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April 8, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

One woman’s gamble on a £14 box of books has resulted in the discovery and sale of a lucrative, rare first edition of his classic novel Crime and Punishment. [The Guardian] “I didn’t really take much notice of this box, I didn’t have much time, and just wrote down £20 as my maximum bid – it was just a box of general books, I did’t think there was anything particularly exciting,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I didn’t even spot this book, and even if I had I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice – editions of classic novels turn up in auction job lots all the time, and are generally only worth giving to Oxfam.”
posted by Fizz (31 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have a 110 year old Shakespeare Folio published by Collins that I picked up for $10 at a used book store that was buried in a box of poetry that I was rummaging through.

It's the oldest book I own and it's my favourite thing. Has the thinnest paper I've ever handled.
posted by Fizz at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

In a used book store in Asheville, I picked up an old sci-fi magazine essentially at random and bought it for $2. It happened to be the March 1967 edition of If, which as it turns out was the first publication of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Not quite worth £13,500 though!
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:23 PM on April 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've gotten lucky a few times rootling around in boxes of dusty junk books:

Pretty well-preserved first ed. of Go Down, Moses
First American Ed/Printings of 4 out of the 7 Harry Potter books.
A local library gutted their historical collection, which yielded some cool books of early maps of Southern California but also a crumbling first edition of Innocents Abroad, all marred with PL markings and punches and stains and basically dust in a nice archival box, but a first of Twain's first nonetheless!

There was one I'm having some trouble recalling the title of, but it was a gigantic folio-sized book of a hundred or so prints of botanical paintings from a Shakespeare Garden. I wanted to keep it for myself and sneak it away, but couldn't bring myself to let that one slide and showed it to the bookstore proprietor, who was only too happy to immediately sell it for several thousand dollars. =(
posted by carsonb at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2017

It happened to be the March 1967 edition of If, which as it turns out was the first publication of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.

I once went to a book signing of Ellison's and presented to him a book that he held up, shocked!, and said, "How much do you want for it?!" It was a book of his own that he did not have a copy of and hadn't seen in 25 years. It was very weird.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 12:39 PM on April 8, 2017 [26 favorites]

did you sell it to ellison?
posted by lescour at 12:44 PM on April 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

He kept insisting I take something from his table of rare first editions but I already had them all. It was a 2-day event with a 2-book limit so I offered to give him the book for free under the condition he'd sign whatever books I brought him the next day and he agreed, so I have signed first editions and paperbacks of every Ellison book up to that point (1988 or so I believe), including foreign editions and magazines with his stories in them. I also had two of the one he wanted which stunned him.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:06 PM on April 8, 2017 [67 favorites]

My uncle has a used book business-- he buys excess donated books from charities and resells them on Amazon. I worked there for a year or so, going through the books that were too old to have an ISBN, and had to be looked up by hand. Anything worth under I think $30 or $40, I could buy from him by weight and resell on my own. I hardly ever found anything worth more than $50.

The best thing I ever found there was a tiny little brown book wrapped in vellum, with We Remember Joe in gold script on it. It turned out to have been published by the Kennedy family for Joe Kennedy's funeral, and edited by JFK, and it was worth something like $1800. I brought it to the bookstore manager and told him what it was, and he pulled out his wallet and gave me $100 on the spot for a finder's fee.

(other highlights I can remember: a 1904 Midsummer Night's Dream with Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, a first edition Dorothy Sayers mystery, a book about Joe DiMaggio from the 50s that we thought was autographed until I looked up Joe DiMaggio's signature and discovered that some kid had definitely been lied to.)
posted by nonasuch at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

On the other side of this thing, I've definitely seen people go into a used bookstore with barcode scanners hooked up to their iPhones and scan every single book in the store. Their phone vibrates a certain way if anything worth more than it's weight in paper gets scanned.
posted by carsonb at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

One of the advantages of writing about Victorian religious fiction is that there isn't what you'd call a huge market for it, so all sorts of relatively rare books appear with equally relatively low price tags. Sometimes the seller hasn't looked very closely--I once picked up what was supposedly volume one of a series of religious tracts that turned out to be the full set (you always have to check to see if more than one volume has been bound in!); another time, I discovered that I'd purchased a set of personalized author's presentation copies. A few years back, I was in a small bookstore and zeroed in on a unassuming brown binding that turned out to contain a big collection of early nineteenth-century dramas. "You went to the most interesting thing in the store," commented the bookseller.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:46 PM on April 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Top comment at the article: "'Realistic'? I thought it was idealised middle-class wank personally. Well-written idealised middle-class wank mind, it has to be said."

posted by thelonius at 3:19 PM on April 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Victorian religious fiction is a thing??

low price tag

whew. Because I had a small volume that purported to be the true story of a respectable woman kidnapped by Roman Catholics conspiring with her stepfather and imprisioned in a nunnery full of papist nuns and the horrors she endured, the rituals she was forced to follow...actually, I didn't even make it through the first chapter, it was so insanely over the top. Blergh.

