“Be cheerful. Chest up, chin in, spirit high, brain alert, nerves tuned up for action, muscles full of snap and vim—this is efficient living—biologic, scientific living.” These words, still relevant today, are written by the now infamous John Harvey Kellogg of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes fame in a 1917 yearbook for the Normal School of Physical Education in Battle Creek Michigan. One would expect to find something like this among other historical documents in a library or a bookstore specializing in antique books, not in an old beat up cardboard box tucked away in a small wooden shed on the outskirts of Gibsons, B.C. So once found, what to do with it?
The book, simply titled Blue & White, once belonged to Sylva Huntley who was the only Canadian, let alone British Columbian, to attend the school as part of the class of 1918. Tattered and worn with the stitched binding falling apart, the pages are filled with black and white photographs of school clubs, faculty members and students in their school uniforms. Like any yearbook, there are also signatures and cute comments like “To the cheerful little girl from Canada” and “Hoping some of your soldier boys come back to you alive”.
In amongst all the photographs, the one of Kellogg stands out. With a distinguished looking beard and mustache, he appears in full academic regalia and signs the book simply “Your friend J.H. Kellogg”. He is perhaps best known for his family affiliation and for the School of Normal Education that was part of The Battle Creek Sanitarium, which was fictionalized in the novel The Road to Wellville by T. Coraghessan Boyle in 1993, and later turned into a movie by the same name. However, he was also an accomplished surgeon and a gifted inventor with over 30 patents (including the electric blanket) and is believed to have developed some popular breakfast foods such as Granola, peanut butter, and corn flakes.
The yearbook appears to be rich in history and sentiment-but is it worth anything? And if so, who might be interested in buying? According to Gale Pirie, an accredited and independent personal property appraiser, there seems to be quite a difference between “perceived value” and “actual value” and stresses the importance of doing background research.
Pirie, who offers professional appraisals, is able to provide a historical perspective as well as a more thorough sense of its worth and where it could be sold. At local antique shows she offers appraisal clinics where she provides verbal appraisals for $7 per item—much like a mini Antiques Roadshow.
Holding the book carefully, she spends time leafing through the pages, then pulls out the commencement program which has been left loosely in the book. “This is interesting,” she says. “We don’t often see the programs intact with a full class list of the graduates. These programs were only given to students, so they are quite rare.” As she continues to study the book, she focuses on Kellogg’s signature. She notes that it looks authentic and was probably signed in pencil, as was common practice because ink was often messy. In the end, Pirie suggests that this book might be of interest to collectors, especially those who have interest in items pre-World War I. With all of the signatures and with the program intact, she suggests that it might be worth $350 dollars.
In terms of selling it, Pirie makes several recommendations including online auctions, classified listings, collectors, and antiquarian booksellers with stores or who buy and sell online.
John King, a local antiquarian book dealer, is not so optimistic about selling the yearbook here in B.C. “I think it might be easier to find someone back east who specializes in ephemera,” he says from his home office on the Sunshine Coast. In his opinion, Kellogg’s signature is what makes this book valuable. However, he does admit that yearbooks are not his area of specialty. He is better known for military and British history books as well as books that focus on North West Coast and Aboriginal studies.
As a longtime member of the Antiquarian Booksellers of Canada, he does however offer some insight into the value of selling through online marketplaces for books such as AbeBooks (which was started in Victoria B.C. but recently sold to Amazon.com), as well as Alibris and Bilbio (both out of California).
“I wouldn’t suggest trying to sell through these services with only one book but rather see if a dealer might be interested in buying it. Each of these sites has a monthly fee and it can take time to sell a book.” King mentions that he currently has just over 6000 books listed on AbeBooks and only ends up selling one to two books a day. “Something as specific as this yearbook could take several months to sell,” he says. In the end, the cost to sell it would outweigh any financial gains.
In Vancouver, one of the best known antiquarian bookstores is MacLeod’s Books. This iconic store, with massive piles of books everywhere, has been in operation since 1964 and the current owner, Don Stewart has been running it since 1975. Much like King, he does not feel that there is a local market for this type of publication. “This is so specific and is a better example of what the Internet is good for,” he says. “This is just so specialized and would only appeal to a very specific customer base.” He suggests trying eBay.
Although Stewart agrees that there is a market for books written by Kellogg, he doesn’t think that there would be as much interest in the yearbook. With over 100,000 titles in stock, covering many different history-related subject areas, Stewart should know.
In the end, there is no clear idea of where one could sell this Blue & White 1917 yearbook. We know that it has value; it is just a matter of trying to connect with the people who might be interested. At least for now it will not be relegated to another beat up cardboard box but perhaps end up on a bookshelf waiting to tell its story again.