By Kim Harris Thacker: writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host
I like finding first edition novels, particularly when they’re worth a lot of money. At least, I think I like it. Rather, I would like it, I’m certain, if it ever happened to me, which it hasn’t.
I wish I could find a first edition of a really famous, valuable novel. Something like Ernest Hemmingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS (which, according to Alibris, is worth about $20,000), or Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK ($40,000) or Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE ($60,000). Heck, I’d take George Eliot’s DANIEL DERONDA (a cool $1,000), if anyone was giving it away. Hang on a minute! I have DANIEL DERONDA! Too bad it’s not a first edition, and too, too bad it’s in terrible shape.
But wait! Is it really worthless? Nay, friends, for it contains a thrilling mystery. First, my book:
Sorry for the photo quality, but really, the book’s in bad shape anyway. . . Now, open the front cover, and you see this:
If my name you
wish to see
Look on pg
A riddley, mystery kind of thing! Yay! Now, the message on page 103:
My name is [arrow pointing to the title of the book]
Look on 603
And on page 603:
Look on 738
On page 738 (the last page of the book):
Crazy now don’t you
know any better did you
have a good chase.
Why, yes, Daniel, you doll, I did have a good chase! Thank you very much for making my seemingly worthless copy of DANIEL DERONDA a beloved treasure! I salute you!
DANIEL DERONDA isn’t my only old book that isn’t worth money but is worth loving. I also own an 1893 edition of THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (a relative of mine, believe it or not!):
Now, robbers, please believe me when I say that it ain’t worth a penny, and neither is DANIEL–well, maybe they’re worth a penny each….I’m just sayin’, no break-ins, please. This particular copy of Longfellow's poems is inscribed in the front cover with what looks like a fountain-penned message:
To my dear Sam
Dec 23 -
Isn’t that a wonderful message, and isn’t her writing gorgeous? But that’s not the only great thing contained within these dusty pages:
Here we have portraits of many well-known poets, cut from a newspaper (left to right, top to bottom): Bryant (William Cullen), Longfellow (Henry Wadsworth), Scott (Sir Walter), Lowell (James Russell), Whittier (John Greenleaf), Tennyson (Lord Alfred), and Browning (Robert).
I flipped the clippings over, and realized that the reverse side show snippets from some old “society pages”! Listen to this:
The first large society event of the week
will be the charity card party given by
Mrs. George Richardson, Mrs. W.W.
Grissim and Mrs. Stephen B. Ives.
These three ladies are active workers in
the Little Sisters’ Infant Shelter, and are as-
suming the responsibility of this affair as their
part toward the swelling of the fund. It will
be conducted on the order of a private card
party. Friends will be together and every-
thing will be congenial. The women will be
in evening dress. AS many people do not play
cards, spectators’ tickets can be purchased
from the three ladies I just mentioned. It will
be an interesting sight to watch the players
from the balcony, and no doubt the place will
What a fun mystery! Who was this person who clipped poets’ portraits from the reverse side of society pages? Was it Sam Sheldon? Or was it his mother?
Well, my friends, I guess I’ll conclude this Gab Bag post by saying that all those people who go onto Antiques Roadshow and discover that the old book they’ve been using to prop up the uneven kitchen table leg is actually worth several million dollars can just go cry in their new Armani hankies (does Armani make hankies?), because they don’t have old books that are as cool as mine.
If you could have a first edition of any book, what would it be? Would you choose it because you love the story, or would you choose it for its monetary value?