The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trash Alchemy [One From the Vaults]

Feeling a bit lazy today so I'm re-posting one of my early pieces. This one's from June 26, 2007 so it will be new to most of you--and I thinks it's particularly appropriate in this crap economic season. The 3 faithful subscribers I've retained since then can move on to the next feed. I've updated some of the specifics.

A friend called me Sunday to tip me off about two large boxes of books being curbed nearby. That always gets the juices flowing, so I thought I would post a salvage report describing my technique for squeezing the last dollar from someone's garbage.

When I got to the books--only minutes after the call--there was already another browser but she was nearly done. I started sorting and putting aside dirt common or truly unsellable books but there weren't many, so I just sealed up both boxes and brought them home before more vultures started circling (Is there a scavenger that drags the whole carcass back to its den to feast in safety? If so, that's my spirit animal.).

The majority of the books were recent and in barely used condition so I turned on my bar code scanner and went to work. There were thirty titles that I added to my Bookhound database (to be listed on Amazon, ABE, Alibris, etc). Most were priced in the $4-8 dollar range--which I normally don't bother with--but they were free. There were a few outliers priced between $50-150 but I can't say that they will ever sell [2 out of 3 did]. All told, I added about $350 worth of books to my inventory.

Once those were listed, I was left with about 50 "penny" books ($.02-$3 used on Amazon). Some booksellers will list these if they weigh 1 pound or less and try to make at least $.80 on Amazon's shipping credit, but the stacking and packing would drive me to violence, so I don't bother. What I will do though is collect common books into interest lots to auction on eBay.

I keep a text file of my lots in progress. Once I’ve added a book’s details, I toss it in my eBay cupboard and forget about it until I have a decent-size list. When the time comes, I insert the new titles into a recycled Turbolister Poster Toaster entry, weigh the books for calculated shipping, take pictures, and upload on Sunday evening. These lots frequently go for my minimum bid (so I set my prices accordingly) but sometimes I get a welcome surprise.

Some lots that I’ve had consistently good luck with are: pulp era paperbacks with suggestive covers; gay/lesbian fiction and non-fiction; single author or series collections; animal books (horses, pigs, mice, etc); New Age/Wicca; westerns, and many more.

[Another outlet I've discovered for common titles is PaperbackSwap. When someone requests one of your books, you get a credit to request a book from any other member. I have a wish list of valuable paperbacks a mile long but since they only show up infrequently--and my credits keep increasing--I often request collector's guides and other hobby books to increase my scouting knowledge. You can also move credits between their sister sites: SwapaCD and SwapaDVD.]

After those two passes, I had about 40 books left that I couldn't find a "hook" for. At this point I pull out books that are suitable for a used bookstore. Make sure they are in saleable condition and cull the heavily marked, dirty, torn, or out of date titles (the book buyer won't give you as much $ if you overwhelm them with crap…and if you do it consistently, they'll remember and eventually ban you). Ask the buyer for credit instead of cash as most stores will give 30%-50% more in credit. If the bookstore doesn't sell online, scoutpal a few titles. If they do sell online, look for flashpoints they may have overlooked: 1st printings of popular fiction, autographed copies, collectible mass markets, etc. If you can't find anything to resell, find something you want to read, or better yet find business or reference books for your bookselling library. Always try to spend more than your credit to give them something towards the rent. [Since my original post 3 out of 4 of the nearby used bookstores have gone under, relocated or are in severe financial jeopardy. Support your local booksellers NOW. They frequently order OP titles from sellers like me so it's a win/win situation.]

When I was done at the used bookstore, I had 15-20 titles left. I walked these down to the Salvation Army/Goodwill, made a donation and got a receipt and write-off come tax time.

Left with an empty cart and box, I went back to Sal's book rack and started all over.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Coney Island Souvenir Ever FREE

A major source of anxiety for real New Yorkers (more so even than economic downturn and dirty bombs) is the impending gutting/condoization of Coney Island.

Current plans for the park include the retention of a few iconic landmarks and rides but for many of them the future is hazy.

