40 Years of Buying Everything Ever Printed or Recorded

When you buy everything printed and recorded all day, every day, for 40 years, at an ever-growing number of locations, you see a lotta weird and wonderful stuff!  Here’s a first installment of 40 memorable buys we’ve made over the years.

1. Now you see it. Now you don’t.

A few years ago, our Plano store was fortunate enough to purchase several books that were fore-edge painted.  What, you may ask, does that mean?

Fore-edge painting is an almost-lost art.  An artist paints a scene of some sort on the fore-edges of the pages of a book—the edges opposite the book’s spine—while those pages are fanned.  When the book is closed and lying flat, the painting is not visible. When you fan the pages: Voila! The hidden scene appears! Often, the bookbinder would add gilt or marbling to the page edges in order to further conceal the secret scene.  Our buyers wouldn’t have even known that the books they were buying were fore-edge-painted if the seller hadn’t made a note of it.

Here’s one of the books Plano bought, Poetical Works of Robert Bridges, from 1913, unfanned (on the left). Note that the book itself is not especially interesting or desirable to a collector; that is, without its little secret. Here’s a photo revealing the scene, an “Eton School Room” (on the right).

Fore-edge painting is very uncommon, so I wouldn’t suggest rushing to your shelves and fanning all your old leather-bound treasures.  But fore-edge-painted books could make an interesting collection (which you’d have to be prepared to show-and-tell). 

2. Family Heirloom

Way back in 1990, longtime employee Chuck Pierce was assigned to work the Religion section at one of our Houston stores.  One day, he spotted an old worn Bible that was in pretty bad condition. Just before he set it aside to be recycled, he opened it and, to his surprise, saw his father’s name along with the names of his siblings. Turns out that Chuck had serendipitously come across the Bible of his aunt who had passed away twenty-six years before. Chuck believes that he was meant to have that Bible and keeps it close-by to this day.

3. “We proudly accept this buy…”

Wisconsin District Manager Joe Desch and District trainer Carolyn Beck went out on a buy recently and didn’t see much among the books and CDs that was very exceptional.  “However,” says Joe, “this guy was amazing!  He was a writer for the Carol Burnett show and won an Emmy for his work on the fifth season.  He also produced the 25th anniversary TV special for the founding of the state of Israel and worked with Jim Henson.”  Joe is pictured here delivering his fantasy Emmy acceptance speech. 

4. Leafing through a classic.

We occasionally find flowers pressed into books sold to us, but once, when I was checking the condition of a Disney Giant Golden Book from the seventies, I noticed that a large, perfectly-preserved marijuana leaf was pressed between a couple of pages.  On further inspection, I discovered a total of twenty, one inserted every few pages throughout the book.

5. Psychiatric and Psychological Examinations of Jack Ruby

A collection in a file folder, bought at our Kenwood store in Cincinnati, Ohio, contained the findings of Dr. Francis Forster, a noted neurologist who was called to testify at the 1964 trial of Jack Ruby for the murder of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.  Forster’s testimony countered Ruby’s insanity defense.

Documents included in the file: dictaphone recording and transcription of a meeting between Dr. Forster, assistant prosecutor William F. Alexander, and Dr. William Peterson; Forster’s interpretations of two encephalograms made of Ruby; copies of other physicians’ findings; and correspondence from Forster to Alexander.

This unique grouping of documents gained the attention of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, and was donated by HPB to that organization. The Sixth Floor is a John F. Kennedy museum located in the old Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald perched.

Certainly not all of our buys are quite this memorable, but there are enough to keep the buying gig pretty interesting!  Look for another five tales from the Buy Guy archives next month.

— Steve

“Robot” Introduced 92 Years Ago: Top Three Film Robots

Okay, science fiction fans. I heard an interesting fact. Yesterday was the anniversary of when the word ROBOT was introduced into the English language. It was introduced by a Czech playwright, novelist and journalist named Karel Capek, who introduced it in 1920 in his hit play “RUR,” or “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Being a movie buff, iI of course thought of famous robots in film. I could compile quite a list, but just to make it more refined, I’ve narrowed it down to the top 3.

