Dan Crawford and the Newberry Book Fair






Newberry Library MVP: Dan Crawford.

Newberry Library MVP: Dan Crawford.

Whether it’s a juicy summer read or a cherished classic, chances are that you will find it among the 120,000 books – from cookbooks and children’s books to mysteries, histories, and everything in between – offered at the Annual Newberry Library Book Sale starting July 28.

Dan Crawford, the soft-spoken legend with the mutton chop whiskers, who has priced almost every book for the Fair, can help you find just the right book during the four-day sale. A true treasure at one of our city’s richest resources, Dan, who began at the book fair in 1985 and became its manager in 1995, has infinite patience and an encyclopedic knowledge of books.

Each year has its own standouts available for sale, and Dan revealed to us a few of these rare tomes sure to draw interest this year:

“There’s a first edition of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon; a 1934 Peter Pan; Peter Arno drawings; and The Cook County Cookbook, with early 20th century recipes. There are collection catalogs with original lithographs on the cover. We have a box of Chicago newspapers from the 1850s and ‘60s, because someone wanted book reviews of Charles Dickens works. And let’s not forget the lovely fringed pillow cover which says Los Angeles 1920.”

 The item Dan is most proud of is not the Fitzgerald first edition or coveted lithographs, but a comprehensive collection of R.R. Donnelley’s Lakeside Classics series, beginning in 1967. A company tradition since 1903, R.R. Donnelley – the multi-billion- dollar, Chicago-based communications powerhouse – published these privately as holiday gifts for their employees, customers, and friends.


A view from above: the breathtaking Newberry Library.

A view from above: the breathtaking Newberry Library.

The sale’s treasures – and its lighter fare – arrive in the form of donations from friends of the Newberry and bookstores throughout the year, and sometimes even as anonymous boxes filled with wonderful surprises:

“Once a chess book dating from 1685 arrived. We had a copy of this at the Newberry already but this one was even better. Someone anonymously left a first edition of Hemingway’s second novel, easily a $10,000-$12,000 value. A neighbor who was always very generous gave us limited editions signed by Roy Lichtenstein and Picasso. In the case of very valuable books, when we know the owner, we ask if they really meant to give them to us. The very valuable ones we get appraised and sell in a different way if we do not need them for our own collection. I am still seeing books that I have never seen before and I use several reference sites to see how to price them.”

These mysterious boxes are most often dropped off on Lampe’s Landing, the receiving dock named for Dan’s aunt Evelyn Lampe, who directed the book fair for many years. She invited Dan, who holds a library degree and had recently moved to Chicago from Manchester, Iowa, to help her out in 1985. Dan relates the Book Fair’s history:

“Many years ago, Natalie Albert, a donor and descendent of the Blatchford family, which was very involved with the Newberry, suggested a book fair since Rush Presbyterian Hospital had one. The library discouraged this, saying book sales never make money, but she persevered. My aunt headed it beginning in 1985, deciding in 1995 that she didn’t want a full-time job, so I took over.”

While this prestigious book sale garners attention from collectors and booksellers, with some lining up as early as 2 am to get a place in line, there’s no worry that they will buy up all the terrific books on sale: the selection is really that vast (though Dan notes that children’s books and cookbooks tend to sell quickly, as do historical volumes). And with that many books, the Newberry takes care to staff the event with plenty of volunteers to help answer any questions and steer you in the right direction – over 200 will be on-hand to assist shoppers this year.

The thousands of books up for sale under the Newberry’s roof will be divided into 70 separate categories, sometimes separated into different rooms, in order to make navigation easier and the selection less overwhelming. This, and the fact that many offerings are priced at $3 or under, make it difficult not have a successful day of book shopping. And Dan is hoping all the book enthusiasts and those with an eye for a good deal who attend this year will walk out of the library with an armful of books, with a goal of topping the $158,000 the sale raised for the Newberry last year.

“People come from all over the city and we really do see all ages in attendance – we always love little children walking through the rooms, clutching their books. We have watched these children grow up and many are still coming to shop. I remember finding one woman in tears because she found a book she had always wanted. Once, I heard a couple in conversation and the husband said, ‘Don’t buy too many because we have to got to save money for lunch.’ Soon they were saying that they would just have a salad, and finally, they said, ‘Forget lunch, let’s just buy books.’”

There are several famous shoppers who return yearly. George Carey, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, crossed the Atlantic yearly to shop the fair. Dan relates that art critic Allen Artner, who stands around 6’2”, once bought a stack of records taller than he is.


The beautifully serene poster for this year’s Book Fair.

The beautifully serene poster for this year’s Book Fair.

Although Dan asks that donations for the next sale don’t arrive until after Labor Day, there’s usually a bag waiting for him each morning on the loading dock.

Things really heat up after Christmas and books come in at an astonishing pace at the end of June. I try to keep things methodically arranged around my storage room, depending on the pace. On the Monday after the sale we consider what to do with books that haven’t sold. Some are sent to charities that have written us in advance, including a battered women’s shelter and a prison in the Upper Peninsula, which has a law library but no other books.”

Throughout the year, treasures Dan has saved from the Book Fair are on sale at the Newberry and the variety always delights. When he has a little downtime early in the year Dan reads from his donations, particularly old favorites like Lord of the Rings. I’m sure there will be at least a copy or two of Tolkien’s classic available among the stacks this year to add your shelves.



The Newberry Library Book Fair runs July 28-31, from noon until 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Book Fair is free to the public. Preview Night is July 27 and is open to the public at a cost of $100 per person. For further information please go to www.newberry.org or the Book Fair Facebook Events page.