Buy Guy Files: 40 Years of Buying V

Our buyers across the country continue to come across really special books that they are proud to examine, research, price and display in their stores.  Here are just a few treasures from our stores’ buy areas.

1. The Great Wartime Leader

We love to see books signed by the great men and women of our time.  In the month of the London Olympics, it seems appropriate to note our acquisition of a book signed by the great English statesman Winston Churchill.  It was a copy, signed by Churchill, of a 1948 edition of his memoir My Early Life. Inside the book was a fancy printed card that read, “With the Compliments of Sir Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary.”  A nice little bonus!

2. Merry Pranksters

Our Westport store in Kansas City recently acquired an uncorrected proof of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s milestone countercultural classic about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters.  Wolfe’s second book was called by The New York Times “not simply the best book on the hippies” but “the essential book.”

3. A Play by Hemingway

The Dallas Flagship store just bought a beautiful copy, in the dust jacket, of Ernest Hemingway’s The Fifth Column: A Play in Three Acts, one of only 1174 copies of this first separate edition, published in 1940.

4. Philosopher-Scientist

I was reading a review of a recent book about Einstein, Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion, and was reminded of a fine signed and numbered edition of Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist that was bought in our store in Maplewood, Minnesota.

The book includes essays by 25 leading scientists such as Max Born and Niels Bohr, Einstein’s reply to their essays, a bibliography of Einstein’s works, and a 47-page revealing autobiography by Einstein printed in both German and English on facing pages.  The book was published in a limited edition in 1949 by the Library of Living Philosophers.  The copy we bought was number 107 of 750 signed by Einstein.

5. “Old & Interesting”

There’s a shelf-heading we sometimes use in our Collectibles section, “Old and Interesting,” which in some cases may be only half-correct.  The volumes on the shelves may be old indeed, but sometimes, alas, not so interesting. 

A regular customer brought in a small stack of nondescript old and uninteresting-looking books one day.  There was one book in the stack that, at first glance, seemed to fit right in with the common, musty readers and popular classics, but upon further inspection it proved to be quite a bit more than just old.  It was a copy of a surrealistic classic, Mr. Knife, Miss Fork, written by Rene Crevel and published in 1931 by Black Sun in Paris.  A little research showed that it was a very small printing, about 250 copies.  Then the buyer saw that it was one of only fifty copies signed by artist Max Ernst, who had designed nineteen photograms for the edition.  A true rarity, found among the schoolbooks in a relative’s attic!

This was in the pre-Internet era, but, thanks to the auspicious visit of a Town & Country magazine photographer doing a story on anniversary gifts, our copy of the book became the centerpiece of the story, as an example of a 1st anniversary paper gift, and was bought by a Town & Country reader in New Jersey, far from a Half Price Books location.

In case you missed it from the last blog post, 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 our latest, on selling LPs:

Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments.

Steve is Training Coordinator (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

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