February 8, 2013

The Rare Book Buyer

Many people have old and rare books in their homes that have been passed down in the family.  They might include a well-loved and worn edition of Dickens that may be worth only a few dollars or an unnoticed early colonial printing that could be worth thousands. Whether to raise money or simply because they can no longer be properly cared for, books gets sold. Nevertheless, selling a library or inherited book can be a very emotional process. Books contain not just the voice of their authors but reflect the person who bought them and can often bridge generations in a family. These short stories are meant to chronicle some of those connections and collections.



LOCATION: Wallingford, Connecticut


The books, stacked in neat piles on the basement floor, were part of
the collection formed by Eugene Silver Barry,
Chris’s maternal grandfather.  Eugene S. Barry left school at twelve
and by his late twenties opened a leather tannery. He befriended a
bookseller in Boston, who in exchange for leather, offered rare books
and expert advice. Clearly, a love of books was an inherited trait as
his own father, Eugene Barry, Sr., was a published poet and an
original donor and trustee of the Lynn Woods Reservation, one of the
largest largest municipal parks in the United States. A humble volume
of his 1904 poetry, inscribed to his wife, sat lightly bruised and
infrequently dusted on the shelf.


Many of the books being sold concern voyages. As a leather tanner, Chris’s
Grandfather had a natural interest in the fur trade and exploration
books concerning the NorthWest Passage, the potentially highly
lucrative trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that
captured the imagination of generations of explorers. Collecting
exploration books was a shrewd investment. Mankind always has
yearned to uncover the mysteries of new lands and the fascination
has not escaped the attention of collectors. Fine copies
of important voyage and exploration books have become expensive.


There is a nice ten volume 1912 set in blue cloth of The Photographic
History of the Civil War. That will stay in the family.
Chris’s relative, Sergeant Joseph R. Balsley of the 142nd Pennsylvania
Infantry, fought at Gettysburg and the set contains
thousands of Civil War photographs including those of Matthew Brady.
Chris proudly showed me his relative’s original battle sword.

Another book of sentimental value that will remain on the shelf is a
copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories. Chris’s Grandfather read it to him
as a child, but today he hesitates to read it to his own
grandchildren. The story of how the elephant got his trunk seems
dated and less palatable today when the paragraphs end with
“they beat him.”


An attractive and sought-after copy of John Marshall’s The Life of
George Washington was one that grabbed my attention. Copies at auction
generally command $1500-2500 or more depending on the condition and issue.
This wonderful six volume set was printed between 1804 and 1807
and unites two great historical figures in American history- Chief
Justice John Marshall, the principal founder of our constitutional
law with George Washington, a founder of our nation. Washington was a
major influence on the young Marshall, and his eloquent biography was
drawn from Washington’s diaries, letters and secret archives. The
accompanying, and often missing, Atlas volume contains maps of
Revolutionary War battlefields. It is the type of patriotic work that
no doubt would have interested the upstanding and civic minded Barry


There is no room in the house anymore and the books have been moved
between homes several times, with the occasional
nick in a spine or missing volume resulting from the shifts.


The money will be funneled into the upkeep and care for a family property
in Maine. The property was originally bought by Eugene Barry, Sr. in 1988.
As Chris explained, he met a women (Lucy Wyman) from Sebec Village, at the
eastern end of the lake, at a church social after the men had rowed 12 miles
just to get there! They married, and the property has been in the family ever since.
Chris is the fourth generation and his grandkids are the sixth. It is a comforting
thought that the books have come full circle and the proceeds will benefit the family
property that was so dear to his Grandfather’s heart.


The books as seen piled on the basement floor in Chris’s home




The First Edition of Marshall’s Life of Washington


The Civil War battle Sword of Sergeant Joseph R. Balsley

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