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Captain's Log: The Five-Year Adventure of Owning a Bookshop

by Jeffrey A. Rothermel



“Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital,

any educated person ought to be able

to make a small secure living out of a bookshop."[1]


George Orwell

November 1936

English novelist, (satirist)


Solving Book Mysteries - The Five-Year Trek.


Photo of Captain's Book Shoppe LLC storefront located at 1570 South First Avenue in Iowa City, Iowa 52240.


Bookselling is a lot like soldiering. Each person's experience is a bit different. Just as every veteran's combat experience differs, each bookseller's adventures also vary. Why some soldiers survive, while others perished is an age-old question pondered by each generation, similar to why some booksellers make it and others don't. Thirty years of soldiering with a few combat tours and some overseas assignments prepared me for the unexplainable oddities of bookselling.


A military history professor once challenged me with the question, "You know history, but what qualifies you to sell my books?"


Back then, the question stumped me. Now, the answer is easy. George Orwell knew the answer: "cash" (capital). Knowing what the books are worth is only part of the equation. One must have the capital to continually deal in quality books. Staying in business means making a profit.


How does one make a profit selling books?


Captain's Log: Star Date: 10 June 2023 marked five years of selling books from an "open shop." The Captain's Book Shoppe is a used bookstore that sells all genre of fiction and numerous non-fiction topics. It occasionally speculates in the new book market. The most popular items throughout the first five years of operation were science fiction, fantasy, mystery, history, biography, religion, spiritual and metaphysical books. A reader's interest goes in cycles meaning what was popular and sold in yesteryears, may not sell today or in the future. This essay highlights the five-year science-fiction adventure of bookselling in the secondary market. It is written for the person considering going into the used or rare book trade or is simply curious about the mysteries of bookstores. There are many perspectives about bookselling. This one is mine.


The Captain's Book Shoppe Limited Liability Company (LLC)

deals in used, recycled thought.

Occasionally, it deals in the rare, original thought.



The Secondary Book Market


Selling used books occurs in what is called the secondary market. The term "SECONDARY MARKET" is fancy talk for items that someone else previously owned. Instagram book-flippers call it "pre-owned."


SECONDARY MARKET = USED MARKET


It was a century ago, when much of the secondary book trade occurred in and from bookshops that often had a little metal bell that hung on the door and rang when a customer entered. Half a century ago, Iowa City, Iowa normally had four used bookshops in town (1960s - 1990s). Today, that number is much lower due to the economics of the internet. Internet booksellers that allow physical, in-person, browsing by the general public while they list books on the internet are referred to as having an open shop. A good description of Iowa City bookselling is Joseph A. Michaud's published work: BOOKING IN IOWA The Book Trade In and Around Iowa City, A Look Back. It is an out-of-print 2009 Camp Pope Bookshop Press book describing the open shop book trade thru the first decade of the new millennium. Michaud's book about bookselling is when Heinz Ketchup had a 341,521-square-foot facility at 2500 Heinz Rd. in Iowa City. Now that warehouse belongs to Amazon as a distribution center.[2.]

Retired Iowa City bookseller Joe Michaud is also an U.S. Army veteran, author, and retired high school teacher (German and French). Another U.S. Army veteran, Jim Harris, established Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City in 1978.[3.] Not all booksellers have a military service background. There is no single formula, recipe, or DNA profile for where booksellers come from or that can predict their success.


You can find "interesting" information on the internet about bookstores. Determining fact from mythical fiction is challenging. A common theory is that the best way to turn a profit as a brick-and-mortar store is to own the building. The used bookstore Sothran's of London is "one of the longest established antiquarian booksellers in the world, founded in 1761."[4.] Sothran's leases their store. My point is there is not one definitive way to sell books. Some successful sellers rent their retail space; others own it.


