Saturday, February 19, 2005


Set Phasers on Alphabetize

The Daily Iowan reports that the University of Iowa library has just acquired the world's largest collection of sci-fi fanzines:

A private collector's 250,000 fanzine items arrived at the loading dock of the Main Library Dec. 30, thanks to UI alumnus Greg Beatty's serendipitous sighting of what one UI professor called a "treasure trove" of material. Beatty noticed the private collection's sale status while surfing eBay.... Private collector Mike Horvat of Stayton, Ore., decided to sell the lot in part because the storage facility where he housed the items was scheduled to be destroyed, [Professor] Latham said. The local fire department was planning to set the building ablaze and use it for extinguishing practice.

Though newspapers endlessly flog variations of the old "man sells his immortal soul for 99 cents" sort of eBay stories, what gets less attention is the degree to which eBay has become useful for historians and restorers. I find the experience of browsing all the way through, say, the 1800 - 1849 category of antiquarian books to be roughly akin to a day in Hay-on-Wye, particularly in that I am constantly finding stuff on eBay that I didn't know existed. Libraries tend to be much stronger at collecting hardcover books than old ephemera, cheap paper-bound dime novels and the like. Online auctions are great for precisely these sorts of undervalued items.

My latest random find on eBay: a yellow-paperbound 1896 dime novel titled Gipsy Reno, The Detective: A Marvelous Tale of Adventures. Reading it was odd, because -- unlike, say, a Henry James novel -- it is almost all dialogue and extremely terse description, and without any he-said she-said dialogue tags. In other words, it looks sort of like a Hemingway novel... but over 20 years before he started writing any. Hmm.

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