I donated it to Goodwill if you want to track it down.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:49 PM on April 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are few better ways to spend a few hours than just mooching around a second hand book store.
posted by arcticseal at 4:23 PM on April 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

whew. Because I had a small volume that purported to be the true story of a respectable woman kidnapped by Roman Catholics conspiring with her stepfather and imprisioned in a nunnery full of papist nuns and the horrors she endured, the rituals she was forced to follow...actually, I didn't even make it through the first chapter, it was so insanely over the top. Blergh.

There are...several Victorian novels that roughly fit this description. [refrains from lengthy disquisition on anti-Catholic tropes]
posted by thomas j wise at 4:26 PM on April 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

whew. Because I had a small volume that purported to be the true story of a respectable woman kidnapped by Roman Catholics conspiring with her stepfather and imprisioned in a nunnery full of papist nuns and the horrors she endured, the rituals she was forced to follow...actually, I didn't even make it through the first chapter, it was so insanely over the top. Blergh.

This is a genre Thomas Pynchon riffs on in Mason & Dixon.

An apparent captivity narrative begins, telling of how an unidentified colonial American woman is taken from her farmstead by nonviolent Indians across the Susquehanna River and north to a Jesuit college in Quebec. There, she begins training to become a Widow of Christ, encounters the intricacies of Jesuit telegraphy, and meets a Chinese Feng-shui master.
posted by lagomorphius at 4:27 PM on April 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Well I found my thread.

My favorite find is still a first run of Pomes Penyeach that I got for about five bucks when I was in the middle of my Ulysses fan girl phase (still am a fan, but this was during the exhilarating high of having finished it AND loved it).
posted by annathea at 4:27 PM on April 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite book-finding stories is that involving Traherne's Centuries of Meditation. The mid-1600s author was unknown until the two-volume manuscript showed up in a London bookstall 200 years later.

A favorite personal moment was when Larry Niven -- as he signed the Ringworld paperback I found in a used bookstore -- chuckled and said, "Oh, you got the one with the errors in it!" (2004 interview from Geocities.)

posted by Twang at 5:02 PM on April 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I found a first of Interview with the Vampire for $5 once, but the purchase I'm most proud of was a signed advance proof of Infinite Jest I bought when it came out because it had good buzz around it*. I didn't even pay money for it, just store credit I got as a supplement to my paycheck from the bookstore I worked at. It's still in the shrink wrap.

*Want to feel old? I'd read a very positive review in Entertainment Weekly.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:09 PM on April 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

A co-worker of mine bought the house of a hoarder. An old hoarder with impeccable taste. Shortly after he bought the place he brought some stuff to a garage sale we were holding. It was one of those garage sales where my friends were saying "What fun! And maybe we'll make a little cash!" And I'm thinking "Maybe I'll make enough to feed my children this week!"
Anyway, this guy brings 3 things to the sale, because he just closed on the place and hasn't had a chance to look at what he bought. He brings a stuffed pigeon under glass, an old coke tray, and a book: "Ausgefhurte bauten und entwurfe von Frank Lloyd Wright."
The coke tray turned out to be from 1912, and sold for $150. The pigeon went for $.50, and the book, which was priced at $2.00 didn't sell at all. We were cleaning up afterwards and he threw it in the trash. I pulled it out, with his permission, and took it home. On one of the Usenet groups I posted in I got a response from a guy in Chicago. We went back and forth about condition, (excellent) provenance, (a shed 15 miles from Taliesin), and he offered $200 for it. If I could get $250 for it I'd cover my mortgage that month. I countered, he accepted and we both were happy. Turns out it was a first edition of the first book ever written about FLW. No idea what it's worth now, but it saved my house.
posted by Floydd at 6:47 PM on April 8, 2017 [30 favorites]

I discovered that I owned a signed paperback copy of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes on the day he died.
posted by sleeping bear at 6:56 PM on April 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

My best thrift store find was French translations of science fiction. I got Dune, a collection of Harlan Ellison stories, and one or two others. I left some on the shelf for someone else to be delighted by.
posted by thelonius at 7:01 PM on April 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now that I'm home and just sitting here staring at these things...

my collection of Dead White Guy firsts were all innocuous mix-in finds.
posted by carsonb at 8:02 PM on April 8, 2017

The greatest book scout ever was the late, great Martin Stone, once described as 'a very thin man in a black beret with the air of a minor-league pickpocket', who had the ability to conjure up rare books seemingly out of nowhere. When he died last November I wanted to make a FPP about him, but couldn't find enough material online. However, there are good reminiscences of him here and here.

