Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Finding Treasures in the Back Room

That Sounds Strange, huh?…

It actually is sort of a strange circumstance. For a dozen years Sheldon McArther owned North by Northwest Books and Antiques. And Shelly is a picker extraordinaire. Especially with books and glassware. And he knows something has value when he sees it.

So much of the extra books and stuff he found over the years ended up in this large back room of the bookstore in boxes and then when he sold the store to his manager, she cleared out stuff she didn’t want to carry in the store and stuffed it in the back room as well.

It was impossible to even go in that room, it was so jammed when we bought the store. So slowly, over the last four months, I’ve been working on digging pathways through the back room as I have a spare hour or two in the afternoons. (There is still a large area I haven’t reached yet. Not kidding.)

So far every time I have gone back there I have found amazing stuff. Signed books, old collectable stuff of all sorts.

This afternoon I was back there for an hour. I moved out five large boxes stuffed with antique medical bottles. (We have thousands on display, and I do mean thousands, plus all sorts of antique medical stuff, including a Civil War doctor’s medical bag with all the instruments in it. That one is under glass.)

So today I also found something for my own marble collection. I found the bottom of a Victorian stool leg, brass, claw, with a marble in the claw. Nifty. Goes right into my marble collection. Those things are tough to find.

And I found an entire original package, with original printing on the package, of WWI era postcards. From Germany. 100 postcards in the packet, all in stunning shape, all with different photos of different scenes in WWI post Germany including POW camps and reconstruction.

Where Shelly found that I have no idea. I will ask him. But what a find. It will hit eBay at some point very soon through one of our Pop Culture stores.

So finding treasures in my own back room, and having a blast doing it. Go figure.


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  • Mark Kuhn

    This sounds very cool, Dean. Here in New Jersey, though, you can’t find any used bookstores. Oh, there are a few, but most specialize in antique books, or expensive first printings of books by classic writers.

    • dwsmith

      Wow, is that a huge opportunity for someone. If you know how to run a bookstore, new and used, you can make great money at it. But the knowing how and making sure you are selling internationally instead of just locally is the key.

  • Kate Pavelle

    I’m interested in the post cards, Dean. I have come into the possession of maybe 20 WWI postcards, stamped and mailed, written by my grand-grandfather. I’m the only person in the family who can now read his handwriting, which was in Czech. The photos show his batallion, and him with other cooks, and so on. That’s how you sent pictures of what you were doing to your family.
    Aside from translating them and making a digital record of them, how would I find out the value of something like that? The girls are only tangentially interested in them, and someday I will be done with them, and will want to sell them.
    Ditto for the artwork done by my grandmother’s brother, who was in WWI. He drew on everything, and one of the pieces he did were drawings of Austrian soldiers in full field kit, casual poses, done on the reverse of an Imperial train table. The train table is just a partial bit of paper, but you can see all three official languages (German, Hungarian, and Italian) and where they were located at the time. It’s a bit fragile. I have no idea how to curate a collection like this, and my local search has not yielded anyone who might be interested.
    Would you please let me know if you know anyone who might know how to preserve these items? Thank you.

    • dwsmith

      Kate, no one outside of a university I know, but you could easily preserve they yourself. Go online and look up acid-free plastic bags. We buy them for everything from postcards to sheet music and Life Magazines. You can also get acid-free cardboard to give the fragile stuff more support. Then get them into an acid-free box (you can get those online as well. From comic boxes to other shapes) and then store them all in a dry, dark place. And when looking at them or showing them, don’t take them out of the bags. The simple acid on your fingers will eat them away given time.

      That should do it and won’t cost much.