Money in Books

by Tom Congalton

Sunday, Jan 15, 2006

I have found money in books on a number of occasions. When I was a teen-age book scout, I was once scouting the home of a couple of aged and not particularly prosperous antique dealers in Point Pleasant, New Jersey who happened to have some books. Curiously they were aged enough that they reported that had formerly received regular visits from Dr. Rosenbach, who would buy antique furniture, but never books from them, on his visits to the Jersey shore.

While looking through a nicely bound set of Dickens on the landing of their staircase, I encountered several thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills secreted in the various volumes. Perhaps because of my innate honesty, or more likely because the postage-stamp size house would allow for no subterfuge, I pointed this out to the owners, who were ecstatic. Apparently one of them had hidden the money there over a decade before, and had promptly forgot his hiding place. At any rate, my visit to them that day was far more profitable to them than the balance in my meager checkbook would have given them any reason to expect.

On another occasion I got to keep the money I found in a book, and in my opinion, it was only just. I was tramping around the Englishtown, New Jersey flea market, fertile hunting grounds for an antique or book scout in the late 1970s, at dawn's early light. One of the junk vendors there had set up his wares, devoid of any books, and had settled back to drink his coffee and read a book he had brought along, while he waited for commerce to come a-calling. I spotted the book and asked to see it, as it turned out a first edition of Larry McMurtry's Moving On in what seemed like reasonably nice condition. At the time this was a desirable, if modestly price book in the trade, perhaps worth $30 or $40 dollars, but which in that stage of my career qualified as big game. The vendor said he'd take a dollar for it and received the same in due course, and it was carefully placed into my bag with the rest of the days pickings. The slight twinge of guilt I felt in relieving the fellow of his morning reading material dissipated quickly as the sun made its full appearance and I realized that the back panel of the jacket had been badly coffee-stained. I took off the jacket to examine the damage further and a dollar bill fluttered out from where it had been hidden between the jacket and the book. It too had been stained, as had been the book itself. Despite the stain I kept the dollar. I chucked the book.

Most recently I was processing a large library of Western Americana, which I had bought en bloc, and which had not only passed through the hands of one dealer, but had sat for a couple of weeks in his shop, available to the public eye and touch. After hauling them away, and while coding and pricing them in my own shop, I found in a copy of Frank Dobie's Apache Gold and Yacqui Silver, an envelope containing ten two-dollar bills in as new condition. If my colleagues in the Western Americana field are to believed, when I priced the books, I failed to pass the savings along to the consumer.

This article originally appeared in the ABAA Newsletter.