“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”
Just as I love antiques and vintage things, I love used books, too. I love new books and will buy those when they are new releases, but if the book has been around for a while, I always look into purchasing it used first. Not only does it save a lot of money, but I’m getting a book that has a little story to it. Sometimes, that story remains a secret, but other times, I can see who the book belonged to, what library it came from, who checked it out, or who gave it as a gift. There can be little notes tucked inside or written in the margins. To me, those are like little surprises; gifts left by the previous owner.
I don’t live near a used book store, so I visit them when I travel, I keep an eye out for old books at antique stores, and I buy most of my used books online from Amazon, eBay, Thriftbooks, or AbeBooks. I do buy some from our local thrift stores, too, but I usually don’t find anything too enticing.
So, when my antiquing buddy, Cheri of My Cottage Life, sent me this picture from a local consignment store, it piqued my interest.
I talked myself out of going for a few weeks, though! I am trying to temper the book-buying just a little bit. But, Jeff and I were out running errands and I asked if I could stop in to see if the books were still there and if the prices were good. I ended up buying four books – Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec because I didn’t have books on them, yet, a book on VanGogh, and one on the National Gallery of Art. The prices had been marked down and, when I got to the counter to check out, I was informed that they were buy 1, get 1 half off. Nice! Jeff was waiting, so I just stuck with those four books and resisted the urge to get more.
When I got home, I looked through the books and realized the books on Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec were real treasures. They are a part of a series called “The Library of Great Painters” by Abrams that was printed in the 1960s and 1970s. The books have a black and white section with text and sketches and then over 100 color plates in each book. The color plates are printed on glossy paper and glued into the book! They are really nice. In addition, once the book jacket is removed, this lovely blue linen with gold embossed letters is revealed.
So, I looked up the series immediately online and scooped up some of my other favorite artists. Most of the books were less than $10 online! Some were just $2-3. I bought Turner, Constable, Pissaro, VanGogh, and Monet.
I also went back to the consignment store the next day and picked up some more books! I got Manet and Rembrandt from the Abrams set. I originally didn’t buy them because I have very nice books on both of those artists. I also got a book on decorative typography, American ironstone marks (can you believe I didn’t have one of those), a book on Cézanne, one of the Louvre, and a series of the complete letters of VanGogh. To make it an even number (for the BOGO offer), I got a beautifully illustrated book from 1901. There are illustrations on almost every other page, so it’s a nice find.
As a side note, I paid $15 for the set of Vincent VanGogh letters and it’s priced between $400 – $1500 from used booksellers on Amazon!
As I was looking over all of the books, I had a strong sense that these were from one person’s library. This wasn’t a random collection of books brought in by a bunch of different people. The books were all on art, literature, history, medicine…they just seemed to belong together. I felt like I had an idea of what that person might be like based on their books.
I asked the woman at the checkout if they got in books regularly and she confirmed my feeling by saying, “No. These are all from one estate.”
I’m glad that several books from this one library will stay together and be added to my home library. Unfortunately, the owner did not write his/her name in the books, but I did find some little surprises.
First of all, when buying used books, always look thoroughly inside. I often find things tucked inside. Notes, cards, newspaper clippings, etc. In the series on VanGogh’s letters, I found page numbers that corresponded with marks inside the volumes.
I read a few of the passages and wasn’t sure why they were of particular interest, but I love that I have this little handwritten index! Also, that was a lot of reading! I wish I could sit down and talk to the person who read them, hearing their thoughts on VanGogh and all of the other books they read.
These books were from a personal library, but many books I buy some out of universities or public libraries, so they’ll have stickers and stamps on them. Some even still have the old library cardholder and library cards in them!
I leave stickers that are in good shape because they are a part of the story of the book, but I do remove the plastic book jackets and any stickers that are unsightly or already falling off. Sometimes, this leaves a sticky residue on the book that I do not enjoy. Cat hair and fuzz stick to it and it just doesn’t feel nice. I’ve learned that if you rub the sticky area with a microfiber cloth, in one direction, pressing down firmly, the residue will roll off.
In the case of this book, you can still see where the sticker was, but it no longer feels sticky. Thi trick also works on fabric, wood, and other things you might not be able to use GooGone or another adhesive remover on. (Since my youngest son is a T1D and wears a pump and CGM, we have to deal with adhesives and removing them more than the average person!)
Once the books have been cleaned up and searched, I’ll stamp them with my book embosser. I had one of these when I was a kid and I always loved stamping my books (and all sorts of papers) with it. With my library growing, I decided it was time to get one as an adult. I ordered a custom stamp from THIS Etsy shop. (This would be a great Christmas gift for a book-lover.)
My stamp adds to the story of each book I acquire for when it’s one day passed along to the next owner.
With these new acquisitions, I was really starting to wonder where I was going to house these books in my studio. We have plenty of space and shelving in the house, but I’d ideally like to keep all of my art books together, so I can easily reference them and I don’t lose track of where all of my books are and what I have. After staring around the room for a while, I was able to move some things around and create a little more room.
Esmé was very worried about my dilemma, as you can see. Thoroughly concerned.
It’s a temporary fix, but it gave me a few more linear feet of shelf space.
Now, look at all of that room! I could fit 6-8 more books in there, easily.
I have started to have to keep books outside of the studio, though. I moved all of my “museum books” down to the basement and I’m keeping my books from the Library of Great Painters series in the living room. I don’t like them separated from the other books on those artists, but that’s what room requires.
I’ve already told Jeff that in my “next studio”, I want a huge wall of built-in shelves for my growing library. He just smiled and nodded knowingly.
Someone drew a picture of me taking my stack of consignment books back to my studio. (I wish I knew the original source/artist for this illustration, but I couldn’t find it! Let me know if you know.)
I’ve loved books for years. The Scholastic book fair was always one of the best days of school and I worked the book club system like a pro in the 1990s. Admittedly, my acquisition of them has definitely accelerated in the past couple of years. I think that has a lot to do with the pandemic and being at home so much more. It’s a way to get out into the world without travel. It’s a screen-free way to be inspired by others from home. It’s instruction when I can’t attend a workshop. They fill me up when I feel creatively spent. And, in a small way, they are a comfort. I’ll never be short of something to do, things to learn, and people to teach me.