One for the books | January 13, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 13, 2023

One for the books

Friends of the Palo Alto Library hold a rare sale of its high value books, ephemera

by Heather Zimmerman

A week before the Friends of the Palo Alto Library (FOPAL) are due to hold their next book sale, volunteers at the group's headquarters at Cubberley Community Center are sorting and arranging the contents of banker's boxes and library carts, stocking neatly labeled shelves with books on travel, art, cooking, graphic novels, tomes on religion, politics, history and a large selection of fiction.

But in addition to books, FOPAL board members Nigel Jones and Nancy Cohen have some unusual items to prep for sale: from a vintage 1930s punchboard lottery game and a deck of Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot card to a framed signature from author Joseph Conrad and a 1966 U.S. Congressional subcommittee report on "The Computer and Invasion of Privacy."

These items are among the 2,500 pieces of ephemera featured at the Friends' special High Value Sale, which also features books, CDs and DVDs, taking place this weekend alongside the group's regular monthly sale at Cubberley. The special sale, slated to take place outdoors last month, was postponed due to weather, and will now be held inside.

The High Value Sale takes place Saturday, Jan. 14, and the monthly sale starts the same day and runs through Sunday, Jan. 15.

The two sales seem to illustrate two main aspects of FOPAL's work.

"We're usually selling at about half what the online price is. We've always operated on a bargains-for-the community basis," Cohen said of the regular monthly sales.

"Nancy makes a good point: we see ourselves in two different ways," Jones said. "One is that we benefit the community directly (with book sales) and the other, of course, is that the library comes to us and says, 'We need this amount of money for this year.' That's our mission, to support the library."

Along with browsing through ephemera, shoppers at the High Value Sale will have their choice of about 1,500 books that the group has valued higher than the typical offerings at FOPAL's monthly sales, where prices in the main room start around $2 to $3. Monthly sales also feature a children's room and a bargain room.

"These are books that are usually $20 to $30 and we're going to sell them all at $10. So the books are a single price," Jones said of the High Value Sale. "But the ephemera is complicated. So that'll be priced as is. There's going to be hundreds and hundreds of examples of ephemera. It's a very unusual area."

Ephemera is an unusual — and broad — category. A "tongue-in-cheek definition," as Jones described it, is "anything that was created in paper that nobody ever thought would sell. So if grandma has been collecting tickets from every rock 'n' roll show that she's ever been to, that's ephemera, or if you come across an album of a wedding ... or an album of photographs of the family, that's ephemera."

The stock for FOPAL sales, including for the High Value Sale, comes from community donations. On the morning that this news organization visited the Friends' headquarters, a donor arrived at the door with a literal truckload of books — a pickup bed stacked to the brim. The day before, a donation of dozens upon dozens of jigsaw puzzles came in.

Sorting and valuing donations is among the many tasks for FOPAL's roughly 450 volunteers, Jones said, whose significant number allows them to take on specialized roles like his and Cohen's work in high value items. Cohen also oversees the religion section. She said that the group uses sites such as Bookfinder.com and eBay to research prices.

For the high value category, which are items generally valued for resale at $20 and above, the group primarily sells items online through eBay and a third party who sells through Amazon on behalf of FOPAL. The online marketplace offers a wider customer base and is likely to yield more funds for the library, Jones and Cohen said.

But the group holds in-person, high value sales for the community every couple of years. The offerings depend on what donations have come in, sometimes featuring a particular focus, such as high-end art books, or a more general sale, such as this one, of books, media and ephemera.

The Friends of the Palo Alto Library's High Value Sale takes place Jan. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and the monthly sale takes place Jan. 14 between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. (hours vary by room) and Jan. 15, all rooms open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. fopal.org.

Email Arts & Entertainment Editor Heather Zimmerman at [email protected]

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