Red Shirt Bookselling

There is an Exception to Every Rule


The classic, original Star Trek TV science-fiction wisdom is the people in red shirts die, except for Mr. Scott, the Chief Engineer. Bookselling is like the original Star Trek. There is an exception to every rule.  There is no "one template fits all for bookselling." What works for one, may not be for another. There are the hard reality facts of bookselling, and then there are the romantic fictions. I call it the Red Shirt Bookselling Rule. Survival in the bookselling trade requires the ability to understand the facts while not getting mesmerized by the romantic fictions.


There is more than one way to sell a book.




The appeal of a used bookstore is that you are never really sure what you will find there, until you visit. Once in the store: the books are of such a wide variety that the browser can go to countless places in time. When the visitor returns the next week, chances are there is an entirely different array of used [vintage] books to be discovered.


One day a book printed in the year 1916 came into the store. The Mary Frances Garden Book explained how to create a continual flower garden from spring through the summer, and into fall. It had color plates that could be cut out of the book and placed onto the garden you see pictured in the below photo. I found the book: magically mesmerizing. Ideally, my next bookstore will have a garden in the back with a koi pond so customers can sit and read in the shade or sun while their dog chases bunnies or birds or barks at the fish. I intend to use The Mary Frances Garden Book as my guidebook for the reading garden, unless- I sell the book. The book is missing one color plate, so I suspect the book will not sell at my asking price of $80. My dream is to hang onto the book long enough to build the reading garden behind my next store. The book is an example of the romantic allure of the book shoppe, and then the practical realities of business. Eighty dollars is eighty dollars.



The Captain's adventure started with a few books and a small shoppe. The founding concept was not to incur insurmountable debt with the bookselling business. That five-year mission was accomplished!


Acquiring quality books, marketing them at reasonable prices while generating a slight profit to sustain oneself with our client's full satisfaction remains the objective at Captain's Book.


Each sold book pays for the next book acquisition. As more and more books were bought and sold, the idea of a larger showroom continued to grow. The idea of a bookstore with a reading garden for drinking tea has an allure, the question is how much would it increase business, revenue, and financial solvency? Calculating such concepts are complicated. Deciphering the mystical dreams while calculating the financial realities are the business foundations of a used bookstore. The tension between science and fiction vacillates depending upon the condition of the bank account when the bills are due.


The Mary Frances Garden Book is simply one of countless books with interesting storylines that walk into the store. Predicting the future for such books, and the price they will trade at, meaning how long will they dwell in the store is the mystical art of bookselling. Each day is an unpredictable, new adventure.



Orwell the author remains a mysterious bookselling figure for me.



Orwellian Bookselling Mysteries


The author George Orwell was a used bookseller in London for fifteen months before he fought in the Spanish Civil War. His actions in the war have been studied and written about by numerous scholars, though his time as a bookseller remains less analyzed.[5.] Little is published by the business world about Orwell the Bookseller. Some might say: Orwell was a socialist so his views on business need not be studied. Additionally, used bookselling is often considered unprofitable. Though, Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos started his company selling what?

Books.


Why scholars have not examined Orwell's time as a bookseller is an interesting question. Perhaps they have, and I have not yet found that scholarly research? If you have information or tips about Orwell the bookseller, please contact me. Thank you, in advance.


Before the Second World War, the Russian Soviet Communists reportedly had an intelligence file on Orwell, the anti-fascist, in Spain. Western scholars analyzed the file after the Berlin Wall fell and theorize how the Soviet Intelligence Apparatus had compiled facts but did not understand the man: Eric Arthur Blair / George Orwell. Orwell's political and social-economic belief's, intellectual growth, and thoughts remain a topic that is still studied. Most scholars gloss over Orwell's time as an employee selling books with simply one or two sentences.[6.] If there is one area that requires more study, is it Orwell's' time as a bookseller?


I welcome tips, leads, primary, secondary sources and short discussions concerning Orwell's bookselling. It is a topic that interest me. Does anyone have an old used book with a store receipt written by Orwell (Blair)? [The book may not have a lot of value, except that it may have allegedly been sold by George Orwell.] Clearly, most books that walk in the store with such alleged provenance would be a suspect for scrutiny. As a bookseller, I look at items every day while assessing their mysteries.


