“Do you have any old books? I need a gift for my fiancee.” That was one of the stranger requests that we’ve received at Booksavers of Virginia. The customer told us his fiancee just liked old books and he wasn’t sure if she liked more than the look of them. That solved a problem for us. I was working on a Luther Bible in German script without a title page, probably from the eighteenth century. I had not been able to identify any distinguishing features of the Bible to permit us to list the Bible on Amazon. The book was about three inches thick, by six wide by nine long. The leather cover was well-preserved with five raised bands on the spine. There was only limited foxing (brown spots) on the pages. When the groom-to-be saw the Bible on the shelf in its warm brown leather binding with only “attractive” wear, he was sure that his fiancee would be happy with the gift. (I don’t remember the price, but it was more than $50).
Booksavers of Virginia is part of Gift & Thrift of Virginia. We are part of the Mennonite Central Committee network of stores that raise funds for famine and disaster relief and for development work, mostly overseas. Most of the books, DVDs, and CDs posted to Amazon fall in the seven to fifteen dollar range. Many have UPCs and ISBNs and are easily identified. My work is with the items that do not have these numbers and often requires a good bit of research. All of the items mentioned above are donated. Those not posted on Amazon may be displayed for sale in the retail store. Books and magazines not sold are sold to paper recyclers.
Another old book I worked on was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century Bible with local newspaper clippings of births and deaths. It had no title page and was destined for recycling. The manager said, “Let’s put it on the [in store] silent auction. Maybe someone will want it for the local information.” Result: $90. In the electronic age I am amazed that we still receive books for which I cannot find electronic records. Recently I process an autobiography of a pilot who had lived just down the road (north) the road in Basye, Va. He had piloted private planes for famous personalities in film, sports and politics. None of the standard book sources or variations of Google searches turned up a record of the book.
Due to several retirement villages in the area, plus three higher education institutions and numerous immigrants, we receive donations of many non-English language items. I’ve discovered you can find Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people in Farsi, that there is a language called Catalan (formerly thought a Spanish dialect) and that a 1986 book in Russian published in Azerbaijan is barely understandable by a young (Russian speaking) Ukrainian. When a cookbook in a southeast Asian language (I thought) arrived, none of us could find anything in the book to determine its origins. So, I took it to a Laotian restaurant to ask for help. When the cook looked at it, she said, “Oh, yes, this is Laotian country cooking”. (I remembered seeing French words in a menu in an upscale Laotian restaurant, so I guessed I knew what she meant.) Then she said, “How much do you want for the book?” I admitted I had no idea of its value. I told her the book was to be sold for disaster and famine relief, including funding for refugee camps in Southeast Asia. We agreed on $10 or $15, I believe. Five years or so later, she bought another Laotian cookbook.
Bunyan’s Holy War in German script? Photos from a famous nightclub in New York in the late thirties? A compendium on the fur trade in North America? All these and more have come through Booksavers and valued at $500 or more. The photo album sold for $1200. A devotional book from the eighteenth century may have been worth more. It contained an 1742 Luther Bible, a shorter catechism, an early devotional work and a special Psalter. These were specially bound together in leather with an intact metal clasp. We were unable to get full value for the volume because of the difficulty of describing the different parts. Value is not always measured in dollars. The manager fielded a call from Texas about a cookbook. The caller asked about particular pages and recipes. Then they ordered the book, saying their copy of the cookbook was lost in a flood and they valued the recipes it contained.