Book-sale early birds draw on strategy, cunning, speed

No time to hesitate when there’s so much competition.

By: David Campbell
   The book buyer’s hand lingered over the large-print edition of Mario Puzo’s "Omerta" for a split second before making a grab for the mammoth "Large Type Webster’s Encyclopaedia of Dictionaries."
   Then it was back to base camp — a blue bed sheet covering a growing duchy of books on the ice rink floor — where he paused just long enough to stash his finds before making a beeline for the "Language/Linguistics" table to resume his grazing.
   The buyer was among the scores of collectors, dealers and regular book lovers who paid $15 for first dibs on the volumes for sale at the 71st Annual Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale on Wednesday, which opened its doors at 10 a.m. on the dot.
   "The magic moment has happened," volunteer Merry Knowlton told members of the crowd lined up outside the doors. Many of those waiting carried cardboard boxes, plastic crates and canvas bags to truck their purchases, or sheets and tarpaulins to mark their turf. Some would earmark the books they intended to buy with jackets, shirts or Navajo blankets.
   "If you push too hard, we will stop the line," Ms. Knowlton said. "We do not want to call ambulances."
   Despite the urgency to be among the first, the buyers filed in an orderly and polite fashion out onto the rink, where book-laden tables stood waiting from wall to wall. Once there, they went about the business of stockpiling books with the quiet concentration of contestants in a chess tournament. Hardly a word was exchanged.
   "They’ll be busy, they won’t want to schmooze," said Marianne Hooker, another Bryn Mawr volunteer, as one book buyer on the other side of the rink’s Plexiglas barrier unfolded a wheeled grocery cart at the door and dashed away among the tables.
   According to book sale volunteer Marta Steele, about 110,000 books were put up for grabs this year. They are stockpiled and sorted throughout the year at a warehouse at 32 Vandeventer Ave.
   All the proceeds from the sale benefit scholarships to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and Wellesley College in Massachusetts for students from central New Jersey.
   The very first book sale 71 years ago was held at Princeton University. The Bryn Mawr Club of Princeton, which runs the sale, used to operate a book shop out of The Arts Council building on Witherspoon Street, but closed it in October.
   The sale will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, which is half-price day; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Sunday is box day and all the books that fit in a box will cost only $5, regardless of the size of the box, which customers must provide. The book sale accepts cash and checks, but no credit cards.
   Jack Lukazik and his brother George, both from Hillsborough, arrived with a blue Rubbermaid bin to lug books to their car outside.
   "It comes from years of experience," said Jack Lukazik, who indicated he planned to make several trips. The Lukaziks come every year, drawn by "a great passion for reading and knowledge," according to George Lukazik, and to supplement their sizable library at home.
   They came to the right place, because there are tables here for everybody: fiction, mystery, Princetoniana, world history, cookbooks, philosophy, religion, occult, children’s books, essays, anthologies, rare books and more.
   Where else could you find a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannicas, including the wood cabinet they come in, for $35?
   Or an original hardback edition of "Soul on Ice," a prison memoir by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, lying not far from St. Ignatius Loyola’s "Spiritual Exercises," a 35-cent pulp copy of Thor Heyerdahl’s "Kon-Tiki" and more hardback fiction than you could cover with a plastic tarp?
   It’s this eclectic mix of offerings that drew John Davison, who runs the Accessories 2nd Floor Book Shop in Mullica, and sells through the Internet on the Advanced Book Exchange at
   "I look for books that are unusual or odd," Mr. Davison said. "Rare, unusual, scarce, something you can’t find everywhere. That’s what draws me."