As a bookseller, I hear many tall tales. Authentication (verification) is often a difficult challenge and potential opportunity.


I enjoy the mystery of books. My store is filled with unsolved cold case book mysteries. The browser that enjoys getting lost in books is welcome during normal store hours.



What Do Booksellers Read?

Orwell, The Mystery of the Bookseller


I started reading military history as a young soldier, because the veterans said it was a way to prepare the mind for what to expect. It now fascinates me to discover the number of combat veterans such as Orwell and soldiers such as Iowa City's Joe Michaud and Jim Harris that became successful booksellers. There is an infinite number of ways to operate a book business. My story is simply one way to sell books, and there are undoubtably better, more cost-effective ways to make a profit. Those of us that have been there, that encounter the young looking to test their abilities in combat, almost always say: "Be careful of what you wish for." Soldiering is honorable, just as bookselling is. Both are filled with risks.


Military historians sift through the ephemera to determine past realities. They attempt to write interesting and factual narratives to explain the past. They recommend items to read for those looking to understand the past. History professors are superb guides to foundational concepts for the explorer looking to understand our past. Skilled and mentally agile military commanders are normally well read. They read a wide variety of topics and rarely ever stop reading. Successful commanders often have reading lists normally compiled by historians for those entering the profession of arms to understand the factors of the past which may arise again in the future.


It has caused me to wonder about the books that would prepare someone contemplating or already in the book trade. What books would you recommend?


Where do booksellers get their reading lists?


I'd argue secondary market booksellers stay current in their trade through their participation in professional associations. Their professional association internet forums are like graduate level, continuing education. The discussions concerning signature authentication, book inventory methods, and shipping books to other countries are similar to journal articles, scholarly debates, and best practices. Joining an association such as Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) is worth the minimal membership fees.


Bookselling is often self-education. Book scouting and finding an unwanted book for a dollar and flipping it for ten or more goes back to our hunter-gatherer DNA. Knowing where to find the books and people willing to pay you for those books is an evolutionary adventure of volcanos and dinosaurs. The advanced skill is knowing how fast you can analyze and catalog (process) the book. The common pitfall is allowing the gathering instincts and impulses to override what can be processed for profit. The realities of real estate normally make it financially impracticable to keep every book a person finds. Each seller develops their specialties. Rational intellect along with disciplined self-control is required to know when to acquire, sell, trade and maybe most importantly, when to pass.


Books are everywhere. Open a used bookstore and you will quickly be flooded with people wanting to sell you books. Developing a screening criterion, and polite manner to decline public offers is a process. Once you have a brick-and-mortar bookshop, book hunting often becomes a nostalgic memory. The books find you.


There are infinite ways to sell a book. Some of us bookdealers jump first and figure out how to swim once we hit the water. Such methods do occasionally work. There is an easier way.


If I could change one thing that I have done in the past five years, it would be not putting off enrollment and attendance at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS). It is now held in Minnesota, so for branding purposes it is CABS-MN. If you are thinking about going into the brick-and-mortar book business, I'd recommend going to CABS-MN - first (or as soon as possible). Additionally, as an internet bookseller, if you want to increase your skills, I highly recommend the seminar. As a bookseller, it was the best investment that I made.


Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar - Minnesota (CABS-MN)


The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) is a weeklong annual summer event, which started forty-five years ago in Colorado. It is currently held at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota [CABS-MN].


Attending CABS-MN is in my opinion, a great way to learn the best practices of the secondary book trade. Most of the participants are internet sellers. Book collectors and librarians also attend the seminar.[7.]


You have probably detected a repetitive rhythm to my writing. The important concepts are stated more than once, in different manners. Thus, we circle back to Orwell.


I often think that I understand Orwell, then there are numerous moments that I reevaluate:


“Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital,

any educated person ought to be able

to make a small secure living out of a bookshop."[8.]


