On guessing the value of books

This book should be worth more bsed on the title alone!

Nothing warms a bookseller’s heart more than picking a book out of the “maybe” pile thinking it is only worth a few dollars and then finding that it’s actually worth ten times as much.

I find that this happens to me a lot, especially as I review my personal collection to see if I want to keep, discard or actually sell the books I bought for myself twenty or thirty years ago. Apparently, when buying for my own pleasure, I zeroed in on texts that would eventually be apreciated by others as well. A good example is Newcomb’s Wild Flower Guide, which I wrote about in my blog entry On ruining a perfectly good book.

Soemtimes I get it wrong. I have a copy of Great Mambo Chicken & The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over the Edge, by Ed Regis. (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1990). The title alone should make it collectible. And yet, there are plenty of dollar copies to be had. It’s a piece of non-fiction I would recommend to any science fiction buff. To quote the publisher’s blurb, it “…explores this gray area between overheated imagination and overheated reality, introducing us to a newwork of scientists bent on creating artifical life forms, building time machines, hatching plans for dismantling the sun, enclosing the solar system in a cosmic eggshell, and faxing human minds to the far side of the galaxy.” This book was published more than twenty years ago, and yet it’s still cutting-edge. How could it be so common and dirt cheap?

Sometimes I get it right for just a while. My copy of Show your Horse: Practical Training Advice from a Professional Horseman, by Bob Robinson (St. Louis, Mo.: Saddle and Bridle, 1978) is pristine, which isn’t easy for a paperback more than 30 years old. There was a time when the only copies on line were in the $75 range. Now they range from $10 to $110. This is a book I’m not particularly attached to, so I’ll list it somewhere near the lower end of the range and see what happens. If only I’d listed it sooner, instead of hoarding it like a little treasure! There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Who would have thought people would be willing to pay so much for this little book?

Now I am presented with another suprise treasure, and it meets at least one criterion for a book that might be worth more than first impressions would suggest: it’s thin. At just 53 pages, and a small 5 1/4 by 7 1/2 inches, it really doesn’t look like much. The title is: 101 Plots Used and Abused, by James N. Young. (Boston: The Writer. 1946 Revised edition.) Apparently people really want this book, even in the revised edition, which actually contains 125 plots. Prices start near $100 and go up from there.  This discovery is particularly delightful in that I don’t want this book myself, so I shall have no qualms about listing it.

How soon I get to that task depends on how well I learned the lesson of Show Your Horse!

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Ten years after 9-11

In another post, I tell the story of where I was when I first heard about the attack on the World Trade center.  Today, the 10th anniversary of that event brings it all back, including the emotions. It’s a good day to write poetry.

There is no picture to illustrate this article because the picture I would like to use, The Falling Man, is under copyright. It’s the inspiration of my first cinquain.

THE FALLING MAN
Head-first
Plunge to heaven,
Escaping hell above,
The world turned upside down in an
Instant.

The next two poems, also cinquains, came after watching the President lay a wreath at the memorial in the Shanksville, Pennsylvania field where forty passengers and crew died after foiling the terrorists’ plans to fly the plain into yet another of our iconic landmarks. The President didn’t make a speech, but he spent over an hour just shaking hands, and posing for pictures with the citizens who where there.

FLIGHT 93, TEN YEARS AFTER
Wreath laid,
President turns.
No speeches, just reaches
To families of those who took back
Our skies.

It has never been determined exactly where that fourth plane was headed, but taking out almost anything in Washington, D.C. would have been an even worse wound than the others we suffered that day.

FLIGHT 93, SHANKSVILLE FIELD
Forty
Citizens brought
Terrorists down before
They struck the capital. Simple
Heroes.

Simple poems. Such a small memorial for such a large event.

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Wisconsin the welfare state. In 1869?

Laws of Wisconsin Relating to the Organization and Government of Towns

One of the things I love best about acquiring and selling old books is the wonderful feeling of holding history in my hands. Right now, I’m looking at a battered old book called Laws of Wisconsin Relating to the Organization and Government of Towns, and the Powers and Duties of Town Officers, with Practical Forms, by J.C. Spooner and E.E. Bryant, Counselors-at-Law (Madison, Wis.: Atwood & Rublee, Book and Job Printers. 1869)

It was originally published in wraps (a nice bookseller term for paperback), but my copy was done up in ugly, green, cloth-covered boards some time early in its 142-year history. Both the front and back pastedowns bear the personal library stamp of James McIver, Justice of the Peace, Bay View, Wisconsin. He arrived in Bay View the year this book was published, and he no doubt needed its guidance to inform him of his many duties as Justice of the Peace. He must have made a good one, or was at least well-regarded, because he was elected to the state Assembly in 1874.

