Pratt Library book sale yields good deal galore Sale lets Pratt boost its budget. Readers make good finds.

December 09, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

William Sullivan, a poet and owner of 25,000 books, found a Japanese journal, published in English, about Go, an Oriental board game that he said is more ancient than chess.

Sullivan also was circling an illustrated 1935 book on wildflowers, with intent to buy. But he passed over the companion volume on mushrooms. He already has it somewhere in the stacks at his home in Windsor Hills.

These were but a few of the gems that collectors, avid readers and just plain browsers were finding yesterday in the waning hours of the three-day annual Enoch Pratt Free Library book sale.

"It's another way the general public gets invited by the city into reading," said John Sondheim, the Pratt's manager of special collections.

The sale enables the Pratt to squeeze another dollar out of books that may have been donated, or bought long ago, and that have since become outdated or duplicates.

The Pratt typically sells as many as 15,000 books, maps and records out of 20,000 to 30,000 items offered for sale, Sondheim said. The library earns as much as $12,000 on the annual sale to supplement its book-buying budget. Especially in this year of budget austerity, "anything that helps the book budget is important to us," Sondheim said.

The sale began Friday with a crowd on Cathedral Street waiting for the library to open. But coming early wasn't necessarily the advantage it used to be when book dealers would clean the sale inventory of the Pratt's best offerings before the average browser could get to them.

In recent years, the Pratt staff has introduced new material for sale on each of the three days, Sondheim said. "It gives people an incentive to come in, and it adds excitement," he said.

Frank Shivers still relishes the memory of an earlier sale, when he bought a 1930s vintage Blue Book, the local social register, that listed F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at 1307 Park Ave. She was being treated for mental illness at the time, and he was writing "Tender Is the Night."

"That was a nice find," Shivers said, though he didn't have to pounce on it. "Nobody else would care about it," he said, except Shivers who wrote "Maryland Wits and Baltimore Bards: A Literary History, With Notes on Washington."

Yesterday, Shivers came looking for local history he had not yet read. He is working on another book, which he says will be "an intimate guidebook to Baltimore."

Shivers came away with a full book bag that included bound 1849 editions of a magazine called "Ladies Repertory," published in Cincinnati. Because the editions were dated the year Edgar Allen Poe died and because Poe had a friend in Cincinnati, Shivers was hoping their browned pages would yield some undiscovered poem or scrap of prose by Poe. "Just the off chance," he said.

Friends and family were included in his shopping list. For his daughter, the mother of twins, he had found "Help: A Handbook for Working Mothers."

Except at the collectibles table, where old books and magazines were selling for $5, $10 or more, no customer could plead price as an excuse not to buy. The hardbacks were going for $1, the paperbacks for 25 cents, the records for $1.

The Prenger family from Hamilton had piled 30 such books and were looking for more before the announcement came over the loudspeaker that prices would be cut in half for the last hour of the sale.

Henry Prenger, an engineer with the State Highway Administration, delighted in an asphalt paving manual he had found, along with a variety of science books. His home is stuffed with books, and, whenever he tries to get rid of a few, the rest of his family kicks up a protest.

"I keep building bookshelves," he said. "It's gigantic. If it caves in, we'll all die."

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