some buying rules of thumb from Susan Halas

Q: Does it have an ISBN number?
A: If yes, probably after 1968

Does it have a ZIP CODE anywhere
A: If yes probably after mid 1960s

Q:This is a popular title by a well known author but something about the book, especially the paper looks a a little off (paper too thin). What is it?
A: Probably a pirated edition from Taiwan, don’t sell too cheap, pirate editions have a market too, sometimes more than the real thing.

Q: Is it a book club edition?
A: Three indicatators of book club editions — no price on the dj, a little dimple (blindstamp) on the back cover near the base of the spine, physical size of the book a little smaller. You are looking at two books that look identical, the smaller one is probably book club.

Q: You are looking through hundreds of cheap paperbacks for something of value, what are you looking for?
A: Size smaller, the older paperbacks were a little bit smaller than the current size, you can see it on the shelf, look for the one(s) that are shorter. Cover price — the lower the cover price the earlier the issue. Collectible artist who signed the cover — look at the art work, 40s/50s pulp art has a following especially if in color and about SciFi or drugs other vices. Think lurid.

Q: It looks like a real photo, how can I tell if it is authentic or a later copy?
A: Real photo has an emulsion (coated and kind of shinny or creamy on one side). No dots on real photo. (use your magnifying glass, if you see printing dots 99.9 per cent chance a repro, copy or even copy of a copy). Look at back, is there a stamp of a photographer, news agency, id mark, if yes a very good sign.

Q: What can I tell by looking/feeling the paper
A: Really old paper, (pre 1850s, made mostly of rags, has a cloth like feel, wears like iron, can be thick or thin, but doesn’t flake, chip, break, etc like later paper.Paper after 1850s has lots of wood pulp, makes it brittle, browns, chips, flakes, tears, very fragile.

Q: Does size matter?
A. Yes. With hard covers, vintage books, the earlier editions are usually larger and they get progressively smaller as they go through later editions. Two identical books from late 19th to mid 20th century, the smaller one is the later edition or the book club edition. Hardcover smaller is later. Just the reverse in vintage paper back books — two identical books — the bigger one is the later one even if price and number the same. Paperbacks Bigger is later.

Q: I am at a yard sale, garage sale, swap meet, auction, place where there’s lots of stuff and I don’t see any interesting books, what else am I looking for?
A: Boxes of old paper of any kind, pictures, photos, maps, magazines, letters, deeds, cards, valentines, train schedules, recipes, poetry, dixi cup lids, anything handwritten, anything signed, anything SMALL, anything colorful, wierd, lurid, anything that looks like it was printed in limited numbers.

Q: I think some of it might be interesting but I don’t have time to go through it then and there. What do I say to the seller?
A: That do you want for the whole box? If a number under $10 is named take it, no questions asked. A box of old paper that is older than the 1960s will almost always have something of value in it, the investment is not in the stuff it’s in your time to go through it. If the number is over ten dollars say, How about $10? If they say no, ask if you can come back and help them dispose of whatever is left (almost always all of it, especially if it’s messy).

Q: I’m offered a set of classics, an old encyclopedia, book of knowledge, bible study books, self improvement books, all with beautiful shiny gold leaf and gilt edge, all weighing about 100 pound each, should I buy them?
A: Seldom, rare exceptions, almost always the answer is NO (exceptions is it signed or limited, is it illustrated by a well known illustrator). Follow up question — did your father, uncle, grandma have any other books, photos, scrapbooks, do you have anything else to offer? Sellers are offering you what they think is rare, but often have things that are really interesting they think is junk.

Q: I’m looking at a bunch of old atlases and geography books, school books, what am I looking for?
A: If American – I’m looking for the period from the civil war to the 1950s maps that are of particular interest to particular geographic regions. Hawaii and Alaska did not become a state until 1959, Arizona did not become a state until 1912. Many of the late 19th century atlases have particular maps that are of regional interest. The more specialized the better, look for town plans, pictures of places as the looked then, explanations that today would be politically incorrect, especially racist or sexist or indicate a point of view that has changed dramatically. Interesting pictures. Anything about the civil war from just slightly later, anything about the West, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Pacific Northwest. Don’t pay any attention to condition. Ratty condition is ok, make an offer for the lot, don’t indicate to seller that some are more interesting than others. If it’s older geography take it all, sort it later.

Q: I don’t see that much older stuff, what am I looking for in newer books/paper?
A: Computers, technology, scientific advances, shifts in attitude – gay, new age, zines, comics, motorcycles, technology that bloomed then failed, scrapbooks, poetry, real photos pre digital, SMALL is good, regional stuff — back to the earth, burning man, performance art, posters especially the kind of posters that were stapled to telephone poles for readings, performances, protests, clubs, etc., cartoons, humor, small, small, small, small, small. Repeat, small is good.

from Susan Halas
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