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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 5

Sent in by Stateside jot watcher JK this piece of fascinating second hand book folklore...

The first time I heard it, it concerned a dealer on the west side of the Hudson, not far from West Point. The second time it was another dealer, this time on the east side of the Hudson, near Garrison. I don't believe a word of it but even so.

A dealer --we'll call him Fred-- has fallen on harder times than usual. He keeps a shop in upstate New York, not far from the banks of the Hudson River in an area known for its grand estates.  His little patch, however, is far from grand; his shop is dusty, his stock dispirited and distinctly pedestrian---John Grisham paperbacks and book club Stephen Kings. It was not always so; Fred once dealt in better things, but one too many bounced checks and word got around.  And so it is that one morning a man walks into the shop, takes a quick look around, and says, We have some books. When can you come to --and here he names a locally famous name, an estate house that everyone has heard of but very few have ever seen the inside of--Grayson Hall?  Tomorrow, I suppose, Fred answers. They set a time and the man departs.

Fred is equally despondent and excited. He knows there is a library at Grayson Hall but he knows too his funds are limited. Severely limited, in fact. What can he do?  The appointed time comes and Fred is shown into the library of Grayson Hall. To say it is imposing is an understatement, and to say the books are good is even more so. Two stories, upper and lower shelves are filled. From where he is standing Fred can see many Hemingways fine in jackets and even, he thinks, early Faulkners also wearing jackets. What do you think? the man says. Interesting, Fred answers. Very interesting. How much will you charge? the man says. I'm sorry? Fred says. Charge?  Madame is closing the house, the man says. We want all the books out of here, and we won't pay you anymore than $500 to remove them, and we won't pay you that if you can't promise to have them out of here in two weeks.  Let me think about it for a moment, Fred says, recovering.  After a moment or two he says, Two weeks? $500?  It's a bit less than my usual rate, but I'll do it.  From there the story gets fuzzy-- some say it was Christies, some say Sotheby's that got the auction, but everyone agrees that a few months later Fred closed up shop for good and left for warmer climes.

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One thought on “Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 5

  1. Anonymous

    Ah, yes…the urban legends of the book trade. Such transactions must have happened at some point in history, one supposes. I once had a similar experience, if one should even call it that, when a faded society lady expressed her desire for me to clear out a two-story library crammed with books. They looked nice enough from a distance, but as with most libraries of the rich, this one was for show–chock full of 30 volume sets of Browning's poems and the selected letters of Father Gasbag. The prettiest sets were all in German and of no use to me outside of a leather books by the yard scheme. Unlike our folkloric bookseller, she wanted ME to pay HER, and a tidy sum at that. I bought some very nice library furniture in the end. The books ended up in a charity shop where they were picked over for years by punters who think a leather binding renders a book on par with a First Folio.

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