Ask A Librarian

Book Lovers Road Show Returns to WVU

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 3rd, 2005

Norma Whitaker possesses the most important attribute for book collecting, according to Jack Walsdorf, antiquarian book collector and appraiser. She loves books.

She joined a crowd of more than 60 people standing in line at the Charles C. Wise Library to have their books appraised by Walsdorf, who returned to Morgantown on Sunday with his Book Lovers’ Road Show.

Whitaker enjoyed the afternoon, even though Walsdorf failed to assess either of her books as unearthed treasures.

“I just thought it would be interesting to see what really constitutes the value of a book and what detracts from making one valuable,” Whitaker said. “Maybe I can get some knowledge in case I want to try my hand at it.”

photo of jack

Everyone seemed to share that same sentiment.

“We’ve been to other library events, and we thought this was a unique opportunity to learn something different,” said Dr. James Shumway, who brought a book founding father John Adams wrote on the Constitution.

“As academics, we have a lot of books and we enjoy books, but most of us are not familiar with collecting books,” Shumway said.

Larry Jackson and his son, Bret, came armed with two books each and a desire to gain better insight about collecting.

Bret Jackson handed Walsdorf a four-volume French dictionary and a 17th century Latin Virgil book. He found it interesting how much information can be gleaned simply by examining a book’s cover.

“I think it would be fun to learn more about different printing,” he said.

Whitaker also gained some useful keys during Walsdorf’s talk. While she knew the condition of a book is important, she didn’t know the impact a dust jacket has on the value of a book. She plans to put the knowledge to work at book sales and rummage sales she visits.

Walsdorf is a fan of both.

He advises book collectors to invest time into digging through stacks of hardbacks at second-hand stores and yard sales. As for the online sites, Walsdorf recommends people do their research before making a purchase.

The two most important tools are persistence and knowledge about the books an individual is hunting. Both have helped Walsdorf fill his home with at least 7,000 books, 1,000 of which are signed first editions.

Also in Walsdorf’s favor is about three decades in the bookselling field, a Masters of Library Science from the University of Wisconsin, and 15 titles about the history of printing he has either authored or edited.

This visit was Walsdorf’s second stop in Morgantown.

Two years ago, about 65 people gathered to have books appraised. The most valuable selection brought in for appraisal was copy of the first account of Lewis and Clark’s westward expedition, valued at $125,000.

A common thread between both events was Edger Allen Poe. Last time, someone had a copy of The Raven. This time, it was a pamphlet written by Poe. While Walsdorf couldn’t attach an exact dollar amount to the piece, he valued it in the thousands.

Some of the most unique finds this year were two miniature books: a biography of President Calvin Coolidge and President George Washington’s farewell address. The books’ covers measured less than 1 inch by ½ inch. Walsdorf appraised them at several hundred each.

small book

The event, in Libraries Dean Frances O’Brien’s book, was a success.

“Again, Jack gave the audience a wonderful Road Show. I’m always amazed at his knowledge of books,” O’Brien said. “Of course, we must also applaud the people who shared all those fascinating books. Morgantown is definitely home to lots of book lovers.”

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