The shelf-lot book auction of the century

by The bookworm on August 12, 2012 · The Book Trade

McMurtry's Lonesome Dove

It was given a catchy name “The Last Book Sale” and it was promoted as “The shelf-lot auction of the century!”  Author Larry McMurtry’s legendary Booked Up Inc. stores #2, #3 and #4 were sold at a public auction on-site in Archer City, Texas on August 10th and 11th. Approximately 300,000 books in over 1500 lots changed hands in a period of two-days.  The lots consisted of approximately 150 books each, with the exception of 101 single item lots that Mr. McMurtry picked out as interesting and appealing in a half hour stroll through the stores.  Food and entertainment were added to the schedule, and the stage was set. McMurtry built it, did they come?

Archer City, Texas is 25 miles southwest of Wichita Falls, and 140 miles from Dallas. It lies at the junction of State Highway 79 and State Highway 25, a quaint Texas town that still enjoys “small town” friendliness.  In fact, besides being known for excellent hunting for deer, dove, quail, turkey, and wild hogs, famous native son, Larry McMurtry is the town’s biggest attraction. The Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Lonesome Dove also co-wrote the script for “Brokeback Mountain.” Moreover, movies based on his novels, The Last Picture Show and Texasville, were filmed on the streets of Archer City.

The event’s activities started last Friday, August 3, when the stores were opened for preview of the shelves to be auctioned. Around 100 bibliophiles descended from the surrounding areas to inspect the condition and importance of the books being offered in the above 100° F warm, relatively dry weather, with a Stage 2 town drought warning in effect. A free Texas BBQ with cold beer was the highlight of the pre-auction activities on Thursday evening, along with the chance to meet Mr. McMurtry in person.  It was very hard to resist not asking him to autograph my first edition of Lonesome Dove.

Friday, the first day of the event was the busiest.  825 lots from stores #4 and #3, and the 101 single item lots were auctioned in the stores without air-conditioning and before the James McMurtry, son of Larry McMurty, concert in the historic Royal Theater began. On day 2 of the event, 615 lots were auctioned at store #2 before the end of the event with plenty of time for load-out. Even though I did win a couple of lots for $400 consisting primarily of the shelves of older editions on the Civil War and Western era, I held back from bidding on a few of the “McMurtry 101″ lots that were going cheap.

All in all this was one of the best opportunities for local book collectors and dealers to add some interesting books to their inventory. Addison & Sarova Auctioneers did not open the event up for on-line bidding, which could have boosted the level of any winning bids. The isolated location of the event with the nearest airport located at Wichita Falls prevented a lot of potential bidders from attending. Offering no shipping service for this sale did not encourage proxy bidding or phone bidders either. It almost seems that McMurtry was simply looking to get rid of a large number of books quickly, while contributing to his hometown’s causes and legacy.  He is still planning to keep his personal library of 28,000 volumes and a quarter of the books on the shelves of Booked Up, which will be open for business following the  28th of August, the last day reserved for picking-up items sold at the auction.

In 41 years as a bookseller, Larry McMurtry bought the inventory of a number of secondhand bookstores and personal collections around the country. The bulk of this possession was ultimately disbursed primarily to local and a few nationally predominant dealers and collectors in a friendly, southern-style event. It was named “The Last Book Sale,” but for a lot of opportunistic collectors it seemed a lot more like “The Lonesome Dove.”

“The Last Book Sale” McMurtry's auction

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Patricia l. Stellwagon August 19, 2012 at 8:33 am

What a wonderful event to have unfortunately missed. But thanks to your really good article, I felt like I participated too. I look forward to reading many more to come. Best, Patricia

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