Monday, July 31, 2006

Part V
How did you get into the Book Business?

"How did you get into the Book Business?"
Long Story - Medium Length Version

On April Fool's 1971 day we moved from Philadelphia to a farm near Glen Rock, in Southern York County Pennsylvania. This was our beloved home for the next 28 years. It was a beautiful, cozy, isolated spot. I had the time and space to read and study: books about books; bibliography; book arts; book binding; the taste and technique of book collecting; methods and modes of illustration; printing history and procedures; and the rare book marketplace.

And I had hours and hours to spend each week with AB.

AB Bookman's Weekly was the bible of the American used and antiquarian book trade. It was started in 1948 by Publishers Weekly, which covered the out-of-print trade through a regular column by Sol Malkin, but wanted to expand into classified listings of books for sale and books wanted. Malkin became the editor of the new magazine, Antiquarian Bookman, and bought it from PW a few years later. The name changed to AB Bookman's Weekly in 1967. That was the year that Sam Klineman first showed me a copy. It was a small magazine, filled with dense type in double columns, mainly listing BOOKS WANTED. At the back there were similar listings of BOOKS FOR SALE (where some real bargains were found). The editorial matter in the front was also interesting, as it was filled with: book facts and lore; news of book fairs and exhibits; calendars; and other things of interest to collectors, librarians, and book sellers.

But its most important and bulky content were those BOOKS WANTED ads. Thousands of booksellers - large and small - scanned these pages weekly (actually, about 6000 were regular readers of the ads). Through a quick but careful reading they would mark off books they thought they had in stock. They would then "quote" the book to the bookseller seeking it. These 'quotes' describing the details of the book in hand were usually written on a postcard. Though the exact format differed, the usual information (author, title, publisher, place, date, illustrations, binding, and condition) fit nicely on a regular postcard. I had a rubber stamp made up so that I just had to fill in the blanks. Some others used pre-printed forms. Many just scrawled the information by hand in the postcard space (using pens, pencils, and even crayons). There was one 'quoter' who used to send what amounted to original watercolor drawings! Regular advertisers got hundreds of post cards a week in response to their wants.

I was a random 'quoter' - usually going to the trouble only when I was pretty sure that the book sought was rather scarce. For common books, seekers were likely to get 50 or 100 postcards, choosing the best and cheapest copy from among them.

It was a dealer to dealer only club, and through AB I made many contacts and sold a fair number of books. By advertising in the 'wants' I was also able to find scarce books for my own growing list of clients - and got to know the quoting style of many other booksellers. It was fun.

I would sit on the porch at the farm and scan these columns of 'wants' and 'for sale' whenever I had the chance. Watching our horses in the pasture, seeing fat steers munching away at the grass, listening to the frogs and crickets, and observing birds flying over the woods - my mind would often drift. Those columns of book titles (in one short line each) required intense concentration ... unless superficial review and a reliance on serendipity was more to your liking. I wobbled between the extremes, but fell more in with the lovers of serendipity.

I was living proof of an old phrase that says:
"Bookselling is a very pleasant way to make very little money."

Well - one especially luscious late spring day - I was scanning AB as usual. My wife was beside me and I said to her, for the first time ever, "I think I'd like to do this (buy and sell old books) when I retire." She said, "Good idea," and went in to stir something in a pot for supper.

She was gone long enough for a life changing thought to form in my mind, and when she came back out, I said "You know - it seems silly to labor thirty or forty years at a job you hate - to then retire to do something you love." (By this time I had risen high in Chiquita Banana's Institutional Sales Department - but hated the job). "How much worse off would we be if I left 'work' and became a full-time bookseller ?" "Do you mind if I try now?" She said, "It's OK with me," in a way that really said, "How come it has taken so long for you to have this realization?"

We had $ 2000.00 in the bank and a few shelves of books. I told her that when the bank account falls below $ 1000.00 - I'll go look for a "regular" job. She said, "Fine."

The next weeks passed almost as they had before... only the bank account kept going down - little by little. Even without the distractions of Chiquita, it was tough to generate much immediate income from my scouting forays and AB quoting labors. As the third month of "on my own full-time" began, I knew that our bank account was below $ 1000.00. I did not say anything to Belle.

