Saturday, February 26, 2011

"I would rather excel in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and possessions."


A misconception that we encounter on a weekly basis here at the bookstore is this one: if a book is old, it must be expensive. Or rare. Or both.

Week after week, we have to tell customers that that isn't the case. Books have been printed en masse since the 1450s, which makes for 560 years of publishing and millions upon millions of titles. More than 107,000 books were published in the United States alone between 1910–1919. Only a small fraction of those countless books will retain any value after the decades and centuries have gone by. And a book that is old in people terms may not be old in book terms, as Brian is fond of saying.

More often than not, two factors called scarcity and demand affect a book's value more than its age. For example, most people back in the 1800s had schoolbooks--Latin, geography, arithmetic, etc. Many people also saved them, so the used-book market is saturated with them.  The demand for them is negligible, since the information is outdated or just simply dated. We've got a small collection of old schoolbooks at Babbitt's, but the resale value of each book is only around eight or ten dollars. (Which is fine by us, but don't expect $200 for them if you're selling some!)

Which brings me to a couple of new arrivals that I like to call Plutarch's Lives.

These leather-bound books, priced individually as a result of two missing volumes, date from 1822 and contain the lives of famous Greek and Roman citizens, as written by the philosopher and historian Plutarch. Between these particular volumes, you'll find bios on Pericles, Theseus, Romulus, Alexander, Julius Caesar and Cicero. The complete set was comprised of eight books, and each volume here contains two of them. Volume I contains books I and II, while volume III contains books V and VI. (If you want a matching set, volumes II and IV will probably have to be ordered specially through the Internet.) 

Marbled endpapers.

After being in existence for 189 years, both volumes are slightly banged up as you can see from the photos. Volume I has a large signature crack in the middle and several loose pages around the crack, though all pages are present. The previous owners' bookplate is on both pastedowns. Still, these old books are a handsome addition to any bookshelf. 

And fortunately for their buyer (is it you?), these books are also affordable. The two factors we discussed above, scarcity and demand, are aligned against poor Plutarch and his Lives. Plutarch was quite popular up until the 19th and 20th centuries and copies of Lives were heavily printed, which means they're not scarce. As for demand, it has dropped dramatically for Plutarch and other Greek greats within the past century. These factors combined make for an $8 copy of an 1822 book, your choice of volume I or volume III. 

If you like the look of leather spines lining a shelf and want to start a collection of your own, remember . . . buying old, attractive books doesn't have to be expensive.

Title: Plutarch's Lives, Translated from The Original Greek; with Notes Critical and Historical and a Life of Plutarch by John Langhorne, D.D. and William Langhorne, A.M.
Publisher: Samuel Campbell & Son
Year: 1822
Features: Volume I (books I and II), Volume III (books V and VI)
Condition: Fair / Good
Price: $8 apiece

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A madness most discreet.

Less than two weeks until Valentine's Day! If your beloved is the sort of person who doesn't care for flowers and chocolates one way or another, or likes something supplementary, you should visit Babbitt's Books before the 14th and pick out a gift or two. Here are just a few suggestions:

1. We have several classic poetry books from the late 1800s in stock right now. The cloth bindings come in all colors and are handsomely gilt-stamped, which makes the books an attractive accompaniment to, say, one dozen red roses or a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Authors range from Thomas Moore to Tennyson to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Perhaps the best thing about these books, next to the fact that they're old and pretty and filled with romantic poems, is their inexpensiveness.  For example, we have an 1872 copy of Lord Byron's poems for only $16. You'll find the rest of the books on our counter shelves for $4 to $40. 

Not that we're inducing you to marry, but a few years ago a young man came in and bought one of the aforesaid poetry books so he could cut a hollow into the pages and put a ring inside for his girlfriend and (we hope) soon-to-be fiancĂ©e

2. Do you remember that we have totes and tees? The totes come in two designs and each design comes in green on white or white on black. The tees come in two designs as well and are printed on Jerzees heavyweight blend, which gives them a soft feel. (They're nothing like those awful, stiff-feeling, heavyweight Hanes tees.) Tees are men's unisex and range in size from S to XL. The totes are $9 and the tees are $15. 

3. We still have plenty of vintage Valentines, too,  for those of you who are considering an alternative to store-bought cards. 

 $1 (1950s-era)

$1 (1940s-era)

$2 (1920s-era)

$7 (mechanical, 1940s-era)

$8 (die-cut, 3D, circa 1890-1910)

$15 (die-cut, 3D, circa 1890-1910)

4. The following items aren't as Valentines-related, but I couldn't resist showcasing them. Brian has been slowly but surely putting out some of the prints we've accumulated over the years. Some are wood engravings, some are steel engravings, and still others are chromolithographs. Prints are a great way to get some new artwork into your home without spending an arm and a leg. The ones you're about to see are 7" by 10", but many that we have are larger.

 $10 ("Mammals of Earth, Air, and Water" lithograph, 1902)

 $12 (wood engraving by E.H. Dewey, circa 1880. It's a Costwold ram, but I like to think of it as Fat Sheep.)

$15 ("Academic Gowns--British Usage", 1902)

$18 (this is my ultimate favorite--"Octopods and Decapods", 1902)

As always, Kathleen and Brian and I (Sarah) will be more than happy to point you in the direction of these featured items when you come in. We also reserve books for 48 hours, so don't be shy about e-mailing us if you want to stake a claim to any of these Valentine's delicacies. Hope to see you soon!