Big, Little, Boring and Post Its

Post It Carts

It is getting so long! Pulling a comb through the tangles every morning is a pain and painful. I have never done a ponytail no matter the length. Maybe it is time.

But it is my defiance to the Plague and all the controversy around it.

I won’t give in…yet.

I’ll “let my freak flag fly…
But I’m not, I’m not giving in an inch to fear
‘Cause I’ve promised myself this year
I feel oh, like I owe it, to someone
When I get myself together
I’m gonna get down in that sunny southern weather, yeah
I’m goin’ find a space inside a laugh, yes
Separate the wheat from some chaff
I feel
Like I owe it, yeah, to someone”

September 21st will be the bookstore’s 40th anniversary. Carl Sickles and I each put in $1000 for the 1st and last months’ rent, a load on #2 pine shelving, nails…

Then I was pretty much on my own. There certainly was frequent great advice from Carl, but the store and work and shelf building was my solo venture.

In retrospect, going into business was very simple, however. I went downtown and bought a business license. I ordered a phone number (unchanged for 40 years), got a checking account (unchanged for 40 years—although the bank has changed names a couple times.) Then I got to work. Work was something I always did. The difference this time was complete dedication. Devotion. And some desperation. If I failed, it would be personal.

Hard to believe back then that a 9-year-old could open a bookstore! (I’m kidding!)

I’ll write more on this next week when the balloons and cake arrive.

In lieu of congratulations, send cash!


My mood has lightened. Perhaps it is because of the weather. The oppressive heat and humidity are departing.

Both legs are working fine again! A miracle. A week of Prednisone and two problems (one a chronic heel spur screaming pain 5 years old) are gone. It has been nearly a month now. I hope neither problem come back.

I am gardening and cutting wood and dodging snakes.

Black Snake

There’s about 6 more feet of black snake in my garden wall behind this head. Black snakes are good neighbors, if a bit daunting.

And perhaps there seems to be a bit more hope that the Plague is running its course—at least as far as deaths. Here’s a graph of the Frederick County, Maryland deaths by age. There are 120 deaths by COVID here with a population of over 280,000.

89.2% are of people over 60.

56.6%—80 years and older.
32.6%—ages 60-79.
7%—ages 40-59.
0.8%—ages 20-39.
0%—under 20 years old.

Frederick County COVID Deaths

That doesn’t add up to 100%, however. LOTS of numbers don’t add all over the world. Data keeps shifting. The goal posts keep moving.

Maybe they just don’t know the ages of the missing 3%?

I dunno. It is just my own reading of many sites and sources.

I was pretty good at math. My math SATs were higher than my verbal. But after a certain point (calculus), I didn’t enjoy mathematics any longer.

Anyway, I’m just saying what makes me feel better. And after all, that is all that counts. Right?

Am I wearing a mask? Yes.

Will I get on plane anytime soon? No.

Hotel. Unlikely.

Go to a city? Unlikely.

I DO NOT want to catch the Plague.

And, maybe things are cooling down a bit with the rioting and violent protests.

We can only hope.

Read history. Don’t be told what to think and believe it blindly.

Look on the positive side.

Is the glass half full? That’s not dreadful. That’s progress.

Is the glass 3/4 full?

90% full? If so, let’s focus on the 10% and not tear down what is working for the 90%.

That’s been a work mantra for me at Wonder Book ever since I learned how the world and people work.

As a leader, if a part of the company is functioning at 90%, it is my job to try to push it to 91 or 93…

I was way behind last weekend. It was a holiday weekend. Labor Day. I don’t do most holidays anymore.

If you read the last story, you know I took a trip the weekend before last to visit two friends who happen to be top-notch booksellers. That meant I didn’t get anything done in the warehouse that weekend.

Last week, I had to have my two HVAC units replaced at home. That involved Thursday and Friday. They had to return Tuesday to finish up. I had been told it would likely take just one day. They do this kind of work all the time.