Astroland's Rocketship and Tower have no new home lined up, and if owner Carol Albert doesn't find a taker before the end of January, they may end up on the scrap pile. Albert is even willing
to pay some moving expenses for the rocket.

So if you need a rocket to launch your offspring to a friendlier star, or you just want to get a SCUD missile trailer and drive it around to freak people out, now is the time to act.

Story and image via The Brooklyn Paper.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Loves of a Girl Wrestler

"A Terror in the Ring...A Tigress in the Boudoir! Can a professional fighting-girl experience genuine tenderness, love? or does she become brutalized, morally impoverished, sapped of all womanly decency by the sordid exhibitions in which she takes part?"

and more new additions to the Pulp Fiction Cover Gallery.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booksale Jump Bag

Over the last few years of going to booksales, I've been developing a toolkit of essential and useful items to bring along. Here's the contents of my jump bag so far (more or less in order of importance).

  1. Electronic lookup tools: There are many variations (scanner + DB, phone browser, laptop, etc). I use a Palm Treo with Scoutpal that lets me input 10 ISBNs per query and I can check pre-ISBN title on ABE. Not state of the art certainly (and it's dependent on cell phone reception) but I haven't felt the need to upgrade.
  2. Scouting Book: A collection of title lists and identification points compiled through research and experience. Two lists I find very useful are a) $$$ Titles That Book Clerks Don't Know About and b) Out of Print DVD and VHS. I keep these lists on my Treo which I sync before heading out. [No, I'm not posting them. Make your own.]
  3. Bill McBride's Points of Issue (0930313046) and Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (0930313062). Compact and very informative.
  4. Pocket Atlas or GPS and a list of nearby thrift/antique shops.
  5. $100 or so in cash and a checkbook.
  6. Business cards.
  7. Packing supplies: collapsed boxes, tape, pocket knife, sharpie, bungie cords. Don't count on finding decent supplies at a sale.
  8. Canvas Bags: I buy these whenever I see one in the right size. They're strong, and easy to maneuver through crowded aisles.
  9. Folding Wheely Cart: I'm fond of these models. Good wheels, folds small and carries 100+ pounds.
  10. Trash Bags or a small tarp: To cover your purchases in case of rain. Also useful in staking a claim.
  11. Clif bar and bottle of water: Staying sugared up and hydrated keeps the brain focused, and if your food is portable you can keep looking.
  12. Gloves and a dust mask: Overkill in most cases but you will eventually be glad you brought them along.
  13. Back-support belt: Try to keep your boxes manageable, lift with the knees, and avoid cramped/unnatural browsing posture (still you WILL develop a sensitive back as a bookseller).
  14. Carrying handle: Plastic hand grip that you can hang shopping bags from so they don't cut off your circulation.
  15. CD walkman, batteries and headphones: To preview CDs and check for playability. Vinyl junkies should consider a battery powered record player.
  16. A few bubble envelopes and small plastic bags: To protect and transport delicate items or ephemera.
  17. Handi-wipes and moisturizer: Few things are more disgusting than the gray and dried out hands you get after hours of digging through old books. If you plan to bring your hands anywhere near your face (or other people) handi-wipes are essential. I like the individually wrapped ones you find at Chinese restaurants.
Allergy tablets: Pop a few at home before heading into a dusty cat haven and keep some handy.

A Weapon?
: There's been some talk on the Biblio list lately about self-defense for the bookdealer. While I haven't yet felt physically threatened at a sale, I've certainly found myself in bizarre and uncomfortable environments. I firmly believe you shouldn't pack a weapon that you don't want turned on you, but maybe learning a little book-fu is a good idea. An OED would make a formidable bludgeon, pocket books fly like throwing stars.
Additions from Readers
Hat / Sun Shade: "I would add a light-weight collapsible hat for outdoor events. Sunburn and heat exhaustion are dangerous possibilities for those of us with library tans. " [suggested by Mr. JM]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I haven't posted new plates in a while. It's not because I'm not finding them it's more because I'm adding so many to the collection that I have to be selective or drown out my other posts.

Here's a few recent additions.

First this Esther Nelson plate found in an 1889 Bound volume of Baily's Magazine, London.

