Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cape Cod Mysteries, Nudist Barbie Dolls and more

Three thrift shops with three daughters in 90 minutes. This is what we do every other Tuesday when the fourth daughter is at a writing class.

This thrift shop whirlwind would be tedious in the extreme if we were shopping only for ourselves. How many more nude Barbie dolls does a three-year-old need from a thrift shop anyway? When you're shopping for potential customers then shopping is much more interesting and results in deposits in one's bank account. Very motivating.

The thrift shop that has the smallest assortment of books, that from the outside seems the least likely place to find books, and where I purchase the fewest books at one time, often produces the biggest finds. I found a $100 fairy tale book there today. At the thrift shop that has the biggest used book selection in the Midwest my only acquisitions today were a half dozen Cape Code mysteries by Phoebe Taylor, which I'll sell is a lot on eBay. You just never know.

Oh, and did I mention the nudist Barbies? Bringing home junk from the thrift shop is one of the perks of having parents that are online booksellers. I hope it makes up for all the times they reach for a book on our shelves and we snap at them, "Be careful! That book is listed!"
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Monday, February 27, 2006


It would take wealth within your checking account to purchase this book. $150 to be exact. When this 1955 hardcover surfaced on the top of my pile of books to list I guessed it would be worth $10 or $100. I underestimated. As a result, Elmer Wheeler's name became permanently ingrained in my mind before I even began reading the book.

There are so many wealth and personal finance books out there that teach a wealth without you approach. Purchase real estate and paper assets. Then your money will work for you and you don't have to. Start a business, implement a system and then eventually hire employees. Then your employees will work for you and you don't have to and you can go off and start yet more businesses. There's nothing wrong with passive income. But I get the point already. I wondered if this book would prove to be a precursor of the Automatic millionaire, One Minute Millionaire, Rich Dad Poor Dad philosophies.

The book is full of bromides that we've all heard before. Hard work won't kill you. Have a target in mind. The future determines the present. Use what you have. I was annoyed when he said that the best thing a housewife can do to invigorate herself when she's run down is to get up and work because this "muscular action will offer a channel for the expression of nervous energy inside them." Harrumph! How about a nap? Or a few hours away from the kids?

The book is full of dozens of stories of successful business people and inventors and they give the reader an interesting glimpse into the past before there was frozen food, when boll weevils were a severe nuisance, before there were self-polishing plows. Wheeler emphasizes that these men and women were great for what they GAVE the world, not for what they got out of it, even though most of them were financially successful, eventually. Even more encouraging is that these people invested themselves in the business and not just money. Most of them remained with their business their entire lives and didn't sell and move on to something else or sit back and collect passive income.

Case in point: Vera Nyman. It was the 1920's. and she was widowed at age 26 and destitute. While selling household products door-to-door her customers repeatedly asked for a cleaner that would clean walls. Instead of merely saying, "No, sorry, I do not," she went to the library to study chemistry and spent her evenings mixing up concoctions in her bathtub. After five years she found eleven chemicals that, when distilled, gave a blue liquid that cleaned walls as if by magic. It was the depression and no one would loan her money so she gave 50,000 personal demonstrations to housewives. Three years later she borrowed $100 and rented an abandoned speakeasy and lived in this "factory" to cut down on expenses. Her company grew into a company named Soil-Off that sold millions of dollars of product annually and she refused to sell it when a drug company made her an offer. This story shows that, when you have an idea, the knowledge will follow. You can't, say, go to MATC and find classes in making wall cleaners. The ideas usually find you. And you need to invest yourself, not just your money.
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Saturday, February 25, 2006


Imagine: An ag newspaper titled Breeder's Gazette that offers to its readers every month not just information about supplements for cattle, but written prayers. And not just any prayers, but prayers specifically written for farmers.