Bookselling is a tough business. The allure of bookselling is a romantic notion, but financially- it is brutal. The truth is, I survive in the book world because I am a retired U.S. military officer with a nice pension. I can afford to teach myself through trial and error. I can make a few mistakes selling books as I learn the mysteries of the trade because I first secured my livelihood for my family as a soldier. Additionally, as a U.S. Army Soldier, I never quit. Booksellers and soldiers have incredible, thrilling stories. We love the adrenalin rush of risk. We thrive on it. Booksellers believe they can ethically sell anything for a profit and enjoy the challenge of doing the improbable. Over time, some stories and memories may get embellished. Thus, I wonder about George Orwell the bookseller.


Today, almost anything written about Orwell's time in combat says he was struck by a sniper's bullet. I wasn't there, so who knows? What little I know about the chaos of combat makes me wonder about the randomness of bullets flying through the air versus the poetic prose of the term "a sniper."



Scholars cannot ignore comparing both Orwell and Hemingway, because they were both in the Spanish Civil War. Both went to the war as reporters and were published fiction authors. The difference was Orwell picked up a gun, fought and led anti-fascists in combat. (Hemingway, to my knowledge, never stepped out of the reporter-writer role and into soldiering.) A bullet ripped through Orwell's throat. Somehow, he survived and returned to England. His writing career would take off after his combat experience.


The general consensus appears to be Orwell hated selling books. He once wrote: "But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books..."[9.] This passage was the Columbo-odd-clue of a hook. Why did Orwell write that a bookseller must lie to sell books?


Simple answer: Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell was a satirical essayist that wrote for cash to pay the bills. It was satire. Is the answer that simple? Is life that simple?


Books sitting on a shelf, sell themselves.


One interpretation of Orwell's sentence is that that Orwell, the intellectual, had read many of the books he sold. He may have felt compelled to recommend books he considered poorly written. He may have felt that he was selling items that people need not waste their time consuming.


Professionally, as a bookseller, being publicly judgmental is a wicked sword to wield. People like the internet because they can be anonymous and avoid the judgmental bookstore clerk that provides comment on every book one buys. Book browsers often want to remain invisibly anonymous.


Successful bookstore salesclerks maintain the composure of a poker player.


I avoid making moral, interpretive judgements about what people attempt to sell me or choose to buy. (Note that I do not claim to be a great poker player. It is hard to hide one's opinion of a book.)


I avoid recommending books to people. I think the journey of finding an interesting book is part of the wonderous adventure to be enjoyed in a used bookstore [or in life]. Though, when a customer asks about a certain book, I will gladly go find it, and dig it out of a stack of books or pull it off the shelf for them to review.


I am also opposed to the government or any organizations telling me what I can or cannot investigate, read or own. People that demand the banning of books, have just created a forbidden fruit that has increased the item's value due to its scarcity. People's curiosity means they want to know why the book was controversial and banned. As an economic principle, used bookstores often trade and specialize in hard to find, controversial books - because it is profitable. The social controversy around a particular version of a book, may make it collectable. Richard Wright's Native Son is a perfect example.


Books with monetary value are often controversial.  Captain’s Book Shoppe LLC specializes in history. 

“W. B. Gallie argued that some concepts in history are “essentially contested,” namely “religion," “art,” "science,”  "democracy,” and “social justice.”[10]

Captain’s Book Shoppe stocks a wide variety of perspectives concerning religion, art, science, democracy, and social justice.  If a client finds an item in the store that they believe is misplaced or not properly marked, please notify the proprietor.  The goal is to maintain a safe, stress-free, enjoyable browsing environment for all.


Captain's Book Shoppe is the neutral zone, where people from all walks of life can relax.  


Old books that have survived the trials of time, are often religious. As a Christian, the Captain respectfully trades in spirituality, religion of almost all types, and scholarly commentaries. There remains a high demand for English/Hebrew Tanakhs and English/Arabic Qur'ans that are in VERY GOOD condition. The key factor is that there is normally an English translation along with the other language.


I once sold an interesting book concerning voodoo rituals. The moment the client presented the book for purchase, the power to the store went out. I interpreted that moment as God reminding me of all those prayers in the foxhole. One's perception of reality is continually challenged in an antiquarian bookstore.


