Ask A Librarian

Sentiment Plays Role in Book Collecting

Posted by
August 4th, 2003

The Dominion Post

photo of Jack WalsdorfPhoto: Ian Benson/The Dominion Post

Book expert Jack Walsdorf evaluates some old books, including “The Indian Fairy Book,” in his hand and, from left, a 1882 volume “Daughters of America” and a 1912 brightly illustrated edition of “Just So Stories.” The WVU Libraries hosted his “Book Lovers’ Road Show” at Wise Library on Friday. More than 70 people came to have their books evaluated.

Jack Walsdorf lovingly caressed the 1882 illustrated book, “Daughters of America.”

The daughters appeared in battered condition — one side of the spike broken through, portions of the cover showing attention from silverfish.

He shook his head.

“In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In books, it’s condition, condition, condition,” he said. It would cost, he estimated, about $75 to restore the volume. And there’s no indication anyone would want to buy the volume, written by Phoebe A. Hanaford.

“If you look on the Internet and the book comes in less than $100, I would suggest you not spend any money doing anything to it, because you won’t get your money back,” he said.

Walsdorf and his “Book Lovers’ Road Show” were at Wise Library Friday, sponsored by the WVU Libraries, to talk about the joys of book collecting and to appraise books brought by those present.

At a show, 95 percent of the people want to know how much a book is worth. About 5 percent want to know about a book they have.

“If a book is not in good condition, if there’s water damage, if there’s light damage, if the dust jacket is missing or in poor condition, all of those things hugely affect the value of a book,” he said before the event began. He turned over another volume, this one with an illustrated cover: “Shorthand Tom the Reporter” by Edward Stratemeyer.

“The frontspiece is missing (title page), and the cover is damaged,” he noted. “It’s virtually valueless. But if you would put this book cover outward on a stand, next to an old antique typewriter, it would be a great book. Aesthetically, that’s one of the uses of a nice book, to have it around.

“I remind people, books are not generally very good investments,” he added. Buy books because you like them, or because they have some interest for you.

He tells book owners what it would cost to replace a book. “I’m not telling you what someone would want to pay for it,” he said. “I bet you I’m wrong 50 percent of the time because there are so many ways to value books.”

“Personally, I think the best collections are theme collections — buy something you like, something you are interested in — and you can put together a nice personal collection.”

How do you build a collection?

“Look for the subject within the subject. You can’t buy children’s books (there are too many), so you buy children’s pop-up books, nursery rhymes.

“Then you’re going to look for the condition, and then you’re going to look for first editions. Generally speaking, most books published after 1930 will have the words ‘First Edition’ on the reversal of the title page.”

Older books, such as the two he handled, require more work to determine if they’re first editions.

If you’re checking the value of your book on the Internet, Walsdorf advised, read the description carefully to make sure it’s the same book, the same edition. Read the entry carefully for differences, such as whether it’s autographed.

Take care to preserve your old books, he said.

“As a general rule, the greatest enemies of books are heat, light and water. The fourth greatest enemies of books are people.”

Never store books in basements. Keep them away from sunlight, which will bleach the covers. Don’t keep them in rooms with high heat and low humidity, it will dry a book out.

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