Several years later she asked, "How low did the account go?" I told her that it was just dropping below $ 700.00 (and I had begun glancing at the employment pages of the newspaper) when things started picking up. She said, "I thought so... but I was praying that you would not stop and would stay with it." "My prayers were answered."

THE END: "How did you get into the Book Business?" Long Story - Medium Length Version. In 5 Parts.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Booksellers are always being asked this question,
but rarely does the scene present itself as tantalizingly
as in the sensational pulp art cover here...

And that's sort of a shame...

I don't think that I went into the serious business of
appraising rare books and historic manuscripts with
the idea that wealthy (and potentially loose) women
would seek me out so that they could learn more about
what lay between the covers...
... of their books.

But I guess did sort of see myself as a somewhat suave,
yet hard-boiled and realistic, book detective and scholar
brought in as an "expert from afar".

I liked being treated to luscious lunches in grand houses and institutions, full of ancient books that were leather bound in the best and most tasteful fashion. I loved being able to teach as I evaluated. Indeed, I insisted on it - and had many women (and a few men) hanging on my every word. Most of them were two or three times the age of the girl depicted here - but their eagerness to learn was infused with the stuff of youth.

As the years went on, I often found appraising to be very hard work. Huge unorganized libraries that needed a great deal of physical management before any intellectual elucidation could begin. Neglected books full of dust, dirt, mold, and various creepy invaders do not help maintain happy fantasies.

I found myself working faster and faster. Trying to do more and more. The mutual education and exchange between appraiser and caretaker/owner that I was so fond of became a distraction.

Not only was I not having much fun, but I was getting paid increasingly smaller pittances per hour for what is highly skilled and demanding work. Though I gave (and still give) many many free appraisals - the stingy, miserly, and selfish attitude of my more well-to-do clients sapped my enthusiasm.

I am not about to stop - but I will slow down my approach to appraisals. I will not be rushed. I will travel in the mode most convenient for me, upon a mutually acceptable schedule. I will ask you to organize and clean your books before I meet them. I will ask you to hang around as I go through your books - we may both learn something. I will report values and observations honestly and frankly to you. I will not be cajoled into telling you what you want to hear, - nor will I exaggerate for the IRS or insurance claims (as the Antiques Road Show seems to encourage). I will insist upon lunch, and/or appropriate lodging and board if I must stay over-night. I will expect to be paid a decent fee in a timely manner.

AND, I will keep my fantasies in check...
though I would not dream of limiting yours.
After all, rare book appraisals are often full of discoveries and possibilities.


PS: Biblio pulp cover by permission of Heldfond Book Gallery

Friday, July 28, 2006

Our Home and Shop
- Hess' Mill or New Milltown Roller Mill -

Some day soon we'll write the tale of how we got to this 250 year old stone mill in Lancaster County's Amish land... but I just posted a bit of history on it and the location's name to Wikipedia - so I thought I'd copy that entry for you now.

New Milltowown, PA

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NEW MILLTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA (Approx. Lat: 40.0182495 Lon: -76.0611649). Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, PA. Called NewMill Town because it was the location of the first mill on Pequea Creek. Almost all previous mills in Lancaster County, PA were located on the Conestoga River. On January 21, 1733 (Warrant, A-12-98, Philadelphia) Samuel Blyth received the original grant on the Pequea Creek (in Salisbury, Leacock, and Paradise Townships). He quickly built a mill there. Blyth's Mill is first documented on September 6, 1744 when he filed a petition that requested a road to be built from Francis Jones' land (Gap) to Blyth's Mill (D-2-35). This is the section of Newport Road which now runs between Intercourse and Gap. Samuel may have operated a mill on the site as early as 1734. The present stone mill at this location was probably first built by John Huston (Houston) around 1750. In May 15, 1792 (Deed, PP1-221) Christian Hess (I) purchased the grist, saw and merchant mill. The assessment list of 1790 lists Christian Hess as owner. He probably was operating the mill for Samuel Huston who had problems in clearing his ownership because of mortgage money owed to his family. Christian was born February 26, 1751, the son of John and Susanna (Landis) Hess. His wife Anna was the daughter of the well-known Mennonite Bishop Valentine Metzler. He was an ordained minister too, and very important in the history of the Mennonites in the area, as was his son (who was primarily responsible for building the schoolhouse meeting house in 1814/1815). Though Christian Hess (I) is usually given credit for building the current stone mill in c1800 by most authorities, it is likely that he just expanded the Huston mill. Some of these improvements might have been done by his son and could have taken place as late as 1815. Later owners of the mill have included : several generations of Hess; Jacob F. Hershey; Daniel Denlinger; various Hunseckers; Amos Fisher; and Ron Lieberman. The mill itself has been known by many names, but probably the most appropriate are: Hess' Mill and New Milltown Roller Mills.


