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A farewell to treasures: Volunteers uncover finds while working on Greater St. Louis Book Fair

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 22, 2010 - The first-edition, signed copy of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," which was donated to Greater St. Louis Book Fair, sold for $6,000 on Sunday at the Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers' spring auction, according to Julie Lally, public relations manager for Insight Marketing and Communications. The book was expected to sell for between $5,000-$6,000. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Greater St. Louis Book Fair, which supports literacy programs in the area.

Of all the stories contained in the Greater St. Louis Book Fair this year, the most interesting so far aren't on the printed page. Each year the book fair, which begins April 29 and has been around for more than 60 years, collects millions of used books.

"It has to be millions, quiet literally, because we put out at least a million books," says Marilyn Brown, co-chair.

This year, two of those books held treasures of their own.

Every book that's donated is handled several times, says Brown, first to make sure the books are fit to sell, and then to sort into the more than 150 categories.

One book made it into the rare books category, and it is, indeed.

Brown was at the warehouse that day, when the volunteer who works with the rare books found a 1929, first-edition print of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms." It was number 21 out of 510, and it was signed by Hemingway.

"We thought, holy cow, what a find," Brown says.

After a little research online, Brown says they realized the book was quite valuable, between at least $5,000 and $6,000, and they decided to consign it to Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers, which will auction the book this Sunday.

In the five years she's been volunteering with the book fair, Brown says she's never heard of such a find and isn't sure how the book made it in.

While the people at the book fair are surprised, the people at Ivey-Selkirk aren't.

"Because that's part of our business, finding treasures in boxes, it doesn't surprise us," says Malcolm Ivey, president.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the book fair.

As book fair volunteers prepare the books for sale, they also check them carefully to make sure nothing's tucked inside the pages, Brown says. During one of those checks, something else was found -- money.

The philosophy book had 23 $1 bills and 12 $2 bills, plus film negatives and foreign currency from India, Japan, and Egypt, among other places. And unlike the unknown origins of the Hemingway book, volunteers had a clue to go on for finding this book's owner -- there was a deposit slip inside and a postmarked envelope. After a little searching online, volunteers found the book's owner.

Harry Machin of Crestwood sometimes does slip money into books, an old habit, and when called, he was surprised to find out that he'd donated the book, which he meant to keep. The people at the book fair returned both the book and his money.

"I didn't know they paid that much attention to the books that were donated," says Machin, who donated several boxes of books this year.

Machin, who taught philosophy and retired after 35 years of teaching at Meramec Community College, isn't too excited about the money.

"Forty-two dollars is $42," he says. "Still, it was the book that's important."

Machin, who plans on shopping at this year's book fair, says the accidentally donated philosophy book is a serious work about the human mind and the so-called mind-body problem. At the moment, he couldn't remember the title.

"I'll be darned if I know where that book is," he says. 

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