His Facebook page was wonderful because he would often post pictures of his latest finds. Just a few months before he died he was posting photographs of feminist utopian fiction, bought blind at auction while he was in hospital being treated for cancer, and 'the first novel to feature a female mad scientist'.
posted by verstegan at 3:01 AM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

10 years ago, in an antiquarian bookstore which specialized in East German and Eastern European editions, I found two books (for less than 5 $) in a box which obviously didn't fit their scope: A 1835 edition of Last Days of Pompeii, in English language but printed in Leipzig, Germany (the publisher anglizised his name for this edition), which seems to be extremely rare, but is probably not worth anything, because Bulwer-Lytton...
The other one is an 1850 Philadelphia (Lippincott) edition of the works of Lord Byron. This might be worth something, although it was re-bound during, I guess, World War 1 (due to the cheap materials used), so maybe not.
posted by ojemine at 5:08 AM on April 9, 2017

The closest I've ever got to 1st ed gold was when staying in a croft on Shetland we'd rented from a friend who was, among other things, an author himself. I was going through the bookshelves and there, just sort of lolling about as if it was nothing special, was the first UK Gravity's Rainbow.

On the other hand, I helped my father dispose of his father's collection of theology and related books, which were pretty much what you'd expect from a early-to-mid 20th century vicar's bookshelves. We were pleasantly surprised how good the market was for a lot of that stuff; the best price was around £400 for one really very esoteric 19th century treatise on (I think) early bishops. I didn't have time to really talk things through with the bookseller we went to; I'd emailed him a list, he said which ones he wanted and I shlepped over. The other surprise was finger bibles, which my grandfather collected - these are tiny bibles in a long format, and apparently they're much in demand. (I got to keep a few things i liked, including a complete set of the Golden Bough, but I think that was the 3rd ed.)

One of the curses of vicaring is, or used to be, acquiring stacks of family bibles, which tend to be very big and have a hand-written chunk of family tree in the front. These were de rigeur for devout families in Victorian times, each new child being carefully added as they arrived, but as religion faded out of family life in the 20th century they all tended to be given to the local vicar when granny died on the basis that vicars like bibles, but they're not (or weren't in the 70s when the attic was full of 'em) worth very much.
posted by Devonian at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Back when I used to work in a used book store, these stories were our favorites.
posted by doctornemo at 10:52 AM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Going through my parents' bookshelves a couple of decades ago, I found a copy of the Pickwick Papers--not a first but actually a bound collection of the original magazine parts, collected month-by-month by a relative on my mother's side while he was at university. My mother knew it was there, but she didn't think it was of much importance.
posted by Hogshead at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

showbiz_liz: Asheville, eh? If you bought that "If" anytime between 1990 and 2008, I probably sold it to you.

My best find was in a box of ordinary how-to art books, there was a first of Marc Chagall's "Jerusalem Windows." Sold it to a collector in California through another dealer (who got a finder's fee, as did the junk dealer who brought me the box).
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:59 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I own several Terry Pratchett novels, rare in that they've escaped him performing autography upon them, so far.
posted by comealongpole at 2:52 PM on April 9, 2017

posted by comealongpole at 2:52 PM on April 9, 2017

I've spent lots of time in used book stores, and the only thing I ever found that might be of any nominal value is a hardcover Naval Institute Press copy of "The Hunt for Red October" with dust jacket for (IIRC) $1. Oh, I also got a good deal on a few statistics books.
posted by wintermind at 5:53 PM on April 9, 2017

Found a few surprising treasures in my time - Black Water signed by Alberto Manguel; an 1880 edition of Macbeth with gorgeous full-colour plates; an uncut early edition of Hazlitt's Essays; and a really nice Tanglewood Tales with that opal/marble fore edge that seemed to be the fashion at a certain period - that cost me a pittance, and would probably have been worth a fair amount to the right person if the administration and logistics involved in selling them hadn't been so elaborate. I've donated them all over the years to a couple of different animal charities.

There used to be a great joy in rooting through dusty piles of books inside random junk stores, but those days are long gone. Everything has been picked clean a dozen times over. The biggest secondhand/antique bookstore in Brisbane, probably Australia, is absolutely packed to the gills with overpriced dreck and wonders why it's going broke. Charity shops are wall-to-wall massive Bryce Courtenay hardbacks and part 3 of a fantasy series nobody ever heard of or read, and of course, Andy McNab. All the good stuff is out of circulation.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:46 PM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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