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January 20, 2010


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Joe Marchione

Allan's pricing on this one triggers a thought or two on scouting and the nature of booksellers in general and Allan in particular. First, let's accept your quite plausible assumption about where he found the book. Cheap, tucked away in the foreign language section of some otherwise unpromising bookstore (OK, the bookstore doesn't *have* to be unpromising... but face it, it makes a better story if it was ;-)

I've fallen victim to this more than once. You find a treasure tucked away and immediately start thinking about value. To be honest, you're not really thinking about value. You want the bragging rights/stories that the find will generate. You bring it back to catalog and, away from the rush of discovery, a quiet but insistent whisper tells you it isn't *quite* what you thought it would be. It's good! No doubt. But not the kind of find that stories can be told over many years of burrito lunches. You have two options. Sigh, ratchet down the expectations and price accordingly. Or drown out the whisper and go for broke. Over the years, I've noticed that its *way* tougher to ratchet down the expectations if I've already shown off the book. Since I am rarely able to get out and scout with other sellers or my wife anymore, it is easy to hear the whispers now. It wasn't always.

One moral of the story could be "Always Scout Alone." But that would never work for Allan. Scouting was both a social event and a competitive sport. Don't get me wrong, *nobody* was more generous with his finds while out scouting than Allan. His goal was not to end up with the best books at the end of the day. Not even close. But one goal was most assuredly to *find* the best books. And the slimmer the pickins', the better it was when he found that gem.

Joe Marchione

More thoughts on the nature of pricing and selling books, perhaps telling you more about me than Allan but so that goes...

I've noted many times before, though not on this blog, that there may be no profession more inaccurately named than that of 'bookseller,' especially at the level that Allan and I worked at... the muddled middle... . We're not really bookSELLERS. At the core of our being, we are bookBUYERS. No sale, no matter how lucrative, can match the adrenalin rush of finding and buying a good book. The newly acquired book seems to hold nearly unlimited potential. Yes, that potential is almost always doomed to be unrealized. And we know that going in. Still, we embrace the anticipation like a junkie. Each time we see the book on display, we are reminded, even if only at a subconscious level, of the original rush. Yeah, it pisses us off some times that it hasn't sold. But on the other hand, we get to see it again, ride that little adrenalin wave one more time. The actual sale leads to, dare I say it, an almost post-coital malaise (and one of the reasons it was so tough to get Allan to do the post-sale dirty work... the packing, the shipping... the book no longer told tales of its potential but rather horror stories of its future... postal abuse, disappointed customers, who knows what else). Good, bad or indifferent sale, we know we won't have that book around to whisper sweet tales of its discovery and potential. But cash in our pocket, we're armed and ready to do it all over again. And it will be even better this time.

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What I'm Doing Here

  • Allan Milkerit was a good friend and a great bookman. After his unexpected death I ended up with hundreds of the books in his shop and apartment. One at a time, I am unearthing them and deciding which to keep and which to sell or give away. Often, I read the book first, or try to. In the process, I think about Allan and the changes the rare book world is undergoing. This blog's only regular reader is Joe Marchione, who shared a shop with Allan for several years. Joe's reflections are too good to leave as mere comments so I hoist them into their own posts.