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Sunday with the Antiquarians

Specifically, the ones populating the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend.

I’d been wanting to go to this show for years, but somehow always managed to miss it… usually by losing the flyer with the date until the weekend after the thing had taken place. This year, I wasn’t taking any chances — the same day I picked up the postcard advertising the event, I made it a point to check out their website and sign up for their e-mail updates. (As I get older, I am learning ways to circumvent my more habitual stupidities.)

It was held in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, a very nice space next to the Opera House.

We discovered that a lot of the bodies in the aisle were exhibitors nerding out with one another. That was when we realized that despite all the incredibly expensive and museum-quality merchandise, these folks were all still members of our tribe.

A bit classier than the usual shows we attend, certainly, but our particular corner of the literary universe was nevertheless well represented. Lots of comics and pulps and other geek ephemera.

Bud Plant isn't a distributor any more, but he's still in the business. We spent a lot of time admiring the stuff he had in his booth, particularly these Big Little Books and other Whitman juveniles. I almost fell for the Lone Ranger but couldn't quite make myself do it.

The only way to do a show like this is to approach it like you would a trip to Vegas — you take a set amount of cash with you and when it’s gone, you’re done.

Of course, we broke that particular rule about ten steps in. Garcia-Garst Books from Turlock, California, is a firm that specializes in juvenile books, particularly the intermediate-reader series books that Julie and I are both so fond of. Ms. Garst had all sorts of stuff — Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew from the 1930s, A.A. Milne, all the usual suspects… but what caught my eye were the Oz books on display.

These are not the books we saw, I just ganked this shot off Google so you could see what the books look like. The ones at the show were much nicer.

They were 1930s-era hardcovers, in beautiful shape. Not first editions, but we don’t have the money for that kind of collector snobbery. Julie loves the Oz books, and I do too.

Most of them were priced at $80 to $100. “These are so beautiful,” Julie said. “The art is so amazing. And look, this one’s just ninety dollars.”

Two typically stunning illustrations from John R. Neill. These are both from TIK-TOK OF OZ.

“That’s our whole budget, it’s all we have left. It would be the shortest book fair ever.”

“Oh, I can take a card,” Ms. Garst put in helpfully.

That did it. We pulled out the debit card and decided we would allow ourselves one of the dozen or so displayed there on the shelf. We finally fell for Tik-Tok of Oz, which alternates with The Scarecrow of Oz as my favorite of Baum’s original fourteen books. She had it for $90, which is really a deal for an Oz book in such good condition. (I’ve seen water-damaged copies covered in kid’s crayon for upwards of $150.) I chose it because I never see it anywhere.

Read this to pieces at the library when I was very young.

Of course, we promptly saw four more on display that day in other booths. But ours was in the best shape of what we saw. What’s more, only one was priced lower, at $70, and it had water damage.

“Okay, now really we stick to the budget,” I cautioned.

And by and large we did. There was lots to look at, though.

I paused to chat for a moment with the proprietor of Fantasy Illustrated, a pulps-and-comics dealer from Mill Creek. Mostly I wanted to take a picture of his amazing pulp-magazine display.

For a second I just stood and stared at this display. I may have drooled a little.

Turned out he’d gotten into the pulp-fiction thing the same way I had, finding the Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks on a spinner rack in the sixties. He had some extraordinary pieces there, including one of the original Lone Ranger pulps, as well as several first edition Edgar Rice Burroughs and Narnia hardcovers.

Aren't these incredible? Both can be yours for a mere, uh, $1500. Even so, it was really damn hard not to pull out the card again.

I really had to work to tear myself away, even though pretty much every individual item on display cost more than I had in my pocket.

Truthfully a lot of the fair was like that for us. It was more like being in a bookscout’s museum. Mostly what I ended up doing was taking pictures, because that was as close as I was going to get to most of this stuff.

I took this because of the tabloid DC and Marvel books on display. Those were priced at $50 or so each. I remember being annoyed as a child when they went up from a buck to a dollar and a half.

