About 10 years ago I closed my business in rare coins. I owned a small house that I used for my office. It had 5 rooms including a kitchen. In the front two rooms my employees and I worked. One of the former bedrooms was used for photography. The kitchen was used to store packing materials and miscellaneous junk. The remaining room plus all the walls of every other room, including the kitchen, were lined with shelves for my library.
I specialized in the most obscure and esoteric of numismatic items. Unlike government issued coinage, the things I liked were privately made. Most were not catalogued or listed in any guide books. At any certain time, I’m sure that at least 25% of the items I my inventory were first examples I’d ever seen.
I always bought any books I ran across that had even a marginal relation to subjects that interested me. Some I never used or even opened beyond my flipping through them before the purchase.
Because many of these books were labors of love by the authors, rather than commercial undertakings, the print runs were very small. Often the first edition was 50 copies and there was no second edition. Consequently the small press runs caused individual copies to be very expensive.
I am listed as a contributor to at least 60 books. I usually got a thank you in the forward, but nothing else. I was never paid a cent for my work, and in only a few cases was I even given a complimentary copy of the final product. I didn’t care. I understood the economics, and was happy to help.
The most prominent contributions I made were to an annual antiques price guide published by Schroder’s. For years I contributed to the categories of antique advertising, Civil War, numismatics, world’s fair memorabilia, political, cast iron toys, and a few other categories. They were kind enough to send me a complimentary copy every year. If you walk into any antique store in America, you will see a copy of Schroeder’s in the owner’s library. My name, address, and phone number are in the contributor’s list.
Anyway, after closing my business I packed my library into more than 60 banker’s boxes and stored them in my brother’s basement. They’ve been there ever since.
Last week I retrieved three boxes of books and listed the individual volumes for sale on eBay. As I write this about a third have sold. I priced them at a fraction of what I paid for them, so I suspect most will end up selling.
I have no idea how much I spent on my books. My guess is $60,000.-$80,000. Tomorrow I’m picking up another three boxes from the basement. When the dust settles I’ll be happy if I net $10,000. While there is a handful of obscure references that increased in value, most have lost value. Such is the nature of books. They earned their keep by imparting their knowledge to me, not by their resale value.
I love my books. Selling them seems the rational thing to do, but somehow I’m a bit sad, a little melancholy about letting them go. In a way I feel I’m losing good friends. Yet, if I didn’t sell them they would have rotted away in the basement. Life goes on.