TONS OF BOOKS
[TWO More Tales by DAVID]
LAWRIE MERZ shared cataloguing responsibilities with me at Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts from its founding until she left in 1988 to return to the more tranquil life of a librarian.
The lot's description had been an example of that era's Christieís SK cataloguing concision: It gave author, title, place, date, and condition statement for four books followed by the banal phrase, "and a quantity of others, similar." Our bid having been predicated on the four items specifically identified, we figured the "others, similar" would be "just a little gravy." It came as a bit of a surprise! to receive a telephone call from our London shipper that went something like this:
"David, about that lot of books at Christieís. Well I went there with my van, but you didnít tell me that I should have taken the big lorry."
To which I replied, "I donít understand. What do you mean?"
"Well, David, there are at least a ton of books."
"You mean, there are a lot of them?"
"David, I mean there are a lot of them; enough to weigh at least a ton."
I didnít press and inquire if he meant a long or a short ton. I'd gotten the impression, finally. The "and a quantity of others" didnít mean a "tea chest" worth.
We made revised arrangements with our shipper and okayed the costs, and soon he notified us which ship would be carrying the books from England to Philadelphia. It was the only time in our lives that Cynthy and I read this column in The Philadelphia Inquirer:
In preparation for the shipís arrival I had contacted a customs broker and within two days of the shipís docking, the broker had cleared our books and the trucking firm had them. The truck showed up here ó totally unannounced.
It was 10 a.m., Cynthy was still teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and in class, and Lawrie had the day off. I was alone and the ton of books was "tail gate delivery." This meant the truck was parked outside the shop, entirely blocking our little street, and the driver merely put the boxes at its "tail gate" . . . from which . . .
. . . I had to lift them off, carry them over to the shop, up the steps, and into the building. Moving a ton of books in a half an hour was a bit of work. But I was a 30-something and not as smart as I am now (or even as smart as I was at the end of that 30 minutes).
Now, I would round up some of the neighborhood kids who were ditching school for the day.
The boxes of music filled all available wall space in several corridors for quite a while. But Lawrie was in heaven, with hundreds of books and scores and pieces of important pamphlet material to work on. It kept her happy up until she felt the tug of academic librarianship to be irresistible.
The NEXT time a ton of books fell on
The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company
Cynthy and I stood under the avalanche
on purpose ó with our eyes open.
It happened this way. . . .
George Allen, the owner of William H. Allen, Bookseller, in center city Philadelphia, called to say he had just returned from the home of the late Elizabeth Easby, the noted Mayanist and museum curator. That's a book she wrote, at right, a good one. He told of how her heirs were anxious to clear the house that she and Dudley Easby, her equally scholarly husband, had lived in because it was to be sold almost immediately. Her library, their library, really, was out of scope for Allenís, he said. Did we want to buy it?
Cynthy and I called and spoke with the niece who was in charge of clearing the house and arranged to visit the next day to look things over.
The first things I saw that I wanted to buy were two "cels" from Fantasia that were signed by Walt Disney!
Somewhat disappointed, I knuckled down to looking at the books. And soon I was not unhappy! They were in every room on every floor, even in the basement.
We were presented with another purchase where the weight would be more than a ton ó but this time we were to have a chance to say "no."
Unfortunately they were not for sale. They had been willed to a niece and nephew . . .
Cynthia and I discussed (read "debated" )
making the purchase.
At the time the firm consisted only of me, Cynthia, and a recent new hiree, JENNIFER WARD, our "do everything" assistant. Cynthy was skeptical because the cataloguing of the Easbys' assemblage would take several multi-person-full-time years!
CB: " Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaarrrrsss!"
Convinced, though, that I could sell the library as a collection with no cataloguing I explained my scheme ó and, though still skeptical, she acquiesced to the insanity of my plan. We spent two days packing up everything except six or seven boxes worth of stuff that was out of scope for us, as the bulk had been for Allen's, and we gave those books to a new bookseller who needed inventory. Especially inventory that was gratis.
Since I donít have a driverís license (another story, to be told later, maybe), it was up to Cynthy to rent a large! truck and to navigate it through the narrow streets of center city Philadelphia to the house.
Sitting in the truck mulling this over, I remembered my earlier, "tail gate" lesson of how to sensibly move a ton of books from the curb into the shop. Hire someone else to do it. And as luck would have it, two young men who lived on the street were out playing at catching a football. I asked if they would like to earn five dollars apiece for unloading our truck (well, it WAS a while ago).
She did a phenomenal job, but by the time we had the truck loaded and the house empty, we were exhausted and angry at each other. We were not working well together on this adventure.
Physically tired and hungry as well as cranky, as we pulled away from the Easby house, we yet had a residue of good sense sufficient to stop at a favorite restaurant for nourishment. This meant that by the time we got back to the shop it was already around 8 p.m. And our 40 -something muscles were telling us we were 40-somethings, and that perhaps we had bought more books than was sensible.
They readily agreed and in less than 15 minutes the van was empty, while the floor of "the middle" room of the first floor was covered with a layer of boxes three high.
One of the book luggers was full of questions. This was DEREK PLATTOWSKI. Cynthy gave him the basics of the business: Have customers, buy books, and sell books to customers. But he wanted more than the basics: Whose books had these been, what kinds of books were they, what were old
books actually worth? What was our oldest book, our most valuable book? Was selling books anything like trading in sports cards? Where were these books going to be going? It soon came out that Derek was sharp ó and that if we wanted a part-time employee, he was available. How fortuitous! ó for in order to sell the collection, I sure as heck could use a part-time helper! My "no cataloguing" plan to sell the books en bloc would need someone to photocopy all their title-pages . . . better that Derek do this than Cynthy, me, or Jennifer.
Derek did an excellent job of getting the title-page images attractively centered on the copies and he didnít damage a single book in doing the task.
Then it developed that he had other talents, including the ability to WRAP
books that would, as an impressed customer later wrote, "withstand a nuclear
blast at ground zero."
Click his picture, to read an ODE written
on this subject.
Derek quickly became a full-time employee.
And yes, the scheme of selling the Easby books en bloc by sending the copies of the title-pages to a serious collector worked as I had hoped and prayed. Since we had Derek working full time by then it fell to him to wrap the books and to ship them using the newly instituted "hundred weight" program that UPS had created.
In 1996 "books by the ton" were to befall
us again. But that is another adventure to be told at another time.
We think all our "illustration" falls within fair use here. But ó the Disney "cels" of course are Disney's, the Budget truck is Budget's, the "mumbly-peg boys" are from a book called Hometown U.S.A. (American Heritage Publishing Co., 1975), and the "Not Speaking" cartoon is from an old New Yorker.
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