As I See It...
By James E. Lee
(From Newsletter No. 96)

 

Memories
 

I am writing this in early December. My four-part series of articles for Linn’s on the Hidden Treasures from the Falk Finkelburg Essay and Proof Collections was wrapped up this past month. Now it is time to write my 96th “As I See It” column. As I was reflecting on my last column: Another Fork in the Road, it dawned on me to write about the five significant forks in the road that have shaped my business over the past 30 years. Some of them I may have touched on over the years, but I promise you that this series will be in depth since they were so important to the success that I have enjoyed.

An early fork started with a phone call from the late Lou Robbins sometime in January of 1993. It had impressed Lou that I had “shlepped” literature to the ASDA Mega Event in New York City the previous fall. He had decided to sell his entire literature stock and invited me to see and consider buying it before the ASDA Spring New York show. I was in shock. Lou had been a friend since the early 1970’s and I was honored to be considered for acquiring his inventory. (Keep in mind that this was probably going to be the fourth time that he had sold out over the years.) He ended the call with “I want $15,000.00 and it is not negotiable!”

I arranged for Steve Eaton of Liberty Stamp Shop to drive my books inventory and material to New York. I flew in two days before show set up to figure Lou’s literature. He and his wife Estelle lived at 92nd and Amsterdam in a high-rise building. They had closed their downtown office and moved their stock into two very large storage rooms in the sub-basement of the building. Each room was filled with endless aisles of shelving filled with books, pamphlets, and auction catalogs. It took a day and a half to figure it. However, I knew at the end of the first hour that this was an opportunity that would change the course of my business. At that point in my career $15,000.00 was a lot of money to spend on something that would take years to sell. However, that was not my biggest problem.

Since How do I get the contents of these two rooms to Wheeling, Illinois? At the end of the second day Lou told me to sleep on it and we could discuss it at the show in two days. On that Friday I agreed to buy it at his price, and he offered terms over six months. Believe me that helped but the fun was just beginning.


Once I got back home, I had to devise a plan of attack. I had figured that his stock would fill a forty foot over the road trailer. I contracted a trucking company that would come to Lou’s building and would load the cartons by bringing them up the elevator to street level on pushcarts one load at a time. They would then go on the truck and be palletized at the trucking terminal.

I arranged to spend an entire week in May packing the material. Thankfully both Lou and Estelle provided the cartons and helped with the packing. I had over 500 numbered labels and we used every one of them.


We packed from 8 AM until 5 PM for six days. I could not have done it without their help. It was slow, but I had to note the contents of each carton. Estelle made lunch each day and Lou regaled me with stories of the trade going back over 50 years. Those stories alone were worth the trip. I could never repay their kindness, and it taught me the importance of paying it forward over the years.

My While packing I realized there were things that had little or no value. So, I started two separate piles of boxes for the material I did not want. The better of the two piles I consigned to Lowell Newman Auctions and he picked it up at the end of the week on Sunday. It was an entire pallet of boxes and surprisingly realized around $700.00. The second pile went to a New York area dealer and he paid $300.00 after chasing him for a year. There were still over 500 boxes that I would have to get to street level on Monday morning.


Loading the truck on Monday was a surprise, as I had contracted for help from the trucking company. They never showed up, so it was left to me and the driver, and two hand trucks to move 500+ cartons from the sub-basement, up the elevator, and out to the truck which we did in five hours. I am still amazed that the NYPD did not show up and shut us down for blocking 92nd Street while we loaded the truck.

TheBy the time I reached the airport on Monday afternoon I was exhausted. The flight was empty, and I was able to lay down and buckle myself into three sets at the back of the plane and sleep all the way to Chicago.


Two days later the truck arrived at my recently leased warehouse in Wheeling about a mile from my office. In an hour’s time the driver had moved all the pallets into my space. That is when I learned that the cartons had been placed on the pallets in random order (I had paid for numerical order).
The fun of breaking down this holding lasted for 25 years before it was all sold. I have absolutely no idea of the total dollars realized. In the 25 years that I was in the literature business, full time, I estimate that I sold well over 2.5 million dollars of literature.

Jim


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