I prefer to deal in books that I can read. Stacking the word of God [in foreign languages] under other books is something I try to avoid. Therefore, I normally pass on antiquarian books in foreign languages. Even when I can read the words, deciphering the meaning can be a mystery. (I have enough problems understanding Orwell.)



The late actor Leonard Nimoy who played Mr. Spock in the original TV Star Trek series is an interesting figure in the book world. He went on to publish at least seven books of poetry, three books of photography, and he was also involved with Tekno Comix. His first book of photography Shekhina in 2002 was controversial. [Wikipediae lists the book's publishing date as 2005, but the Nimoy book signing tour states it as October 2002. Thus, there are 2002 & 2005 books with the same title, publisher, and author listed as FIRST EDITIONS on the internet.] [11.] Nimoy's book highlights the tricky nature of identifying and verifying collectable FIRST EDITIONS. The book explored what is believed to be known about the divine origins of God, Jewish symbols and feminine beauty through black and white photographs. Nimoy's work struck the religion, history, and art emotional boundary lines. I have a 2002 first edition Shekhina with what appears to be a Leonard Nimoy signature. It was probably signed with a black Sharpie pen. A few pages behind the autograph awaits a bigger mystery, the most significant defect of the book: a partial fingerprint.



Is the fingerprint by design? [Is it a Nimoy artistic publishing ploy?] Answer: most likely.

Is it a printer's defect?

Is it by remote chance, a smudge from Nimoy's finger as he was signing books? {The skeptic in me says, it is too good to be true- though, what if?]



A book with so many unanswered questions dictates that it goes into the COLD CASE stack of books. Such items are not yet ready for resale.


I wait for another Shekhina - so I can dust for and compare prints. [Or someone that reads this, that can illuminate... ]


The mysticism of used and rare bookselling is the notion that publishing facts and numbers are easy to acquire. Nimoy's Shekhina  highlights some of the basic frictions of determining fact from fiction. Despite Nimoy's international following, there is not a definitive bibliography that details all of his published work. His first book of photography was published with an illustrated dust jacket (DJ) also known as wrapper. The book has blue boards with silver lettering on the spine. It is nearly a perfect square in size. His next book of photography is nearly the opposite. It has no dust jacket. The boards are illustrated. The book is a rectangular in shape. While both books were printed in Italy, they have different publishers. Additionally, as the pictures in this article suggest, the subject matter differs.



Leonard Nimoy is a prime example of bibliographic references. Many author's semi-modern works lack rigorous documentation. The truth is factual publishing numbers of what was created, when, and how to identify the multitude of versions are difficult data points to collate for books. Booksellers acquire a bibliographic knowledge of certain topics due to investigations and experience over time. Some booksellers such as I, revert to the hunter instinct and make a book buy due to instinctive impulse. Then we spend a lifetime researching the rationale. The idea of an all-knowing database that can instantly produce the value of an old book is intriguing, or as Mr. Spock might say: fascinating, but there is still as much science fiction in books as Mr. Scott's transporter room or Mr. Spock's tricorder.


Nimoy's signature on his book THE FULL BODY PROJECT is currently selling online for $500-$600.[12] Regrettably, the book behind the curtain at Captain's Book Shoppe is not signed. Thus, the price for the book is somewhat lower.


When the bookdealer finds something that is not easily found on the internet or in a magical database, that is when the bookdealer's adrenalin surges.

Is it an authentic signature? [If you know the answer, please contact me. Thank you.]


Leonard Nimoy was so complex and ever changing that he wrote two autobiographies. The first was I am not SPOCK in 1975. The second was I am Spock in 1995.


My theory is that there are two types of used bookdealers. First there are the book collectors that became bookdealers. (I consider myself in that category.) We often have items we never intend to sell but have catalogued and priced, so our estate knows where to begin. We price certain items at a price we will gladly part with the cherished item. Often though, after the sale we wish we had priced the item higher. The signed I AM NOT SPOCK book falls into that category. Solving the signature authenticity mystery is a goal, but the journey of discovery is the best part.


