As any rare bookseller will tell you, the fun of being a rare bookseller is not the SELLING rare books part, it is the FINDING of rare or valuable books. Life can be pretty amusing if you consider a large part of it to be one never-ending Treasure Hunt.
Last January, we bought a large lot of books from an auction house that occasionally sells books, but which had accumulated more books than they could comfortably fit into their auction schedule, and probably more importantly, fit into their auction warehouse. The auction house estimated the number of books at between 15,000 and 20,000. There was no real effective way to go through hundreds of boxes, stacked eight feet high on pallets in an unheated warehouse, so Heidi and I spent an hour poking around in a few dozen boxes, made an educated guess, and after a little modest and no-fuss negotiations, bought the books.
We enlisted the good offices of the bookseller and sometime fine arts shipper Joe Maynard* and his book-moving elves and helpers, among them the talented young booksellers Adam and Kate Davis, whose company, Division Leap, incidentally offers some of the most interesting art, photography, and avante garde material I’ve seen in a long time, and had them move the books to our 15,000 square foot school building in Gloucester City, where we assumed we would have plenty of room for them. Joe, working off the auction house’s number, thought it might consist of three, or even four large truckloads to move it all.
Well, a month later, after Joe had moved TWELVE truckloads of books, and approximately 3000 boxes, we estimated that the number of books was closer to 75,000. We filled up what had been the principal’s office, the secretary’s office, the janitor’s office, the boiler room, all available hall space, part of the main office downstairs, part of my office, most of the men’s room (when you buy a school, you become the proud owner of many urinals and toilets. If it’s a grammar school, as this one is, some of them seem unusually close to the ground!), as well as filling most of what was supposed to be my nice, newly renovated office, but which for most of the past year has been until now, because of this group of books, turned almost exclusively into storage space.
So what do you do with 75,000 books in cardboard boxes?
You sort them! But here let me caution: you don’t do it all at once.
*Let me here give a wholehearted and totally unsolicited plug for Joe Maynard when you need books moved. I remember one time, in my misspent youth, moving 10,000 books up a couple of flights of stairs. Never again. Let Joe do it.