The book is filled with laws that seem quaint and old-fashioned today, such as the one that states: Any owner or keeper of any bowling saloon or alleys in this state, who shall allow or in any way permit a minor to play with bowls on such alley or bowling table, for pay or otherwise, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The penalty was a hefty fine of “…not less than twenty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars, and costs of suit….” Based on the average unskilled labor wage, this translates into a fine of between $2,300 and $11,500 in today’s wages.

Wisconsin was apparently serious about preserving the innocence of its youth. One can only imagine what the 1869 Wisconsin legislature would have done with Grand Theft Auto, had it had the chance.

But along side some of the odd old laws are provisions addressing topics that could have come from today’s headlines. I speak “OF THE RELIEF AND SUPPORT OF THE POOR” (Chapter 34).

Section 1. Every town shall relieve and support all poor and indigent persons lawfully settled therein, whenever they shall stand in need thereof.

Of course, nothing is quite that simple. There are rules for determining what a “lawful settlement” is, and there are provisions for charging relatives (in this order: first the father, then the children, then the mother) for the care of paupers, if relatives can be found who have the means.

A Justice of the Peace might well have had to enforce the laws referenced here.

There are provisions for selling the personal property of responsible relatives who have absconded from their responsibilities, and for binding minors into indentured servitude to keep them from becoming charges upon the town.

It was also unlawful to remove or entice paupers from one town to another or to bring them into a Wisconsin town from outside the state with the intent of making such town chargeable for their support.

I find all of this attention to the needs (or the problem) of the poor fascinating to contemplate. It leads to a number of conclusions:

  • The idea that society, in the form of local government, is responsible for the care of its weakest members is not a new one, but — at least in Wisconsin — existed from early in the state’s foundation.
  • The idea that family members should be the first line of defense for those without the means of self-support was an important component of that relief, and could be forced by legal action.
  • No one was allowed to export their poor to another jurisdiction to avoid the responsibility of taking care of them.

This hardly contains all the answers for the sometimes bitter debate over how much “welfare” is too much, but we could do worse than to look back at our own history and realize that we have always accepted some obligation to to support the less fortunate, while at the same time refusing to allow the system to be abused.

That’s the value of books that are pieces of history themselves, rather than works by historians, who must necessarily have some bias from their own time and culture. Books like Laws of Wisconsin are the real thing, growing directly from the soil of their own era and place and giving us an insight that can’t be had when someone else interprets them for us.

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Google and author’s rights

Photo attribution: Quin, Liam: “Pictures of old books” (2003) Click the picture for a link to his site.

The AE Monthly, a newsletter put out by the Americana Exchange, is one of a few on-line publications I read religiously.

Most of the time, I find the articles interesting and educational, but just this once, I’m a little disappointed with the biased opinion expressed in the article. I would leave a comment on line, but I can’t find a way to do that without subscribing to one of their packages, so I’ll vent here.

