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