The Runaway Couple: Our Scouting Trip to Chattanooga

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Talk to any antiquarian book dealer over the age of 50 and you’ll hear about the glory days of book scouting, back before the internet. There was a time (especially in larger cities with lots of bookstores) when a person could make a living hunting for books to sell to used & antiquarian bookstores. They would learn what bookstore owners in their region would buy, and they would scour yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, and estate sales for books that matched the buying interests of those stores, and they could make a living doing this. This involved a lot of expertise and finely honed knowledge about books.  It was an art form, and there were book scouts who became legendary in bookseller circles for their ability to unearth amazing books.

The internet, as everyone knows, changed everything in the book world.  Anyone with a mobile phone can scan a book with a barcode and instantly know what it is selling for on Amazon or its online competitors.  Search “book scout” today and you’ll learn a lot about specialty tools for scanning books in thrift stores to resell yourself on Amazon. There is a huge subculture of people doing this and making a modest living doing so. This, in fact, is how Underground Books started, as an online hobby-seller. The problem with this, the old-timers say, is it requires no expertise. The books are just widgets the “scout” scans into a database. Fortunately, you can’t scan antiquarian or pre-ISBN books (pre-1970 or so), but the market for these books is smaller and more specialized than ever.  Fortunately for us, some of the crazy people trying to run an open brick and mortar, used and antiquarian bookshop in the age of the internet, it does seem like we may be at the beginning of a revival in interest in vintage books and paper. Millennials and the so-called “digital natives” who follow them, generations who are more comfortable in the world of e-books, seem to have their own brand of nostalgia for old books. Perhaps the tactile feel and scent of real paper is in our DNA at this point.

In any event, while it is rare for us to get a long enough stretch of time away from the store to do the kind of leisurely book scouting we hear romanticized in the time of yore, we relish it more than anything. All of our travel out of our region gets organized around finding out of the way book scouting opportunities at antique malls, junk shops, and thrift stores.  There is no greater joy than finding a gem of an old book buried in some out of the way place. Even in a world crawling with people scouring shops for things to resell online, we are still usually able to find profitable scores by sticking to older books overlooked by the scanners.

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You can’t go on a trip without good reading material!

We try to make it up to Chattanooga at least once a year for many reasons. Our excuses for our getaway include that we almost always find a good book or two for the shop, it’s a supremely beautiful, walkable, and well developed city, Megan grew up there, and it’s one of the first places we went when we were 1700dating. On the trip up from Carrollton, taking 27 North, there’s plenty to see: scenic byways framed trees lit up with fall leaves, the bookshops in charming downtown Rome (Dogwood Books, a used, new, and rare shop and Alan’s Used Books, formerly Paradise Lost Books), and Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, one of Georgia’s visionary folk art sites.

 

12177992_10153322890672672_396979469_nOnce arriving, we checked into the lovely Bluff View Inn, part of Chattanooga’s historic Bluff View Art District, on the south side of the Tennessee River where the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Tennessee 12181928_10153322891057672_1054458920_nAquarium are located. We stayed in the Chambliss Room of The Thompson House, a Victorian-style home built in 1908. The Bluff View Inn is just steps away from the Walnut Street Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian bridge that links the north and south shores of downtown Chattanooga. After getting settled, we immediately took across “the 12188413_10153322890492672_603545866_nWalking Bridge” to the North shore, walking through Coolidge Park and the eclectic shops on Frazier Avenue (including Winder Binder Books, Art & Music) to reach one of our favorite places to scout: Knitting Mill Antiques on Manufacturer’s Road.

 

 

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The Knitting Mill

Housed in a two and half story, all brick, 040restored turn-of-the-century sewing factory, Knitting Mill Antiques has over 100 booths of vintage wares, and we’ve had some good scores there before. We were able to pick up several titles as well as a nice vintage-style tool carrier to display old postcards in at the shop. Among our finds were The Runaway Couple (a selection of children’s stories from Dickens, circa 1920), a first printing of On the Psychology of Meditation, Masterpieces of Eloquence and the World’s Great Orators in beautifully illustrated cloth, and a first edition of Mark Twain’s The American Claimant. Pleased with our trophies, we walked 12180057_10153322890997672_817633411_naround Frazier Avenue and treated ourselves to happy hour cocktails at Beast +Barrel Gastro Smokehouse, returning for dinner (and more cocktails) after a quick turn around the shops, stopping in Winder Binder and Blue Skies, an excellent gift shop with many book-related items and paper goods. Walking back to our 12179627_10153394748606865_1904994578_nroom, we enjoyed all the public art Chattanooga boasts, from metal dance patterns inlaid into the sidewalks of Frazier Avenue to the sculptures outside the Hunter Museum.