The article is entitled Google Books Hearing Postponed. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

~~~

The basics are that Google, in its desire to make all the knowledge of the world available on line in its own databases, has decided that the importance of its mission outweighs its need to obey US copyright law.

Google is having trouble with Title 17 of the US code, specifically Chapter 3, Duration of Copyright. In a nutshell, works created after January 1, 1978 are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. For works created before January 1, 1978, a number of different factors come into play, all of which are summarized quite nicely on a page maintained by Cornell University: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States. The bottom line is that the only works securely in the public domain are those published before 1923.

As Google (and AE Monthly) see it, there are plenty of works published after 1923 which are out of print, and therefore unavailable to people who might benefit from the knowledge contained therein. What’s more, many of those books are what Google characterizes as “orphaned works,” meaning that they can’t find the author to ask for permission.

Not that they seem to try all that hard. AE Monthly received a “letter to the editor” from a certain William J. Chamberlin, who I believe to be the author of Catalogue of English Bible Translations: A Classified Bibliography of Versions and Editions Including Books, Parts, and Old and New Testament Apocrypha and Approcryphal Works (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991). He states that his still in-print book, currently priced near $300 a copy, was being offered 50 pages at a time by Google, and has somehow been made available on the Kindle as well, all without his knowledge or permission. (Or, by the way, any payment to him.)

While that appears to be a slightly different issue than the older, out of print works, it does go to show that Google, whatever its stated intentions may be, apparently feels author’s rights are secondary to its desire to be the online everything source.

Fortunately (more or less) for authors, who may not have much clout individually, the Association of American Publishers is larger, more organized, and can afford good lawyers. They sued Google and were quickly followed by the Author’s Guild, which represents more than 8,000 authors. The Author’s Guild has provided an extensive list of the pertinent documents and key dates in the suit and subsequent settlement.

This settlement includes a description of revenue models that include: print on demand (POD), file downloads, advertising sales and consumer subscriptions. Revenues would be split 33% to Google and 67% to a fund that might someday make payouts to the rights holders. Authors and their representatives were apparently opted in automatically, and were required to opt out if they didn’t want to be part of the scheme.

It is amazing to me that Google, The Association of American Publishers, and the Author’s Guild think an agreement that divvies up revenues from this commercial venture (revenues that rightly belong to authors who never gave their consent) will trump copyright law.

Enter Judge Denny Chin, the federal judge in New York who struck down the settlement. His opinion is 48 pages long, but well worth reading. He cites a number of objections to the agreement, but the primary one seems to be the same one that’s bothered me all along. A civil contract cannot trump congressional law to removing the rights of individual authors. The judge suggested that the parties renegotiate and come back with a scheme that required opt in rather than opt out.

To which reasonable and lawful request the AE Monthly says: The authors and publishers weren’t making any money off of these old books anyway, the objectors for the most part are happy to kill any deal, and this is hardly the biggest kettle of fish on Google’s table. The only real losers will be the public. Sorry, loser.

AE Monthly, I would like to point out that there are a few thousand used and out of print booksellers that would be happy to make those books available to the public the old fashioned, legal way: by finding them, preserving them, and offering them for sale to our customers. (Who would probably rather hold a “real” book in their hands anyway.)

 

Posted in Book selling, Opinion Pieces | Tagged , | 3 Comments

On ruining a perfectly good book

Costing a whopping $8.95 in 1977.

Bad things happen to good books. See my post on Spine perished – a summer project, for example. Granted, “spine perished” is an extreme case. More commonly, a book will get dropped, or get wet, or the jacket will be torn by careless handling. All of those are unfortunate accidents.

What adds insult to injury is when the damage is deliberate.  I hate opening a book and finding annotations (in ink) other than ones made by Abraham Lincoln or someone equally famous. Even worse than annotations are yellow highlights, and even worse than yellow highlights are deep pink or purple highlights. Even worse than all of that, however, is when I’ve made those marks myself.

Before I became a bookseller and adopted the mantra that books are for the ages, and the fewer traces left by previous owners the better, I had a somewhat different attitude. I felt that books were made to be used, and the more useful the book, the more likely it was to have gathered highlights and annotations from me.

That’s exactly what happened with Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide: An Ingenious New Key System for Quick, Positive Field Identification of the Wildflowers, Flowering Shrubs and Vines of Northeastern and North-central North America, by Lawrence Newcomb, Illustrated by Gordon Morrison. (Litttle, Brown and Company: Boston. 1977.)

Oxeye Daisies. They look happy to be there.

One summer thirty years ago, I made it my project to identify every wildflower (weed) I came upon from the first white clovers of spring to the final asters and goldenrods of fall. I lived in the middle of the city then, but even so, I discovered that weeds came by their hardy reputation honestly, bursting through any available crack in the sidewalk, hugging the sides of buildings out of the lawnmower’s reach, and colonizing vacant lots in between mandated city mowings.

Every time I used my book to identify a new plant, I would highlight the name (in purple!) and notate the date and location in the margin (in black ink).

I recently decided to take up this fine hobby again, with a slightly different twist. I put my digital camera in a fanny pack, and tossed Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, which was too big to join the camera, into a plastic grocery bag to protect it from the drizzle, and went adventuring for new finds.

Sulpher Cinquefoil

