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Books about Columbia

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Some people collect silver, some people collect paintings, and some people collect guns; I collect books. Specifically, I collect books about South Carolina or by South Carolinians. I love the knowledge about our state that can be found in books. I love researching topics using books in my collection. Books even can have a value that sometimes exceeds the purchase price and if the books have the right combination of rarity and subject and condition, a book can be priced in the thousands.

The age of a book does not alone determine its value. Sure, books printed in 1880 are old but if no one wants them, they have no special value. Many collectors enjoy accumulating books just for the love of books, irrespective of their value. They find themselves specializing in certain interests, such as hunting, or railroads, or churches. They might collect only books written by certain authors — Pat Conroy perhaps, or Josephine Humphreys.

Book collectors search local used and rare book stores such as Ed’s Editions on Meeting Street in West Columbia and they search the internet for their treasures. Back in the day, collectors knew where rare book stores were in other cities so they could indulge their hobby when on the road. Sadly, most brick and mortar stores are closed now. The internet is all that is left to them.

Many books and pamphlets have been written about places and events and people in Columbia. Books about Columbia in my collection fall into several categories: reminiscences and personal narratives, footnoted histories, coffee table books and more recently, books of pictures and postcards. Some of the books are not valuable, they just are hard to find; other books in my collection are considered rare and valuable.

One characteristic of a book that can impact its value is whether it is a first edition or a later edition. A book always is a first edition regardless of the number of printings unless a later printing corrects an error or adds a chapter or revises the original text.

Once a book sells all of the copies in the first printing, there can be a second printing of the first edition and then a third printing of the first edition and so on. It can be difficult to tell if a book is a first edition or later edition and book collectors learn identifiers such as a change in the dust jacket or a small correction in the text, or a change in publishing house.

Under the genre of personal narratives, Edwin J Scott wrote Random Recollections of a Long Life 1806-1876, published in 1884. Scott was born in 1803 in Sumter where his father owned a tavern; his book started there and moved through Columbia and Lexington and he talked about the war with Mexico and the Civil War. Scott told wonderful stories about this area. There are reprints available, known as reading copies to collectors, but if you want a first edition, or first printing, Random Recollections will be hard to find and can be expensive, $100 or more. The book was reprinted by R.L. Bryan in 1969 and the Lexington Historical Society reprinted it 1980. These reprints are available for about $15.

Julian A Selby wrote Memorabilia and Anecdotal Reminiscences of Columbia, South Carolina as a collection of stories he heard from his earliest childhood. He credited an old friend, Mary Hillegas, with sharing her files of old papers and her stories that he incorporated into his memories. R.L. Bryan published his Memorabilia in 1905. A good clean copy could bring about $70. A 1970 reprint can be found for $30.

I like A Columbia Scrapbook 1701-1842 by John M Bateman. He collected stories and articles from out-of-print books along with his own memories and R.L. Bryan published the compilation in 1915. It is a skinny book and Bateman often pulls information from Random Recollections and from McCrady’s History of South Carolina. I have seen only the one copy I own and would put the value of my copy at $120.

Another book of personal reminiscences is Old and New Columbia written by James Franklin Williams in 1929. J.F. Williams was born in 1850 and he told stories about growing up in Columbia in the late 1800’s. Williams was an eyewitness to the burning of Columbia by Union troops. His book was published by the Epworth Orphanage Press. I would not hesitate to pay $100 for a good clean first printing of this book. Other books of this genre include Frank Griffin Sr’s Main Street As It Was Years Ago published in 1968 and Tales of Columbia by Nell S Graydon first published in 1964 and revised and reprinted in 1970.

I can find a copy of Griffin’s Main Street for $25 but I think Tales of Columbia is a bit more valuable amongst collectors, maybe $40 for a really nice first printing; however, there are many copies around for $10. For a collector, Tales of Columbia must have the dust jacket.

Memorabilia and Random Recollections and Columbia Scrapbook are nice books but Walter Edgar or John Hammond Moore would sniff if I called them histories. The three histories in my collection are volume one of A History of Richland County by Edwin L Green published in 1932, Columbia 1786-1936 by Helen Kohn Hennig published in 1936, and Columbia & Richland County by John Hammond Moore published in 1992.

