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I am Addicted to Bibliofind.com

WARNING: If you adore old books,
this article may alter your life!

Also Read: Cry of the eBay Warrior

Old Books Hello. My name is Dennis, and I am addicted to Bibliofind.com.

That's a web site with millions of used books for sale. You search for a title, a topic or an author. You click a computer button to order an old out-of-print book. You type in your credit card number. Hit the mouse button again, and you own it.

I was turned on to the site by a loved one over the holiday. He didn't mean to put the bite on me. My brother the archeologist was innocently clicking around on dad's AOL account in the den looking for old books on Native American ethnology from the Pennobscott people.

"Who's that Portsmouth poet guy you wrote about last week?" Brian asked a few moments later.

"A-l-d-r-I-c-h, Thomas Bailey," I spelled. "But you won't find much. Online. I've looked."

"How's 51 entries?" he laughed, pleased to one-up me on my own online turf. But there is no solid footing in the quicksand of the Internet, where gigantic new web sites appear overnight like boulders on the information highway.

"No way! Let me see that," I said, pushing him from the terminal. He may soon be the first Ph.D. in the family, but I'm still the older brother.

And there it was, dozens of collectible hard-to-find copies of Aldrich's work: Story of a Bad Boy (1870), Ponkapog Papers (1883), Ballad of Babie Bell (1859), Marjorie Daw (1873). There were signed first editions, torn copies, reprints, old letters, everything an Aldrich addict could desire, and much of it at reasonable, even cheap prices. I bought "Crowding Memories," (1920) an obscure book about Aldrich written by his wife. I've looked for it in the stores for years. I paid $10 for what was described as a copy "like new, but with corners bent inward." It was to arrive by mail in two days.

Another search revealed just two copies of "Poets of Portsmouth" (1865), one priced at $150, another for $20. I snapped up the cheaper one. After all, it might be gone tomorrow. Right?

Pure grade Celia Thaxter stuff was everywhere and the originals fetched a pretty penny. One copy of an "Island Garden" was priced at $1,250 from a New York dealer. I settled instead on an original copy of her first-ever poem "Land- locked," printed in the Atlantic (1861). The magazine went for $35 and I clicked it into my burgeoning cyber shopping cart. I was feeling no pain.

I found a "Brewster's Rambles" for $30, and an identical one for $395. Sure I've already got it, but I know a bargain when I see one.

When I finally looked up, Brian had gone off to nurse his son John Scott, who had consumed vast quantities of candy, ham and squash pie. Over the next 24 hours, slipping back on and off the computer in a dreamlike haze, I mainlined about $150 worth of books without leaving my comfy ergonometric chair.

Don't worry, I'm stabilized now. The tremors have subsided and I'm back on solid food. To write this account, I've disconnected my laptop from the Internet, but as surely as the full moon rises, I'll shop online again. Nothing can save me from this bliss.

The beauty of Bibliofind.com is that the owners, Micheal and Helen Selzer, don't have to touch a single old book. The site is based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I discovered, so I called them there. By writing an article about their web site, I reasoned with my fevered brain, I'd have more money to shop online.

But the owners were off celebrating the holiday, leaving only Mary Allen in customer support to answer my questions. She assured me that the Selzers are actually "book people" with a little antiquarian shop of their own. The web site was born when it occurred to Michael that the summer tourist book sale boom was always followed by a dead winter period.

Putting old books online opened the shop to millions of antiquarian buyers who like me, can now shop at 3 am Sunday during a winter holiday from anywhere on Earth.

Now comes the genius part. Currently 4,000 antiquarian book dealers list their inventory on Bibliofind.com. Dealers themselves type the info for each book into the Selzer's online database -- title, date of publication, detailed descriptions, condition of book. Dealers pay only $25 per month to list up to 40,000 books each. The Selzers, Mary Allen and a small staff provide the web site itself, continually update the software, offer support and keep things moving rapidly online.

Buyers like me are referred directly to individual booksellers. That's why there were 15 different stores offering copies of Aldrich's "An Old Town by the Sea" (1893) at prices from $7.50 to $35. I ordered the cheapest one, of course. The idea is so clever, so pure and refreshingly simple that everyone wins. Local dealers may lose some customers in the short run, but they gain a worldwide market. Mary Allen says a whole new generation of used book buyers have discovered the antiquarian market.

Bibliofind.com claims to be the biggest bookstore on the planet, bigger even than Amazon.com that sells mostly new books. Multiply 4,000 dealers times 40,000 books and you see the potential inventory. Multiply dealers times the $300 annual fee and you see the potential income for the owners.

"It has very clearly revolutionized the out-of-print bookselling business," Mary told me over the phone. "Now if a book about Seacoast New Hampshire is sitting on the back shelf of a little used book store in Oregon, you know about it."

I know about it, because I bought it already.

My copy of "Crowding Memories" arrived this morning, lovingly hand wrapped in bubble-pack and floating in a sea of Styrofoam peanuts. It is the most beautiful copy I've seen, better than the ones at the Public Library and the Portsmouth Athenaeum. The cover is folded inward and some of the pages are still uncut, just as described on the Internet. With shipping, it came to $13.

My copy of "Poets of Portsmouth" arrived today too, firmly embossed in gold leaf, filled with obscure local poems from the Civil War era. Sometime in the last 140 years this gentle little volume found its way from Portsmouth to a town far, far away. Now it's home again.

I'm home again too, and as soon as this article is finished, I'm going back online. Not to buy anything mind you, just to poke around in the dusty back shelves of 4,000 book stores. I'll only be gone a few minutes. Trust me, I won't spend anything.

Article and photo by J. Dennis Robinson
© 1999 SeacoastNH.com

Don't miss Dennis Robinson's new column "Seacoast Rambles" every other week in Foster's Sunday Citizen at your local newsstand.

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