And I did find something new (to me). A cinquefoil. Apparently there are a number of types, and I couldn’t distinguish the common from the sulpher, so I plucked a stem and put it between the pages of the book for further research, thus adding to my sins against this fine little book. But I felt justified when it turned out that the color of the underside of the leaf was the determining factor between the two. I had found a sulpher cinquefoil (potentilla recta).

After this adventure, naturally, the book stayed out on my desk for a few days, and almost idly, I decided to look up its value. Imagine my heart attack when I saw paperbacks (mine is a hard cover) in three figures, and hardcover first editions in the $600 range. Granted, my book is a third printing, but it would probably fall somewhere between the two, except for the crimes against its condition committed in my profligate youth.

There isn’t really any moral to this story, unless it’s that we get smarter (or at least more knowledgeable) as we get older. On the other hand, I flip through the book and see a pink highlight on the words “Yellow Goatsbeard” and the annotation “Field 6-6-81″ in the margin. And I smile, remembering the tiny house I lived in, the neighborhood I walked in, the dog that ran ahead of me on our jaunts, the friends, the neighbors, the family that surrounded me in that different town in that earlier time.

And I realize that it doesn’t matter what the book would be worth if I hadn’t “ruined” it, because I wouldn’t sell it anyway.

Posted in Book collecting, Book selling, The books I keep | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Roses are red, violets are blue…

Every once in a while (not often enough), I go through my shelves and identify those books in my personal library that I haven’t looked at in years and am unlikely to ever read again, either because my interests have irrevocably turned, or because the information they contain is more readily accessible on the internet. When I find one, depending on its value, I either convert it to stock and offer it on my website, or I  donate it.

Occasionally I find a book that appears to meet both of my deaccession criteria, but I keep it anyway. The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary by Frances Stillman (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1965) is such a one. The RhymeZone does a credible (note: not incredible) job of substituting for its “rhyming dictionary”. As for the rest of its content, poetry-writing websites, offering a full education in rhyme, meter, stanza  and the various known forms that meld them, litter the internet. But I shall keep my book.

I have mixed emotions about poetry. Back in the day, I was a regular in WritingWest, the writer’s chat room that briefly lived on MSN (the Microsoft Network) when it was trying to supplant AOL as anyman’s interface to the internet. We had wonderful times there, mostly chatting, occasionally writing. We didn’t actually chat much about writing, but we decided that since all of life’s experiences were fodder for the writer, any topic could be justified.

Almost everyone in our little chat group tried writing poetry. The price of admission wasn’t high, and once free verse was understood to mean “no rules”, there didn’t seem to be any wrong way to do it.  We did have a few really good word crafters, but most of the verse was of the quality that you would expect from people who drafted a few lines in between reading emails and downloading meatloaf recipes. I believe it was significant that most of the poets in our group were far more willing to write and share their own verses than to read anyone else’s.

I can’t say that I was much different. I had taken to heart Robert Frost’s admonition that writing free verse was “like playing tennis without a net”, and I did tend toward poems that were more structured. I also didn’t care much for the melancholy stuff, mine or anyone else’s, and happily left the poems about misunderstood love, depression, and death to others. The YA’s (young adults) in our group rushed to fill that gap. Bless them. I would not be a teenager again for any amount of money.

But with free verse out, and deep subjects mostly eschewed, that left me with … what? With all the many forms presented to me in the Poet’s Manual.  I wrote a few sonnets, a few ballads, a few of a great many of the poems described. But my favorite turned out to be the cinquain (pronounced SIN’ kane), a short, counted syllble form created by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914).

A cinquain consists of five lines of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables, in that order. They are usually, although not always, in iambic meter. There are some forms that use the title as the first line, but that was not Miss Crapsey’s vision of the form she invented. She always titled hers in addition to the five lines, and I agree with her.

I like cinquains because their brevity forces a haiku-like sense of focus, and it’s also possible to finish one soon after it’s started. That could be why cinquains seem to have become a favorite exercise of elementary school teachers, and ESL teachers. The purist in me is unhappy, however, with the fact that neither of the teaching exercises I’ve cited perfectly preserves the most basic element of the cinquain, the syllable count.

A far better resource is cinquain.org, launched in 2005 as a master’s thesis project for  Aaron Toleos, then a graduate student at Salem State College. Here you will find not only all 28 of Adelaide Crapsey’s original cinquains, but an analysis of the form, a summary of her major life events, and references to additional resources. If the cinquain form intrigues you, cinquain.org belongs on your favorite bookmarks list.

Every once in a while, often after stumbling across the Poet’s Manual again, I draft a new poem. The example below is a recent attempt:

SPRING MAGIC
Trees turn
New leaves into
The sun, and then, Presto
Chango!, they turn the sun into
New leaves.

That was so fun, I may do it again. And that’s why the Poet’s Manual won’t be leaving my shelves any time soon.

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A cartoonist in wartime – WWII editorial cartoons

'41 and '42: Cartoons by Shoemaker (Chicago: Chicago Daily News. 1942)

On a beautiful Midwest autumn morning, with sparse cotton candy clouds dotting a deep blue sky, I was walking across the parking lot toward my ten-story office building when a co-worker got out of her car and said there was a story on the radio about a plane that might have flown into a building in New York. Thirty-eight years after an assassin created the most unforgettable moment of a previous generation, Where were you when Kennedy was shot?, we had another event indelibly imprinted on our consciousness and would forever after be able to answer the question: Where were you when you heard about the attack on the World Trade Center?

