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Monday, 1.31.05: The Competitor

Last Sunday I spent way to much time looking at a book I wanted to sell. From Jim's collection, it was a 72-page volume of half-tone photos of the Thousand Islands, a venerable resort area on the St. Lawrence River between New York State and Canada. On the surface it seemed pretty ordinary. River scenes, boats, big old houses, nice fold-out map. And I must have spent an hour looking for a damn date, reading every photo caption for a clue. (We finally decided 1910.) For a run-of-the-mill tourist guide, something struck me funny about the captions. They read more like a social register:

Heart Island, showing summer residence, antiquated castle and power house of Geo. C. Boldt of New York City.

Castle Rest, built by the late George M. Pullman, of Palace Car fame, now occupied by Mrs. F.O. Lowden of Chicago, is one of the oldest and best known cottages among the islands. Away back in the sixties, Mr. Pullman bought a small island for a mere song and built a very unpretentious cottage. In 1872, he invited Generals Grant (then president) and Sherman to spend a week at the island as his guests. The invitation was accepted and gave the locality its first great boom as a summer resort. The old cottage has long since been torn down and the present grand structure erected in its place.

Sport Island, one of the first of the islands to be improved and occupied as a summer residence. At that time there was nothing like on the river, or amongst the islands. It was owned and occupied by Mr. E.P. Wilbur of Bethlehem, Pa., who made frequent trips up and down the river in his beautiful side wheel yacht.

What was ordinary became intriguing.

Then I did my homework to see what else was selling on ebay about Thousand Islands. Damn! Except for a slightly different cover, someone had just put up the exact same book. The received wisdom is that if you find someone selling a similar unusual item, back off, let that auction finish, then do your own. Don't divide the bids between things that are the same.

Hmfph. I didn't feel like waiting a week. I examined his listing. Crappy picture of the book cover -- distorted camera shot, not a scan. Plus, the rustic brown "Indians in the wilderness" cover is completely irrelevant to the wealthy resort described inside. His description was about 4 lines long.

I decided to go head to head with him. I'm not one of those obsessively competitive people who have to win at everything, but occasionally I pick a battle. I went whole-hog in describing what excited me about the volume (including the quotes above) and did scans of the cover, an island mansion and the map. His version was classified under books; I listed my under photograph albums. I sprang for the extra 50 cents to add a subtitle: "Lifestyles of the Very Rich on the St. Lawrence." The net was cast.

The auction ended yesterday afternoon. The results:

Mr. X had a starting bid of $20 and sold his book for $20 (a single bid).

Ms. Cosmo (me) had a starting bid of 99 cents and sold my book for $44 (9 bids from 3 bidders).

I love winning. And I especially love winning because I had a strategy and a plan.



Why write all this stuff down?

"To remember is to triumph over loss and death; to forget is to form a partnership with oblivion." Charles Baxter, The Business of Memory


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