Rare, old and used– and so are the books

Here to share my three decades of bookselling experience.  Mysteries of the old book business will be revealed.  What’s an old book worth?  How do you buy a quality used book online?  What’s up with Amazon?

All of us who value books– readers, buyers, sellers, collectors, scholars– have a common cause.  I’ve always thought of the books that exist as one global library, a cultural trove.  Ownership is temporary.  The books travel and have lives beyond any particular person or place.  All of us are caretakers in a way, custodians, guardians.  If there are fewer printed books in the future, preservation of the good ones here already is even more important.  As a bookseller, I get to share in that with people all over the world.

Last week, I sent Music and Theater in France 1600-1680 to a customer in Japan.  I sold an 1889 edition of Herndon’s biography of Lincoln to an Indian gentleman in California, who told me it was a gift for a friend in India opening an institute for the study of democracy.  Two continents, two centuries, two cultures.

Next time you sit back and open a book, savor the privilege, the peace, and the power to read.



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3 responses to “Rare, old and used– and so are the books

  1. Bingham Hancock

    Nice piece on the custodial responsibilities and pleasures of book owning. I have a 5-volume 1892 edition of Plato that has never been read by anyone because the outer edge of the pages weren’t cut. Technically these books are pubishing mistakes, perhaps making them worthless; yet I get satisfaction knowing they have a home among other books, giving these misfits security among the more useful and well-behaved.
    Emile Dickens (see Sophie’s Choice) said, “There is no frigate like a book.” (Does anyone alive today know what a frigate is? It’s not on the shelf next to seitan and tempeh). In addition to a book’s physical portability, enabling cultural exchange as the original blogger so eloquently points out, its exchange of spirit between writer and reader is what makes it so valuable. It’s amazing that so many great minds, so many fine artists, left their literal essences (not contradictory) encoded in these little black marks; marks that through decoding enables anyone to commune with the part of these individuals that was most alive. No frigate indeed.

    • These uncut pages are intended to be cut with a letter-opener by the first owner. It gives the books more value rather than less, because the pages will be pristine. The condition of the bindings, however, is still important. I read a Life and Letters of George Eliot that was uncut, cutting carefully as I went, and there was pleasure in being the first to read those pages that had waited for me for a hundred years.

      • Bingham Hancock

        Alas, not possible here. I actually read through the first volume doing that but the thin pages were so very fragile it left the page edges (and some text) in tatters, the edges crumbled like very dry leaves. I managed to piece it together fairly well but decided against proceeding with the other volumes, deciding to leave it in its original non-useful condition than to have it maimed beyond repair. It’s no longer a 119 year old virgin but not too traumatized for all that. Glad your Eliot deflowering was mutually beneficial.

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