Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2012 Issue

Over a Quarter of a Million Books Sold at Larry McMurtry's "Last Book Sale"

Lastbookposter

The Last Book Sale.

One of the largest book auctions in recent memory took place in one of the smallest venues to ever see such an auction. Of course, this was no ordinary auction, but one of a large portion of the stock of noted bookseller and author Larry McMurtry's Booked Up shop in tiny Archer City, Texas. When the dust settled (there's lots of dust in this hot, dry, country near the Oklahoma border), between 250,000 and 275,000 books had changed hands. That's roughly 150 books for every resident of Archer City, but this does mean that these folks are unusually vociferous readers. Bidders came from all over the country to participate in what was as much an event for the book as a sale of them.

The Last Book Sale (a play on author McMurtry's The Last Picture Show) was not a going out of business sale. Mr. McMurtry will continue in the business, a remaining stock of some 150,000 titles still making Booked Up one of the larger shops in the country. However, at the age of 76, Mr. McMurtry determined this was an appropriate time to downsize a bit.

From the start, Mr. McMurtry and auctioneer Michael Addison plotted out a course different from the typical auction. Auctions can generally do a good job of selling a few hundred books, but they were faced with finding a way to sell 300,000 of them. As many booksellers can attest, that is no small challenge in these days of huge online inventories on listing sites, and more people reading electronic versions of books. Their conclusion was that The Last Book Sale needed to be an event, not just an auction. And so it was. There was a barbecue, a screening of a movie, and, of course, Mr. McMurtry's presence. He has always known how to attract a crowd. How else do you explain a large, successful book store in Archer City, Texas? As Mr. Addison explained, “An auction is supposed to be fun. Many people come to auctions for the fun of it but end up bidding and buying. I think that when people have fun, they feel less inhibited and more free to bid.”

We went to Mr. Addison to get an insider's look at what must be, at least so far, a prime contender for the title of most interesting book sale of this century. He graciously put down some recollections on what was an extremely busy, whirlwind of a weekend for both him and Mr. McMurtry. “At some point during the evening before the auction when everyone gathered in the Royal Theater for the BBQ and movie-screening,” he said, “everyone just had this sense that this was a significant event. There was almost an instant sense among the bidders, guests, and staff that they were all participating in something very special. As Larry McMurtry put it after about the first day of the sale, 'It's become an event that has transcended its literal purpose.'

“The first surprise was the overwhelming presence of the national media. I haven't been in a situation where I needed a staff member dedicated to PR, but I could have used someone like that in Archer City. It started during the preview period when, early on, the local news station sent out a film crew and did interviews with Mr. McMurtry and myself. Then the local paper took photos and did an interview. No problem. But Wednesday and especially Thursday, media converged on Archer City on a scale far beyond what I anticipated. The Houston Chronicle, the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, media reporters from L.A., New York, and everywhere in between were surrounding Mr. McMurtry in Booked Up store number 1, and they were stopping me to ask questions and do brief interviews when they could keep up with me walking from building to building at a brisk pace. We were very appreciative of all of the attention and publicity. There were plenty of questions coming from every direction. Mostly the media was interested in what Mr. McMurtry had to say. Larry McMurtry really brings out the crowds and the media, no doubt about that.

“After the two-day auction, Larry and I were finally able to catch up with each other. I immediately noticed that his voice had become a bit rough from all of the interviews. He was tired as was I. However, he was also happy, visibly relieved though exhausted from all the goings on. I think the need to downsize had been a stress for him, the auction had been a stress for all of us, and he seemed quite happy that it not only was finished but was quite successful. We heard nothing but positive feedback from the guests. Everyone had a great time, and booksellers came in droves, from Powell's in Oregon to Between the Covers in New Jersey. However, the buyer who took the 'gold' for the most lots purchased was Eric Papenfuse of Midtown Scholar books out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.”

Mr. Addison noted that some bidders came to gather stock, but others just wanted a piece of the legendary store. He was particularly surprised to find several people interested in the four posters he had printed at Office Depot several weeks earlier. They were put up for sale and brought in around $200 each. “Locals told me that this was the largest crowd they had ever seen in Archer City. When The Last Picture Show cast returned to film Texasville, there were crowds, but according to the local folks I spoke with, our auction crowd was much larger. By the last day of the sale, we had about 200 registered bidders, and most of them brought guests. Aside from the auction bidders and guests, people came by the dozens just to shop in Building number 1, which was open for shopping. In all, I would say between 400 and 600 people came to Archer City for the sale; some stayed for days, some stayed for a couple of hours.”


Posted On: 2012-09-01 00:00
User Name: zbooks

For a first-hand account of the sale see my essay on the American Book Collecting Blog: www.bookcollectinghistory.com It will give you the flav


Posted On: 2012-09-02 00:00
User Name: scientiabk

80 cents a volume is a success?


Posted On: 2012-09-02 00:00
User Name: scientiabk

80 CENTS a volume is a success?


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cartwright (George). <i>A Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador...,</i> first edition, with A.L.s. from the author, 1792. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Swift (Jonathan). <i>Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World,</i> 2 vol., first edition, Teerink's "A" edition, Printed for Benj. Motte, 1726. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Fourier (Jean Baptiste Joseph). <i>Theorie Analytique de la Chaleur,</i> first edition, Paris, chez Firmin Didot, 1822. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Boccaccio (Giovanni). <i>Genealogiae Deorum,</i> additions by Dominicus Silvester and Raphael Zovenzonius, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1472. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mary I. Letter signed at the head "Marye the Quene" to Lord Paget, 1 page, 7th June 1556. The recall from exile of nine persons opposed to the Marian regime. £10,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Nelson (Horatio). Autograph Letter signed "Horatio Nelson" and written to Francis Drake, British Minister at Genoa, discussing the disposition of his "Cruizers" near Genoa. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Darwin (Charles). Unpublished Autograph Letter signed to Walter Raleigh Browne, playing down his scientific knowledge of comparative anatomy, 1881. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Murphew (J.). <i>The fair in an uproar, or, the dancing-doggs.</i> As they perform in Mr. Pinkeman's New Opera in Bartholomew Fair, 1707. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Chaucer (Geoffrey). <i>The Workes,</i> by [Nicholas Hill for] Thomas Petit, dwellyng in Paules churche yarde at the sygne of the Maydens heed, 1550. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Austen (Jane). <i>Emma: A Novel,</i> 3 vol., first edition, 1816. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>Stamboul Train,</i> first edition, first issue, 1932. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Churchill.- Fearon (Percy Hutton) "Poy". “Eat More Beef,” pen and ink cartoon with shading in blue pencil, [July 1928]. £400 to £600
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000

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