There were lots of things on display from all areas of publishing. It wasn’t just books. Julie was quite taken with the art prints and broadsides that some booths were selling, though we ended up not buying any.

There were quite a few poster-and-print people there too.

Not everything was antique. I was interested to see some of the more modern rarities. Saratoga Books specializes in mysteries from the twenties to the seventies and their display stopped me for a while.

The modern stuff was closer to our price range, but still more than we were willing to spend. Good stuff there though. The Nero Wolfe, in particular, but I already own most of those

In particular, I was delighted to see a first edition of Ernest Tidyman’s Shaft.

It’s not generally known outside of book-nerd and mystery-nerd circles, but the Shaft films were based on a series of novels by Ernest Tidyman (a white guy, as it happens) who actually adapted his own book for the first film. The image of Richard Roundtree is so indelibly linked to the character that it never fails to amuse me that, in the books, John Shaft dislikes men with mustaches. He thinks they’re dirty and cheap.

I almost bought it, but in the end I settled for a picture.

I really wanted this, but not quite enough to shell out fifty dollars. I settled for the picture.

The items under glass were so astronomically out of range of our budget that all we could do was admire them. Robert Frost first editions for $17,500, that kind of thing.

There were even a couple in my wheelhouse.

Sherlock Holmes…

Note in particular, THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Edited by Ellery Queen, this collection of Holmes parodies was suppressed by the Doyle estate when it first came out. Incredibly rare to see it in a first edition.

Famous cartoonists…

I'm not much for autographs I didn't get myself -- it's about the moment -- but I was impressed by this signed Charles Addams nevertheless.

…all kinds of stuff. I have a pretty fair range of knowledge about rare books in general and mysteries, pulps, comics and juveniles in particular, but I was a dillettante compared to the folks manning the booths. I’d overhear dealers talking about stuff I thought *I* knew something about and feel like an ignorant hillbilly.

We saw this one under glass a number of times, and I finally asked one of the dealers what it was. He was completely horrified that I didn't know Wanda Gag's MILLIONS OF CATS in a first edition from 1928 is a big deal. Well, I know it now... and so do you.

We did pretty well with not spending too much money. I’d talked myself into a first edition of Farmer’s Doc Savage biography for $20, and Julie wavered and finally regretfully put back a slipcased collector’s edition of Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery.

One for Julie, one for me.

Really, we were almost starting to feel smug about our restraint… we were only twenty dollars or so over what we’d said we would allow ourselves.

Then we saw Art’s booth, and I knew we were doomed.

I’ve been seeing Art Mallonee at shows for going on eighteen years now. He deals in comics, pulps, vintage paperbacks, series juvenile novels, posters… in other words, anything and everything I would be interested in at a show like this.

Art is a jovial fellow, a very nice man and delightful to talk to. However, his gift of salesmanship is so overpowering that if you see something you like, and Art sees you seeing it, well, you will buy it. It is inevitable.

That's Art in the blue shirt, doing his thing. I already owned the Sue Grafton and John D. MacDonald first-edition hardcovers there on the shelf, or Art doubtless would have sold them to me somehow.

It never feels like a hard sell. I don’t know how he does it. I’ll be telling myself, No, no, shouldn’t spend the money, and then Art says, “Hey, for you, half price,” and somehow suddenly I’m reaching for my wallet.

He was pleased to see us, and not just because we always spend money. Art is genuinely friendly. “Hey, how are you guys? Great to see you.”

We chatted a little about the show, and Art said it was going well, despite the economy.

Julie giggled ruefully at that. “Well, we always spend all our money here,” she said.

Art chuckled. “Well, that’s great! Feel free to spend some more!”

He had a lot of good stuff, but then he always does. Not so many comics, though he had a long box out of really nice Lee-Kirby Marvel books from the sixties. Most of the books were things I didn’t care about or already owned — Art looked mildly crestfallen when I told him I already owned the Travis McGee adventure The Turquoise Lament in hardcover.

