Scanning for Gold at Book Sales…

I love the month of May…it is easily my favourite!  The weather is more summerlike, trees and flowers begin blossoming, and it’s time to plant the garden.  It’s also book sale season – I love scouting for our store!

Tomorrow night, Jim and I will travel to Moncton for the Canadian Federation of University Women’s 48th Annual Book Fair (the Fredericton Chapter will hold theirs on May 28th and 29th).  Friday morning, Dad and I (and the kids – they’re off school on Friday), will be in line for the annual Saint John Free Public Library Book Sale.  Hope will be shopping for herself, but Anna will be helping us find the good stuff!

I haven’t been to the Moncton sale since I’ve had the bookstore, so I’m not sure what to expect…I’m hoping for great things!  The sale is held in a Curling Club in the neighbourhood I used to live in before moving to Saint John (we’ll be stopping to visit old friends for tea after we buy books!).

Venue for the Moncton sale...

The plan at any book sale is to be one of the first people through the door…there is a lot of competition for good books!  Lining up an hour before the doors open is not unheard of.  The library sale is held in an open area outside the library – tables are covered with cloths which are lifted at the appointed opening time.  My strategy there is to stake out the first table I want to look at.

People have different ideas about how to carry their treasures: I usually bring 3 or 4 sturdy cloth shopping bags, while my dad brings his wheeled luggage cart with cardboard boxes attached with bungee cords.

I'll be bringing this bag to the sale...

Another hint for book-salers: wear sturdy shoes – you’ll be lucky if you get through the sale without your foot being run over by a stroller wheel, or even a wheelchair.  I have also been smacked in the shins by these vehicles.

This one has double wheels in the front for more crushing power, and two kids to make it hurt more...

We have certain things we look for when buying stock for the store – just because a book is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s valuable (Mary Roberts Rinehart was a bestselling author in 1910 – you can still buy her hundred-year-old books for a couple of bucks).  Condition, rarity, and sometimes subject matter also affect the value.  I look for quality bindings, unusual publishers, offbeat subjects, and anything local.  Nothing makes my heart beat faster than finding a British binding from the 1880’s with gilt decoration and gilt-edged pages!  And you can bet that if I find a book on Ukranian cuckoo clocks, it won’t take very long to sell on the Internet…

The kind of binding I love to find...

I avoid popular fiction (although book sales are a perfect place for readers to pick up current fiction at a small fraction of the crazy cover prices that bookstores charge for new books now), Reader’s Digest condensed books (they make excellent firestarters or doorstops), Book Club Editions (even old ones), and encyclopedias.  You generally have to work hard to separate the wheat from the chaff!

Just say "NO!" to these lepers of the book world...

One thing that we’ve discovered about the library sale in particular is that they restock throughout the sale…it’s a good idea to make 3 or 4 visits if you have time. 

Here are some suggestions for book sale etiquette:

1. Keep to the right of the aisle.  Don’t block the aisle while you stand talking to your friend.

2. Keep your hands off other people’s books…if I have a pile in front of me, they’re mine!  By the same token, if I’m going through books, please be polite enough to wait until I’m finished before diving in.

This lady's got the right idea in protecting her pile...can't say much about her reading taste, though...

3. Be reasonable when sifting through the stock…most sales try to keep some kind of organization to the tables.  If you put a book on Egyptian art back into the cookbook section, you’re wasting someone’s time!

4. Leave small children at home.  They’ll be bored, and in danger of being trampled.

5. Don’t bring coffee or food into the sale.  The chance of spillage is directly related to the rarity of the book you set your cup down on.

This is a $75 book...I wonder how much it would have been had some numbnuts not set his drink on it...

6. Don’t ask volunteers to hold books for you if you don’t intend to buy them.  There might be something I want in your “hold” pile.

7. Don’t dicker.  Most book sales are charity events – that extra dollar won’t break you! 

8. Don’t pull out a hundred-dollar bill for $5 worth of books…you’re not at Walmart!

I’m hoping to come back with some gems this weekend…happy hunting at your local book sales this spring!


Filed under books, shopping

6 responses to “Scanning for Gold at Book Sales…

  1. Hi, Wendy,
    I’m racing today.
    I have another favor to ask of you. I just answered a Holistic Transformation Questionnaire created by Wade Lee Hudson. He’s a guy who co-administers the Ning Charter for Compassion Network group as well as administers the Wiser Earth Charter for Compassion Network group.

    The questionnaire has some provocative questions about how we are working to transform ourselve and our efforts to live compassionately and actively.

    I thought this might be a good chance for our circle to put our voices into the published answers. I’ll be notifying everyone else.

    If you don’t mind, would you please go to
    and do the 11 questions – half of them don’t have to be answered. You’ll see why.

    If not, just delete. I would have emailed you privately, but didn’t have your email.

    Thanks, whatever you do.

  2. planejaner

    how I wish I could come along with you! The scent of the hunt!
    enjoy your adventure…and hope you score big.

    • I wish you could too, Jane…there are really only two things I enjoy shopping for: food and books (okay – three – I like earrings, too!).

      I’m also looking forward to getting away tomorrow night!


  3. What did you find?

    • Hi Nancy:

      I did quite well at both sales – got a lot of local stuff we didn’t have yet (which is an area we specialize in). It was my first time at the Moncton sale in several years, and I missed out on the table with old stuff (had trouble finding it until it was too late). I picked up a boys adventure book published in the 1890’s in England with a ship theme – we listed it for $125. The crowd was crazy…lineups for the checkouts were long and slow. We had a nice time with our friends afterward though.

      One of my best finds at the Library sale was a Dyke’s Automotive Encyclopedia from 1948…almost left it there because it was so heavy – but found it was worth about $75 after I got back to the store (we had a customer looking for earlier versions before, so I knew it was valuable).

      Here’s the link to our store if you want to browse the stock:

      Happy to have you back!


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