Ask A Librarian

Tome Sweet Tome

Posted by
July 30th, 2003

Charleston Gazette

“Most everybody responds to old books,” said Frances O’Brien, dean of West Virginia University’s libraries. “Any librarian will tell you that one of the most fun things we do is introduce people to old books. They can actually hold in their hands something that was around when Ben Franklin was alive.”

But is that dusty old tome actually worth something? Would-be collectors can find out Friday when old-book guru Jack Walsdorf brings his Book Lovers’ Road Show to the James Robinson Reading Room at WVU’s Charles C. Wise Jr. Library in Morgantown.

Walsdorf, a retired librarian, bookshop proprietor and collector, will offer book collecting advice and stories and appraisals of old books beginning at 5 p.m. About 50 people have already called the library to say they plan to attend the event, said O’Brien.

Like the cast of the similarly named “Antiques Road Show” TV series, Walsdorf travels the country looking at old books and offering opinions about their value. He takes the show to Marshall University at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

While some signed and rare books can be worth thousands of dollars — and carry price tags to prove it — old and valuable books still pop up in the most mundane places.

Walsdorf likes to talk about the thrill of finding a valuable book nestled in a stack of more or less ordinary titles. “You can still find rare and unique things by just going around used bookshops,” O’Brien said.

WVU’s own historic book collection, which will not be on display Friday, includes some volumes dating from Elizabethan times. “We have some nice Milton first editions,” O’Brien said, as well as a collection of prints illustrating scenes from Shakespeare’s works.

Books don’t have to be quite that old to be valuable, if only to their owners. “All of us have books around our homes that are old and are special to us,” he said.

O’Brien plans to bring two of her own old books — an antique cookbook and a picture book about the Civil War — for Walsdorf’s studied eye.

“They’re special to me, but I don’t know if they’re valuable,” she said. “It will be interesting to see what he has to say about them.”

For information on the road show, call 293-4040.

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