The man on the phone introduced himself as calling from Seattle, no name. “I do not use the Internet. I like to call the dealers and talk with them directly.” “That’s fine,” I reply, “How can I help you?” He tells me he collects 20th century authors, and calls off a list of names he is interested in.
I have many of them, and suggest we start with Joseph Heller. I say, “I have many signed Joseph Hellers.” He barks, “Do you have a signed Catch-22?”
Aha, a chance to show off. I answer smugly, “Yes, I do, but it is my personal copy.” Very abruptly, “How much is it.” “It’s not for sale,” I said, “It is my own copy.” “So how much is it?” he presses. I repeat, “It’s not for sale. I knew Joseph Heller and he signed it for me.”
Sharply now he says, “Everything has a price. How much do you want for it.” Now I am sorry I brought it up, “It is not for sale.” He says, “What if I offered 100,000 dollars?”
I laughed. “You are right. Everything has a price, and you just found mine.”
He said, “I don’t like the way you do business and I will never call you again.” And he hung up.
I emailed the chat-line of my association (ABAA, Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. Very select group) and reported this unsettling story. Immediately many responded, all recognizing the man, and they know his name. They agreed he was extremely unpleasant, that he ties you and your phone up with lots of questions. They are not sure he even buys books. One suggested he collects fantasies, he doesn’t collect books. Another dealer said he thought he was closing a sale as he assured this Seattle man that, “Yes, the book is fine in a fine dust jacket,” and this prospective buyer responded, “I will wait until I find one in better condition,” and hung up.
After this exchange of email we all agreed that in the future as soon as the man identifies himself we would hang up first.
Suddenly Joseph Heller’s signed Catch-22 doesn’t seem so precious anymore. Call up – we’ll negotiate. But mind, we start at $100,000.00.