It is a top company. My house is modern and not complex.

THOSE numbers were way off!

So, I was in all day Saturday and Sunday. There were dozens of carts for me to sort through. Most were tedious.

But there were even more carts of vintage mysteries. Those I enjoy doing! I just used my experience to price manually. I don’t trust the computer to price certain things. It would be impossible to look up the thousands of books I don’t trust the computer to “understand” automatically.

Human versus machine… Kind of like the John Henry story. But that story doesn’t relate the many things that John Henry could do that the machine never could. For example, Henry could drive steel in places the machine couldn’t access…

Anyway, it is nice to feel relevant sometimes and not just a tool of THE tool.

Carts, carts, carts…

There was a large collection of numismatic books and catalogs that were dropped off by a charity. Looking in the boxes, I saw they were highly problematic. The computer wouldn’t “know” what to with them.

“Cart them up. I’ll do them.”

There were carts of books that belonged to my friend Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.) These are books we removed from Lothlorien after she passed away. We’ve been working on a way to add these respectfully and to make them “findable.” Only now is the Collector’s Corner section of our website beginning to function properly. It has taken a lot of time and money. These are books the computer would be clueless about. I’m clueless about the potential market for them as well. Will anyone want them? I would—but I have a lot of her books.

A River in the Sky Signed

Some are just “souvenirs” a fan might want as a memento—things she liked to read. Others were clearly things she used for research to write her books.

There were a lot of copies of her own books. These included foreign editions and reissues and audiobooks and… Many of the UK editions of her earlier books I had never seen! Some of the cover art was quite weird or primitive or even…ummm, problematic and ummm, a bit troubling…

Someone in the House

So I had to look at every single book. Many were signed by her to indicate ownership. Some even using her maiden name—Barbara Gross. For her own review copies, I had to ascertain if they were first editions. Oddly, there were a substantial number of later printings. Also, she would acquire used copies of her out of print books to have on hand as gifts for friends, grandkids…or whatever. She used to buy some from me at the store.

“Why are you buying your own books?”

“I gave away my last copy…”

We are putting a bookplate indicating it was sourced from Barbara’s home collection in each of those books.

That task is fun, if a bit bittersweet and nostalgic.

The numismatic things were just tedious—although—in the future—I believe very profitable.

I miss Barbara just about every day. 7 years on! I miss my best buddy John—gone unexpectedly just weeks ago. Several times a day.

On Saturday, just as I was ready to close and leave for the day, Larry, who does some great scouting for us, texted that he was close by with a load to drop off.

“Groan… I’m ready to leave, Larry. Why do you come at closing so often?”

I poured a shot of Scotch and waited for him.

“These are from that bookstore in DC. There’s some great stuff in here.”


“Larry, I passed on that store. We don’t need a bookseller’s castoffs.”

“You’ll see.”

“I better.” (I affect being a grouch with him sometimes. I am effusive—and generous—in my praise and pay when he delivers exceptional material.)

I had passed on the request by the owner to sell us the entire stock. I had never heard of the place. Images looked just ok. How could a DC store I’d never heard of be any good? Load out looked difficult and expensive. We have a lot of other house calls we can do. Why take a bookstore’s castoffs?

I watched him unload. My knee was still a bit tender. I did pull the full pallets away, so he could bring more in. This time I permitted him to leave the modern stuff on the ground outside under the overhang. The vintage and collectible books he put inside on a Pallet at Dock 2.

“There are a dozen boxes of Easton Press in here,” he told me hopefully.


“And old leather and Kurt Vonnegut and…”

He finished and left.

When I came in Sunday, I decided to go through the “good” stuff he’d dropped off on the dock. I’d likely see most of it, regardless. I might as well eliminate the “middle man.” Especially since I would have to pay the “middle man”!

