Guessing Game | Newberry

Guessing Game

We’ve discussed this problem before, but you keep DOING these things. I believe I have noted that it’s fun, but it involves a certain amount of risk, and a fellow who picks up boxes of science fiction magazines and tosses them on his shoulder needs to avoid stress. And you did it TWICE this week.

Here are these three nice little books: basically souvenirs of three theatrical productions, each an historical comedy. The humor, based on these pictures, got a bit broad here and there, but they’re bright and colorful and fun and signed. They are inscribed by the chief artistic brain behind the productions to specific people. And there are not many people LIKE these specific people, so there weren’t many books like this.

See, the outfit that produced them is an institution which relies on donors, not unlike the one bringing you this blog. And these books were printed to be given to those donors. Whether they were all inscribed as nicely as these three, I don’t know. But they were VERY limited in distribution.

So was this much older book. It was produced by a for-profit institution in 1941. I have checked, and the place is still in business, and proudly repeats on its website the statements made in the book nearly eighty years ago. It is essentially a tribute to William Penn Powers, written, or assembled, by his son, who was CEO of the company. William Penn Powers, if you are unfamiliar with that mighty name, was the inventor of one of those things we take for granted, another one of those heroes who is today unsung (except by the Powers company.) He was, we are told, the inventor of the first useful thermostat. The book notes that the largest municipal building in the world,. The New York Courts and Prison Building, uses Powers Regulators. The histories of thermostats I checked online do not, um, spend much time on Mr. Powers and his damp valve thermostat, but, as I say, he’s unsung.

This copy of the book has a page for someone, perhaps Donald J. Powers or more likely an administrative assistant, to write in the name of the recipient of the book. You don’t do that sort of thing with a book you expect to sell a million copies. There is no statement anywhere in the book about how many copies were printed and I cannot locate any record of a library owning this little volume. I can’t find it for sale online, and virtually every book ever published is available for sale somewhere online. What I have here is a very rare book, perhaps even harder to find than an inscribed copy of the boisterous books mentioned above.

That’s fun, but the real fun comes after the poor Book Fair Manager realizes it, peach pasta. Are they WORTH anything?

Yes, I know. Every book is worth something, even if only to the recycling firm. (You also sent us all your forty year old medical textbooks last week.) But what do we charge for these treasures? How badly does someone want to see the pictures from this production of The Taming of the Shrew? How many collectors of thermostat history are there out in the greater reading world? Being rare is only one measuring point for book pricing. Condition is another (these are all in beautiful shape) and so is timing (if someone could prove that a good thermostat or a loud comedy show are your chief defenses against new viruses, prices would soar.) But you also have to consider how many people out there WANT this book, and how badly they want it.

Your thermostat historian (and I would not bet against having one of these gentry researching in the reading room at the Newberry even as we speak) might pay hundreds of dollars for the Powers book. But how many hundreds? I’m sure there are people out there hungering to document every Shakespeare performance of the twenty-first century, Do those people have money to spend on inscribed photo books? Price books too high and they’ll never sell; price them too low, and I’m missing my golden opportunity.

It’s a fun problem to have, but there are others you could send me. A Shakespeare First Folio would cause me all kinds of headaches, but I think I could stand it. Or you could accidentally leave a hundred dollars in cash in a book and give me the problem of whether to turn it in to the Newberry or spend it on peach pasta.

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