an anonymous donor had given a whaling log to the Friends of the Library Sale in Newtown, CT. John Renjilian of Pages of Yesteryear (he volunteers at the sale) sent me an email about the log. He told me the book was priced at $3500 and would be put out Saturday morning along with the rest of the book sale merchandise. First come, first served. If I wanted to be sure to get it, I’d better show up early. He then politely refused my bribe offer,
Of course I was going to be in the hospital getting my new shoulder. So I called my pal Orv Haberman of Connecticut River Books and he kindly offered to get in line at the sale and try to snag the log. A little later I had a similar conversation with Brian Bilby of Appledore Books who graciously offered to be Orv’s backup.
Long story short, as they say, my cellphone went off at 9 AM last Saturday morning as I lay in my hospital bed picking away post-op cobwebs. Orv had gotten the whaling log.
When he delivered the book a few days ago he told me about the library sale. What an eye opener!
The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library sale was established 36 years ago. After a year or two they realized they’d better start getting serious if they wanted to make any money for the library. Now they have more than 30 volunteers including a publicist. Over 100 people help out on the day of the sale. They work all year gathering books and generating publicity, and they take almost everything they are offered, often driving considerable distances to make pickups. None of the books are creamed off before the sale (hence the rejection of my $1000 bribe), and none of the volunteers, not even Renjilian, are allowed to take books before the sale opens. They’re very strict about this, and over the years the sale has gotten the reputation of being one of the few in which the stock is fresh and unpicked.
This year, according to John, there were about 140,000 books on offer. More than 1200 people paid the first day $5 admission. All the books were priced and the price decreased each day until the fifth day when the remaining books were offered for free. Incredibly, almost every one of those 140,000 volumes found a home. At the end of the five days, a mere 14 tables of merchandise remained.
My whaling log, I learned, was essentially a publicity hook. Articles about it appeared in local papers, the Newtown Bee, and even Americana Exchange. Indeed, it seemed as if everyone in the western world had heard about the whaling log on sale at the Newtown Library book sale. Renjilian said it was the best advertising the sale could have gotten.
It’s nice to know that smart, dedicated and energetic volunteers can raise enough money to keep a library afloat. It’s even more gratifying to know that there were buyers for all those books.
Sure, many of the customers were collectors or casual readers, but by John Renjilian’s estimate, about 60% of the attendees were dealers. A few of them, he said, were people we’d know from the trade. But the majority were from a new generation of dealers. Not younger necessarily, but newer to the business. Take a look at the Member Directory for a group like IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association). Suddenly it seems there are an awful lot of people out there making livings, or even parts of livings, at this difficult job.
I’ve been whining for years about the demise of the trade. Examples like the Newtown sale suggest that the book business may be healthier than I’d imagined – not dying at all, but morphing into new forms, finding new venues, developing new customers.
Just think about it – 100,000 volumes, give or take, absorbed by dealers and retail customers at one sale over a single long weekend. Sounds pretty healthy to me.
Or maybe it’s just the percocets kicking in.
"The Samuel Wright was a 372 ton ship from Salem, Mass. She fished a little over three years in the Pacific and returned 2000 bbl. sperm oil. Following her departure June 14, she made the Azores July, and killed her first whale July 20. She rounded the Horn at the end of September and spent her entire cruise on the line and the coast of Peru. Saturday, October 5, 1833 “at 7 AM lost overboard James B Drew brought the ship to the wind and lowered a boat but could not save him he was a very interesting youth aged about 14.” The log skips Apr. 1834 – May 1835, and resumes west of the Galapagos with 1300 sperm. On October 15, 1835, Percival records, “28 months out 1650 barrels.” December 23, 1835, “30 months out and only 1,800 barrels of oil, well never mind shall get more in someday.” They wintered each season at Tumbes. “Sunday, Dec 20, 1835. shall probably get in tomorrow and then what; why all hands will go ashore and have a high time and when they get through with it they will feel worse than before well never mind we shall get home in the course of 12 months.” And so they did, heading home at the end of July, “squall on one side and cook playing the fiddle on other.” Pages at the end include an interesting recipe for the 'Cure of Cancer.' $6000"