This essay was written in February 2020, just before the outbreak of Covid 19. Much of what was written before then is now seen under a different light. Our grief, like text, has been forever altered. We are leaving this essay unedited.
We have been purchasing estate library for many years, and this is something that we still don’t take for granted, nor will we ever. The person who owned the books most likely selected each volume with care. They purchased with the intent of reading or at least possessing the knowledge within the pages. They carried each book home and up the stairs or elevator and spent quiet time with it (or, and we understand completely, slipped it quietly into the accumulating stacks to keep the peace with their loved one in the household who didn’t see why another book was needed). The owner then spent his or her years with the books, pulling them out at times, perhaps, or he/she was just comforted knowing that the words were always there.
The executor—in the position by direction or default–may come from a distance to settle the estate or more often still lives in the apartment. Once, on the hottest day of the year we were called to the West Village, to a 6 story walk-up, to the 6th floor. The books in question were a large quantity of mathematics books. The executor in this situation was the ex-husband of the deceased. He had come from Maryland, because many years ago he was appointed executor by his wife, a professor. He told us, “I really want nothing to do with this. I am a regular Joe who signed up for this duty a long time ago, and I forgot I even had. But there is no one else to do this… please take the books today. For free.” Most of the time, however, the executor has a more recent and emotional connection. Thoughts about the deceased often come out as our staff is going through the books, maybe sad stories about unrealized plans of someday moving upstate and buying an old mansion to house the collection. Recently we cleared a science and art and occult library belonging to an individual who seemed, from the nature of the books, to be a true polymath. His widow mentioned that her husband had taught part time at a law school. This was as we were boxing up a science fiction shelf of notable authors. Puzzled, we asked her, “What did he teach to law students?” Her reply was, “He taught outer space law.” Well, we learned something that day, that there is such a thing as outer space law. We can’t wait for the future.
Buying estate libraries has its complexities. Sometimes we find valuable works and share this information with the executor/spouse. They may make a decision to keep the books, or we price the valuable works separate from the others. Many times we can only use a portion of the collection. Our offering price is for that portion, and we make recommendations of what to do with the rest. This may involve directing to certain not-for-profits that pick up donations, or to clean out services that charge a fee. There are other logistics that we sometimes handle, such as working with the building staff, arranging with the operator of the freight elevator, finding storage for large collections. Sometimes we work with the building super to gain early access when the executor has to come from out of town. Sometimes the executor does not have to come from out of town and relies on our 25 year reputation and the fact that we have a brick and mortar store and insurance for their peace of mind. We then work by phone and text. Many estate libraries have value only to the person who built it, meaning that the books are no longer topical and salable. We can help to determine if this is the case–it is best if the person in charge of the estate can send photographs of the books. Take the pictures as the books sit on the shelves close enough for us to read the spines and send these to our email, email@example.com. In the past people have made a list of all the books. We have gotten 30 page lists that must have taken a long time to write up, time that could have been saved by a few pictures or a phone call to our store. There are the timeless libraries, books for which there will always be a market for people to read and possess, and we buy the entire library. However, most collections of books fall somewhere in between–because tastes change, the owner’s interests become more sophisticated over time, society changes and some history fades other histories become more relevant. And math insights push other math insights into the commonplace. And art goes in and out of favor as new movements evolve… When you are comfortable with the books leaving their shelves please keep us in mind. We can assure you that the books we take will find a new life. Ours is a busy store, a mix of neighborhood people, academics, collectors, tourists, etc. Third generations are starting to appear with their parents. One of our customers, a high school drop-out who became successful, recently told us that his education was his years of sitting in East Village Books and reading. We try very hard to be an asset to the community. Thank you for thinking of us when you have so much else on your mind.
Yelp Review from a Satisfied Seller:
The buyer from East Village Books came to our house after our father passed. He was courteous to us and seemed to know a lot about our father’s areas of interest, who himself was quite the renaissance man. We had called a few other places, but it seemed they weren’t willing to pay that much. The East Village buyer gave us much more than we would have expected. He and his helper, who was also quite knowledgeable, boxed up everything and took it away for us, allowing us to move on in cleaning our our father’s apartment.