Oh, the life of a bookseller

There’s a store here in Walnut Creek where I have an arrangement with the owner to have about 300 of my books for sale in her retail shop. I do most of my business on-line, at book fairs, and through quoting my regular customers, so this arrangement exposes some of my books to a retail audience.

A gentleman came in looking for a book as a gift. He found one of my books. It’s one of those home remedy medical books so common in the 1800s when your doctor might be a five-mile drive from your house via horse and buggy.

I was busy in the back of the store working on some books, so the owner and this gentleman were involved in conversation about the book. She called to me to explain a bit more about the book, and I was able to relate a few stories to him, so he knew this book had some “heft” to it irrespective of its actual size.

“How much?” he asked?

“Jim,” the owner called to me, “four fifty for this book?”

“Yup, four fifty.”

“Great. I’ll take it,” he said, smiling while still admiring this great black book which is about the size of one of those huge dictionaries.

“There’s a bit more for the government,” the owner warned about the sales tax.

“Not a problem,” he said, handing her a $5 bill.

“I’m not sure we’re on the same page,” she said. “Jim,” she called to me again, “it’s four hundred and fifty dollars, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, thinking that I thought the price was clear, but I guess he was hearing only what he wanted to hear. Four dollars and fifty cents?  Really?  He ended up declining the book.  All I could do was smile a wan smile.

All this reminded me of a situation very early in my career as a bookseller, c.1982, when I had the best looking copy of Gone With the Wind that you’ve ever seen, a first edition, first issue, with the first issue dust jacket, signed by Margaret Mitchell, in immaculate condition.

I had taken the book to a local book fair where it was sitting on a table, looking as pretty as can be. Well, Ma and Pa Kettle stood in front of that table, admiring the book and discussing it in hushed tones. They asked its price.

“Twelve fifty,” I replied.

They looked like they wanted it, and sure enough, Pa Kettle nodded to Ma Kettle who fished a five and a ten dollar bill out of her purse and handed them to me.

I stared dumbfounded at the bills and finally looked up to say, “It’s twelve hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Oh,” Ma Kettle said in surprise, taking back the bills rather quickly.

“No problem,” I said, trying hard to suppress both the rejection and the laughter that was trying desperately to billow out my mouth.

About 30 seconds or so went by when I saw Pa Kettle smile a slightly mirthful smile at me and then said, “I guess at that price I’d want to buy them all.”

Dealing with the public. You gotta love it.


1 Comment

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One response to “Oh, the life of a bookseller

  1. Mike Tuck

    Hi Jim,

    A similar thing happened at a SoCal book fair many years ago involving David Meeker. It was one of the Tarzan books in a lovely dust jacket, I don’t remember the title. Dave had a habit (and still does, I think) of writing the price on a post-it and placing it on the book. An older gentleman was admiring the book in the case and asked if he could take a closer look. The old boy decided to buy it and pulled out his checkbook. Dave looked at the check written for $30 and had to inform him the price was $3,000.


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