Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyHors d'oeuvres and Analytics

  • Mon, 08 Jul 2013 10:18:20    Permalink

    This is my favorite time of year. Summer is in full swing and the Tour de France - that 2000 mile three week bicycle ramble through the mountains, fields and vineyards of France - is well underway. 
    I structure my mornings around the event. Yard work house painting, and book work in the sweltering July heat for thirty minute intervals, with breaks of ten minutes in front of the TV in the only air conditioned room in the house. Sometimes, as the morning progresses, time in front of the TV stretches out.
    I dont quite know how I got addicted to the spectacle. It is, as my daughter-in-law says of my son, an acquired taste. But once acquired, it has become the definitive taste of summer for me. A rich and subtle series of games within games, indisputably a team sport, but one in which individual heroes still find glory. And disaster. 
    Yes, I know Lance Armstrong cheated and then lied about it. But I dont care. He gave me seven years of supreme cycling enjoyment, and for that I will always be grateful. He probably did more than any other individual to boost the image of cycling in America in the early 2000s, and his Livestrong foundation has helped, and given hope to, innumerable cancer sufferers. 
    We seem to need so desperately to be morally superior to someone anyone that characters like Armstrong find themselves subjected to the media equivalent of a public stoning. Its so easy, at those times, to forget all the lying and cheating weve done in our own lives. 
    OK, thats it for the soap box. 
    Over the past few months, without lying or cheating, and with only moderate reliance on drugs, I have been assembling an interesting cache of rarities, mostly one at a time, mostly from within the trade or at auction. Not many libraries landing in my lap, and no more boxes of books sliding in through the front door. (Although, increasingly, old customers have become a source.) 
    Its a delicate dance. Im trying to assemble a sufficient number for a summers end catalog, but I have to keep the cash flow going which means quoting individual books to customers and selling the occasional item at book fairs. 
    Happily theres still enough secondary material good books, but not the rarest of the rare to issue a short fill-in list, a sort of hors doeuvre for the main course to be delivered sometime around Labor Day. I put the list up on the web and sent out an email blast yesterday afternoon. By this morning Id sold 27 of the 67 books on offer. A promising start, to be sure. But heres the weird thing. 
    Ive got one of those new mailing list programs that provides data on each mailing. This current catalog announcement had been opened by only about 44% of its intended recipients, with a 50% click through rate. In my case only 400 potential customers have gone through Maritime List 217. This kind of response is terrific for a bulk mail campaign, but a little disheartening for a niche market such as the one in which I operate. I mean, why do people ask to receive my catalogs if they dont want to bother reading them? 
    Ideally, I suppose, every book I sell should be as the result of a person-to-person conversation Charlie, I have a perfect book for you! 
    I just need a little more data about all the Charlies and Charlenes, and which books they want. 
    Here are a couple of items from List 217 that no one has wanted as yet: 
    De Vries, S. DE DOORLUGHTIGE WEERELD; BEVATTENDE EEN ZEER NETTE HISTORISCHE EN POLITISCHE BESCHRIJVINGH DER VOORNAEMSTE EN BEKENDSTE REGEERINGEN, STATEN EN REPUBLIQUEN VAN EUROPA ... Amsterdam. 1700 Hand colored engravings. 512 (ie, 511), (9) pp. A sort of governmental encyclopedia of countries of the world, with description of political system, genealogies, royalty, and hand colored engravings of coats of arms. This is the third volume only, but pages 479 - 509 contain 76 hand colored engravings of flags of maritime nations, and a folding hand colored plate of a full rigged ship with more than 100 parts of the ship numbered and described in following text. VG in contemporary vellum binding. $250 Manuscript. EIGHTY LOVE LETTERS BETWEEN AN AMERICAN SAILOR AND HIS FRENCH WIFE, 1919 - 1930. EUROPE, ASIA, AND US. About 200 pages of correspondence, ms. and typescript. Howard Bobby Belt is apparently a yeoman or storekeeper aboard the USS Panther, a venerable auxiliary cruiser and veteran of the Spanish American War. By this time - beginning in 1919 - shes serving as a destroyer tender in France and the British isles. Bobby mentions working for the Paymaster aboard ship, and speaks of balancing accounts. He woos and marries Blanche - Betty - in France in 1920, whereupon the Panther is sent to the Asiatic station, separating the newlyweds. Betty is eventually transported to his people in Baltimore. Bobby pledges his chastity, faithfulness, and undying love, and begs the same of her. The letters from this period expose many of the difficulties of a globe spanning relationship - sexual tensions (with some frank sexual content), loneliness, jealousy, constant worries about money. These letters also contain some details about the Panther in France, the Philippines, Singapore, and China. It seems the couple will be reunited in 1922, possibly at the end of Bobbys term of service. The bulk of the correspondence covers this 1919 - 1922 period. Judging from the few later letters, they go on to have children. He takes up work as a commission merchant in a company in which he apparently has an interest - Lespine & Belt - in Bordeaux. Then he is back in the US. By 1927 he has invested in a shop, and shes in France with the children and has stopped writing him, much to his distress. By 1930 they are divorced, but he still professes his love, and she signs herself Your friend. A 1940 census return shows him working as a florist back in Baltimore. An intimate and poignant series of love letters. $250 

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