Expert on rare books speaks in Macon

Larry Caldwell waited patiently to find out how much his book was worth.

It was a 1928 limited edition of “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf. The number of the copy, 848 out of 861, was handwritten in the back. Even more promising, the name Virginia Woolf was handwritten on one of the front pages.

“I think that it’s her signature, because she always signed in purple,” Caldwell said.

As a retired librarian and a member of the Friends of the Library board, Caldwell knows a lot about books. But when it comes to the value of collectible books he defers to Cliff Graubart, the Atlanta dealer who visited the Sidney Lanier Cottage Sunday to share his expertise with a group of about 30 people.

When Graubart examined Caldwell’s “Orlando” he pronounced, “This is right.”

The only problem was that the book had been rebound with a heavy-duty blue library cover.

“This book is worth, rebound, about $3,000,” Graubart said. ”What you do is take the book to a professional binder, and they’ll put a full leather binding on it. It’ll cost you about $500-$600. ... You’ve got a book here, but to make it work you’ve got to put some money in it.”

Graubart had come to Macon to present a program on collectible books at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library. After the meeting he offered appraisals of books brought in by members.

The purpose of the Friends of the Library is “to put books in the hands of readers in our community,” said John Mathews, organization president.

The group’s main fundraiser is its old book sale, held every February at Central City Park. The Friends donate about $100,000 yearly to local public libraries for the purchase of books, Mathews said.

Members of the Friends of the Library became acquainted with Graubart when he visited one of their sales several years ago. The group invited him to speak at their annual meeting last year. That program was so popular that Graubart was invited back.

“He’s always good,” said Caldwell, who is in charge of the collectible book section of the old book sale. “He’s really informative. It helps us out at the old book sale.”

Graubart said he once sold a five-volume set of books for $50,000. It was an 1855 limited-edition biography of George Washington written by Washington Irving that included original documents signed by the Founding Fathers. He had acquired the set for $20,000.

During his lecture Sunday Graubart spoke of the desirability of limited edition books signed by famous authors. Many people are fooled by signatures that are actually printed with the text of the book, he said.

“You want to see, ‘To Joe Blow,’ with a date,” Graubart said. “Then call me.”

During a question-and-answer session, someone asked Graubart how the death of an author affects the value of his or her books.

“You see a spike for two weeks, and then it’s dead forever,” Graubart said. “When a writer dies, his books usually die with him, unless his book goes from popular fiction to literature.”

Someone else asked about a book signed by Jimmy Carter.

“The problem with Jimmy Carter’s books is that he’s living very long, he’s writing very much and he’s easy to get hold of,” Graubart said. “The book is worth more if it’s signed ‘Jimmy’ and not ‘J.’ He signs so many books that years ago he got tired of writing ‘Jimmy.’’’

Somebody else asked Graubart about the subject matter of a book he mentioned.

“This is not a literary class, this is about value,” Graubart said, tongue in cheek. “Don’t you screen these people?”