The Inside Story: This Is Ann

In this blog series, HPB Buy Guy Steve Leach takes a closer look at the unique curiosities that we see in our stores.


Most fans of The Cat in the Hat and other characters created by Dr. Seuss are not aware of his wartime stint producing pamphlets and animated training films for director Frank Capra’s Signal Corps, but we’re happy to introduce you to Seuss’s mosquito Ann, whom he put to work in service of her country.

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The Inside Story: The Underground Railroad

In this blog series, HPB Buy Guy Steve Leach takes a closer look at the unique curiosities that we see in our stores.


9780345804327_5d023Critics and readers praised Colson Whitehead’s sixth novel, The Underground Railroad, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 and the National Book Award in 2016. Its fanciful reimagining of the historic escape route for runaway slaves revived popular interest in the subject.

Here’s a look at Reverend W.M. Mitchell’s Underground Railroad, published in England in 1860, among the most significant items we’ve ever acquired: a book written by a black minister about the slave rescue network during the time it was in operation, and the first book to use the term Underground Railroad in print. Continue reading

We Buy Everything Printed and Recorded—and More!

At HPB, one of our primary missions is to provide the biggest variety of printed and recorded merchandise you’ve ever seen. But we can’t do that without YOU! Of course we buy and sell a huge variety of books, but we offer so much more, based on what customers like you sell to us each and every day. As our co-founder Ken Gjemre used to say, “We buy everything printed and recorded, except yesterday’s newspaper.”

Whether Marie Kondo has convinced you to “tidy up” those closets and bookshelves or you’ve been bitten by the Spring Cleaning bug, we’re happy to help. Let’s take a closer look at the many kinds of things you can bring us for cold, hard cash! Continue reading

Collectible Conversations: Albums That Should Be Seen and Not Heard

There are several reasons the LP format has endured for six decades, and is in fact back in ascendance. The warm, full sound of vinyl may be at the top of that list of reasons, but another big factor involves the visual aspect, not the aural. The square-foot LP cover is a nice, big canvas on which could be featured not only relevant info about the recording but beautiful, provocative or bizarre imagery.

Many LP covers are iconic: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was so recognizable that The Mothers of Invention and others parodied or imitated it. The Clash and other artists recreated the pink-and-green graphics over black-and-white photo of the 1956 Elvis Presley album. Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and so many other popular artists’ works are memorably packaged.

But we want to talk about the other side of album art, the record covers that are so bad they’re good (or, often, are just…so bad.) Perhaps it’s inept or insane illustrations. Maybe it’s culture clash or has out-of-date kitsch appeal. Or our favorites: celebrities who are not singers but who couldn’t resist the opportunity to record an album to prove to the world that they are not singers.

Operations Director Jan Cornelius and I will be hosting a Collectible Conversations presentation Thursday evening, August 30, in which we’ll show some examples of the bad LP covers we’ve collected over the years. And, contrary to our presentation’s title, we will be so bold as to play a few snippets (snippets are all we can stand) of some of them.

Here are just a few “highlights” from the collection:

  • Sebastian Cabot, Actor – Bob Dylan, Poet
  • Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool
  • Heino
  • Music to Suffer By

We love to talk about bad LP covers, but we love inflicting them on others even more! Our Collectible Conversation featuring bad LP covers takes place on Thursday, August 30, at 6:00 p.m., in our Flagship store’s Collectibles section.

Collectible Conversations: Movie Posters of the ‘50s & ‘60s

When buyers at our Flagship store recently acquired more than 250 original movie posters, mostly from ‘50s and ‘60s films, they realized they were looking at some pretty special pop culture treasures.

Many of the posters were science fiction, including Night Creatures, The Return of the Fly, and Barbarella. But they ran the gamut of genres: spy movies, Three Stooges comedies, disasters, and more. The visual imagery on many of these posters is often stunning and, is in some cases, iconic.

Dallas South District Trainer Ben Jousan and I will be hosting a Collectible Conversations presentation on the evening of Thursday, June 28, in which we’ll show many of the posters and discuss the collecting of movie posters.

I asked Ben a few questions about the bounty of movie posters.

How often do stores see vintage movie posters come in?
We get the occasional bedroom fare with contemporary films or video games promo posters, but we don’t often see original one-sheet poster art for movies. We don’t always have a dedicated space on our sales floor to feature posters, but when we see such an amazing group of unique items, it forces us to rethink our layout on the floor to inform customers of our unique product mix and encourage them to sell these kinds of things to us!