 

 

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Star Line Books: Come and Be Literated

The next morning, we woke to complimentary breakfast at Rembrandt’s Coffee House, then hit the pavement, walking several miles through the Southside to check out Chattanooga’s new independent bookstore, Star Line Books, located across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo. We were heartily impressed by Star Line, which had only been open seven weeks at the time, and chatted away the morning, talking shop with the delightful owner Star Lowe, all while attempting to touch all the shiny, brand new 12182317_10153322890877672_994056495_nspines. A two-storey, 1,300-square-foot store, with an airy, completely charming atmosphere, we could have wiled away the entire day at the bookstore. Megan picked up a copy of Big Little Lies by  Liane Moriarty (because she’ll read anything Reese Witherspoon acquires the film rights to). We finally left Star to the work of running her shop and hit up the Hot Chocolatier for truffles on our way to second breakfast (or brunch as some people call it) at The Bitter Alibi, enjoying more of Chattanooga’s public art on the way, especially this mural featuring Megan’s favorite familiar, with which she poses here, Star Line prize in hand.

 

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They were good drinks.

After getting properly buzzed on12178182_10153322890867672_1576379043_n “Champagne Thing” and “Mother Mary” and finishing up a delicious second breakfast, we wandered around the Southside, looking in to see if one of our favorite haunts was open, Estate of Confusion, the best junk shop we’ve ever seen. Alas, it was closed, but the sketchy hours are part of the charm! On the trek back to the Bluff View Arts District, we checked out a cool art gallery called Area 61 (“The Art Is Out 12178305_10153394748896865_239517496_nThere”), The Crash Pad, Chattanooga’s hostel, and Chatts, Chattanooga Coffee Co. We were pretty worn out once we got back to the inn, so we read and napped for a couple hours before heading back over the bridge to get dinner at Good Dog gourmet hot dogs and dessert at Clumpy’s Ice Cream.

 

 

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Death of a Bookseller

In the morning, we headed out, 002
back in the car for the first time since we
arrived, and visited McKay’s Used Books, which is really where Megan grew up. Our real score there was a vintage book on astrology, but we left with several other books to put on our own TBR shelf at home, including a copy of Room for lending. On the advice of003 one of the innkeepers, we stopped at the East Ridge
Antique District off Ringgold Road, a square of
eight antique shops. Inside one of the shops, we found quite a few books to take home, including a charming little vintage book of Audrey Beardsley’s artwork, as well as an Easton Press Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

 

 

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The once grand facade of the Smart Shop

We headed homeward on 27, looking forward to our traditional stop back in Rome to Smart Shop
Antique Mall and Flea Market, where we had our first date (scouting for books, of course). Though unassuming from the outside, Smart Shop had multiple floors, ramps off to platformed areas, and what seems like hundreds of booths– you could literally get lost in this antique mall. Even Josh, who has an excellent sense of direction, called it disorienting. After driving in circles, we finally looked it up on our phones, only to find that Smart Shop had been 12179169_10153394748771865_341951992_ndemolished, the property purchased by a local church. According to North West Georgia News, where we found this picture, Smart Shop had frequently received citations from the Fire Marshall’s Office throughout the years (we weren’t surprised at this news). We’ll be mourning Smart Shop for quite a while. We cut our losses, though, investigated the local, massive Goodwill, and grabbed a coffee from Swift and Finch for the ride home.

RIP Smart Shop. Until the Runaway Couple rides again!

Cheers,

Megan & Josh

 

Gone But Not Forgotten: Our Favorite Sold Books

Handling rare and antiquarian books, you’re bound to fall in love from time to time. We consider placing a treasured book in the right hands an honor, but sometimes we wish we had just a little more time to admire them. These are just a few of the ones that got away, along with our current obsessions.

