Old Books Wanted: 1939
This ad was from the 10 November 1939 issue of Radio Guide, although American Book Mart was a regular advertiser and this particular ad ran quite a bit. Big money was promised for relatively common books; the prices, no doubt, were for pristine first editions, but the promise of selling your books to a dealer for real money during that tenuous Post-Depression-Pre-WWII time period was probably an intriguing offer. Since there's no good indicator of what the price is for, there's one point I find very interesting: "Tamerlane & Other Poems" from Edgar Allen Poe was first printed in 1827, and would fetch $5,000 (an enormous amount of money for the time), about the same "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Venus & Adonis" -- both of which were first printed hundreds of years before Poe. "Tamerlane" was originally published in a very small run, and few people believed it existed when Poe printed his second edition; first verified copies of the small book were not discovered until fifty years later. For all Poe's popularity and such rarity, $5,000 was a bargain for American Book Mart -- there are only 12 copies in the world today.
While the list is almost identical to any English professor's "greatest hits" list, the McGuffey's Primer is an interesting inclusion. It's also a relatively recent book, for the 1930s, and as a schoolbook it was published in enormous numbers, remaining in print (and in educational use) for years. Even today, McGuffey's schoolbooks are considered somewhat-useful in education. American Book Mart is probably looking for a first edition, about a hundred years' old at the time, and were willing to pay top dollar for it. They must know something I don't -- but it's going to make me look closer at primers when I'm out shopping for books.
The ad offers people the opportunity to get a copy of ABM's full catalog, for fifteen cents, before they start shipping off their books and expecting a bale of dollar bills to arrive in the mail. From what I can tell, it was quite a book on its own, hardcover and over a hundred pages -- and, whaddayaknow? Antiquarian booksellers today are offering old American Book Mart catalogs for sale as well.