Broker Check

Collecting Books

Back to field trips

Collecting books became a passion not long after buying a Family Tree Maker at Best Buy, taking it home and entering my name on the first screen.  I pushed enter and my name became the child so I put in my mother’s name and my father’s name and my siblings’ names and pushed “enter,” and my father became the child so I put in my grandparents’ names and my aunts and uncles and then I circled back around and entered my mother’s family and then I lost awareness and the next thing I knew it was 3 AM.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that over the next few years I entered names from old family trees and from books about family and from the work of an aunt and now there are nine thousand names in my database.

As family names became familiar and as history crossed their paths, I began to look in the indexes of South Carolina books for family names and I began to build files of information about old family members; and yes, I began to buy those books, not just the paperback reprints, no, I had to have the first printing of those books.  And off we went.

There was not an internet when I started my book collection so I became a fan of used and rare book stores.  In a new city, I would look in the Yellow Pages- remember them?- under the category of ‘Books, Used’ for a list of book stores in town.

The Book Place on Millwood Avenue was a used and rare book store that served Columbia as a place to buy and to sell previously owned books, many of them out of print.  The Book Place was my favorite store.  I had a wonderful time buying books from Hamp Alvey, the owner, and a trip to The Book Store became a weekly event, more often if the truth be told.  The intensity of my hobby increased when I agreed to buy the store from Hamp on the condition that nothing would change; he would continue to buy and sell books as if he owned the store.

We quickly agreed on a price for the store—I gave him what he asked—and I settled in to watch the sales revenue pay the bank note but oddly, sales dropped.  I asked Hamp why he thought sales were going down and he said it was because I no longer bought books; I had been his major customer!  Then I realized, I bought books and then I bought them again!

I owned The Book Place for five glorious years.  No one should have that much fun.  I met wonderful people; I had buying and selling experiences with Hamp Alvey that I will remember forever.  I collected books I never could have found on my own and I had conversations you would not believe.  Everyone knew Hamp and he got the first phone call when someone wanted to sell a personal library.  We were a great team; Hamp worried about the little things like how much to pay someone for a collection while I went through the books and looked for treasures.  I upgraded my collection with newly acquired books and I returned duplicates from my collection to The Book Place to sell again. 

People who do not collect books, or anything else, cannot understand the addicting effect of having the chance to add a missing item to a collection.  No one collects “books”.  That is nuts.  Collectors look for a type of book, a genre, a publishing house, a subject matter, or an author.  Some collectors prefer fiction, some non-fiction, some prefer how-to books like cooking or gardening, some prefer game books like chess, some prefer children’s books or books about golf. 

The Book Place tried to have stock for everyone.  The only books not offered were pornography, text books and paperback books.  Everything else found a home at The Book Place.  Organizing the books was a problem.  Was a book about General Eisenhower in the World War II section or in the biography section?  Also, mistakes happened.  One customer walked up from the African-American section and handed a book to Hamp Alvey and said, “You may want to re-file this book”.  It was the Life of Martin Luther. 

My weakness was and is for books about South Carolina.  I used to walk in the door of the Book Place and turn left to the five or six bookcases of books about South Carolina.  There is no question collecting is an addiction and to limit my addiction, I limited my collecting to South Carolina books.  I probably chose a topic too broad.  I have books about South Carolina in the Colonial Period, books about South Carolina in the Civil War, books about places and things in South Carolina, books about churches and synagogues, books about African-Americans, books written by South Carolinians and books about South Carolinians.  It is a mess.

I used little discretion when choosing which South Carolina books to buy.  People would ask me if I had read all those books; there was no way.  How could I buy 20 books and read them before buying the next group of books?  I wondered what those same people would ask a collector of wine or of shotguns or of those little china rabbits.  A book can be viewed as a collectable item without being considered a book; however, the ability to turn the collectable book into a source of information and reading enjoyment adds another dimension to books that cannot be enjoyed by collectors of other items.

Despite my complete lack of self-control in my hobby, my only regrets are those books I did not buy.  I can think of titles I held in my hand in that store that I put back on the shelf for no better reason than they cost more than my mortgage payment.  I have holes in my collection today that illustrate my weakness of resolve.  

April 2016