Obadiah Baird loves collectible books, and one of his first achievements as a new owner of The Book Bin was opening up a rare books room at the business’ Corvallis location.
“The rare book room is where I really get to pursue my passion for books. It makes me feel happier and more satisfied with my work. I’ve seen books where just to hold them felt like a privilege,” Baird said.
He said that people don’t need to know a ton about rare books — or have a massive budget — to enjoy collecting.
“At the end of the day, if you take a book home and have a connection to it, that’s really what matters,” he said.
Books start at about $25 in the Corvallis Book Bin’s rare book room, though some volumes can sell for thousands of dollars.
Many people start collecting rare books because they are interested in a specific topic. Oregon State University professors, for example, might search for books in their subject matter that haven’t been widely reprinted. Other collectors look for works by specific authors.
While The Book Bin has a wide range of rare books, Baird enjoys science fiction, fantasy and horror, and the inventory partly reflects his passion. (He also manages "The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy.")
Science fiction and fantasy are hot market segments because many tech workers, flush with money, seek out the books that got them fired up in their younger years —also a common theme among collectors.
Being rare, however, doesn’t always equal antique. An autographed first edition of “Redshirts,” a 2012 "Star Trek" satire by John Scalzi, is on sale for $100 at the Book Bin. A first edition of “World War Z,” a 2006 novel later made into a movie, also is considered a rare book.
Baird said scarcity is more important than age.
Publishers are now doing smaller and smaller press runs for first printings unless they are confident the product will be a smash.
While a 150-year-old Bible might have sentimental value, if that edition was especially popular, there might be thousands and thousands of copies still available and in good condition, Baird said. Supply would be high, so demand and price would be lower.
Children’s books that were widely printed can have huge value, however, especially if all of the illustrations are intact. Kids can be notoriously tough on books, and some iconic titles, such as “Treasure Island,” can be extremely sought after if they’re in great condition.
Condition, while important, isn’t as critical as with comic books or baseball cards. “Most rare book collectors don’t read the books they are collecting. There are definitely people who do. They read them very carefully,” Baird said.
Armed Forces books published for World War II soldiers and sailors — which, interestingly enough, were published until 1948 — also are part of The Book Bin’s rare book room.
In early 2018, Baird’s father, Bob Baird, transferred ownership of The Book Bin to Baird, his wife Kat Baird, and his sister Naomi Baird.
“We get to make the amazingly hard decisions and he gets to go home and watch Netflix,” Baird said.
The rare book room in Corvallis has been open for about three months. The Salem Book Bin has had a rare books room for about 20 years, Baird said. He also takes rare books on the road, selling at fairs in Portland, Seattle and California.
The Baird family initially considered renting out the space for the rare books room to another business, but decided to see how things would work selling scarce volumes in Corvallis.
“We’re doing well with it, but it’s just one part of what we do,” Baird said.
He stressed that claims of the book industry’s demise are vastly overrated. Big chain bookstores have been eroded by online sellers, but that’s leaving room for independent operators like The Book Bin.
The rare books room at the Corvallis Book Bin, 215 SW Fourth St., is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and by appointment on Sunday. For more information, go to the store's website (bookbin.com) or call 541-752-0040.