On that day, and the ones that followed, I experienced the gut churning sorrow, anger and determination behind every rallying cry I had learned from my history books. “Remember the Alamo.” “Remember the Maine.” I would never have imagined, having seen nothing but dirty tricks and bickering between the politicians of the two parties for most of my life, that the country could come together so quickly and unanimously, but we did. In a matter of hours, not even days, there was “no daylight between us” in our response to the attack. My generation rallied around and will forever “Remember the twin towers.”

For my parent’s generation, it was “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

PEARLS OF GREAT PRICE. America after Pearl Harbor

My mother was a teenager during World War II. I remember her telling me how bitterly divided the country was about whether or not America should involve itself in that foreign war. There were isolationists that thought we should just mind our own business and let the warring factions sort it out for themselves, and there were those who felt that if we didn’t intervene at the time and place of our own choosing, the war would come to us anyway and find us unprepared, with our potential allies already defeated.

As it turned out, that second group was closer to the mark. In my mother’s recollection, all of the arguments against going to war vanished overnight after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The country was one in its resolve.

The book, ’41 and ’42 A.D.: Cartoons by Shoemaker (Chicago: Chicago Daily News, 1942), bridges the time between America’s vacillation and our commitment to join the allies and defeat the Axis powers in World War II. It is a book of editorial cartoons which were published in the Chicago Daily News for the years mentioned, and it provides a fascinating lens through which to view America’s debate on whether or not to go to war, and the sacrifices that would be needed to win it.

WE MUST WIN. The first draft registration for World War II was held September 16, 1940 for all men between 21 and 36 years of age. This may be a commentary on a new draft round bringing in younger men.

Unfortunately, very few of the cartoons indicate a publication date, and they do not appear to be arranged chronologically, so there is less continuity than might be wished. Still, the subject matter is informative. There are cartoons warning against isolationism, against the treachery of Japan (published months before Pearl Harbor), and against hoarding. There are cartoon commentaries on the need for sacrifice, for a return to the God of our forefathers, and for the income tax. There are exhortations on buying war bonds, collecting scrap, and turning the industrial might of the United States toward producing aid for embattled Europe.

These picture editorials are snapshots of America’s struggles of conscience and debates on the need to, and the best way to, confront the Nazi menace. Though the times were perilous, the cartoons are, throughout, optimistic. Even as Europe is sketched in dark and dreary lines, its people suffering and starving, there is a sense that once America gets into the picture,  relief is inevitable. That optimism was so strong that the last printed page of the book, which was published in 1942, consists only of a large “V” painted above a brush and ink pot labeled 1943, though in fact, the war did not end until 1945.

Everything old is new again. Having lived through the 21st century version of an America shocked into war by an unprovoked and immoral attack on our innocent citizens, this book’s commentary, written more than half a century ago, takes on new meaning and poignancy against the backdrop of current history in the making.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a good day to “Remember to remember.”

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St. Thomas Aquinas church history – I wasn’t even looking

I have always loved the word serendipity. For one thing, it’s fun to pronounce, being a kind of combination of serene and zip-a-dee (as in do dah!); it combines a happy sense of well being with a frisson of excitement. But more than the word, I love the phenomenon of finding something valuable or agreeable that I wasn’t even looking for.

So it was with the Golden Jubilee Book of Monsignor Edward J. Blackwell With a Sketch of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Milwaukee, by the Rev. Peter Leo Johnson, D.D., 1937. I do keep an eye on eBay for books in my specialty area of Milwaukee history, but I don’t generally purchase parish histories. I have no reason for avoiding them except that they usually seem to be priced at about what I think I could sell them for, and I have to at least pretend that I’m trying to make a profit at this bookselling stuff.

However, this book was listed several times, at a diminishing price every time, and I finally “bit.” I bid, I won, I paid, and in due course, the the package arrived. I was, as is often the case, disapointed to see that the seller’s “very good” was my “good”, but the book is scarce, the content desirable, and I think it will sell, so oh well.

As I examined the book more closely, I found that the name of the “jubilant” Rev. Blackwell looked familiar but it took me some time to place it. I finally found it on a copy of my grandmother’s marriage certificate. On the 17th of April in 1917, the Rev. Blackwell joined my ancestors in holy matrimony. My grandparents’ nuptials were among the 1,416 marriages performed at St. Thomas Aquinas parish by 1937.

This was not only interesting, but a genealogical tidbit that was new to me, since my grandparents’ place of marriage had been recorded by a genealogist as St. Thomas, rather than St. Thomas Aquinas. It also was interesting because I knew that my grandmother had worked in Milwaukee as a maid before her marriage, and the location of the parish would give me some idea of where in the city she might have worked.

St. Thomas Aquinas parish was established by the Rev. Blackwell in 1900 to serve the English speaking Catholics in northwest Milwaukee, and it made it almost to the century mark. But in 1994, it was merged with five other parishes to form All Saints congregation. Wherever the church building had been, it was no longer easily Googled. However, I was able to find a reference to the parish in an old obituary from 1950, which gave an address: 35th St. and Brown Ave.

A quick tour with Google street view confirms that the building still present on the corner of 35th and Brown, though minus its cross on top, is unmistakably the same as that pictured in the 1937 Golden Jubilee book.

St. Thomas Aquinas was an almost new church when my grandparents were married there. A look at the picture in the book provides  a view of the main aisle as they must have seen it on their wedding day.

The aisle is long and majestic, and I imagine my grandmother as a young bride, walking down toward her husband to be, on her father’s arm, past the pews filled with family and friends. Perhaps she was thrilled, perhaps scared, probably a little of both.  And now I can join her, in my imagination, through the serendipitous discovery of this little book that I almost didn’t buy.

