There’s “Snow” Business like the Book Business

Excuse the titular pun, but winter is giving a last hurrah, just in time for our Spring Used Book Sale! As of this writing, the Book Sale is still proceeding as scheduled beginning on Friday at 10am, but check locustgrove.org for weather updates. It’s too bad the snow didn’t come after the sale, so you could cozy up with your newly purchased friends, but I guess you’ll have to make do with the books you already have until this weekend! We’ve got more than 20,000 books for you to peruse, so once the weather calms down, we certainly hope to see you!

Locust Grove is incredibly lucky to have Charles Bartman and Harvey Venier, two tireless and talented book dealers help us appraise, sort, and run our book sale throughout the year. Charles took some time out of his busy week to talk to me about his life and work.

Charles is a Louisville native, who started collecting books when he was growing up and received guidance from a family member on how to be a shrewd collector. As he says, “All book dealers are collectors, but readers before that.” After graduating from Centre College, he attended the University of Louisville and received an MA in Political Science. While in graduate school, he also worked for the University’s Urban Studies Center, and even after he started his career, he kept one foot in the academic world, later receiving a second MA in Botany, because “reading got him into it.” Charles’ family worked in real estate development, and so Charles spent 30 years working in this field, and even opened a plant store with Bonnie, his wife and best friend of 45 years, but he always collected books. In the 1970s, he began selling books from his collection, and after 1996, he turned to books full-time.

At this point in his life, Charles’ collection numbered between 50,000 and 100,000 books, which just seems like a dream to me! But Charles is passionate about connecting the right books with the right people, so he contracted with the owners of Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in Louisville to sell rare and out of print books. He also used a pre-internet book match-making service to connect book collectors and dealers with books fit for their collections. He continued to grow his online business, which is how Charles and Harvey first met. Charles says that this period of his career was “a lot of fun for most of the time”, but he sold his business in 2006 so he could get back to what he really likes–traveling and appraising books. He is certified with the International Society of Appraisers and around 2006 he was called by Locust Grove to help appraise donated books given for our book sale. Charles has been instrumental in organizing our sale ever since, as he knows a number of dealers looking for treasures as well as how to sell and sort books. For several years, Charles, at the suggestion of his wife, Bonnie, rented the Visitor’s Center to sell off books from his larger personal collection, filling the room with books donated to Locust Grove and splitting the profits. The sale was always a biannual event–in the spring, Locust Grove would sell donated books, and in the fall, Charles would sell his books, bolstered by donations. By 2009, Charles’ collection had petered out, and the book sale became what we know and love today–a sale of over 20,000 used books donated by members of the community.

Of course, there are logistical issues for our sale, especially when it comes to storing the thousands of donated books. The sale relies on year-round donations, as well as a special team of volunteers, led by Lynn Boone. Volunteers have regular sort days with the help of Charles and Harvey, who appraise the books and decide whether they’re appropriate for the half of the room given over to books of greater value and meaning, rather than the other half of the room, filled with the $1 paperbacks and $2 hardbacks on which I stock up. The most important part for Charles is that we have something for everyone and that we find the right home for valuable books. Charles is always focused on putting the right book in the right person’s hands.

Outside of our book sale, Charles still maintains an online presence and continues to build his collection. When asked about his favorite book, Charles remarked that “It’s hard to have a favorite. I have been fortunate in buying books over the years.” Personally, Charles is interested in biliography and typography, and books with limited edition, bespoke bindings. He also collects books by certain designers, such as Bruce Rogers and Dard Hunter. Charles also stated that he has “a real predilection for French bespoke bindings”, so if you ever find any books fitting this category, know that Charles will give them a good home! As for one of his best finds, Charles has in his collection a copy of the first English translation of Don Quixote dating to 1736 that looks like it was made yesterday. Charles says that he still has it, but he regards himself as just the caretaker of this remarkable book. There’s a special relationship between books and individuals, according to Charles, so this particular treasure won’t leave his collection until he finds the next worthy caretaker.

You can find Charles online at Abe Books and Alibris, and this weekend at our sale! Don’t forget–Friday from 10-7:30 and Saturday and Sunday from 10-4:30. On Sunday, all books are half price, or fill a bag for $10! Continue to check our website, Facebook, and Twitter for weather updates, but know that we’ll be looking for you! Stay safe in the snow!

Yours sincerely,

Hannah

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