So, I rolled out some empty carts to Dock 2 and began sorting from boxes. He was right. It was pretty good. I clambered over boxes and pulled one book after another out. Some I would put on carts in price piles and stick Post Its on the top book. Others were destined for Books by the Foot in no particular order.

Though I refused the deal for the whole store, Larry has been bringing things from it piecemeal on his own initiative. In retrospect, I probably would have done better buying everything at once.

But sometimes you just have to trust someone else’s instincts for a change.

Actually, there were a few sleepers in the stuff. And lots of Books by the Foot decorative cloth and leather bindings.

Look at these two.

Budget Books

Can you imagine anything more boring than GPO editions of the 1977 and 1978 budgets? It was a bit odd they were bound in half pebbled green Morocco with marbled edges.

I leafed through one. Nothing. Just GPO thin paper pages of numbers, numbers, charts and numbers…YAWN!

Something brought me back to these, perhaps the most boring books in history, a little later. About a dozen leaves in on page M-6, there was Gerald Ford’s signature at the end of the chapter entitled a “Budget Message From the President.” It looked just sloppy enough to be real. I leafed through the 1977 Budget. On the first blank (after the free endpaper), there was a long warm inscription to the director of OMB signed by President Gerry Ford!

Gerald Ford's Inscription

Both had additional Ford signatures as well.

They were no longer the most boring books in the world!

The weekend ended.

I’d left a little herd of carts with Post Its on them near a data entry manager’s station. He will assign them Monday morning.

Post It Carts

‘He’ll be grumpy tomorrow,’ I thought.

Monday was Labor Day. I came to work and labored.

We were doing more collections for the Collector’s Corner.

I wasn’t needed for the LARGE collection of (mostly cook) books brought to us by a charity. They’d been donated by Robyn (Mrs. Charles) Krauthammer. EXCEPT for the autographed or very unusual titles, I let the computer decide the prices on those (with some human parameters to help guide the machine.) There were some beautiful books, but most were modern (and therefore common.)

Those books, like the Fratz Sci Fi collection, we are just inserting a slip of paper identifying the source. Unfortunately, that collection doesn’t show in the Collector’s Corner yet. A non-working glitch were getting fixed soon.

I’m culling some of my own collection. I’m pulling out a lot of the Folio Society books from home to make room for the antiquarian books. Most of my personal collection of antiquarian books are of little value, but I feel more attraction to them. And they are just far more beautiful to my eye. Also, I need to get them off the floor at home.

I had my friend Alan James Robinson create a bookplate. I find this a little troubling. Too much ego? I only hope my prior ownership doesn’t hurt the value of the book!

Years ago, I wrote a poem about a visit to Connemara. Alan created a large original pen and ink and watercolor evocation of that part of Ireland. We considered issuing a broadside, which I now consider far too vain. (As well as a definite money loser.) We adapted that artwork for the bookplate.

Roberts Bookplate
Connemara Poem

With the Collector’s Corner, I can now do something with the Mary O’Hara collection—including many foreign and signed copies of her own books… I’d been stymied on how to treat the too exotic things.

…and the William Safire, Peter Matthiessen, Robert Stone, Alan James Robinson reference books…etc…

To quantify and manage these types of books, I’ve transitioned often from tubs to Post Its. I make stacks of books on the 6 six shelf, 4 wheel metal carts we use here. I put a Post It with the “human determined” price atop each stack.

Books, books, books…someone has to do it for these collections. If we didn’t, they’d be lost—to oblivion because the computer rejected some due to some algorithm of ours. Or they get added without human input. Anonymous.

Post Its are my way of highlightting things that I feel merit special attention. AND special pricing.

Sometimes my pricing will be too low. We NEVER get complaints about those!

Sometimes people say they feel the prices are too high for some books. I don’t understand those complaints. If I see a gas station whose prices are too high, I just drive by.

Anyway, the prices do get marked down after time. Our miles of shelving here are not infinite. We do need to make room for fresh stock. So we are in a constant state of markdowns of aging or poor performing sections.