Between 1994 and 1998 I was one of the (original) consulting editors for a journal called "College and Undergraduate Libraries", published by the Haworth Press. Most journals in the library field are intended for (and written by) university librarians. Dr. Alice Bahr, the founding editor, thought that there was an unfilled need for a publication that gave practical advice to the great many librarians working in somewhat smaller institutions. The original editorial board worked hard and harmoniously to deliver on this modest vision. My contributions of advice to the sometimes biblio-confused, as DR. RON, were quite popular. To give you a taste of the tone and content of Dr. Ron's pages, I thought that it might be appropriate to post a few here every now and then. Let me know if you'd like to see others. Ron


Dear Dr. RON:

I have a great engraving of a "Sportsman Riding to the Hunt" that I'd like to sell. The print specialist that first examined it said that it was too badly "foxed" to fetch much of a price. I'm not sure what he was talking about. There is only one fox in the picture - barely visible, disappearing over a distant field. Can you help me figure out what he meant?

New to the Game, in Huntsville


Dear New:

I'm sure that potential print buyers are not worried about the little fox that scampers away from the pursuing hunt. They are, however, put off by foxing. Foxed papers are those that are discolored, or stained, with freckle-like brownish-yellow spots. Foxing is quite common on engraved prints, books with plates, and old paper of all sorts. Under damp or humid conditions, a chemical reaction (akin to rusting) can fox and discolor papers that were insufficiently bleached or sized during manufacture. Similar circumstances can promote the growth of micro-organisms which produce a kindred spotted effect. Airborne particles and dust may also play a role. Some authorities believe that the origin of the word derives from the color of the red fox. Many specialists today tend to call all such defects "spotting."

Important single prints can be professionally washed and restored to a brilliant state. For most books, and bound collections of plates, the process is often too cumbersome and costly. Perhaps your print specialist can help you determine the economic viability of restorative treatment. In any case, it sounds like a charming print -- even if a few extra "foxes" have crept into view.
Tally Ho,

PS: By the way, the print pictured here is a color chromolithograph, probably after an engraving by Alken. It does not seem to be very much foxed.


C/O The Family Album
4887 East Newport Road
Kinzers, PA 17535

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Rarity of the Day - RADs

Beginning in 1995, The Family Album started selecting unusual
interesting books from our stock.
We posted detailed descriptions
and brief historical background
discussions about them
to various sites as
the Rarity of the Day (RAD).

A group of about 200 collectors, booksellers, and librarians
also subscribed for individual EMailings of these offerings.

The RADs took a lot of work and time,
but preparing them allowed me to indulge my love
of research, and my desire to put these old books in
understandable historical and cultural contexts...
as well as make jumps in conceptualization
that provided them with renewed relevance.

Sales were gratifying, though it seemed that many people
didn't really think of ordering -
they just liked reading the descriptive text.
I was told by them that the RADs were one of the most
entertaining and educational things that they found on the 'net
in those relatively early days.

The speed of this new EMail medium (pre-EBay)
brought excitement and a vital exchange of ideas to the
staid world of traditional antiquarian bookselling.

After over twenty-five years in this ancient and honorable
business, I really felt that I was in at the begining of a new
adventure that would transform the book collecting world.

It did - but I did not go along for most of the ride.

The RADs slowed down in 1998 and
were gone by 2000.

In July 1998 we bought (at auction) an old stone grist mill,
and spent the next year and a half restoring much of it
and converting it into our residence and book shop.
[More about the Mill in future postings]

There just was no time for the RADs.

But the mill is in pretty good shape now,
and I'm thinking of starting up the RADs again.

