Old books: what they're worth, where to buy them in Baltimore

BOOKS & AUTHORS

August 25, 1991|By James H. Bready

How much is your first edition of John Barth's "The Floating Opera" worth by now? Of "Maryland Silversmiths, 1715-1830"? Of "A Branch of May: Poems"? The answers are there, in dollars, in "Collected Books: The Guide to Values," by Allen and Patricia Ahearn of Rockville. Just out (Putnam, $50), with about 15,000 entries, this is the first such U.S. compendium since "The Book Collector's Handbook of Values," by the late Van Allen Bradley, in 1982.

What books rate the term "collected"? The Ahearns, veterans of the business themselves as Quill & Brush book shop, go by current market standards. Largely, they list books that are in English, by notable authors, mostly from the original publishers and mostly since 1800. A given author seldom is listed in full -- H. L. Mencken, with 18 of his 33 titles, does well. Broadly, since 1970 only fiction and poetry qualify; between 1940 and 1970 tiny imperfections (such as the price clipped off the dust wrapper) are tolerated; since 1920 always with full dust wrapper (without, value drops about 75 percent). Again, these are firsts -- and condition matters.

Reading Mr. and Mrs. Ahearn, you should be able to examine your copy of "The Sun Also Rises" and know whether it is truly the first edition. But, they admit, the average reader's gaze will turn first to the dollar marks.

Poe's "Tamerlane," 1829: $250,000. Melville's "Moby-Dick," London edition, three vols., 1851, $75,000 "or more." Joyce's "Ulysses" (special printing), $40,000.

Mr. Barth's first novel, $300; J. Hall Pleasants and Howard Sill on Maryland silver, $400; Lizette W. Reese (only listing, first book), $250.

The Ahearns, adding many titles to the 1982 book, also omit many. Gracefully, they appraise Van Allen Bradley's final-edition "Handbook of Values" at $100, twice the figure printed on their own price-unclipped dust wrapper.

*

When Grandpa's Attic moves in next month at 22 W. 25th St. into the basement), Baltimore will have

an actual center for used and rare books. Consider the lineup, there on 25th Street:

8: Tiber Books (Whit Drain, Robert Kotanski).

22: Grandpa's Attic (Walt Jackson).

24: The Book Miser (Ken, Paulette, Justin, Joshua Rosenberg).

32: Kelmscott Books (Don and Terry Johanson), first on the scene (1979) and largest.

Just down Charles Street at 2112 is Baltimore Book Co., which will hold its next periodic auction Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. (Towson Quality Inn, York Road and Beltway).

*

Elsewhere, too, bookselling in Baltimore flourishes. The newest store is Mystery Loves Company, at 1730 Fleet St. in Fells Point (opening Oct. 1; also general fiction and regional books). The proprietors, Sue Feder and Kathy Harig, are members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime -- a national network of women writers, editors, agents, librarians, etc. that was founded in Baltimore in 1986. SinC books deal less with graphic violence, more with raising those hairs on the back of the neck.

*

Linda Pastan of Potomac has a new book of poems out, "Heroes Disguise" (Norton, $17.95) -- a chance for Marylanders to size up their new poet laureate. A mainstream poet, to be found in Atlantic Monthly, New Republic and Kenyon Review, Ms. Pastan is high in critical regard ("overtones of Yeats and Frost"); this is her eighth book. She writes of childhood, autumn, flowers, the Gettysburg battlefield, a bookstall; she writes intelligibly.

Stanley Plumly's latest poetry collection, "Boy on the Step" (Ecco Press, $9.95, paperback), is equally accessible. A harkback to his youth in Virginia, Ohio and beyond, it has Antaeus, Partisan Review and New Yorker antecedents. Mr. Plumly is in the English Department at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mencken Day! Sept. 14, at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Lecture by Richard Lingeman, executive editor of The Nation, at 3:15 p.m.

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