Urban Archeologist: Finding Natives of Early and Modern New England

In which your good archeologist actually buys something.

This week’s top sale came from the “Tag Sale Generator” I provide as a link on my blog. Truthfully, this widget it isn’t always reliable because sometimes Craig’s list just isn’t. Good or bad, I recommend using a combination of sources to find the best sales. What attracted me to this Saturday sale was a simple phrase on the ad: “Old Books Cheap!”

To get to the promised sale of old books, I first had to see my daughter through her Saturday activities so daddy could have a turn as well. This sale was located in a picturesque section on the Southbury/Newtown border along River Road. Lake Zoar provides the boundary and on one side there are nice waterfront properties and the other side is a long stretch of woods and some farmland watched over by a few updated Farmhouses.

When I arrived I found a garage-full, two long tables and a couple of shelves-worth of old books. The average shopper might have only spent 15 minutes here, but I caught a different vibe, the kind that emanates from a kindred spirit. Every 20 minutes the owner of the books would walk into the garage and shed a tip or two about the books, or publishing in general; “That French geography book from 1800 was published in the 9th year of the revolution, you can tell by the Roman numeral IX next to the year.”

Each time the owner, whose name was John, would share a little more about the origin of the books, which gave me the confidence to search at my leisure. After a hour and 45 minutes I had introduced myself and explained what I normally look for (old paper and a story), and was invited to sit down and learn more about John, who shared his work as an author and journalist in the field of media and the Internet. More interesting was his passion for old books, estates, and the people who owned them.  John was generous in sharing tips for finding old paper through Craig’s list along with his own history of tag sale-ing, to estate sale-ing, to the way in which he finds, collects, and sell things now — all of which I was appreciative to learn.

After two hours I may have started to overstay my welcome (urban archeologist’s affliction). I purchased a couple of books, but before leaving, John shared with me a most interesting “find.” Found in a house in Fairfield, as were many of the books, was a document signed by the Tolland county clerk of the court in favor of one Samuel G. Harvey to hang a shingle for his chosen profession as a tanner in 1833. The document interestingly describes Samuel’s pursuit as “…the mystery of tanning.” I captured a photo or two, trying to be careful. From the image it is easy to see the 179-year-old document was in a fragile state.

You really never know what you are going to find. I was lucky to have been welcomed as a friend and got more than just a couple of books. I found some good conversation, a picturesque location, and touched a piece of Connecticut history. Turns out I also bought some Connecticut history — one of the books was a history of the Indian races of North and South America, a 700 page book from 1854 with plenty of hand-colored images of the “Indians of New England.” I can almost hear the ceremonial drums along lake Zoar as I turn the pages…

Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.

Jaimie Cura May 03, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Well now I am officially mad at you for not telling me about this book sale before it happened!
Jaimie Cura May 03, 2012 at 02:25 PM
OK, I'm not really mad at you. But I could use some more books to add to the ridiculous collection of unread ones I have now. Remember that in the future. ;)
Greg Van Antwerp May 03, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Forgive me, Jaimie. Send me a note with your contact info, and I promise to text you an update of where I am headed - especially if there are books involved.


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