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DICK JOHNSON: MY FIRST LIBRARY OF CONGRESS BOOK SALE
Dick Johnson submitted this reminiscence of the first book sale he attended at the Library of Congress. -EditorI was stationed in Washington DC in the early 1950s when I was in the Air Force. My interest in numismatic books was so strong I subscribed to the Antiquarian Bookman, which was primarily for book dealers. Every six months or so it had a notice of the sale of duplicates at the Library of Congress.
You didn't know the Library of Congress sold books? Well what they sell are duplicates, unwanted surplus books -- copyright deposit books for the most part -- but from other library departments as well. They are gathered in a room on one of the top floors in the main library building, as I recall from fifty years ago.
On the appointed day, I believe I signed up for sick-call, went to the dispensary, got my quota of aspirin, then drove to the Library well ahead of the announced time of opening. Buyers were directed to a room across the hall from the room containing the books for sale. The room was already full of book dealers, scouts and book runners by the time I arrived. Early birds get the worm, I thought. You didn't have to prove you were a bona fide book dealer. I just walked in and took a seat.
At the appointed time doors were opened and the dealers swarmed in. It was a race to the first aisles of book shelves. These were already filled with dealers pulling armloads of books off shelves as I walked by. I entered the first empty isle. Little did I know the library mavens push all the unsold books from previous sales to the furthest aisles. All the new stuff was in the early shelves.
You would be amazed at the stuff that is deposited for copyright: menus, club newsletters, church bulletins, sales literature. Tons of it in this flotsam of American society. But here it sunk to the back shelves.
But I found four treasures - I located three Numismatic Notes and Monographs published by ANS and a copy of John Davenport's European Crowns. It was stamped "Copyright Office / Library of Congress" and the date received. Evidently of the two copies demanded for copyright they only placed one copy in the permanent LC collection and shunted the other over here.
The procedure for the dealers was to stack their desired purchases in the aisle and move on to another aisle. It was verboten even to look at anything on the floor. I passed those early aisles and the shelves were nearly empty within minutes with tall piles on the floor.
It was an easy checkout for me with only four items - price 50 cents each. I may have attended another one or two of these LC sales but stopped when it was no longer productive.
Two decades later it did remind me of the book sales at local libraries. My favorite was at the Mark Twain Library in Redding here in Connecticut. It was spread over a three-day weekend, with a preview Friday night (pay double price marked) and a race for it Saturday morning. And I'll wager every die-hard book buyer will admit at some time to doing what I often did. Cherry pick desired books Friday night and hide them on another table of low interest and hit that table first thing next morning.
Even so, I would bring the family and let them pick a box or two of books for each member while I hit the book tables in order: art, reference, history, then peruse the rest of the stock. The annual Mark Twain book sale outgrew the school auditorium and subsequently filled the gymnasium as well. I'll bet it is still as popular today as it was in the 1970s.
On an unrelated topic, Dick adds that U.S. Mint engraver Don Everhart will be on NBC Nightly News on Monday night at 6:30 discussing the 2009 Lincoln cent reverses. Check it out. -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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