Edwin Green’s History of Richland County is not terribly rare but it is a fine book to have in a South Carolina collection. The value is about $80 for a nice copy. Volume one covers the era from 1732 until 1805; so where is volume two? I dunno, I never have seen a volume two. Green said in his Preface that he had the material ready for volume two but as far as I know, he never published it.

Helen Kohn Hennig was August Kohn’s daughter; August Kohn was the owner of the finest collection of South Carolina books and pamphlets, maybe ever. Helen wrote Columbia 1786-1936 for the Columbia Sesqui-Centennial Commission in 1936. In 1966, Charles Lee of the South Carolina Archives added a Mid-Century Supplement to Helen Hennig’s Columbia 1786-1936, a 25-page narrative of the changes Columbia had experienced from 1936 until 1966. There are not many copies of either book on the internet but I tend to see them often in personal libraries. You should be able to get Hennig’s original 1936 version for about $60 and Lee’s supplement for about $30; however, Charles Lee’s version copies Helen Hennig’s entire book plus his supplement so buying Lee’s revised edition is a better value unless you are a collector and you want one for your library.

John Hammond Moore is a prolific author who has a wide range of interests from the young Errol Flynn, to the recipes Confederate housewives used during the Civil War, to a history of the State Highway Department. He wrote Columbia & Richland County, A South Carolina Community, 1740-1990 in 1993 and the book was published by the University of South Carolina Press. This book is as important to Columbia’s history as Walter Edgar’s South Carolina History is to South Carolina’s history. I occasionally see copies of Moore’s book still in cellophane so it is not a rare book and copies in excellent condition can be found for less than $20. Anyone building a South Carolina book collection must have a copy of Columbia and Richland County by Moore.

There are three nice coffee table books about Columbia: Columbia South Carolina, History of a City written by John A Montgomery in 1979, South Carolina’s Historic Columbia Yesterday and Today by Russell Maxey in 1980 and Columbia, Portrait of a City by Walter B Edgar and Deborah K Wooley in 1986.

The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce sponsored John Montgomery’s History of a City in 1979. The Preface claimed it was the first trade book history (which just means it was the first book offered for sale to the general public) about Columbia in over 40 years. This book has a bit of a written-by-committee feel to it as dozens of local experts helped write parts of the book and the Chamber even had a history book committee that controlled the content; still, I like the book. The book is worth about $20 for a good copy with dust jacket.

Russell Maxey’s book, South Carolina’s Historic Columbia Yesterday and Today in Photographs was published in 1980 under the sponsorship of the Historic Columbia Foundation. What a great book! Russell Maxey took pictures of every public building and many homes in Columbia from 1924 until 1979. When a building was torn down, he took a picture of the building that replaced it, over a period of 50 years! His collection includes more than 7,000 pictures; 700 of them are in this book. The Richland Library recently acquired Russell Maxey’s entire picture collection and is making the pictures available on its website. The internet has copies of Maxey’s book available from $25-$250. Condition is so important but I think $75 would be a good price for a particularly tight, clean copy with dust jacket.

The Edgar-Wooley book, Columbia, Portrait of a City was published by the Donning Company, a specialty book publishing house, in 1986. This book has 300 photographs and nicely compliments the Montgomery book published seven years earlier. I would pay $20 or so for a copy with dust jacket.

Vennie Deas-Moore wrote Columbia South Carolina, one of the Black America Series. Unlike the Postcard History Series, the Black America Series was printed to help preserve African-American history with photographs and text about people, events and places important to the African-American community. This book was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2000 and originally sold for $18.99, still not a bad price for this book.

Remembering Columbia South Carolina, Capital City Chronicles was written by Miles S Richards and was published by the History Press in 2006. Richards started researching and writing about Columbia in 1997 when he became interested in the disappearance of Columbian Paul Redfern who tried to fly from Brunswick Georgia to Brazil in 1927. This book is a series of vignettes about actual events and is quite interesting; however, it is too new to have any special value. A $20 bill will get you this book and a cup of coffee to drink while you read it.

I could go on about books that tell the story of Columbia. The books mentioned are but a few of the titles that book collectors look for to represent the rich history of the Midlands in their collections. You can choose a topic and a price range and have many years of enjoyment finding and reading books and building a book collection about a subject that interests you. Enjoy!

David Gregg Hodges

December 20, 2016