Ask A Librarian

‘Do you know what this book is worth?’

Posted by
July 17th, 2003

CONTACT: Frances O’Brien, Dean, WVU Libraries, 304-293-4040, ext. 4000

Pick up an old book at a yard sale for 25 cents and think you found a treasure? Have a cherished volume your grandfather passed on to you? Curious what they’re worth?

If it’s a signed first-edition of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, it could net up to $1,000. Other signed volumes by Papa Hemingway could fetch between $2,000 and $3,000.

Such a find is rare, hence the lofty price tag. But similar jewels can be found on bookshelves and in boxes everywhere. Just ask Jack Walsdorf, an antiquarian book appraiser and collector, when his traveling book show hits campus.

The Friends of the WVU Libraries will host the Book Lovers’ Road Show at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, in the Robinson Reading Room of the Charles C. Wise Jr. Library. Walsdorf will talk about the joys of book collecting and provide individual book appraisals. The event begins with a reception in the library atrium.

“This event is a splendid opportunity to learn more about books, talk with others who share a love for books and discover if you have a hidden treasure at home,” Libraries Dean Frances O’Brien said. “I’ve heard Mr. Walsdorf before. He’s a knowledgeable and captivating speaker.”

photo of Jack Walsdorf

Walsdorf is the author/editor of 15 books relating to the history of printing and bibliography. He earned his master’s of library science degree from the University of Wisconsin and has more than 30 years of bookselling experience.

The bibliophile credits a teacher for turning him on to reading back in high school. By the end of college, he was an ardent collector and the fever never receded.

Today, he lives in a Portland, Ore., house filled with books. He figures there are at least 7,000 books and 1,000 of them are signed first editions. However, he admits, none are penned by Hemingway, who’s among the top five most sought-after authors.

“I’m still a real book hunter,” said Walsdorf, who estimates his collection grows by 500 books a year. “I only read 100 books a year, so I’m running a 400 book-a-year deficit.”

That galloping pace is not for everyone, still Walsdorf is quick to stress that book collecting is for everyone and that finances should not be an issue. He believes someone could build a great library with a couple hundred dollars. The larger investment would be time poring through stacks of hardbacks at used bookstores, Goodwill, library book sales and yard sales. And then there are the online sites. But before setting out, do some research, he suggests.

“There’s an interesting phrase in book collecting: ‘It’s not the early bird that gets the worm; it’s the bird that knows the worm that gets it,’” Walsdorf said. “It doesn’t matter if you and I are both looking at the same time. What matters is what we know and our interests.”

Persistence also plays a part, says Walsdorf. One must be willing to pick up literally hundreds of books before finding that sought-after book.

“There’s always something buried, but you have to look,” Walsdorf advises.

The event is free to members of the Friends of the WVU Libraries, and there is a $2.50 charge for nonmembers.

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