The second type of bookdealer is: one that is not a collector. My theory is that this type of dealer is rare.


You can read about the beginnings of the I AM NOT SPOCK discovery in THE CAPTAIN'S LOG: THE DUNGEON COOKING CHRONICLES:



Nimoy highlights a common question people ask:


Where Did You Find All These Books?


Some do not believe or are skeptical of the answer to the frequently asked question. "Where do you get your books?" Many will answer their own question, before I can reply. Thus, for simplicity- I affirm their answer.


I'd argue people sometimes ask the wrong question. Rather than where, it is more helpful to ask how.


There are those that like to be entertained with a story. Booksellers sell stories. Some booksellers were superb story tellers. Examples of the greats are antiquarian bookseller and novelist (Lonesome Dove) Larry McMurtry. Additionally, there is John Dunning who owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore in Denver, Colorado and was also the author of the Cliff Janeway mystery novels.[13.]


Another superb storyteller is Denver bookdealer Dan Danbom. His 2023 book about daily bookstore life is: I Met Another Dead Man Today. (I avoid recommending books, except when wearing a red shirt.) Then, there is the one that has already been mentioned: George Orwell. Some clients that walk into the shoppe and upon finding a book are looking for an interesting story that goes with the history of the book. I am generally not much help in storytelling. I prefer that that book sell itself, as is.


If I have all the answers that satisfies my curiosity, it gets listed online. If the book remains a curiosity, it is sometimes available for in store review and purchase but is not offered for sale on the internet.


The odd, unexplained book often gets stacked somewhere in the store for a rainy day. My regulars, the book scouts, and other dealers enjoy browsing those stacks. We come to an agreement about a price for the item they found in the rainy-day stack. All are happy.

Verifiable history [Title] of a book is called provenance. John Carter defined it as:


"PROVENANCE. The pedigree of a book's previous ownership. This may be clearly marked by the owner's name, arms, BOOK-PLATE, or other evidence in the book itself; it may be less clearly indicated by PRESS-MARKS; or it may have been pieced together from such outside sources as auction records or booksellers' catalogs..."[14.]


Successful internet booksellers have a poetic way to describe a book, that the computer search engines find and present to prospective buyers. We spend a significant amount of time researching the item we are cataloging, photographing and listing online for sale. We must be accurate, and not deceptive.


I once sold Gary Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Module D3 Vault of the Drow on eBay with significant defects. The defects were prominently listed and were part of the selling points. My price was half of what the collectible was selling for on eBay.


The booklet smelled like tobacco and perhaps campfire smoke. It had a burn mark through the entire document from an unknown source. There are ways to factually and ethically entertain the buyer. I didn't claim to know if the burn mark was from a dragon. I left that to the humor of the buyer.


Some items I find do better in the store. Others get listed on the internet. It is a continual experiment to find the bestselling platforms. Personally, I think buyer preferences change over time. Change and adaptability are key to remaining relevant as a bookseller.


Relevancy of Diverse and Ancient Ideas


Great bookstores carry a wide variety of topics. How a bookstore displays, shelves, and creates an environment for all people to explore the full spectrum is the magic of bookstores. The Captain's Book Shoppe is the neutral zone where people on the left and people on the right strike up - intelligent and respectful conversations. The problem as I see it, is there are not enough bookstores.


Captain's Book Shoppe does not pass judgment, reveal client identities of what they browse through, buy or sell. I sell a lot of material about Marxism, socialism, and communism. Those book topics are profitable in a capitalistic society. As a former Cold War Soldier, the Captain has the First Amendment right to openly trade in recycled and original thought. Every time a batch of those ideas pay the bookshop rent, the proprietor can't help but recall patrolling the German East/West Border in the wet snow and mud while contemplating the odd ironies of life.


When I die, I wonder what the booksellers will find in my cache of unsold items. Will they find the socialist and communist literature and incorrectly judge me as a communist or simply a poor bookseller that gambled on mass produced product?