Like the family farm itself, a magazine that addresses both the practical and spiritual needs of farmers sounds like something from a distant, bygone era. Brian recently brought home an old book called The Farmer Gives Thanks, which is a 63 page collection of these prayers that appeared in the Breeder's Gazette in the 1940's and 50's.

The editor of the Breeder's Gazette, and the author of the prayers, was Samuel R. Guard. His name appears on the book without any credentials. There is no "Reverend" before his name, no "Ph.D" or "M. Div." after it. There is no author blurb. In the preface he says, "With my own eyes I have seen a old farmer at the supper table, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, his wife there at yon end between the hired man and the high chair, and with my own ears I have listened to his grace. All you have to do to write a book like this is to listen."

And oh how he listens:

For lively new creatures with pink noses that this old farmer helped into a glistering but beautiful world last night, we thank thee, Lord.

Thy children are fussing again, our Father, and we who are left on this patch of black earth here are in sore need of bright courage and stout faith.

Strengthen us for any struggle, Lord.

Temper this wind to the lamb that is shorn.

If the crocus bloom, can Johnny-jump-up be far behind?

Make us patient, but well-prepared.


Bright little crocuses scampered clear across the dooryard to tell the forsythia bush; dewy daffodils nodded all day to the sugar maple tree; the red buds wouldn't wait for their new garments of green--nor we, to thank thee for the spring.

The lambs jump higher than the old ewe's back; the pink-nosed pigs nudge for dear life; the calves take to the creek as the ducklings to the pond; while we thy children in thine own image claim anew the covenant of thy bow in the cloud.

Preserve us from flood of war as thou didst Noah from the waters of the flood.

Help us to plow deep, harrow fine, and to seed as if every seed were to bear bread to be broken by the Lord himself.


I could, I suppose, do a Google search on Samuel Guard and learn about the man behind the prayers. For now I'm content to listen to the voice of the farmers through these prayers. And to keep this book on my personal library shelf, not in my business inventory.
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When it is February in Wisconsin even the prospect of a 40 minute drive to Mazomanie can raise the excitement level a bit and provide a welcome reprieve from winter.

Today St. Barnabas Church had one of their Estate Remnant sales. I love church sales, especial rural ones, because there is something so quaint about the battered tables, metal folding chairs, endless tacky glassware, heaps of used clothing and in the summer months sometimes you'll even see a cakewalk. And there is always the potential of finding treasure in the book section.

Three of my children came with me and, even though it was only 32 degrees outside, they shrugged out of their jackets halfway through the drive. The sun was beating down on us and I had to shield my eyes. It was hot inside the car. It's been at least four months since I've had anything even close to a Vitamin D fix via sunlight so I enjoyed the intrusiveness of the sun.

St. Barnabas Church is an old faded brown brick church with a not-very-new addition on the back where the fellowship hall and kitchen are located. We were ten minutes late for the start of the sale, which always gives me anxiety, so the children and I walked briskly to the entrance.

The first thing to catch my attention was a box of 14 hardcover novels by
Dorothy Dunnett. I’ve been to many sales during the 18 months we have had our online bookstore and had never heard of this author before. A quick glance at one of the colorful dust jackets showed an unusual publisher, Michael Joseph, and that the author lives in Scotland and writes complex, richly detailed historical novels set in the sixteenth century. These are substantive books, not dreck, and I decided to claim them all. I put my purse on top of the box, along with a Fisher Price house that my three-year-old daughter wanted, and picked through the rest of the books, looking for the usual fare: out-of-print religion books, esoteric non-fiction, unusual cookbooks. There was another man there who I thought at first might be a bookseller because he grabbed four C.S. Forester books from the Hornblower series (I later learned that Brian devoured these naval adventures as a kid) and I lamented that he spotted them before I did. But soon he put them down and I snatched them.

There were, of course, the usual interruptions from the children as I looked at all the books. One daughter wanted a $5 computer monitor, saying it was nicer than her own. She ended up buying tacky glassware instead. Another daughter wanted me to look at a typewriter. I told her we have several computers in our house. "Computers are boring," she said. Finally I boxed up all the books (bookselling is a great physical workout), made several trips to the car with our haul, and left.

