Tuesday, March 29, 2011

rare books

Over spring break in sunny Philadelphia, I did have opportunity to drive over the glorious Ben Franklin Bridge to scenic South Jersey for a tour of the school house where Between the Covers now stashes thousands and thousands of rare books along with a dozen plus employees, functional urinals in the Boys bathroom, and memories of the second grade.

Over lunch at Five Guys, a first for me and where I winced at the fact that burgers, fries, and cokes can run over $20 for two, I learned of a letter from Melville retailing for $35,000 as well as an original copy of Walker's Appeal that sold to the University of Virginia for close to three times that amount. The history behind David Walker's early nineteenth century publishing is amazing, something we were never taught in American history as best I remember it, and yet it was the Melville letter five inches from my face that kept my attention. In it, he is writing to his publisher later in life when commercial houses have become much more reluctant to publish his writing. And yes, this would be the writing after Moby Dick, "the good stuff," at least from the perspective of how Melville is taught today--Pierre to Benito Cereno to Billy Budd left for dead in a desk drawer.

Well, I suppose as e-books continue to gain market share and paper quality continues to decline and physical books and stores continue to disappear, books currently considered "rare" will become increasingly so by some definitions of the word.

Here's some history of how Between the Covers has evolved as a successful book business over the past twenty-five years. Enjoy.

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