~~~

I don’t sell all of the books I write about, but if I have any books for sale of the kind that inspired this article, they would be found here, in my History – Milwaukee and surrounds category.
Posted in Book selling, Genealogy, Milwaukee history | Tagged | 3 Comments

Spine perished, a summer project

Spine perished!

One of the most popular pages on my website is the one that describes remainder marks, although almost all the pages in my Illustrated Collecting Terms section get a lot of hits. Book buyers do care.

They understand, at least after their first few misadventures, that many unfortunate things can happen to books in the course of their lives, and book sellers spend a lot of time figuring out how to describe those things. The challenge is to be accurate without dwelling on the flaws any more than necessary.

Take my example book. In case you were uncertain, you are looking at the spine side of the book. If I were describing it, I would probably say: “Spine and all paper joints are gone, so that each leaf is separate and unattached. ” At least that’s how I would have described it before finding the perfect two-word description in the catalog of an antiquarian book dealer (I wish I could remember who). It said simply, “spine perished.” It’s lovely, short, and tells it all.

Well, it tells everything but what possessed me to purchase it in the first place. The book is Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings Around Lake Superior, by J.G. Kohl. It is the first English edition, published by Chapman and Hall, London, in 1860. (An 1859 edition in German preceded it.) First English editions of this book start in the mid three figures and finish in the lower four. Mine is worth considerably less, since it’s falling apart.

But Kohl’s account of the Ojibway of the Lake Superior region is considered to be one of the most objective, sympathetic and unbiased early accounts. He didn’t want to convert the Indians, or subdue them. He was simply fascinated by their culture.

I thought it would be interesting.

And I thought I might try to reattach the pages to each other, and stitch them together, possibly turning it over to a bookbinder to make a cover, if I got that far. Long, tedious projects have never intimidated me, and one beauty of this book (I believe) is that I could hardly make it worth less.

So Kitchi-Gami is my summer project. I will attempt the slow and careful mending of some 428 pages and a 32 page advertising supplement, and then we’ll see. If nothing else, I will be able to read it without losing more material to the chipping on the spine; in the best case, I will have added significant value to my bargain purchase.

