Reviving old Books

Brian W. Webster I recently came into possession of a book – “Fathers and Sons” by Turgenev in 1867 – in not very good condition. I have been experimenting with a product called “Absorene”, originally used for house cleaning but also excellent on books. With caution I tried it with this volume, which was … Read more

Dirty Books

Just recently I was offered a batch of books at a good price but – take all or no deal. So we took them all, about 200. Obviously or first step was to sort the into A’s and B’s. A’s are 1st Editions, books we know are good, old paperbacks in good condition and others … Read more

Are the Days of the Real Book Numbered?

Brian W. Webster

Antique French books
(The Invisible Agent in Paris)

I can feel the tremor of fear that runs through the book world with the advent of computered books and, to be honest I felt it too.
But a thought came to my head from remembering a friend I had in ages past.
He owned a very well known Antiques Store on Madison Avenue in New York.
I was in his store one day and he had a new collection just delivered and he was one the phone describing parts he needed.
“Can you get those parts”, I asked, “these days’?
He explained that there was a whole industry turning out table legs, hand pulls, locks, all imitations of the real thing.
He took me over and showed me a table, rickety looking and one leg shorter that the three others.
“It’s going to cost me about $1,000.00 to fix this, varnish it, replace the hinges etc., to make it saleable. Now it’s worth about $4,000.00 as it stands and I paid almost that to get it. When I’m finished, at Auction, it should go for abouy $15,000.00 or more.”
I was stunned. “But that’s cheating.”
“Certainly not. I’m merely bringing it back to its original condition, and the buyer understands that. Do you know that most Antiques on sale are only 40% original? 60% have been refurbished? Even Artwork is cleaned and retouched.”

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An Empty Library

What do you do when you are given a Library that has no books?

And suppose this library was surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but rice paddies? And nobody but your immediate compatriots could speak English, or if they did, it was pidgeon with very few words.

Well that was what faced me when I was transferred to a Radar Base in Hong Kong.

1950 Hong KongNot the Hong Kong of shiny buildings and jazzy night clubs, but the Hong Kong of the New Territories, nose to nose with the Chinese Communist Army. Thirty miles of hairpin mountain roads, so narrow that sometimes vehicles had to stop at a wide part so people could drive past you. At least an hours trip on a nasty dirty un-airconditioed bus with Chinese, chickens and small pigs..The only source of recreation was the NAAFI, the group that took care of the off duty servicemens. They managed the canteens, sold cigarette and beer and what ever other things you might need like pens and paper, shoe polish et al. At this Unit it was bare, just one Quonset hut as a canteen come pub, no tables or chairs, not even a dart board. One little hatch in the wall where everything was purchased.

It was Summer with the temperature as high as 110 degrees so the working hours were from 5 am to noon, at which time we were supposed to take a siesta. Our sleeping and living quarters were also Quonset huts, no radios, air conditioning, TV or any other amenities. The CO had seen my RAF History and noticed my past as Librarian in a couple of bases and so he was delighted to foist the title in to me. What he didn’t mention that the Library was a divided off part of the canteen. All it consisted of were a couple of chairs, a table, and bookshelves. Empty!

“Where are the books,” I inquired.
“Don’t know old boy, suppose you’ll have to drum up that part yourself.”
And that was that.

My first try was at an Army Base quite close, but all I got there was that Army Materials could not be transferred to the RAF without permission and they weren’t about to put themselves out about that – too much paperwork. Apparently the RAF was not liked by our boys in Khaki.

I tried Headquarters at Kai Tak and their answer was that we were a Transit Unit and not entitled to Books. Transit meant a base where you would be shuttled to and wait for your next assigment, but this place was definitely not that.

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