In the beginning, military books

Barbara Nailler:Luckily the owner had some brawny friends helping us ...”

By Barbara Nailler

When first asked to write an anecdote about my store, Wolf’s Head Books, I thought “Oh, my gosh, what one will I choose?” as I’ve had so many wonderful experiences in the 31 years of bookselling. This is one of my favorites.

The late Harvey Wolf and I opened our first bookstore, July 1980, in the basement of the Morgantown, West Virginia, water department, knowing in a few months we would move upstairs. A few weeks later, I received a call from a secretary at the college where I had taught asking if we were interested in military books. Seems her son-in-law had just inherited his father’s home and library. The father was an intelligence expert in WW I, so the collection contained everything anyone could ever want to know about the subject. We said “Yes” and a few days later arrived in Boston in our VW Dasher diesel station wagon. It was a 22-room duplex on a privately owned street. And, of course, most of the books were on the third floor—with no elevator.

After the deal was made and money changed hands, we started packing. We had no boxes and no bags though a trip to the local grocery store outfitted us with hundreds of large brown paper sacks. We packed and we packed and we packed some more and then the carrying down the wide wooden stairways began. Luckily the owner had some brawny friends helping us, or we would have been there for days. In the end our VW was filled to the gills as was a rented U-Haul truck. It was a long drive home, especially when the truck had a flat tire.

After we unloaded all these sacks in the basement in the spaces around the bookcases, we received a call from a northern military book dealer who wanted to purchase all the spy books. He drove down to peruse them and made a low-ball offer which we declined, so we suggested he pick out only those he really wanted. In the end, he paid us as much for those as he had offered for all the spy books. He left with his prize books and we had money!

A few months later we were vendors at the military history book show near Philadelphia, where we took many of the other volumes. To our great pleasure, another specialist military book dealer came to our booth. We were awestruck when he just started piling books up in his arms without even opening them to look at the prices. And again we left with money … something all of us like.

So in the end, we bought a collection more desirable than we even knew at the outset. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that happened every time any of us traveled for a book buy?

Barbara Nailler owns Wolf's Head Books in St. Augustine, Florida.


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