Stories From a Book Sale

Yesterday I attended the annual book sale of a local church here in Greensboro (NC). It was the second day of the sale, so fairly calm/quiet. In all honesty, I attended the opening of the sale the previous day as well - which was absolutely nuts - overflow parking had me walking several blocks, and once I got into the sale it was elbow-to-rib 'that's-MY-book' crowded.

That said, the first day I was able to find 15 "treasures" to bring home with me - one of which, an Ellis Peters first edition in Near Fine / Good condition, was worth about what I paid for the whole lot. (So yay me).  Most of what I found on the first day, though, were books to fill out collections, and a couple that have been on my reading list (ie: Anne Patchett's Bel Canto).

I went back the second day with my partner (who was, in no way, going to battle the crowds, even for the love of books). Funny thing about book sales of this nature - on the first day, the volunteers are exuberant and helpful - FULL of energy. By the second day, they're less so. And by the time the bag sale rolls around, they are ready to push you out the door and go get a glass of wine (or maybe something stronger - you never know with those church ladies).

Anyway, I was re-perusing the HUGE selection, looking for the books I missed on the first day as I was dodging elbows, boxes, and backsides. To avoid bringing home duplicate titles, I've loaded a large portion of my collection into a Book App on my phone. As soon as I pulled out my phone to confirm a title in my collection, a very loud volunteer moves closer to me and begins a conversation with another patron, so out of the blue that it startled several of us:
Loud woman: You know what I hate... I hate when those people show up with their scanners and start scanning books to see how much they can turn around and sell 'em for.  Just gets my goat.
Patron: (caught a little off guard) Oh. Well (pause) it is how they make their living. 
Loud woman: (got quiet) well... it's just annoying.
Bless that patron. I wanted to ask this woman why she cared so much. These "Scanners" that she so detests are probably the sale's biggest customers. You WANT opportunistic people at your book sale, because it means quick SALES - which is, after all, the goal. This isn't an Independent Book Store wherein those "Scanners" might be competitors - this is a once-a-year book sale, wherein the goal is to sell as many books as possible in a three day period.

Turns out the loud volunteer was also in charge of their "collectible" section. (big "Aahhhh," moment) And, like most book sales, the collectible section had a lot of old, worn books in need of rebinding.  But the prices at this one were on the verge of "you want How much?"  Apparently she went online to and looked up each title. (a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing). Based on those prices, she determined the price of the 'collectible' then printed out the Abebooks Web page to show people how much the book was being sold for elsewhere.  (No doubt the irony was lost on her - since she essentially did the same thing the "Scanners" were doing - trying to show people that the books in her section were more valuable than the prices she'd set.  Well, some of them. maybe.)

Apparently there were a couple of signed John Hart first editions - another volunteer said the price for those had been set at $50 (discounted to $25 on the second day). Prices on ABE are in the $10-$20 range with a couple of exceptions.  Anyway, I tend not to shop the collectible section at sales like these - for two reasons:
  1. I am not as knowledgeable about older books and the many publications / editions that are out there
  2. Most likely, the volunteer that priced these books is not a bookseller, conservator, book grader, or  appraiser. They may love books, but may not have the knowledge or skill to accurately label or price a title. Just because it's old and looks valuable doesn't mean that it actually is valuable.
Anyway, I came away with a few more good titles yesterday, including two signed first editions (not from the collectibles section); One Alan Furst and one Tim Dorsey (the latter, I was surprised to find, being the more valuable).  I also found a John Dunning first (you never see him at book sales), and a nice copy of Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight (another one I've been meaning to read for a while).

All 'n all I spent about $80 and came home with about $400 worth of books.  Certainly a good day.

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