C-3PO and R2-D2.
I know that these are two robots instead of one, but these “droids”(as Mr. Lucas coined them) must come in a pair. C-3PO, the protocol droid, is equipped with over 6 million forms of communication and hates adventure and space travel. His counterpart, R2-D2, is an astrodroid with a bold personality and bravery who serves many purposes throughout  Star Wars – from starship mechanic to computer interface specialists. Their popularity is unsurpassed by any other. After all, where do you think the name for the “DROID” phone came from?

The Terminator. Who can forget Arnold Schwarzenegger portraying the cybernetic organism (cyborg for short) T-800 series 101. This robot is sent back through time to terminate Sarah Connor, future mother of John Connor, who is destined to lead the revolution against the machines. The Terminator is a methodical killing machine and one of the great robots in film.

WALL-E. This robot, a Waste Allocation Lift Loader, Earth-Class (WALL-E for short) is the last of his kind on earth, left to clean the planet of trash. You wouldn’t believe there could be that much personality within a robot that befriends a cockroach, but then WALL-E later falls in love with another robot, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). Wonderful characters, but what else would you expect from Pixar? This is one lil’ robot who stole our hearts.

There are my top 3 robots in film. Now, before you object, I want you to know that I considered Optimus Prime and Megatron from Transformers, but to me they were more memorable as toys than in the movies. Mashinenmensch from Metropolis also almost made the list — he was a big influence on George Lucas when creating the look for C-3PO.

Who is on your list as the greatest robots in film? Don’t forget where the word ROBOT came from, and more importantly… No talking or texting during the feature presentation.

— Jim

The First 40 Years…

Among my friends, I am known as the keeper of useless information.  I seem to always know where sayings come from, where to use commas, and where other people’s keys are (though I can rarely find my own).  So, in celebration of Half Price Books’ 40th anniversary, here are a few useless (and very random) facts about the last 40 years.

The 70s:

  • 1972 – Half Price Books opened its first store in a converted Laundromat in Dallas, Texas.
  • 1972 – Atari releases PONG, the first video game to achieve commercial success.
  • 1972 – In January, G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, proposed burglarizing and wiretapping the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Complex. That June, five men were arrested inside the Democratic National Headquarters office after a security guard at the Watergate complex called the police. That July, “Deep Throat” reveals the link to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and that November, Nixon gets re-elected.  (Where the heck was CNN?)
  • 1975 – Wheel of Fortune, the longest running syndicated game show in television history, premiered on NBC, hosted by Chuck Woolery. Wheel of Fortune was originally called “Shopper’s Bazaar” and included a bigger wheel and carnival sound effects.

The 80s:

  • 1980 – CNN debuted. (eight years too late, fellas)
  • 1984 – Half Price Books opened its first store in Washington state.
  • 1984 – Apple announces the Macintosh.
  • 1984 – The science fiction novel Neuromancer, by William Gibson was published, introducing the world a new word: cyberspace. This novel was the inspiration for the movies Hackers (1995) and The Matrix (1999).

The 90s:

  • 1991 – The release of Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (1992) brought grunge-rock into the mainstream and made grunge the most popular form of hard rock music.
  • 1994 – The NBC comedy “Friends” premiered.
  • 1994 – Half Price Books conducted its first “Bedtime Storybook Contest” and published the first edition of Say Good Night to Illiteracy, which included the top 20 stories submitted by customers and chosen by librarians, teachers and writers. The final edition of Say Good Night to Illiteracy was published in 2007.
  • 1994 – President Richard M. Nixon died at 81 after suffering a stroke. (CNN reported it.)

In the 2000s:

  • 2005 – British actor Daniel Craig was named the new James Bond. (Did you know that the Home Office has granted a real passport to Craig under the name of his 007 character. “Bond. James Bond.”)
  • 2005 – Mark Felt revealed himself to be the Watergate scandal whistleblower “Deep Throat.”  (Although his identity was revealed to Vanity Fair, CNN did run the story.)
  • 2007 – The iPhone was first released.
  • 2012 – Half Price Books turns 40!

And the story continues. For more fun facts from the last forty years (try saying that five times fast), check out this.

