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Head to 'the cage' and turn the page of one of history's treasured tomes

May 11 2012
Bob Taylor, volunteer co-ordinator for the Times Colonist Book Sale, holds two volumes of William Henry Bartlett's Canadian Scenery. The books date to 1842 and contain archetypal Canadian illustrations. 

Bob Taylor, volunteer co-ordinator for the Times Colonist Book Sale, holds two volumes of William Henry Bartlett's Canadian Scenery. The books date to 1842 and contain archetypal Canadian illustrations.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (May 2012)

Most of the people who line up at 3: 30 a.m. on Saturday to be the first inside the annual Times Colonist Book Sale head straight for "the cage."

The gated off section tucked in the corner of the Victoria Curling Club houses the most coveted treasures for book dealers, hobbyists and historians, even if they were deemed junk by someone looking to clear the dusty old books out of the basement.

This year, someone donated William Henry Bartlett's Canadian Scenery, which dates to 1842.

The detailed black and white images of Toronto's early port, the Cathedral of Montreal or sailboats bracing against the crashing waters of the Bay of Fundy were generated using steel engravings based on Bartlett's sepia drawings.

Bartlett, born in London in 1809, was a renowned illustrator of topography throughout Britain, the U.S. and, eventually, Canada.

The pages of the books are slightly discoloured but the illustrations are still sharp.

The two volumes are selling for $200.

While most of the hundreds of thousands of books donated sell for between $1 and $3, some of the pricier books can be found in the special books section.

Jane Mertz said the first time she worked in the special books section, she was startled by the eager book dealers who rushed in as soon as the doors opened.

"Every year, the dealers line up outside at 3: 30 a.m. and they make a beeline here," Mertz said Thursday.

"We get these older things that maybe someone would think is garbage," said Donna Davis, a volunteer for the past 15 years.

"They do have a value no matter how tattered they are."

Last year, a 200-year-old Bible, worth almost $800, was donated by a Victoria teacher who wanted to remain anonymous.

For the volunteers who sort the books, the items tucked inside their pages are almost as interesting as the volumes themselves.

Volunteer co-ordinator Bob Taylor said one donated Oscar Wilde book contained $125. Another book held an Egyptian bank note.

Taped on the wall of the cage are yellowed and weathered photographs that were among people's donated books.

There's even a baptism certificate from May 8, 1966, when eight-month-old Bradley Todd Schaffer was christened at Knox Presbyterian church in Bassano, Alta.

Last year, the Times Colonist Book Sale raised $155,500.

TIMES COLONIST BOOK SALE

Where: Victoria Curling Club, 1952 Quadra St.

When: Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Why: All funds raised by the Times Colonist Raise-A-Reader campaign go to schools and literacy groups on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Prices: Hardcovers $3; softcovers $2; paperbacks and children's books $1.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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