I have had an enjoyable time training a new person here to evaluate books. Annika is a beginner but shows definite promise of becoming an excellent “bookie.” Right now, she is mostly looking up comps on Via Libri. Her focus has been on the Fratz Sci Fi books. She is doing well.

I meet with her most days and review her notes (on Post Its) on books she has researched. I can answer questions, offer advice and usually just write a price on the Post It!

A conservation note! Post Its should NOT be left on or in books permanently! In the short term, the adhesive is temporary. I’ve discovered that long term the Post It glue may adhere and damage some papers and illustrations!

Wednesday, I thought she needed a break from the evaluating the “Future.” Out on the docks, there were two small pallets of boxes of old or “vintage” books. One pallet was brought by Larry from “somewhere” with little fanfare. The other was brought by another bookseller.

“Put these on carts. If you feel anything might be collectible, segregate them. If you feel sure they only have decorative value, put them on carts to go to Books by the Foot. Don’t worry. This is not a test. I’ll double-check every book. Eventually, you’ll start knowing at a glance which books are just ‘old books’ and have no extraordinary value. Come get me when you’re done with the scout’s old books. Remember, 99% of old books are just old books. Don’t take too long on any one book. This is NOT a test. You CAN’T make a mistake. Trust your instincts…good books often announce themselves.”

(I felt a little like Yoda saying this. “Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts.”)

“Come get me when you have this pallet carted.”

She came and got me, and we walked to the dock. Her attitude seemed a little odd. When I got there, I understood. The carts were loaded with GOOD books! 90% good—some even better than good.

“Ummm… I wasn’t trying to trick you. I had no idea…”

Two dozen R Austin Freeman vintage hardcovers!

Freeman Hardcovers

I’ve never had that many at one time before.

A big black leather folio Bible. I knew right away it was old.

Folio Bible + Red Sets


And a couple pairs of tiny red gems.

Tiny Red Sets

“Well, let that be a lesson to you,” I mumbled. “You never know when you’re going to strike treasure.”

I asked her to start on the pallet of “old books” from a DC bookstore while I rolled the carts off the dock to where I could inspect them out of traffic.

Looking through the enormous Bible, I was struck that every page had numerous lines of red ink ruled vertically and horizontally. There were title pages for the:

  • Book of Common Prayer
  • Old Testament
  • New Testament
  • Apocrypha
  • Psalms

Those pages were all heavily lined.

Slider image
Slider image

I knew this meant something but couldn’t remember what. I don’t run into early 18th century red lined books often.

I asked around, and a number of fellow booksellers who do see a lot more ancient books than I explained that the red lining was an enhancement.

“It was a very much a fashion in Bibles in the 17th and even in the early part of the 18th century to hire a binder’s assistant to read rule the entire volume and very serious extra cost.”

So, I had a big beautiful Bible with the Book of Common Prayer, Apocrypha and a separate volume of Psalms bound in. It was an early version of what we would call “Deluxe” or “Enhanced.”

Some poor printer’s assistant likely had to rule about a thousand folio pages with perfectly straight lines. Woe be it to the poor lad if he strayed or smudged a page.

So went the week.

It is Friday.

I will be in all weekend going through carts.

There are pallets waiting that I should get into.

Will there be time?

I might go for a walk in a park with a friend. Or maybe climb the mountain at the house with Merry and Pippin.

I won’t cut my hair though.

I just don’t have the time.

Here’s a link to the next Round and Round chapter. It’s for all my readers who simply can’t wait til it is officially released next week. So, here, this is for the two of you: Round and Round Part 25.

2 Comments on Article

  1. Norv commented on

    Challenge accepted. I’ll take the bait! How many miles of shelves? Warehouse ___ miles. Frederick ___ miles. Hagerstown ___ miles. G’burg ___ miles. Grand Agg _____ miles. Now to peruse the collector’s corner….

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      We should measure!
      Thanks for the idea!

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