Treasures await at archives' annual book sale

By Daniel Silliman


Nancy Morris got a fresh pack of white, circle stickers. She peeled a new one off, held it on her thumb, and stuck it on the corner of a brown, hardback book.

"Should these be sold separately, or as a set?" she asked.

Grant Wainscott, the book expert in the rare-book room of the annual Friends of the Georgia Archive's book sale, was flipping through a children's book about gnomes.

"Uhhhhhhh," he said. "I'm thinking separately. I don't think it's a complete set, so ... let's mark them separately."

Morris shook her ball point pen, like maybe it was running out of ink, and wrote "$25" on the sticker.

"Look at this," Wainscott said, flipping past a woodcut-printed picture of dancing fairies. The edges of the old book's pages were brown, from the sun and children's fingers, and the corners were a little frayed. The binding seems to be broken, but Wainscott seems to be skipping the words, pausing only at the picture-plates.

"The plates, themselves, have an intrinsic value of $50 apiece," he said. "Someone might buy this for $250, cut out the plates and frame them. Or, we might get someone whose grandmother read them this book. They've looked for a million years for this book and they thought they'd never find it, and suddenly, here it is."

Downstairs, seven hours before the third annual book sale even opened, two professional rare book buyers were waiting, so they would get the first chance to buy. On Thursday morning, Wainscott got inquiring calls from collectors and dealers from Chicago, New York and Florida.

"As a non-profit," he said, "we love this."

The book sale attracts the professional book lovers, and the poorer ones, too. Last year, the Friends of the Georgia Archive's sale saw about 3,000 people buy $15,000 worth of books, Wainscott said.

In addition to the rare books, there are children's books, African-American books, tables full of fiction, non-fiction, genealogy, politics, and history, spanning the front end of the first and second floors of the archives in Morrow.

"We've got books priced anywhere from 50 cents to hundreds of dollars," said Gene Jones, a volunteer. He estimates the number of books for sale at about 100,000. Another volunteer, a little more conservative, says the number is closer to 70,000.

"What about the ones in the back?" Jones said. "Are you counting those?"

Wainscott said the rare collection is only a "component" of the book sale, but a part he's really proud of, and a way the sale draws customers into the archives.

"Look," he said. He held up a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, the second volume of Arthur Conan Doyle's' first hard-bound edition. "For the right person," Wainscott said, "it's priceless."