Thursday, May 30, 2013

LA Times Writer Goes To The Last Bookstore To Sell An Encyclopedia. Semi-Enlightenment Ensues.

After discovering his late  father's 1950 Encyclopedia Britannica still gathering dust in a closet, Los Angeles Times writer Doug Smith decided to find out this what the 24 volume set (unopened for at least 20 years)  was 'worth'.

After searching the internet and not finding a satisfactory answer on-line, Doug Smith walked down to 5th & Spring to The Last Bookstore - located in the old Citizens National Bank Building (which later became the Crocker-Citizen's Bank Building before, very briefly being the Crocker Bank).

Now he already knew The Last Bookstore did not buy encyclopedias, so his mission was to ask why.  And Manager Katie Orphan correctly informed him there was a very limited market for old encyclopedias with out of date information, which is why the store did not buy them, but that they do accept them as donations. 

Further investigation on his part led him to two, no, make make that,  three, conclusions.  First, that as a source of information for a subject you are researching, a 1950 encyclopedia is usually not going to be of much help.  Second, on the good news front, that by skimming through an outdated reference book - one can run across now forgotten but still fascinating historical characters and events  you will likely never stumble upon  online  - much less in current reference books. 

Both excellent points.

But his third assumption/conclusion falls short of the mark. It is his stated assumption that one is unlikely to find a 1950 encyclopedia in The Last Bookstore.  And that is not correct.

So since I am assuming he did not go upstairs to the mezzanine and visit the Labyrinth filled filled with one dollar donated books.  (And while the photo in the article is take from up there, it is a 2012 LAT file photo. And I am making that assumption since if he had gone up there he would have not only found at least two or three sets of old general encyclopedias, along with several more sets of encyclopedias on more specific subjects (medicine, law, nature, science etc) as well as many even older cyclopedias also either on general or specific subjects.  He would have also found in the 'words section' dozens  and dozens of outdated almanacs and other reference books.  

In fact, he could even find a book about just how to buy an encyclopedia.

And while it is correct that many of these reference books - and most of the larger sets - are bought by set decorators, interior designers, artists for arts projects - or just for general decor, there are also those who buy them specifically because of the outdated and often forgotten knowledge in them.  And that's why The Last Bookstore provides them as a public service to its customers.

However, due to the high cost of rent and the close to zero  profit margin on selling books for one dollar each, if The Last Bookstore was to buy such books and then attempt to  resell them for the one dollar they will sometimes bring - assuming they do sell, eventually - then that would very quickly be the.... last... of  The Last Bookstore.  

And then there would really be no place where one could buy - or donate -  an old 1950 encyclopedia.

Lastly, here is the start of his piece:
Old encyclopedia opens a door to the Internet
A 1950 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, for all its rich detail, can't seem to match the Web in clarity or style. Still, it's an inviting, though hefty, vault of knowledge.
The Last Bookstore
Don't expect to find the Encyclopaedia Britannica at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. “A reference source locked in time is of little purpose,” manager and head buyer Katie Orphan said. (Margaret Cheatham Williams / Los Angeles Times / August 6, 2012)

May 30, 20136:50 p.m.If you haven't heard of Baroness Barbe-Julie von Krudener, you've missed a good yarn.
She was a child of wealth and privilege in the 19th century Governorate of Livonia. A life of social climbing, dalliance, literary ambition and finally religious conversion led to a Rasputin-like influence over Alexander I, czar of Russia.
And that was not all.
I discovered the now obscure story of the baroness while paging through the "Jerez-Libe" volume of my 1950 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
My father bought the 24-volume set when I was a child. Growing up in our cracker-box house on Mt. Washington, I understood it to be a proud symbol of our erudition, as well as our emerging middle-class wealth.
When the Britannica became mine nearly two decades ago, its place in my working library was already taken by the more modern and relevant Encyclopedia Americana. The world's most recognized embodiment of popular knowledge found its new home at the back of a closet.
A recent spring cleaning placed it squarely in my line of sight. The realization that its pages had not been touched for at least 20 years — and probably much longer — forced a troubling question: What is a 1950 Encyclopedia Britannica worth?
My first impulse was to go to the Internet. I didn't find the answers there useful. Estimates ranged from $50 to $750, but none of the respondents seemed to realize that my question was not about money.
Next I took a walk down Spring Street in search of The Last Bookstore, a two-year-old recycler of the printed word. Its website says buyers are always on hand to appraise used books.
 And the rest of the story is here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Old EBs are still very good for static subjects-- like literature, philosophy, history. Some of the articles are fantastic.

The 11th edition from a hundred years ago is even better.

So-- basically-- this Times article is incredibly stupid. And the bookstore owner's comment about "kitsch value" is ridiculous. The EB is still a great source for things that-- apparently-- these people don't care much about.