Songs of Love and War by William Allan

1803_1Megan: I dearly loved this 1900 collection of Scottish poetry because of the sad little love story its accompanying ephemera told (with the beautiful gilt-stamped burgundy cloth adding to its charm). This association copy was inscribed by the author to a Miss Juliette Williams, with laid in ephemera: a signed photograph of the author, a love letter on House of Commons stationery with a thick wax House of Commons seal (Sir William Allan (1837-1903) was Member of Parliament for Gateshead), and a slip of paper containing Miss Williams’ thoughts of her admirer. From the included letter, William Allan felt quite warmly about the “fair” Miss Williams: “Wert thou! Juliette, the sparkling wine/That glistens in this crystal cup!/I swear! ‘twould give me bliss divine/To know I had to drink it up.” Unfortunately, in what appears to be a later note to her son, Williams says of Allan: “This Scot was a character, tease, and also my beau, but I thought him too old.” Sold: 2015 Fall ICE Salvage.

 

Original Hand-Written Jack London Love Letter to Charmian

707_6Josh: One of my all time favorite items was a 1904 hand written love letter from Jack London to his mistress. In addition to titillating content relating to London’s affair with Charmian, who would later become his second wife, there is a reference to a “George” who London kisses “on the lips”, possibly a reference to London’s longtime friend and poet George Sterling. A delightful bit of tabloid-style-gossip-insight into London’s romantic life. The letter is unsigned, as London and Charmian were keeping their affair secret at the time.
Contents of letter, in full:
707_1“God knows I love you, my woman. I know it now, as never before. And I know, also, that I shall see until I die the picture of a woman’s gray form – stark against the black crowd – as she stood on the pier-end and kissed, and kissed, and kissed her lover goodbye. I see you now, as clearly as I saw you yesterday and it was better than the last kiss, my darling. It was you, all you & all abandon, there on the ______-piece of the pier kissing your love to me.
And because you could not get the last kiss, no woman got the last kiss from me yesterday. I kissed George on the lips by the gang-planks. Dear Charmian, dear my own. I shall come back, & soon. And we shall be happy, so happy.
There are two correspondents on board with their wives, & how I envy them – not their wives, but the fact that they may take their wives with them, while my true wife remains at home.” Sold to The Jack London Bookstore in Glen Ellen California in 2014.

 

Your Hidden Skeleton: A Novel Autograph Book Which Reveals915_3 the Secret Skeletons of Your Friends Through Their Handwriting

915_1Megan: This 1900’s autograph book completely had me. Here’s how it worked: “Sign your name with full pen of ink on folded line. Use stub pen. Fold paper while ink is still wet. Writing and folding must be done quickly to obtain good results. Be careful to dot the i, and to place the period at the end of the name.” With 21 “skeletons” ranging from 1910-1939 and a printed facsimile example following directions attributed to a twelve year old George Washington, this was a very amusing and truly novel autograph book from the early 20th century. Sold: 2015 Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.

 

Easton Press 100 Greatest Books Of All Time

Easton Lot 2Josh: Often considered the most popular leather bound series ever printed, Easton Press’ 100 Greatest Books of All Time includes famous works of classic literature, history, science, philosophy, and autobiography. They are beautifully bound in leather with 22k gold page edges and accents. Complete sets are uncommon. There are actually 125 volumes that have been printed in this series, but any 100 are considered a “complete” set.  This is a strikingly beautiful set and a decorator’s dream. It was my stubborn romantic insistence that the set remain whole and complete, though we probably could have done much better with them by selling them off individually. Sold: Ebay auction in 2014.

 

Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies by R. H. Blyth

948_3Megan: This was my first big score (found in a Goodwill in the middle of Nowhere, South Georgia), but that’s only one of the reasons I loved it so much. For one thing, it had beautiful plates, and each had a delicate tissue guard with printed information regarding the artwork. The author was also a fascinating figure. Reginald Horace Blyth was a serious Japanophile, even unsuccessfully trying to gain citizenship during WWII, who wrote prolifically, passionately, and critically on Japanese literature, art, and culture, particularly Zen philosophy and Japanese poetry, aided in drafting the Ningen Sengen, and even tutored Emperor Akihito in English when he was Crown Prince.  You can see the complexity of his relationship to the country he loved in his preface: “The satirical verses composed during the 18th century in Japan are hardly known to the Japanese people themselves. The present book may help to call them to their sense to their innate sense of humour; to the sense of their unused, unusual heritage of literature; to a sense of power of being understood and appreciated fully all over the world….May this book add to the real, unmilitary, poetical power and glory of Japan.” Blyth died in 1967, leaving behind this death poem: “Sazanka ni kokoro nokoshite tabidachinu,” translated: “I leave my heart to the sasanqua flower on the day of this journey.” The sasanqua is native to Japan. Sold: 2015 Georgia Book and Paper Fair.

 

Our Current Obsessions:

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