As soon as we returned home I abandoned the children to their Fisher Price house and glassware...

... and raced to the computer to look up Dorothy Dunnett books on eBay. I will research the other sites tomorrow. So far it appears that we will easily more than make up our $14 Dorothy Dunnett investment. Stay tuned.

Filed under: The Excursions

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We had out biggest book find yet when my husband Brian came home from a library bag sale in early February with the book Winter of Enchantment by Victoria Walker. Brian didn’t know that this was an extremely rare and scarce book, but the book is from 1969 and is a fantasy book for children written by a British author. That was enough to prompt him to put the book in the bag.

It doesn’t have a dust jacket but I was able to price it at $350, making it the highest price book in our inventory. If it had a dust jacket, and if it was the UK edition rather than the American edition, it would be worth more than $1000. Mere paperback copies of the book, in not very good condition, sell for $100+.

When we get rare books like this I set them aside to read after I list them. I feel a sense of responsibility, almost, to read the book and discover the treasure within it. I’ve read half of the book so far, which is about a 13-year-old boy named Sebastian who is summoned into a magical world by a teapot and a cat from 19th century London. There is an imprisoned girl trapped in the past who needs to be rescued and she teaches Sebastian some of the sorcery he'll need to accomplish this. The four seasons become incarnate. There is a huge emerald and an enchanted forest. Surely my 13-year-old daughter, who has read the Harry Potter books at least a half dozen times, would like this book.

I found this Essay by the Author posted on the Independent Bookseller’s Network and after reading that I encouraged my 13-year-old daughter all the more to read the book. Here is an excerpt, which may be encouraging to young would-be writers out there:

"Thirty-five years ago, when I was twenty-one, I was idling away time at my parents’ house in the country, wondering what to do next. I had been living in London and taking music lessons and it had dawned at last that I had no musical talent whatsoever. So with no particular end in view I found my mother’s portable typewriter and wrote a story for children. Of course I wrote it for myself, really. I may have looked grownup - a heavy Juliette Greco fringe, so much eyeliner that my father complained that it was like looking down the barrels of the guns of Navarone over breakfast, reeking of Shalimar and French cigarettes (rolled in papier mais for super sophistication) - but I was extraordinarily naive. It simply never occurred to me to get a job or to think of a career. Instead I spent eight months, off and on, writing this story just as it came into my head, sentence by sentence, with no idea of how it would finish or what I would do with it when it had.

One evening I went out to dinner with a friend in London. In the late Sixties the Bistro D’Agran - I’m not sure how you spell that - was a well-known Hooray Henry haunt behind Harrods. It was unlicensed so customers had to bring their own bottles of wine. I can’t remember who the friend was but at the table next to us were two men who asked to borrow our corkscrew. During the conversation that followed one of the men revealed that he was a publisher. Without a blush I told him that I was within days of finishing a manuscript. It did not occur to me that he might be constantly bothered by people asking him to look at unsolicited manuscripts. Generously he said I could send it to him for appraisal. I did. A few weeks later, during which I had heard nothing and had practically forgotten about it, he sent me a contract. That was Bill McCreadie of Rupert Hart-Davis (now of Aurum Press) and the story came to be called The Winter of Enchantment.

" I was mildly gratified and grateful for the fifty pounds advance. The book sold quite well and was made into a television serial.

There are reviews on the Amazon website by kids who love this book and lament that it is out of print. Knowing this, you’d think my daughter would jump at the chance to read this book, would feel a sense of privilege and gratitutde. Plus it’s only 150 pages and even has some illustrations. But no. She’s read one chapter so far. I’ll keep insisting, even though I know someday she’ll probably say to her peers, "My mom used to force me to read rare children’s books, can you believe that? Ugh. Such oppression."

(Filed Under: The Books)

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