Yes, I own THIS one.

“In the jacket? This one’s still got the dust jacket.”

“Yeah, mine’s in the dust jacket too. That’s a nice one there though.” Then my eyes moved down to the next shelf and it was all over.

Art had a whole bunch of Whitman ‘Authorized Edition’ hardcover juveniles from the 1940s.

Regular readers will remember that I have a thing for Whitman juveniles, in particular the “TV Favorites” line from the fifties and sixties.

That's my shelf of Whitmans, from a couple of years ago. Added about seven more since then

In recent months, I’ve stumbled across a few of the direct ancestors to that series, the Authorized Editions. In those books, a famous movie star is the protagonist of a completely fictional adventure. Usually a mystery in the Scooby-Doo tradition, where the old lighthouse keeper turns out to be a smuggler or something like that. (“And I’d have gotten away with it too, if not for that meddling Betty Grable!”)

I’d picked up a couple at thrift stores with the vague idea of re-selling them, but I find them weirdly fascinating reading… especially since, in the stories themselves, the movie star isn’t a star, or even involved in motion pictures or theater at all. They’re just the protagonists of the stories. None of the other characters ever refer to the hero’s fame or movies or anything.

Weirdness! Weirdness!

Picked these two up at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in August. Nobody remembers Jane Withers was a glamor lead in the 1940s, before she became Josephine the Plumber in all those Comet cleanser TV ads.

Generally when you see them around they’re either the Annette Funicello ones, the last gasp of the series in the early 1960s, or the cowboy ones, because the Gene Autry and Roy Rogers stories had the biggest sales and went back to press a couple of times, there are more of them around.

But Art had a bunch of the really weird, rare ones. Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma. Ann Sheridan and the Sign of the Sphinx. Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak.
With dust jackets intact, even.

“Damn, you never see these.” I couldn’t help myself.

Art grinned. He knew he had me. “Yeah, and with the dust jacket and everything! Hey, for you, half price. See, that’s how I get your money, I’ve got the great deals.”

I ended up with the Gregory Peck. I’d almost picked it up once before, in an antique mall in Kalama two years ago. I’d talked myself out of it then… but here it was again in a nicer edition and intact dust jacket. Clearly it was supposed to be mine.

This story hinges on Peck impersonating his friend Mark to get to the bottom of a mystery while Mark is laid up. Amazingly, no one suggests that Mark looks a hell of a lot like Gregory Peck from the movies.

And hey, it was half price.

Julie was still giggling at me when we walked on. I said, “Why don’t you get YOURSELF something for once instead of just enabling me?”

“The Ellery Queen was nice,” Julie admitted.

“You know it was the first one? The Roman Hat Mystery was the beginning of the series.”

“Oh, okay, then we have to go back.” Julie whirled, determined. I hid a smile. Julie gets to see that fevered acquisitive look on my face all the time, but I never get to see it on her.

It was still there, and fifty dollars later, it was ours.

Considering what I spend on books in a year, I certainly didn’t begrudge her and anyway it was worth it just to see her so happy. She actually hugged it to her chest and let out a little gloating chuckle.

So that was our day at the fair. Next time, though, damn it, we are sticking to our budget. Really.

See you next week.

15 Comments

What I hate is when I have the money and I still pass things up. I could have gotten the BWS Storyteller slipcased 9 issue thing for 27 bucks once (actually, 2 different times, I think), and some issues of Help for less than 5 bucks.

I think I’m drooling looking at these pictures.

The other day I nearly knocked over someone at a local library, because I could see at the bottom of a free shelf of books an issue of Plop! It was the Best of DC Blue Ribbon issue (63). Not sure what it’s “worth”, but c’mon, Aragones, Wood, Ditko. How could it not be awesome? I actually have a couple of the regular issues of that comic too, and the covers to them are both filthy for some reason. It’s weird that that title has covers that get extra schmutzed.