And, if you have any useless information about the last forty years stored up in your noggin, let me know in the comments.

— Julie

Thus, the story behind Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”  Thus — such a wonderful word, thus, and greatly underused in today’s society, I think –– begins the immortal story of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.”  With his wit, humor and imagination, Dickens sings for us a carol that has permanently woven its tune into the holiday season, and even everyday life.  I mean, who hasn’t called a stingy person a Scrooge? And who names their child Ebenezer anymore? Here are some interesting facts behind the story of “A Christmas Carol.”

  • Instead of chapters, Dickens called the breaks in his story staves.  A stave is a verse in a poem or a song.
    Originally, Bob Crachit’s  sickly child was named Fred, after Dickens’ younger brother.  Though, the young Crachit’s name was changed to Tim, the name Fred was still used in the story for Scrooge’s nephew.
  • “Fan” was not only Scrooge’s sister in the book, but also the nickname of Dickens own sister, Frances, who died of consumption in 1848 at the age of 38.
  • Dickens’ sister “Fan” has a son Henry, who was a sickly child and died at the age of 10.  He was most likely the model for Tiny Tim.
  • Dickens stated in his diaries that Scrooge stems from a grave marker, which he saw in 1841 for the vintner Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.  The marker identified Scroggie as a “meal man,” meaning he was a corn merchant, but Dickens misread to say “mean man” and wrote it must have “shriveled” Scroggie’s soul to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity.”  Unfortunately, the grave marker was lost during construction work in 1932.
  • There have been several theories as to where Dickens got additional inspiration for the character of Scrooge, but the man who Dickens mentions in his letters that bears a strong resemblance to the character was a noted British eccentric and miser named John Elwes (1714-1789).  Dickens illustrator, John Leech used Elwes’ likeness to portray Scrooge in his illustrations.
  • The word “humbug” means deceptive or false talk. Though Scrooge is known for saying “Bah! Humbug!” he actually only says it twice in the entire book. He uses the word “Humbug!” by itself seven times, but he stops on the first syllable the seventh time after realizing Marley’s ghost is real, and the word is never used again. 
  • The name “Ebenezer” is Hebrew for “Stone of Help.”
  • Since its publication in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for theater, film, television, radio and opera.  Can you name some of the actors who have played Ebenezer Scrooge?  What about Bob Crachit?

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Happy holidays! — Julie

The Idea of a Mouse: 83 Years of Mickey

While traveling by train from New York to California after loosing the rights to Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney began toying with the idea of a mouse.  At first, Disney called the mouse Mortimer, but his wife, Lillian, convinced him to change the name to Mickey because it sounded cuter.  Then, on November 18, 1928, at the Colony Theater in New York, Mickey Mouse whistled his way onto the screen in the cartoon short Steamboat Willie.  And 83 years later, we are still enamored with the simple idea of a mouse.  So, to celebrate Mickey’s birthday, I’ve gathered up some fun facts about the world’s favorite mouse.
Did you know…?

  • Two Buster Keaton films, The Navigator (1924) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) provided the inspiration for Steamboat Willie.
  • Animator Ub Iwerks completed Steamboat Willie as a silent film.  Sound was post-synchronized to match the action.
  • Although Steamboat Willie had sound, Mickey did not utter his first word until The Karnival Kid (1929).  Walt Disney himself played Mickey’s voice.
  • The first item of merchandise to feature Mickey Mouse was a child’s school tablet in 1929.
  • After Emperor Hirohito of Japan received a Mickey Mouse watch while visiting Disneyland in 1978, he wore the watch on his wrist everywhere he went.  One day when the watch stopped ticking, he called in Japan’s finest jewelers to solve the problem.  The result was one new battery and a very happy emperor.
  • The first Mickey Mouse comic strip was published on January 13, 1930.
  • Although Mickey has only starred in a few of Disney’s full length feature presentations  – Fantasia (1940), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – he has found a way to sneak into several others, such as The Rescuers (1977), The Little Mermaid (1989), and 101 Dalmatians (1961).  Can you find where he is hiding in those movies – perhaps do you know of other Disney movies where Mickey has found a way to make a cameo? Put your Disney trivia knowledge to the test and submit your answers in the comments below.