And until then, I’ve got a new picture of a book defect that puts a mere remainder mark to shame.

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Judging Saddle Horses and Roadsters

Judging Saddle Horses and Roadsters with a shiny mylar dust jacket protector

I purchased my first copy of James Barly’s only book, Judging Saddle Horses and Roadsters (privately printed, 1945),  in the Renaissance Book Shop, a fantastic four story warehouse full of books in downtown Milwaukee. Unlike so many of its ilk, Renaissance is still there, and apparently still thriving, with a branch at the airport of all places, even without a website to call its own.

But I digress. It is my misfortune that Mr. Barly seems to have lived almost completely in the copyright-protected era, and there is little to find about him in on-line searches. I did have some success, however, in searching the archives of the Milwaukee Journal (apparently not indexed by Google except internally), which reveals him to be a Milwaukee attorney who frequently represented government entities.  He was also the manager of the Wisconsin state fair horse show in August, 1940.

Joseph Barly - family photo, used with permission

I did better on Ancestry.com, where his great-grand niece, Christine Allswede, has cataloged the most important milestones of his life.

Joseph Anthony Barly was born in Menominee, Michigan on 9 Mar 1895. He died in Miami, Florida on either 15 Jan 1988 or 22 Jan 1988, depending on whether you believe the Social Security Death Index or the Florida Death Index respectively.

The 1910 federal census has him living, at age 15, with his parents in Michigan, but by the time of his 1917 draft registration, he had taken up residence in Milwaukee, where he worked as an automobile mechanic. He served 2 1/2 years in WWI in the Thirty-second and Second Divisions, Engineers and was mustered out as a first lieutenant in 1919.

He married Ceil Ann Sterling on 2 Jul 1922 and graduated from Marquette University of Law in 1923, after which he was admitted to the Milwaukee and Wisconsin bar associations that same year. He continued to live and practice in Milwaukee, probably until his retirement to Florida in 1964.

But those are the dry facts. Christine has given me permission to quote her correspondence with me:

I only knew Joseph as the encourager. We shared a passion for horses and he always cheered me on in my riding career through our many correspondences. I wish I had kept his letters, but I still have the song he wrote for me. His true passions in his life were his wife, family, horses, and writing music. While living a modest life in his older years, he used his wealth to build several churches in India, two of which are named after his wife and mother.

And in 1945, he wrote and privately published Judging Saddle Horses and Roadsters, a labor of love that is surely one of the high points in any Saddlebred enthusiast’s collection.  He renewed the copyright in 1973, which means the book won’t be in the public domain for a long, long time.

That’s OK. It’s scarce enough to give the collector a thrill when found, and common enough that the diligent and patient searcher will eventually find an affordable copy.  I have been privilaged to have found and cataloged a number of copies now, and if you are contemplating adding this worthy book to your collection, you might be interested in a few of the common flaws.

  • This book was issued with a jacket, although the jacket seldom survives. I actually thought it might have been issued without a jacket until I found one on my fourth or fifth copy.
  • The original color of the book was a dark maroon, with the title in gilt on the front cover and nothing printed on the spine. Many copies have faded to brown, and may be so faded that the observer isn’t sure whether a spine title was once present and has worn off, but there was never a spine title to begin with.
  • End papers have a tendency toward discoloration, and there may be some tanning of the text pages as well. If these are the only flaws, don’t pass the book up, because you may not find a better copy.

What makes this book so special? Joan Gilbert, in her article Paths of Glory Lead Where ? on the Horse Show Central site summarizes the content quite nicely, along with some philosophical meanderings on the fickleness of fate in obscuring the histories of even the worthiest subjects. I won’t retread her ground, but I will say that for me, it’s a combination of things.

First, the book was written by a Milwaukee resident and published in Milwaukee, and I have an affinity for unique things produced by my home town. Second, I am fascinated by privately published books in general, and I admire anyone who takes the time to craft and publish a good one. Third, I’m a Saddlebred lover from way back, and this book offers a fascinating insight into what it takes to present a winning show horse.

Christine writes: [Joseph] would be so pleased to know people were still interested in his book. More than 30 years after I found my first copy, I have to say, “Yes we are!”.

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I don’t sell all of the books I write about, but if I have any books for sale of the kind that inspired this article, they would be found here, in my Horses – Breeds and breeding category. I actually have several categories of horse books. Links to all of them can be found on the Categories page.
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