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Thursday, June 4, 2009

HOM: Scores

I think book scouting, like prospecting for gold, gets in your blood, and, like gambling, a big win early on makes for an instant addiction. I know that I am hooked, and have been for most of my life. I've made a few memorable purchases over the years. Some of them are engraved in memory and with some the details are hazy, but here are a few that stick out. We mail-ordered a copy of Schaldach's "Carl Rungius, Big Game Painter" from a Phoenix dealer for $27.50 and resold it a few days later to a California dealer for $900, who in turn sold it to a customer for $1800. This gets first place for the dollar amount. I picked up a copy of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" for fifty cents at a thrift shop here in town. It was a true first printing in a dust jacket in Very Good condition. The true first of this had a phrase referring to a crazy Red Cross nurse that was removed due to early onset PC part way through the print run, and this book had it. It went for $300 to another dealer. I found two rare books on sheep hunting in a porn shop in Denver for $5.00 each. They resold for around a hundred dollars each. (No, I didn't know that it was primarily a porn shop, both the name and exterior were quite deceptive. The sheep books were on a shelf just inside the door. No, I didn't investigate any further.) I found a 50¢ copy of Taylor's "Pondoro" at a thrift shop in Great Falls, a fifty dollar book at the time. In Missoula, I picked up a scarce waterfowling book whose title & price escapes me but selling it paid most of the expenses of a weekend there. I picked up a rare book on Ruger rifles from a gun show dealer for $15 and sold it to another dealer a few rows over for $75. I was quite happy till I found out that it was a $150 book. I found a number of other books that earned a permanent home in my library, books that I could never have afforded at full retail but bought at bargain prices. These "finds" made me realize I'd make a poor poker player -- my hands would shake every time I got a really good set of cards just like they do when I pick up a "sleeper" of a book. I think my face & voice stay calm, but the excitement has to bubble out somewhere. With me, it is in my trembling fingers. I have one iron-clad rule when I make a great purchase: I keep my mouth shut. I just pay for the book, thank the person I bought it from and leave. I do all my celebrating after I am safely out of sight, which saves a lot of temper & recrimination on the seller's part. Conversely, I have seen tourists who are obviously book scouts make some good finds in here. One of the early lessons I've learned in the book business is that nobody knows all the rare/valuable books and every dealer has underpriced books that mean Gold to a more knowledgeable person. Do I kick myself for underpricing? Rarely. If all my books were priced at full collectible value I'd never sell any at all, and I am a pretty firm believer in "What goes around comes around." I've had my share of fun and finds and it is nice to see others have theirs. Unless they gloat . . . TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)