So today, in celebration of our favorite mouse, and because it’s Friday (who doesn’t love Fridays?!), we’re giving away some fun HPB prizes – including an HPB Gift Card, reusable tote bag and a coveted HPB T-shirt. Make a comment below telling us who is your favorite Disney character. Three (3) winners will be randomly selected at 3:00 pm CST on Friday, November 18. Ready, set, go!

Happy Birthday, Mickey!

— Julie 


UPDATE: Congratulations to our 3 winners – Nick Spacek and his adoration of Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove (you’ve won an HPB Gift Card), Veronica Deslauriers and her poem praising our feathered friend Donald Duck (you’ve won a reusable tote bag), and Shellie and her vote for the birthday boy himself, Mickey Mouse (you’ve won an HPB T-shirt)! To claim your prize, please email besocial@hpb.com with “Mickey” in the subject line. This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stay tuned to the Half Price Blog for more news, reviews and free goodies.

American Homer: An Ode to David Halberstam

People can, and do, quibble about the dates, but no nation in history has been as rich, free, and powerful as the United States in the post-war years from 1945 – 1975. The pen that best chronicled these American decades belonged to David Halberstam.

A Harvard man (he edited the Crimson), Halberstam went in the 1950s to the deep south to cover the budding Civil Rights Movement. However, it would be from Vietnam in the early 1960s that Halberstam would establish his place in the canon.

Writing for the New York Times, Halberstam covered the war and provided reporting that eventually, even commonly, contradicted official military statements. It came to be said that President Kennedy would receive more accurate intelligence briefs by reading Halberstam in the Times than from his own security advisors.

The war proceeded while the Kennedy administration gave way to the Johnson administration, which gave way to the Nixon administration. Halberstam, back in the United States, published The Best and the Brightest in 1972. Seldom have folly and hubris been more comprehensively established.

Intrigued by American power in general, and wielding influence in particular, he next examined the media in The Powers That Be at a time when the power of the press was concentrated in very few hands. Though Halberstam focuses on media empires CBS, Time magazine, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. It may seem quaint in today’s socially networked, blogged up world, but at the time these organs were the voices of the Establishment except, as during Watergate, when they weren’t.

Over the years, even when Halberstam addressed sports (The Breaks of the Game, The Summer of ’49, October 1964) they were never merely books about sports, but serious examinations of American themes like race and money.

The topics of 1986’s The Reckoning remain surprisingly fresh: the history of Ford and Nissan, corporate America, and how Japan became the industrial leader of the world. The Reckoning is much more than a company history of the sort that is commonly overtaken by events and swiftly becomes irrelevant. (See The Big Store about Sears or Lee Iacocca’s biography. Or don’t.; Iacocca, by the way, was initially a Ford man and plays a role in Halberstam’s book for outsourcing manufacturing jobs.)

American power, and competition at the highest levels for the greatest stakes, remained Halberstam’s themes over the course of his career.

The Fifties, published in 1998, successfully drew connections between the vast areas of Halberstam’s research and experiences. The monochromatic decade was anything but, and it established the ferment that would explode in the Technicolor 60s. His final book, The Coldest Winter, returned to the 50s and the Korean War. He was researching the 1958 NFL championship game at the time of his untimely death in 2007.

Halberstam was America’s Homer, the one who depicted the great power at its apex.


— Jeff W.

Catherine the Great + 12 Historical Biographies about Royalty

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert K. Massie has done it again. His latest historical biography, Catherine the Great, officially releases tommorow –  Tuesday, November 8. Thanks to our friends at Random House, we were able to dive in to an advanced copy so we can tell you all about it. Such intrigue!

In Massie’s characteristic style, this book offers an imagery-laden narrative read that’s so rich in drama you might just forget it’s historical fact and not fiction. Highly recommended reading selection for history buffs or for any reader who enjoys a good, sordid tale. And it runs the gamut – from numerous affairs and illegitamate children, to near-assassination plots and political coups. Catherine the Great‘s biography tells the fascinating turn of events from childhood through adolescence which led her into the Russian court, and into adulthood when she became Empress of Russia at the age of 33. You follow along as Russian Empress Elizabeth takes her under her wing and nurtures her, and then watch how quickly so many turn against her.

