He was a cocky little fellow, about 12 years old, strutting to my desk at the far end of the shop. His mother followed timidly behind. He thrust a book at me, and said, “This is an old, and very valuable book.” I’m pleased when children show an interest in books, so I took the time to educate him.
It was a book of poetry by an author who may have been loved in his day, but is unknown today. I said, kindly, “I’m afraid there wouldn’t be any interest in this book because the author isn’t remembered today.” “Just because you don’t know him doesn’t mean nobody else knows him.” Uh oh. “Look,” I said, “See? On the title page? This book was printed in 1881, but the copyright here on the back says 1879. So this is a later printing. Collectors like first editions, the earliest printing.” “But it’s so old”, he insisted. I tried a different approach. “This book is very shabby, see - the spine is beat up, worn away at both edges, and the covers are hanging loose. The condition of the book is very important when we are considering value.” He scoffed, “When it’s this old what do you expect?” “I expect it to look like new,” I scoffed right back.
He said, “I took it to another lady who sells books, and she told me it was very valuable.” Holding my temper with difficulty, I continued the lesson. “See the title page? It says complete in four volumes. This is volume three. Do you have the other volumes?” knowing the answer before I heard his “No.”
“Well.” I said triumphantly, “If you had an antique table with only one leg, it would no longer be a valuable antique.” “Yes, it would. I’d have three matching legs made for it.” “It would no longer be a valuable antique,” I repeated.
He insisted. “That lady told me it is very valuable.” Losing my cool, I said a bit loudly, “So why didn’t she buy it?” He said, “It’s not for sale. I just want to know how much it’s worth, and You Don’t Know Anything!”
That did it. Outraged, I used the silent movie gesture swinging my arm across my body in a full motion and pointed to the door. “OUT,” I screamed. He stood there, his mother tugging at his shirt. “OUT,” I repeated, arm rigidly pointing. He moved backward, reluctantly, calling, “You can’t throw me out, my father’s a lawyer, we’ll sue you, we’ll sue you! You don’t know anything!”
My sympathies for the mother.