If you’re reading this, it’s December 22, 2016.
You have precious little time to buy gifts before Christmas. You have a bit more time if you’re shopping for Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.
You’re also reading this at a time in which humanity sits poised on the edge of an intellectual cliff. A plague of fake news, opinion echo chambers, and prejudice made fact are encroaching on the minds of our species at an alarming rate. It’s time to drag our heads away from the Internet’s electronic rip tide of ignorance and embrace real truth again.
Books have been here to help the whole time. Not to mention, they make excellent, fun-to-shop-for gifts.
I’m constantly prowling through the city’s used book vendors. The list on this page is a distillation of the knowledge I’ve accumulated. There’s still plenty I don’t know, though. For that, I reachedout to Al Dollerschell, a librarian at RCTC for 33 years who retired in 1997, went on to serve as president of Friends of the Library, and now appraises and sells books that come through the library’s bookstore.
Seeing unsold books go to the dumpster bothered Al, so he started selling books on Amazon. Over the last decade, he’s raised over $70,000 selling books for the library. At the moment, he has over 4,000 books listed at his storefront, email@example.com.
“They tell me, they look at something and say, this is weird, let’s give this to Al to sell on Amazon,” said Dollerschell. “I sell books that I listed 8, 10 years ago. It’s taken that long for somebody with that odd interest to find. I get emails back from people who go, this was my favorite book as a child and I can hardly wait to read this to my granddaughter and I haven’t seen this book for 45 years or whatever. They’re thrilled to have finally found it somewhere.”
He collects books that interest him: biographies, histories, and the works of Frederick Manfred, a novelist from southwestern Minnesota.
Is it a first edition?
“That’s very difficult to determine sometimes. At least in older books,” said Dollerschell. “Every publisher had its own unique way of identifying a first edition.”
In many books, the verso (or back) of the title page is where copyright information is located.
However, in the days before the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), publishers like Harper Brothers had a complex number and letter system which required a table to determine whether your copy is a first edition or not. In other books, if the copyright date matches the date on the title page, that means it’s a first edition.
“It’s difficult. Unless you’ve got a guidebook, and there are lots of those available, to tell you whether its a first edition or not, you can’t just always look at it. It isn’t going to tell you, unless you know how that particular publisher designates its first editions.”
“People have great difficulty in distinguishing a printing date from a publishing date. Even on Amazon, it’s a real mixed bag,” cautioned Dollerschell.
In the 1960s, the ISBN number caused publishers to begin to standardize things, but confusion still occurs. Sometimes, a book first published in 1974 will have a later date inscribed on its copyright page. Telling whether or not the more recent date means your copy is a later printing or different edition can be tough.
A recent example encountered by Dollerschell: a woman was left books by her father. The date in them said 1902, but when she took them to be appraised, he was unsure whether that was a printing date or a published date.
Many classics were reprinted by publisher Grosset and Dunlap. The company specialized in cheaper reprints and was popular throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. They would frequently put the books’ original printing date on the back of the title page, with no reference to the year their edition hit the presses.
“That isn’t how old that particular book is at all. It was just when it was first published, and that’s the date the used. They don’t indicate that this is a reprint of an 1862 book that they’ve printed in 1934 or whatever. A lot of these are, usually, not worth much because there were so many of them printed,” said Dollerschell.
The bottom line: pay attention to who published the book. Then hit the Internet and Google up how each publisher denoted first editions and printings.
Not all old hardcovers are built the same.
Just because you’ve blown the dust off an old-looking hardcover doesn’t mean it is valuable.
Here’s Al on how to tell if the book is low quality.
“If it’s an old book at all, the paper will probably be greyed or yellowed. Or tanned. Tanning is the term in the business. It’s not the sewed binding, it’s glued,” he explained.
Even though they’re not valuable, they are a tangible piece of history. Those cheaply made hardcovers were published that way to make books available to soldiers and other people who couldn’t foot the $3.95 cost of a new hardcover.
“A lot of those books published during the war will say that on that verso page. That they’re made to wartime standards. That they weren’t being wasteful. It wasn’t anything they were trying to palm off as deceive anybody, it was a way of making information or literature or leisure reading or whatever available to people, and of course they were much cheaper to ship, just the weight of them is much less than a regular book would’ve been,” explained Dollerschell.
What do you think books add to a society?
“I guess I see them as an artform, really. Plus, people talk to me about the feel of books, they just would rather sit down in front of a fire and hold a book in their hand rather than a kindle or whatever, but they bring back memories of situations, maybe it was a book your mother gave you or it was your grandfather’s book or it was given to you, or you bought it and gave it to someone for a special occasion or something and whenever you see that book you think of that person or it brings to mind something of your past that, it’s just kind of something you want to set on a shelf and brings back memories.”