February 16, 2023


By Jane Liddle

 Seems I bring home at least one valuable yet disappointing book from every book sale. Usually its a vintage paperback that disintegrates in my hands when I deign to open it. This happened a lot after the Relay Bookhouse liquidation sale, a rare and used bookstore. I could tell that the store got away from the owner a bit. What I didn’t notice until after I filled four bags were the many water stains on the drop ceiling. I did source some good books, but many of the vintage paperbacks self-destructed when I took them out of their polyurethane bags like letters written to Inspector Gadget. This included some very cool 1950s Bantams: Great Gatsby, Member of the Wedding, The Loved One. That’s the risk with old paperbacks. None of these had big money-making potential, but would have filled out my booth at the Newburgh Vintage Emporium Warehouse.

               Recently I’ve been discouraged by the smell emanating from a copy of Isabelle’s Eberhardt The Oblivion Seekers. I didn’t know what I had when I bought it, but I saw that it was a woman author, translated by Paul Bowles, put out by Peter Owen. What could go wrong? Turns out Eberhardt has a bit of a cult following and I could resell the book between $30 and $50. Except it smelled musty. Really musty. With some warping. I put it in a cardboard box surrounded by baking soda in a plastic bin and enclosed it in its deodorizing tomb for months. When I resurrected the book it was no less stinky. So I read it, loved it, but now what? Throw it out? Put it in a plastic ziploc forever?

               The biggest heartbreak award goes to my first edition of Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. I bought this book at one of those estate sales that looks promising until you start pulling the books off the shelves and notice each one is damaged. This included a Rosamond Lehmann albatross that split in half. I whimpered. Back at home I went through my haul, and I almost threw the Smart out immediately. The jacket was ripped and filthy and the boards were water-stained and browned. It looked gross. But I had a feeling, researched it, found that it was one of 2000 copies printed, read about how it was a seminal work of autofiction about an affair and a pregnancy that scandalized Smart’s mother so much she bought and burned every copy she could find. The book was worth hundreds of dollars, or would have been if it wasn’t disgusting. I couldn’t sell it with a good conscience. Oh well, that means I get to read it. I put mylar on what was left of the jacket and placed it next to my ratty Salinger. At least it doesn’t smell.

               There have been others. The first U.S. edition of Virginia Woolf’s the Years with the pasted down jacket, signed JT Elroy with a water stain along the top text block. The owner of Forked Road Press calls these “bookseller copies,” valuable books in horrible condition that we can’t sell but can’t bear to throw away. My Elizabeth Smart book is the quintessential bookseller copy, as it sits on my shelf, not at all presentable, but surviving nonetheless.

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