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

Buy Guy Files: 40 Years of Buying VI

Sometimes the buying experience at Half Price Books involves elements of surprise.  Here are a few “Tales of the Unexpected” from company buying lore, as related by some of our longtime HPB-ers.

1. Marianne Moore Noir

Donations Manager Scott Ward counts among his most memorable buy experiences an occasion when he was a buyer faced with a little “ripped from the headlines” shenanigans.

Scott says, “We had received a fax message from a high-end antiquarian bookseller, alerting us to a robbery of a UPS truck in the area. It seems that a driver had left the motor running and the door opened while making a delivery, and a very valuable package was snatched from the truck. This package contained ten valuable, limited edition-type signed and numbered books, valued at over $10,000.”  The fax advised our buyers to watch for these books.

“Another buyer was on duty on an otherwise ordinary weekday,” Scott continues. “I was close by, on call to help out with buys. The buyer brought me a book: a beautiful, leather-bound, numbered, limited edition, signed by the poet Marianne Moore.”

The scruffy, nervous seller and his female accomplice did not appear to be your typical Marianne Moore aficionados. Scott checked the fax and, sure enough, there was the book, valued at about a thousand bucks. The police department was called, and Scott and the other buyer tried to keep the sellers occupied while help was on the way.

Scott says he “attempted to engage them in a conversation about the merits of mid-20th Century American poetry (yeah right) while trying to make eye contact with them. They weren’t having anything to do with poetry or eye contact, and the longer they waited, the more nervous they got.”

Fortunately, the cops showed up fast.  “As soon as they hit the doors, the girlfriend of the perp hit the floor in a dead faint (like a bad movie), but the cops and the HPB staff were not having anything to do with that. We identified the book for the cops, showed them the fax identifying the book (and explaining to the police how it was we knew this was the book described in the fax) and they hauled the pair away.  The female somehow recovered from her fainting spell.”

The thieves were “greatly disappointed to find books,” says Scott, “as there are not many good out-sources for fencing Marianne Moore.”

The caper made the local papers.  A rumored reward never materialized, but Scott has a nice story to share eighteen years later.

2. JFK Mementos

Operations Director Jan Cornelius recalls a buy decades back when buyers were looking through a stack of JFK memorabilia they had just bought: 

“There were about five or six of us in the buying area, making sardonic, wry comments about the popularity of assassination conspiracy theories, all the JFK memorial editions, and HPB co-founder Ken Gjemre’s insistence that we do a display every November to try and sell some of the stuff.  We were getting louder (some would say funnier – no customers around), when a single card fell out of one of the memorial books.  One of the buyers read from it aloud.  It was an invitation to a lunch and speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, to start at 1:30 pm, November 22,1963, with President and Mrs. Kennedy.  The buy area fell silent.  We all went back to work.”

3. A Lock of Hair

Sometimes, a surprise found in a book can arouse the buyer’s curiosity about the story behind it.  In one case, Media Buyer John Wilson became determined to track the story down.  A lock of hair pinned to a 1932 funeral notice for a Mary Hearn was found by buyer Chris Carter in an old book being processed in our Lewisville, Texas, store.  Chris let John know about it.  He immediately decided that “it was our mission to return the lock of hair to Mrs. Hearn’s family.”  Serendipitously, a D Magazine editor, Jeff Bowden, was just then working on a story about things found in books, and he joined our odyssey.  (Mr. Bowden’s story appeared in the May 2001 issue of D Magazine.)

The buyers were not able to pinpoint which customer’s buy contained the book that contained the lock of hair, but the funeral notice gave us the name of a small town in West Texas. 

John, Jeff and I drove out to Baird, and, using a Roads of Texas guide, located a little cemetery way out in the country.  We had a hunch we’d find Mrs. Hearn’s grave there, and, sure enough, we did.  Driving away from the cemetery, we saw a man standing alongside his truck and asked him if he knew anything about the Hearn family.  “Y’all sure going to a lot of trouble for a piece of hair,” he said.  True.  But his mother and father knew quite a bit about the Hearns.  Guided by their information, John located some key descendants, who pointed us to a young lady, Dawn Pearson, in Lewisville.  Mrs. Hearn was the mother of her great-uncle.  Our quest reconnected several estranged members of the family.  We returned the lock of hair to a grateful Ms. Pearson back at the Lewisville store.

4. More Wealth Without Risk

A few years ago, an employee was shelving books in the Business section.  It was the usual stuff, nothing too special.  To make some space on the shelf, the employee grabbed a hardback copy of More Wealth Without Risk to shift it to the shelf below.  The book seemed bulky, like it had something stuck inside it.  Sure enough, there was $1,200 in cash tucked into the pages.

Was the money there when buyers bought the book?  Was it secreted there on the shelf by a customer making an illicit payment?  Whatever the explanation, that particular bit of wealth did involve some risk after all.

5. Books by the Truckload

Laurie Coburn, the manager of one of our Milwaukee stores, was contacted by a customer who said he had “38,000 book club editions, mostly Sci-Fi and Romance.” 

