Well, probably not that much when you get right down to it. But we do keep adding books to our mountainous inventory. In order to keep the wheels of commerce turning here at BTC, we are continuously buying private libraries and the complete or partial inventories of other booksellers. One of the most recent was the store inventory of the Georgetown, Washington, D.C. bookseller Bartleby’s Books. Before I go any further, I should note most emphatically that this does not mean that Bartleby’s, one of the best Americana dealers in, well, America, has discontinued business. Rather the opposite is true. However they did lose their shop lease and rather than go, yet again, through the laborious process of re-opening at another location further down the block, they decided to renovate a part of their home and take the more rarified elements of their inventory with them. This left them with thirty years of accumulated store stock, which is where BTC comes in.
Everything I read seems to indicate that buying more books is a bad plan. Well, if it is, it wouldn’t be my first bad plan. (Reference my genius plan in the 1970s to take old East Coast antiques to the West Coast, and return with redwood furniture and Navajo jewelery from the West. Uh, but if you do reference it, you won’t be able to read the triumphant saga in the pages of Forbes or Business Week.) After all, isn’t the book about to go the way of the dodo? I know many booksellers who mope around bemoaning the future of the book. Oh, woe is them. Suck it up, crybabies! Maybe it’s my irrepressible optimism, but I rather suspect that the book has a few good years left. Or at least that’s what I tell my nearly twenty co-workers who seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that I should be paying them on a regular basis. Haven’t they heard of internships? Some of them, I rather think, consider their sojourn here less as an internship than an internment (yes, I’m looking at you Ashley).
On my way home from Rare Book School in early July I stopped in at Bartleby’s Books and spent a pleasant afternoon and evening with my friends, the owners John Thomson and Karen Griffin, examining the stock and discussing terms. Well, really I spent most of that time sampling the excellent traditional Americana cocktails prepared by their son Owen at the America Eats Tavern where he designed the cocktail menu – what do you call the guy who designs the cocktails? Mixologist seems more like a mechanic, maybe the cocktail concierge?
In truth, I didn’t have to examine the inventory very hard, or discuss terms for any great length of time. John and Karen have impeccable taste, and I knew that the inventory, while not their grandest material, would be intelligently chosen, with an eye towards desirability and condition. Additionally, they’ve been in the trade long enough not to place an unrealistic premium on store stock.
John named a price, I said yes, and we negotiated a reasonable payment schedule as the total price was a substantial sum. It was the nature of the negotiation that he kept trying to give me longer to pay for the inventory, while I tried to make the terms shorter. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who understands the type of cooperation and good fellowship that exists in much of the trade.
Now if I can only find some way to flee the country before the first payment is due…
Within a week, the BTC crew – a total of fourteen of us, regular employees supplemented by the healthy and unsuspecting children of same – made its way to Georgetown: a dozen of them in Dan Gregory’s ridiculously large passenger van. Our stalwart shipper George Brophy drove the 26-foot Penske rent-a-truck, with me along to navigate and give him life advice. Presumably he won’t be foolish enough to follow any of it.
We had already shipped some boxes down to Bartleby’s a few days earlier and they had packed perhaps a third of the books. Using the “horde of locusts” approach, we had all 15,000 books boxed, separated into categories, and in the truck in about three-and-a-half hours. And that included stopping for pizza. I even helped a little, with the pizza at least.
John and I even made time to adjourn to the local watering hole for a couple of celebratory cocktails to seal the deal.
By far the longest part of the day was spent in the vehicles. After we returned and went out for a lovely repast at the local Applebee’s – nothing is too good for our employees – we had the truck unloaded, and had sorted and stacked the books in our storage area by 9:30 pm. It was actually kind of fun.
John tells me that now, despite having minimal knowledge of the field, we are among the leading specialists in Southern Americana.
Ya’ll be sure to check out our new arrivals!