I am not a communist. A book dealer that enters my home after I die and tries to decipher who I was by the books I read and had on my private library shelves (and took a gamble on and could not sell) will probably jump to the wrong conclusions. It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusions about a person that died, based upon the books they collected. Some families do not want the library of their deceased spoken about or judged. As a retired military officer that keeps and kept our nation's top secrets, I can operate discreetly for those looking for professional discretion. I pay what I believe is a fair price for discretion.


Bills have to be paid every month. Some months it is easy. Other months, bookselling churns one's stomach. Bookselling-life is not for everyone.


Erwin Rommel's 1937 ATTACKS (Infanterie Greift An) is a military classic. George Patton reportedly read it multiple times. Rommel's authenticity concerning military tactics is due, in part- to his discussion of stress on the body. "The first battle was near. My stomach gave me a great deal of trouble."[15.] Rommel could have also been describing when the bills come due for a bookseller.


Captain's Book Shoppe LLC specializes in military history.




I may make an offer to buy a book at around 25% of the retail price that I expect to sell the book. A 75% price mark-up might seem extreme, but the expenses of a store, such as climate control, lighting, snow and ice removal, alarm systems, banking services, inventory controls, cyber security, insurance, all have costs. Imagine the cost of paid employees at a living wage. Finding and integrating the most cost-effective methods along with a retail showroom, a mail room, and warehousing is a continual business endeavor. I attempt to operate with and in all levels of the social and the economic spectrum, except with criminals. One reason I don't normally buy books from walk-ins off the street is to avoid buying from a person that just broke into a storage shed, car or a house. I only buy books by appointment.


I suspect when Orwell discussed bookseller's lies, he was referring to the price markup in the secondary market. The book scout could find a book for a dollar and flip it for ten or sometimes a lot more. Imagine when the book scout finds a true modern first edition in the wild. Used book dealers acquire low and sell a bit higher. Each seller has their own methods. My methods are if I am confident that I can sell a used book for ten dollars, I will make an offer to buy it for $2.50. The less certain that I am about successfully selling the book, the lower the offer, or I will simply pass and not make an offer to buy.


If I know I can sell the book for $100, I will tell you: "I am going to sell this for a hundred dollars, I will pay you $25." I don't hide my price mark-up to the person selling me the book. If I don't know what my list price is going to be, I will state that in our "negotiation" to buy. If it is a unique book that I am unfamiliar with, the adrenalin rush flows through me and I will say: "Not sure what I will sell this at, but I will offer you...."





I have sold countless numbers (and versions) of Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984." Such books are a staple of the used book trade. The non-commercial, international research data and analytics group, Wordsrated Group ranks George Orwell's Book 1984 as the most popular science-fiction book of all time. It is estimated that over 30 million copies since its publishing in 1949 have been sold. It sold four million copies between the year 1983-84.[16.] The book search engine Addall.com on May 23, 2023 found 916 FOR SALE internet listings of the book 1984 which had a price range is .62 to $52.93.[17.] Most copies of 1984 are simply used books worth a few dollars. When you come upon the paperback 1984 that was published in the millions in a single year, chances are the book is not rare, but common. A book merchant needs to continually sell a bunch of books to keep their internet expenses funded at sixty-two cents a book.


Orwell wrote hundreds of essays, many of which are still protected by U.S. copyright laws.[18.] Some of the passages are an uncomfortable reminder of the social and racial class structures of the time period that Orwell wrote his essay. Some of Orwell's observations about used bookstores are debatably still true today. Various inexpensive modern versions of Orwell's Bookshop Memories are available at AbeBOOKS.com: Memories by Orwell - AbeBooks Oddly, nowhere on the internet will you find an original manuscript, or the first impression copy of George Orwell's Bookshop Memories in the Fortnightly magazine.