I like the graceful curves and the white-on-black scratchboard effect.

Next this skeleton flautist plate belonging to Bob and Mary Sullivan, found in a DIY book from 1938.

Skeletons would be a fun and fruitful bookplate theme to collect.

Next two plates from my soon to be Mother-in-Law and a faithful reader of this blog (who keeps putting little red stars on my visitors' map in far-flung parts of the globe).

Her personal plate...

which I'll let her describe:
Diana huntress was made for me by my Canadian godmother about 1946. She was from Scotland and was spending the summer of 1939 in Toronto on a student exchange before she started the Glasgow School of Art in Sept 39. I always thought the bookplates were very cool and loved pasting them into my books until some nasty kid saw them and made a big fuss about having naked ladies in my books, so I stopped using them I suppose that is why I have a stack of unused ones.
and this plate from her father-in-law, Charles Summers Stevenson who was the first American doctor to enter Nagasaki post bomb.

Charles was featured in the PBS Documentary "Mission of Mercy" and was the first American doctor to enter Nagasaki with the intention of treating survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb. He went in on a tender off his ship which was anchored out in the bay off Nagasaki with 2 orderlies and a sack of sulfa drugs (which were cutting edge at the time). He said it was unlike any thing he could have ever imagined and he realized in short order that there was basically nothing he could do despite all the best drugs that he had with him. Years later he joined Physicians for Social Responsibility on the strength of his experiences.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Pulp Covers

Rubber Goddesses, Swinging Senators, Traveling Salesmen and Teenagers with comb-overs in the Pulp Fiction Cover Gallery.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Piano Tuner's Tool Chest

Alice just sent me a link (translated from Portugese) to a post on the Henry Studley piano tuner's tool chest. I saw an article on this chest year's ago in a back issue of Smithsonian (which I can't bring to hand right now) and I've always found the image beautiful and inspiring.

A chest like this would be total overkill for me, but I'd love to find a large high quality photo print.

Go See This

Coming of age, vampire story. It doesn't cheat or fall back on lazy genre conventions, and it's wistful and tender (while still being horrifyingly violent).

Probably the best and most subtle depiction of a vampire's supernatural abilities I've ever seen.

It's playing at the Angelika NYC (and other Landmark theaters). See it in the big screen if you can but I believe the DVD will be released March, 2009.

Lifestyle Change

Getting a jump on my New Year's resolutions and changing my routine to allow for some exercise. Frequently the only physical activity I see in a day is lugging my packages to the post office by bus and then running a few errands.

I've decided to take advantage of the PO's free pickup option and use the time savings to go for a bike ride or a run. You need to be mailing at least one priority package (that's usually not a problem but I can always upgrade one) and I need to pack and schedule the pickup the night before but that's the only real change.

Today was my first pickup. My packages are gone already, and I'm not even out of pajamas. No fuss, no muss.

Now I just need to get on the bike and not be lulled into a blissful nap.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


So, I thought I could run but I was caught in the meme crossfire and hit TWICE with this one (by Joyce Godsey of Bibliophile Bullpen and Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis) . Looks like the only defense is an inoculatory post.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
Six Random Things:

1. As a kid I set up all of my Transformers and G.I. Joe figures in an elaborate table-top battle diorama with grenades, rockets, and body parts flying (suspended by fishing line). Really wish I had taken pictures.

2. I'm engaged! Alice and I have been DPs for a while but we're making the leap. This isn't super recent news but I couldn't post until all of our far flung family members had been informed.

3. I know just enough about computers to be a danger to myself and others.

4. I wear only a sweatshirt outside until at least late December because of my layer of protective manliness.

5. Through daily consumption of chilis, I've dulled or killed of most of capsaicin receptors. Soon I'll need to keep a pet tarantula on my shoulder to get my spice kick.

6. I regularly walk 20 blocks out of my way to save $2 with the free bus to subway transfer.

John Klima of Electric Velocipede
Gavin Grant of LCRW
Laura at BookN3rd
Nathan Roberts of Bat Country Books
Lewis Jaffe of Bookplate Junkie
Rachel of Book Trout