I second Travis: those are drool-worthy pictures. It’s like visiting a book-nerd museum – but you can actually buy stuff, not cheaply, but still…
From your description, I think I’d have a lot of fun visiting one of Art Mallonee’s booths at a show like this. I do love me some old books/magazines/comics, but cheapskate that I am, I’m always on the lookout for the dirt cheapest deal possible – I’d like to test my powers against his Jedi mind tricks.

Damn, those really are some awesome scores. There’s nothing better than walking away from a slightly expensive day of book shopping but not having any buyer’s regret.

I loved this post.

Tom Fitzpatrick

October 17, 2010 at 6:21 am

I can just see Eric Shanower going for all those Oz books in a heartbeat, y’know?

;-)

Next year I’m going with you!

I would have been hard pressed to not drop the $50 on Shaft.

I can just see Eric Shanower going for all those Oz books in a heartbeat, y’know?

I’d be honestly surprised if he didn’t at least have the first fourteen Baum books already. We also quite like the Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz books but there are those fans that are Baum purists. Mr. Shanower might be one of those, though I doubt it.

The Oz books are not that hard to find, at least not until you get to the originals from the 1930s by Thompson and Neill. They’re just very expen$ive if you want yours in good shape.

Eric Shanower shares one of the top Oz collections around. His partner David Maxine blogs about their stuff at the Hungry Tiger Press blog. Another good site for collectors is Bill Campbell’s Oz Enthusiast. And of course there’s the International Wizard of Oz Club.

I collected Oz books before I first got into comics, and afterwards, too. At my first big comics convention, about age thirteen, I found a (then rare) copy of The Shaggy Man of Oz and emptied my pockets to buy it. I left myself with little more than a dime to call my mother to come pick me up since I’d spent my subway money.

There is no way “Encyclopedia Gregory Peck and the Case of the Camera-Shy Dog” isn’t awesome.

I have to admit, I would like to read one of those original Oz books. There’s a unique charm in reading something in the form it first came out; it captures the essence of its times, especially the art.

Wait a minute, they made books about Gregory Peck having adventures!? Not the oddest thing I’ve ever head about, but considering how many great characters he played, I’m surprised the books weren’t about him rather than them.

(Arrgh, now I can’t help thinking of Gregory Peck teaming up with the Hardy Boys or such. ) :D

Whoa, weird coincidence. I went to a local record show today, and they had a bunch of those Annette Funicello ones, including the one you show. For a buck a pop, but since they don’t really hold any interest for me (and I’m not, you know, MADE of money), I didn’t pick them up. Maybe I should have…

Actually, she’s from my hometown area, I believe. From what I understand she was either born and/or grew up in the Endwell, NY area near Binghamton.

I’m sure you all care…

Gotta wonder what those DC Famous First Editions were going for. Overstreet always ran a warning about unscrupulous dealer taking off the cardstock cover and trying to sell the comic inside as an “original.” Did anyone really fall for a mint tabloid sized Detective #27? Overstreet almost never quoted them as going for more than 3 bucks, except, I think, for the Shelly Moldoff Rudolph books and the Neal Adams illustrated “Superman vs. Muhammed Ali.”

Oh, I forgot the caption showed them at $50 each. But the one is an Oz comic. I have the Superman #1 reprint, in fact, I think I carefully took off the cover, laminated it and replaced the staple, just to preserve it for reading.

I love books, and always wanted a collection of antiquarian books, but whenever I start one I end up selling it because I need the money for something else. It’s just too expensive of a hobby. I did have a great collection of ER Burroughs books at one point (no dust jackets however). I managed to buy them here and there at great prices, but I had to sell them all to afford something else….who know’s what.

That’s the thing of it. If I have one of these books, I remember buying it, reading it and what I did with it, but I’ll be darned if I remember what I did with the money after I sold it. Sometimes it may just be best to hold onto things that you really want, no matter their value, I suppose.

Those Oz books are pretty sweet. You got some great deals. Great post.

Greg, you found some great stuff, and I loved the write up. I felt like I was there with you in spirit. Thanks!

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