Finding an original November 1936 Fortnightly that has an unblemished first impression (printing) of George Orwell's Bookshop Memories is in my opinion where the true magical adventure of the traditional bookshop remains. Fortnightly's were probably published on such low-quality paper, that most no longer exist. The odd, eclectic items (the stranger the better) are what keeps the store afloat. (Disclaimer: I have never seen a 1936 George Orwell Fortnightly. Bring one by the store if you have an original one.)


There is an exception to nearly every rule when it comes to bookselling. The Captain's Book Shoppe LLC does not buy magazines, but having read this far, you, understand why I would consider buying a November 1936 Fortnightly Magazine originally published in London. Some exceptions to the NO MAGAZINE RULE at Captain's Book Shoppe LLC are:


  • The Captain is interested in seeing an original: April 1955 Muscle Builder Magazine due to its portrayal of George F. Jowett by Charles Smith.

  • The Captain is interested in seeing an original: Collier's January 19, 1924. It is the first publication of the short story by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game.

  • The Captain is interested in seeing an original: November 1936 Fortnightly Magazine (published in London.) George Orwell's essay "Bookshop Memories" was first published in that edition of Fortnightly.

  • The Captain is interested in seeing an original: 1944 Infantry Journal. It contains an abridged version of the U.S. Army's first translation of Rommel's Book Infanterie Greift An {Infantry Attacks}. (The U.S. Army's English translation was published as a book in 1943.)

  • The Captain buys Dragon Magazines published by Tactical Studies Rules (TSR).


Normally, Captain's Book Shoppe's main focus is books... You now know why I occasionally veer into magazines. The same can be said for comics. I suspect during my Nimoy research trek, I will explore Nimoy's 1995-7 involvement in Tekno Comix Primortals. The twenty-four comixs were novelized by author Steve Perry into the book: Target Earth.[19.]


Captain's Book Shoppe LLC sold the book pictured on the left: X-Men: X-Cutioner's Song, via the internet on August 7, 2023 for $99.75 plus tax and shipping. This book illustrates the exception to bookselling rules. FALL OF THE MUTANTS which is the book on the right, spotlights- when I get it wrong. (I still have that book for sale.)


Rare Books


If you have the money, buying a first edition copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four is not difficult. Heritage Auctions sold a beautiful first edition in 2022 for $20,000. The same auction firm also sold a 1949 First Edition, Nineteen Eighty-Four for $3,500 the very same year, in 2022.[20.]. Anybody with a smart phone can find first edition1984s. Both books are examples of the modern first edition book trade. Most collectors know if their book is a coveted modern first edition. Finding a fine condition true First Edition 1984 at a yard sale with an authentic dust jacket for a few dollars is more a myth than realistic fact. Book dealers are not fences that buy stolen goods. If a true First Edition 1984 were to walk in the bookshop, I would want to know its provenance (where it came from, who owned it, determine clear title of ownership). A bookshop owner does not pay 25 - 33% of listed retail price for a modern first, unless they are certain of the book's title. It takes real capital to buy modern firsts.


My first five years of used bookselling did not include many modern firsts. Though there were enough unique items to keep me in business. If and when I dealt in modern firsts, it was generally a commission sale. Commissions involve a great deal more paperwork than I care to do, thus my first five years was a story of trying to get out of the commission business. Though, a book or collection would continually seduce me. Commission bookselling is my vice. I prefer to not talk about it. I was lucky to have clients that had the patience and confidence in me to be the person that brokered their deals.


Orwell's stated dislike for the book trade may involve how the buyer and seller determine a book's value. Theoretically, an unethical book merchant could lie to people needing to sell their books through the power of omission. The client may not know the book's true value. The merchant may buy the book at a low price, taking advantage of the seller's ignorance. Such a tactic may work for an unscrupulous bookseller in the short term, but the merchant's reputation will not make for a successful long-term strategy for acquiring and selling books. I'd argue that the internet has equalized the information factors between the buyer and seller to a level that would hopefully cause Orwell to love bookselling.


George Orwell highlights the essence of the used and rare book trade. A majority of the Orwell items are simply used books. Orwell remains in high demand. Desire for original Orwell items propels the value of select Orwell items into the premium price range due to demand being higher than supply.