Massie studied American history at Yale and European history at Oxford. He brings his fine education and decades of research to the page in this new book. His previously-published, enthralling biographies include Peter the Great (1980), Nicholas and Alexandra (1989), and The Romanovs (1996).


If you enjoy this biography, you should check out these other historical biographies about monarchs throughout history (pictured above). Many of their life stories have been written about countless times, some made into award-winning motion pictures. There’s enough published about royalty and nobility to keep you busy reading for quite a while.

And remember, November is National Lifewriting Month, an opportunity to celebrate and share our personal and family stories. So read a biography or grab a pen and start scribing your own memior.

— Meredith

Hobbit Day: 74 Years of Hobbits

Today is Hobbit Day, as a part of Tolkien Week! According to The One Ring, yesterday marked the 74th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. On this day in 1937, publishers Allen & Unwin printed just 1,500 copies, which sold out by December. Since then, Bilbo’s tale of defeating the dragon Smaug and reclaiming the birthright of Thorin has sold up to 100 million copies in 40 different languages.

The One Ring summed up The Hobbit’s importance nicely:

“Numbers alone can’t tell its importance and influence on the fantasy genre. In 1937, heroic fantasy tales involving dwarves and elves barely existed. Taking inspiration from his love of fairy tales and sagas, and the work of proto-fantasists such as William Morris, Tolkien inadvertently developed and legitimised an entire genre of writing.

For, without the famous line ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit,’ there would almost certainly be no Lord of the Rings.

And where would epic fantasy be without Lord of the Rings?

So raise a glass and toast The Hobbit. A most excellent and audacious book. To twist a phrase written by the professor himself: May the binding of its pages never fall out.”

Very well said. To get you in the spirit of the day, try on a hobbit name for size. Mine is Sancho Boffin of Needlehole. Or, whip up hobbit-style recipies for First Breakfast, Second Breakfast and Elevensies. Of course, all Tolkien fans and moviegoers – myself included – are very excited about the upcoming movie The Hobbit. Fellow film buffs will want to check out Peter Jackson’s video diary with behind-the-scenes interviews about the making of the new movie. If you don’t have the extended edition on DVD + Blu-Ray like me, be sure to tune in for The Lord of the Rings movie marathon on TV this weekend. 

Nevermind about no talking during the feature presentation. Enjoy your second breakfast, quote your favorite lines, have a good laugh with friends and clank the half pints of beer all you want. After all, it’s Hobbit Day! Cheers! — Jim

Outside of a dog . . .

“Outside of a dog, a book is probably man’s best friend;

Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

OMG, HPBers. Today Kristen B. brought Zoe, her ah-dorable foster puppy, up to the store to visit everyone, and she was in such a fine mood that she agreed to a quick photo shoot in the Nature section (naturally.) 

Everyone always asks us whether we are a dog-friendly store, and that’s a good question. In the early days (remember, our first store opened in 1972), we eventually had to limit the employees to 2 dogs per store, per day because we were concerned we’d start to resemble Half Price Pets instead of Half Price Books.

Now, our policy on four-legged friends is handled on a store-by-store basis: some stores welcome dogs, and others know that their customers prefer to shop without barks and tail wags. For those that do welcome pups, they request you bring leashes and respect other customers by not disrupting their shopping experience. 

Seriously, Zoe is just the nicest pup. She found a nice book on Turning in a Circle Before Lying Down and also one on Licking Humans’ Faces before heading back home to Kristen B’s. Before signing out, she wanted to share some additional dog quotes:

“I poured Spot remover on my dog. Now he’s gone.” – Steven Wright

“Some days you’re the dog; some days you’re the hydrant.” – Unknown

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” – Ben Williams

“Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot about puppies.” – Gene Hill

Do you have dogs? What kind? Or maybe a kitty-cat? Cats love books too! Send us pictures to besocial@hpb.com and maybe we’ll do another pet feature down the road!

— Kristen D.