by Emma Jean Mckinin, eBay Seller for the Friends of the Columbia Public Library

CPLPALS, aka the Friends of the Columbia Public Library is marking its tenth anniversary as an eBay seller. The $16,000 raised through eBay is a small percentage of the Friends' overall contribution to the library ($80,000 in 2009 alone), however, eBay vending has resulted in some very interesting experiences.

Item fetching the highest price ($829.00): Only two libraries in the country own copies of this printed journal of a Confederate cavalryman, and only 32 libraries own microfiche copies. The final bid seems to indicate that researchers hold considerable interest in this volume.

Most watched auction item: The Friends had one of 1,500 copies of a collection of Edward Weston photographs; the sale interested 18 watchers.

Most elegantly crafted book sold: Shortly before her death, Princess Diana donated a number of her gowns to be auctioned, with the proceeds going to nonprofit organizations. For this event, Christie's auction house published a limited number of leather-bound folios, featuring photographs of Diana wearing the dresses. We received one such volume, still in its original wrappings; it sold for $500 to a woman in Texas.

Non-book items yielding big returns: The Friends recently received a donation of two 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, reproductions of fine art masterpieces, in their original wrappings. One sold to a U.S. citizen for $81, and the second of the Sistine Chapel sold to a Dutch citizen for a $234.

International buyers: Many eBay sellers limit sale to the United States, but CPLPALS has always been global in scope. Books and other items have gone to Australians and Londoners, Scotsmen, Dutchmen, Russians and Brazilians.

Pitfalls of Internet commerce: The Friends received several letters written by the noted novelist James Purdy dating from the 1930s and 1940s during the height of his productivity. The papers were accompanied by 12 Purdy novels, each signed by the author to his friend. We released the letters to his archivist, who also happened to be a Cambridge bookseller. We agreed to sell the books to this individual, but did not receive payment. We engaged the services of the
Antiquarian Book Sellers Association to help us get the agreed upon purchase price of $500.

Never made it to auction: This item truly captured the imagination of the Friends who had an opportunity to view it. This elegant little diary with decorated pages described the events of a young Kansas City woman’s last semester as a high school student and her freshman year at Kansas University from 1915-1916. Internet research revealed much about subsequent years in the life of Dorothy Barto Devin—but no evidence of any living progeny. Her diary now resides with the archivist at the KU library.

One of the perks of being a Friend of the Library is having a chance to see many fascinating materials that people donate to our organization. It’s also very rewarding to see the Friends fundraising efforts result in such sizable contributions to the library.

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