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Mystery Books That Are Book Mysteries

Most mysteries still feature private eyes and cops, but people from all sorts of professions are getting into the sleuthing act: priests, hockey players, hair stylists—and quite a few from the world of books. Writers, of course, are readers, and they love hanging out in bookstores and libraries and thinking, “What a wonderful setting for an unsolvable murder!”

Below I have gathered a few mystery books I’ve enjoyed that are also book mysteries. Check them out and let us know of any of your favorite book-mystery mystery books we didn’t include.

Booked to Die
John Dunning, 1992
Booked to Die was the first of five books in Dunning’s series featuring detective Cliff Janeway, who also just happens to be a book collector and bookstore owner. The series is set in Dunning’s hometown of Denver, where he has worked as a newspaper reporter and owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore, which specialized in second-hand and rare books. There’s a lot of collectible-book knowledge and lore in this series—enough that we have often recommended Booked to Die to HPB’s pricers.

booked to die

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Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s & 60s Through Books

For the December presentation in our monthly Collectible Conversations series at the HPB Flagship in Dallas, we welcome Dallas historian Bob Reitz. Reitz will discuss his growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s using books as his reference points. Bob gave an earlier Collectible Conversations talk specifically about his life in bookstores and his 37 books about bookstores from his collection.

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We asked Bob to give us a little preview of his upcoming talk.

When did you first feel that Dallas in the 50s and 60s was a special place and time?
In January of 1954, my father’s insurance company transferred him to Dallas from upstate New York. We had a new house built in the Casa View section of northeast Dallas. Cotton fields were being plowed under to create homes for newly returned servicemen beginning to start families after World War II. I started first grade and finished high school living in the same house. I still have a small group of friends from these times. Growing up, it seemed normal to have new movie houses, drive-ins, libraries, swimming pools and a thriving downtown. I never realized as a kid what we had in these unique and special times.

I’ve always thought that besides your family, your neighborhood makes the biggest difference in your life. I didn’t grow up smelling salt water from the ocean or seeing snow-covered mountains on the horizon. I grew up on the rolling blackland prairies in a large urban city straddling the Trinity River.

I know you own many books on the subject. Is there one that may best encapsulate the era for, say, a 20-year-old reader from Milwaukee?
Probably the most thoughtful book about this era in Dallas is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright (who graduated from Dallas’s Woodrow Wilson High School). The cover of his book In the New World:  Growing Up with America from the Sixties to the Eighties (1989) reads: “It’s both a story of one man’s coming of age in 1960s Dallas and a provocative account of the end of American innocence, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era.”

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For HPB’s 45th Birthday: What Else? 45s!

In honor of Half Price Books turning 45, we feature some great 45 rpm singles from their heyday in the fifties, sixties and seventies. (Wait until 2050 for the birthday when we feature 78 rpm records.)

When are 45s gonna become cool again? Or so uncool that they’re hip? Who cares—we love 45s! They sound big and in-your-face, and we see so many rare, sublime and forgotten treasures come through our doors.

45s are cheap, too! Most are in the 50 cents-to-a-dollar range in our stores. Here are a few that are a little more special.

ElvisPresleyElvis Presley – “That’s All Right”/ “Blue Moon of Kentucky”
1976, RCA Victor 447-0601 promo in RCA sleeve MCST 40462 (UK) picture disc
Elvis recorded these songs in 1954 (the single’s label says 1955) at Sun Studio for his first single. Also available, a promo reissue of his 2nd single, “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
Both are in Very Good condition.—$15 each Continue reading

Becoming America (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

In honor of  Independence Day, we feature three books emblematic of the nation’s growing pains. The first, written near the country’s beginnings as a democracy, is a seminal work that helped define our legislative branch. The second, written thirty-four years later in 1821, provides detailed descriptions of the lives of Native Americans of that time before so much changed in their world. And the third selection provides a rare contemporaneous account of the Underground Railroad. Ironically, all three of these editions were published in the United Kingdom.

For this Fourth of July, along with your fireworks and hot dogs, find a little time to explore our country’s history in books!

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
John Adams
1787, London. Printed for C. Dilly, in the Poultry
First Edition. In original binding.
$10,000

Constitution

Adams intended to write a single volume. The first, published in London, was so successful that Adams was encouraged to write a second volume, and then a third. The book promotes a mixed government, in which “the rich, the well-born and the able” are separated into a senate, unable to dominate a lower house of representatives.

Our copy is in remarkable condition, considering its age and historical importance. The book is fragile but complete. There is an owner inscription from 1787, and a presentation inscription from 1909. Continue reading