Buy Guy Files: 40 Years of Buying IV

Our store buyers never know what they’re going to see when they start a buy shift.  OK, so they know they’re going to see a lot of National Geographics, serial romances and Outlook 2003 manuals.  But they also know to expect the unexpected.

1. 100,000 Penguins

Several years ago, we got a call from the publisher Penguin, who was clearing out their archives.  They wanted to get rid of around 100,000 books, including thousands of file copies of the distinctively-designed Penguin paperbacks (more about them another time).    

Along with the paperbacks, we got thousands of hardbacks and trade paperbacks published by various Penguin imprints.  One treasure trove we came across was a box of assorted international editions and Penguin variations of the classic John Wyndham title Day of the Triffids.

In the photo, you may spot editions from Sweden, Spain, and Czechoslovakia.  The original mass-market Penguin cover shows a triffid, drawn by Penguin illustrator John Griffiths, based on sketches done by the author.

2. Things Found in Books

Buyers occasionally come across wonderful things left in the books our customers bring: pictures and postcards from earlier times, notes or news items about the book’s author (one book I got in had a note taped inside the front cover describing how the book’s owner had met the author at a journalists’ convention and the author had shot himself not long afterward), and ephemera that itself is of value, often of more value than the book itself.  Whenever the buyers see these impromptu bookmarks in time, they are returned to the customer; sometimes, though, the discovery is after the fact.

Other times, items are discovered in the boxes that are brought in.  One buyer came across a wooden box that contained a sterling silver ID bracelet, some old foreign bills, a letter from one of our US Presidents from around the WWII era, and lots of old family photos.  “We called the seller,” she says, “and he was so happy we had found all these old mementos he didn’t know he had in the box.”

A buyer in Houston a few years ago discovered at the bottom of a box of old, moldy books a menu from the famous Twenty-One Restaurant in New York.  It was from the 1950s, and was signed by Salvador Dali.

3. Dylan’s Harmonica

I’ll let Paradise Valley, Arizona, Store Manager Myles Chaplin tell you in his own words about buying a harmonica owned by “song-and-dance man” Bob Dylan.

4. School Days

Jeremy Evans, Manager of our Westport store in Kansas City, recently was sold a couple of yearbooks from Abilene High School in Abilene, Kansas, from the years 1906 and 1909.  “So what’s so special about those?” you may ask.   

Well, a certain Dwight David Eisenhower attended Abilene High School.  In 1906, he was a freshman, and 1909 was his senior year.

Jeremy donated the yearbooks to the Eisenhower Library, located in Abilene. They were very appreciative.

5. A Hunk, a Hunk o’ Collectibles

The opportunity for a great thematic display arose a couple of years ago when our Flagship store in Dallas bought a huge treasure trove of Elvis Presley memorabilia, including fan magazines, sheet music, and small-press memoirs by assorted associates of The King.

Most of it sold pretty quickly, but enough of it stayed around long enough for an attention-getting display in the store’s ephemera area, a room-size safe adjacent to their Collectibles section.

We’ve also put together a series of videos to help answer customers’ Frequently Asked Questions about selling to Half Price Books. Would you like to know what kinds of books we’re looking for? Or how to judge the condition of your books? Do you suspect you might have a first edition? Here’s how to spot a first edition, and how to figure out if it’s valuable.

Here’s the latest, which tackles the first and simplest question: “How to Sell to HPB?”

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

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