<i>In The News:</i> Goodbye to Card Catalogues, $1 Million Comic Book Sale, Abe's Top 10

- by Michael Stillman

Sccard

Card for a book that sounds as dated as a card catalogue.


By Michael Stillman

Back in the day, before computers, digital databases and even microfiche readers, the way you found books in a library was through a "card catalogue." You may remember. Three-by-five index cards, containing pertinent data about each book, were filed alphabetically in drawers slightly larger than 3 x 5. They were arranged by author, title, or subject, some libraries with multiple sets of alphabetically arranged cards for each, some just mixing them all together.

At the University of South Carolina Library, they had almost 4 million of these cards, filling 3,168 drawers. The last were added in 1991. Since then, the files have gradually become dated to the point of irrelevance. Eighteen years out of date, the age of a typical freshman, it is doubtful that even the hardiest traditionalist could have used these any longer. Still, there they stood in a corner, taking up space. This will no longer be the case. The University of South Carolina Library has come up with some ingenious ideas to rid themselves of these relics of the past. We might have suggested putting them in the antiquarian book room (not the rare book room, as with 4 million examples, they are hardly rare). However, while the library does plan to keep some for historical display, most will be deleted, to use the digital term for throwing away. The library's clever idea was to hold a contest. Students and others are encouraged to take the cards and make something creative out of them. There will be prizes for the most functional use, fashionable (wearable), foundational (building models), and free form. With any luck, the library should be able to remove thousands of them this way, impressive were it not for the fact that they have millions to get rid of. At least it's a start, and when the year is out, we understand that recyclers will get the rest.

A comic book auction near St. Louis in early November brought in a staggering $1 million plus in sales. At least some types of "books" are still bringing in top dollar. The leading item was a first issue of X-Men comics, which sold for $101,000 (against an original price of 12 cents). For those keeping track, that's a little over an 84 million percent return on investment.

The story behind the sale is that the comics were found in the basement of a modest home in St. Charles that Mound City Auctions had been called on to sell. Mound City specializes in local real estate, estate and business sales, so this was an unusual sale for them. The home and its contents had been owned by an elderly lady who recently passed away. However, she was not the collector. That was her son, who predeceased her. He had loved comic books as a child and had purchased around 3,000 of them. Fortunately, his mother, unlike yours and mine, did not throw his collection away when he came of age. It seems unlikely he recognized just how valuable they were, and almost certainly his mother had no idea. When she died, the house and its contents were inherited by a cousin who has chosen to remain anonymous. The heir had no clue of the value either until an appraisal revealed that some of these comics were extremely valued by collectors in the field. Sometimes having a cousin of modest means is just as good as a rich uncle.

AbeBooks has released its list of the top 10 highest prices paid for books on their site during the month of October.