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Published: Tuesday, 11/27/2001

Nothing so rare as a book that was never `best-seller'

It's nice to be re-discovered, even if it's in history's scrap bin.

Sixteen years ago, in November of 1985, my first, last, and only book was published - a slim volume called Master Manipulator: How Ted Wolfram Pulled Off the Largest Brokerage Fraud in History.

It was not destined to be a best-seller. But American Management Association's Amacom Books division did manage to sell about 3,800 copies within a year or so (mostly in the Toledo area, where many investors were intimately aware of the Bell & Beckwith brokerage debacle).

Over the years, I knew that chunks of the original 10,000 copies were dumped for considerably less than the $16.95 cover price. Hundreds were handed out at a national convention of an accounting organization.

So, it was no surprise to find the book eventually listed as out-of-print. And, finally, in 1994, it hit the “trash bin” of publishing: It was listed in Bargain Books, a 64-page catalog published by Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller in Falls Village, Conn., for just $3.95.

In the book-publishing industry's terminology, the book had been “remaindered,” meaning that the leftovers were being sold at a huge discount. But I didn't feel too bad about that - the boneyard of books also contained works of authors such as Larry McMurtry, Art Buchwald, Ken Follett, Willa Cather, and Carson McCullers. They were simply books that had outlived their time.

It shared space in the catalog with the likes of A History of British Native Ponies, Stop Your Husband From Snoring, How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want, Little Treasury of the Flintstones, and How to Help Your Teenager Postpone Sexual Involvement.

Nowadays, whole months go by without a thought of Master Manipulator. But a couple of weeks ago, a reader called to inquire where he could find a copy. He doesn't have a computer, so I volunteered to go online to see if I could find one for him.

And, whoa! What's this? Barnes & Noble has it listed as a “rare book,” available from Pondview Books for just $94.78, no doubt partly because it includes “library stamps, pocket on fep .” (That's librarian's terminology for front-end piece, in other words the inside of the front cover.)

And, wait a minute, here's another one for $85.76 from Ventura Pacific Ltd. Out of Print Books, and a third one from dealer John H. Maier for just $38.98, “dust jacket chipped and with two small holes on front panel at the spine [but] signed and inscribed `best wishes' by the author.”

Amazon.com also had one for $55 from BooksRus, and one for $25 from Exlibris Used, Rare & Out-of-Print books.

Hey, I like this rare-books business. I just wish I wasn't such a slow learner.

Why didn't I think of this years ago? Make them scarce from the git-go, and sign each one: “To my good friend Bill Clinton.” (Or George Bush, or Henry Kissinger, or whomever.)

Homer Brickey is The Blade's senior business writer. E-mail him at homerbrickey@theblade.com.

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