Laurie got some help from another of our locations, deciding to do the buy as a “district project.”  A 15-foot box truck arrived, packed from floor to ceiling and front to back with paperback books—not book club edition hardbacks.  A failure of communication.  The buyers estimated that it was about 90% romance, going back to the late ‘60s.  The customer was told that we’d thought it was hardbacks, and that paperbacks were far less desirable.  Unfortunately, the sellers came from outside of town and had rented the truck and paid some kids to load it up. 

Laurie and company agreed to go through and make an offer, reminding the customers about the resale price and oversupply issues.  After four hours of backbreaking labor, buyers managed to find 3,200 PBs which seemed to be salable.  What was saved was mostly Sci-Fi going back to the early ‘60s, some vintage erotica and a few westerns, some of which were moderately collectible.  

Wisconsin District Manager Joe Desch sums the experience up this way: “The best part may be that after all the customer went through, I believe they left satisfied with our offer and service (though maybe not as wealthy as they were expecting to be).” 

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 one that goes back to basics — how to sell to HPB:

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

Buy Guy Files: 40 Years of Buying III

Here are another five tales from our buy areas, slices of the buying life at Half Price Books during the past forty years.  You never know what you’re gonna come across, in between the Danielle Steel book clubs and the Jane Fonda workout tapes!

1. Charles Whitman, the UT Sniper

Back in early 2005, a fellow walked in to one of our stores in Austin with some boxes of files he wanted to sell.  The buyer on duty that morning was taken aback by what he discovered in the boxes.  The files were those of former University of Texas at Austin Security Chief Allen Hamilton, covering the period of time he was there at UT, mostly the sixties.  Right in the middle of that period, on August 1, 1966, student Charles Whitman killed his mother and his wife, then ascended to the observation deck of the UT Tower and opened fire on students and others below, killing a total of 15 and wounding 31 more, before being shot dead by Austin police officers.  It was the worst mass killing up to that time, and it immediately monopolized Americans’ attention for weeks afterward.   

The files sold to HPB contained dozens of original documents related to UT officers’ involvement in the tragedy and its aftermath, including several handwritten accounts and drawings recorded that day.  There were also copies made in 1966 of the key documents related to the case: Whitman’s “suicide note,” his psychiatric evaluation at UT, his diary, and others.

We knew when we had the opportunity to purchase this historic material that we should pay enough to get it, but then turn it back over to UT, where it belongs.  And that’s what happened on August 1, 2006—forty years to the day after the murders.  A team from our corporate offices went down to Austin and together with our Austin store staff, they welcomed representatives from the UT American History Center, the organization determined to be the most appropriate recipient of the papers, along with reporters and cameras from many TV and radio stations, newspapers, and the Associated Press.  In a low-key event, the files were presented to the History Center, where they remain.

2. Museum Piece

Not all of the treasures to cross our buy areas are old: a 1988 publication bought recently in California is described by California District Manager Matt Dalton as possibly “the coolest book I have ever bought.  It should be in a museum!”  The book is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, with art by John Baldessari.  Baldessari, who signed the limited edition, one of 400 issued, created 39 photo-collage illustrations for the three-volume edition.

3. One Good Turn…

Brian Millican in Austin let us know about one that got away a couple of years ago.  Brian was sorting through some history books bound for his store’s Clearance section when he noticed a Robert McNamara book called In Retrospect, about the Vietnam War.  He knew he didn’t have a copy in the History section, so he decided to send it to the section rather than to Clearance.  He happened to open the book and, lo and behold, he saw that it was inscribed from Robert McNamara to Ladybird Johnson.  

They managed to track down the seller, who said he had worked for Ladybird but had no idea he had that book with the inscription.  Brian says, “They decided to keep the book rather than have us make an offer on it.  Too bad, because I really would have liked to see what that inscription could have brought.”

We lost the book, but Brian did a good deed by letting the seller know the book had something special about it.

4. “A lion to a lion.”

Employee Philip Lefebvre in Irving, TX, was involved in a buy brought in by a regular seller. The book, An Apologie Or Declaration Of The Power And Providence Of God In The Government Of The World …, had been re-bound in maroon leather. It was printed by William Turner, “Printer to the famous University, Anno Dom. 1630.”

Sometimes we get items that require a little bit of research, which is what Philip did.  Here’s what he learned:

“The book’s author, George Hakewill, was appointed in 1612 to preserve Prince Charles ‘from the inroads of popery,’ a task at which he seemingly failed because Charles I married a Catholic wife.  (He, the king, was also then executed in 1649 for treason, paving the way for Oliver Cromwell.)  So Hakewill was more than a historical footnote, having been at court and a player with big people.  This work is described as a rebuttal to the idea that all creation, including mankind, is decaying.  Which makes it a rare work for a theologian 400 years ago, or even now.  It is also credited with heavily influencing Samuel Johnson, which makes Hakewill a lion to a lion.  So this book is a historical artifact, written by a genuine historical figure.”

5. Judging Books by Their Covers

Sometimes we get books in that are just a pleasure to look at—regardless what the contents may be.  Our main store, for example, bought about twenty excellent bookbinding projects from a student in an upper-level bookbinding course. 

The books in this buy were beautiful, oversize art and calligraphy books.  The materials used included multiple types of wood, handmade paper, silk, and many varieties of cloth, board, and paper.

— Steve, aka The Buy Guy