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Book Fair Blog

Every book has a story
Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Signs of the Time

There’s demand, there’s rarity, and then there’s personal opinion.

I was a bit vexed to find that Lillian Gish’s autobiography, signed by her, is only about a twenty-five dollar book. Legend of the silent cinema though she was, she signed enough copies of the book that her signature doesn’t command Legend prices. The same goes for Colleen Moore and Helen Hayes. The autographs of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo would have been worth six and thirty times as much, respectively, but both of those turned out to be phonies.

We were given a signed Mitt Romney and a signed Karl Rove. Karl is worth two or three times as much as Mitt, which proves something, though I don’t know what. And I currently have five books signed by Newt Gingrich. None of the aforementioned are going out in July for more than twenty-five bucks. I have been told by somebody who handles a lot more political autographs than I do that the prices work out kind of like this: 1. Presidents 2. Everybody Else.

Three more art books have come in inscribed by the artists to friends and/or prospective patrons. One of them included a full-page sketch of flowers or seagulls or something like that. I had not personally heard of any of these artists before, but their signatures ARE in nice big art books, so the prices run a bit higher, in the fifty to one hundred dollar range. A passing expert sniffed at all three of the books, but he sniffs at any artist born after Michelangelo, so I do not factor his opinion in when pricing autographs.

Bruce Catton signed this book on the Civil War, and despite Ken Burns and Shelby Foote, his is the author signature most desired among Civil War collectors. This book is fifty dollars. Carl Sandburg here is also a decent Civil War author autograph, but he wrote a few other things besides winning several Pulitzers. He sells for about twice as much. His signature would run even higher, but he is what is known in the trade as an “easy” autograph. (One of our veteran volunteers, who met him several times, said, “If you bought him a cup of coffee, he’d autograph the napkin.”)

As always, we have a couple of big, solid books signed by architects. These generally run along the same lines as the art books: the architects are still living, and known to their colleagues and they signed big books with lots of pictures. This Frank Lloyd Wright would have been in the thousand dollar range if the signature weren’t printed on the page. (The fact that Wright had been dead for ten years when the book was published was another tip-off.)

The most interesting autograph to price so far this fall, though, has been Jerry Lewis. Here’s a nice, slender autobiography in good shape, with a good, readable signature. The fame thing is no problem; “one of the most remarkable entertainers of the 20th century” says one listing of the book. There do not appear to be hundreds of signed copies of this book sitting around begging for buyers.

Yet the online prices run between thirty and two hundred dollars. Each copy seems to be like mine: decent condition without any associations to send the price shooting up. (A copy inscribed to, say, Dean Martin would demand a premium price.) The only determining factor I can think of is that some of the sellers are thinking Legend (the one I quoted above was asking $180) and some are thinking “Let the French have him.”

Speaking of which, so far nobody has donated a signed copy of the Big Book of Book Fair Bloggery. Just as well: there are no copies for sale on line for me to check.

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