Let me know if you think that you'd like to
get them when they are resurrected.

For a look at some old RADs please check out the title index:

and/or the author index:

Monday, July 24, 2006

This is a picture Leary's Old Book Store in Philadelphia, around 1910. When it was sold out at auction in 1969 it was the oldest used book store in the U.S. Getting ready for the sale, a copy of the Dunlap first printing of the Declaration of Independence was discovered forgotten and neglected. It fetched over $400,000.00. Leary's was a great place to root around for old books - and to overhear the conversations of old book men.
Excerpted and changed just a bit by Ron Lieberman from the
Commencement address to the graduating class of
Hobart College 1900, given by John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)

I was wondering if I had anything to say to young people today.
There are so many ideas and paths open to you.
The perils of the times and strong, long-held convictions
encourage me to offer you the following guidance.

If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you.
Refuse to do anything that implies collusion... whether it be a
clerkship; a curacy; a legal fee; a post in a university; a place at
the tables of government; or a job in one of the many mindless
bureaucracies that multiply daily.

Retain the power of speech
no matter what other power you may lose.
If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will
bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course,
and stay silent as little injustices mount,
you become mutes, oppressors, and hooded executioners.

As a practical matter, a mere failure to speak out upon occasions
where no opinion is asked or expected of you,
and when the utterance of uncalled-for suspicion is odious,
will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity.
We let much too much pass with the thought that
"it is none of my business."

It is true that speaking up may get you into trouble.
Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Washington
and across the seas. See what comes forward to shut off the sound.
The new secret police do not fit whatever mental images you have.
They will come to you with your "own best interests"
uppermost in their minds.
They will almost convince you that "to get along -
you must go along"

But, in fact, if you have a mind to make yourself heard, you must
make a bonfire of your reputations
and a choose to be a close enemy of most
men who would wish you well.

I have seen forty years of young people who rush out into the
world with their messages,
and when they find how deaf the world is,
they think they must save their strength and wait.
They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some
little eminence from which they can make themselves heard.
"In a few years," reasons one of them,
"I shall have gained a standing,
and then I will use my powers for good."
Next year comes and with it a strange discovery.
They have lost their horizon of thought.
Their ambition has evaporated;
they now seem to have nothing to say.
They act powerless in the face of moving events
and shifting times.

This should be our main rule of conduct.
Do what you will, but speak out always.
Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt,
but don't be gagged.
The time of trial is always.
Now is the appointed time.

For a quick bio of Chapman – check:

A college librarian friend responded to my note above with:
>Lao Tzu said, "He who speaks, does not know, he who knows, does not speak".

My reply to him:
Undoubtedly correct in a Tao-ist monastery,
and often true in human affairs...
but to paraphrase Mr. Jefferson...
Experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer,
while evils are sufferable,
than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations,
pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design
to reduce them under absolute Despotism,
it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such...
and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Arnold Toynbee once said that booksellers are the engines of civilization.
In this fast-changing world, it is becoming difficult to comprehend that point of view.

There were once, in the recent past, many kinds of people that could not resist any store that said USED BOOKS on the widow; or that bore a sign saying RARE BOOKS. They often came just to browse, and usually stayed longer than they intended. Those that entered these shops came with widely differing levels of education and experience; and they were greeted with a broad range of sights and smells. Books represent the encased thoughts and imagination of a thousand generations of people like us. Bookstores were the place where their feelings, thoughts, observations, learning, knowledge, and wisdom mingled with our own... and were taken home to be savored at leisure or passed on, as a gift, to others.

The Amazon/Google/EBay empires present a pale reflection of those shops. But the electronic world gives us a unique opportunity to meet in ways that are reminiscent of the old book shops, yet expand the conversation immeasurably.

I have been an antiquarian bookseller, rare book appraiser, and library consultant for over thirty six years. I miss the kinds of conversations that used to take place in book stores. More importantly, I want to have similar conversations with folks who have never been in a used book store ... as well as those that can still vividly feel the experience of their favorite old book shop.

I have very little skill with blogs and web sites... but I do know books. I'll need your help to get the conversation started - and to show me how to make our little corner behind the booksellers desk both stimulating and cozy.

Please join in.

Ron Lieberman