As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

March 9, 2012

Take That, Antiques Roadshow!

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):

 Ha! Ha!
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
Sheldon -

Mother - 
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
be crowded.

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?


MKHutchins said...

I actually have a first printing of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." I doubt it's worth terribly much -- it's a discarded copy from a library with a scuffed library binding -- but I still love having that little bit of history on my shelf.

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

SO cool, Kim. Every used book is a mystery in a way. You don't know whose hands have held it, whose eyes have read it.
I did have a book like your Daniel D. A message had me go to a page where they had written a bad four letter word. In ink. Not much mystery there, eh?

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

I do have a complete set of the "Famous Artist School" course. I treasure it. Sort of the Bible of art instruction books. Though valuable, I love it for the incredible knowledge it contains.

Amy Finnegan {} said...

MK, that is a literary treasure indeed! Any original book from C.S. Lewis would be very, very cool to own.

And what a surprise, Kim Kincaid, finding that "word" in your book (handwritten feels like a different level of insulting as opposed to when a four letter word is actually printed in a book).

I drooled over a first edition Charles Dickens novel that was on display in a pub he used to frequent (Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London).

But my ultimate crush on a first edition??? The one I still think of, all too frequently . . . at Books of Wonder in NYC, I held an actual Advanced Reading Copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. An ARC, for heavens sake! So PRE-first edition, really. And it was signed by both JK Rowling and Mary GrandPre. The store was lucky that I didn't wet myself, right there. And it was only $6000. I wonder if it's still available . . .

:) :) :)

Kim, this is a really great topic. Thanks for sharing your fun literary mysteries with us!

Anonymous said...

MKHutchins: C.S. Lewis books are incredible treasures, in any shape and any edition, aren't they? Sigh. I love his stuff. I didn't talk really at all about the actual literary value of DANIEL DERONDA or Longfellow's poems, but they are amazing works. I love the stories and poems these two books I talked about contain. Finding those messages and clippings inside only increased their value to me!

The Art of Kim Kincaid: I'll write a message in a book for you, if you like. No swear-words included, I promise. :) And how wonderful that you own a first edition set of the "Famous Artist School" course! That's so neat!

Amy: WOW. That ARC would be an amazing treasure to own!!!

Anonymous said...

No first editions, but I do have some antique books, particularly medical texts inherited from my physician greatuncle, and animal husbandry books from my farmer greatgrandfather. I love the history of them.

pie said...

Harry Potter was my first thought! It would be amazing to have a version that was in the world before anyone knew what a phenomenon it would become. I wonder if any of the brand new books I'm buying now will be sought after in 50 years?

lucaseth said...

I would want an original copy of any Jane Austen novel...for the love of a good book, money wouldn't concern me...
I love my books for the worlds within not for what they may someday be worth.

Valette M. said...

Wow, those books seem like real treasures now. I'm rather regretting my Kindle. No matter how convenient ebooks are, there's just something about the feel of old paper.
"I want to win a book."

Julie said...

That is amazing! I agree with you that I love the mysteries of old books. I have a couple of fairy tale books that were given to my grandmother for Christmas. They are not first editions, but they are still old and gorgeous. My great-grandmother inscribed them, dating them Christmas 1924, I believe.

If I could have any first edition, it would certainly be To Kill a Mockingbird. I've seen them on ebay for about $5000-7000. Maybe when I win the lotto...

Julie said...

Oh, and I want to win a book.
Sorry, forgot that part. :)