Stamp collections, photo albums and the ephemera of a well-travelled couple with a knack for literary puzzles were among the items tucked, saved and secreted among the boxes of books being sorted this week ahead of the Times Colonist book sale.
The annual sale, put on hold for the past two years by the pandemic, roars back to life this weekend with a two-day frenzy of book-viewing and buying at the Victoria Curling Club at 1952 Quadra St., all in the name of funding literacy programs on Vancouver Island.
A not-so-small army of volunteers has been unboxing and sorting an estimated 500,000 titles donated by thousands of people during a two-day drop-off April 30 and May 1. In total, a record 256 pallets of books were on site after the drop-off weekend.
“It’s been wonderful — everyone’s so happy to be back doing this,” said Mark Taylor, head volunteer co-ordinator. “The volunteers are awesome — we could not do this without them.”
The crew was busy going through the final 90 pallets of books Monday in preparation for the sale on Saturday and Sunday. Books will sell for $1 to $3.
The entire curling rink, upstairs and down, has been covered in books of all sizes and genres, with weighty tomes fighting for space and attention with pocketbooks and paperbacks sorted into 40 categories.
Tucked behind the Kings, Cusslers, Dickens and Rankins, there are always a few oddities, treasured ancient texts, forgotten keepsakes and this year, a box of wine.
It’s at least the second time in the recent history of the sale that a box of wine has found its way into the donations — perhaps the unwitting victim of a highly energized volunteer scooping up all contents of an open car trunk, or a generous gift from a donor wishing to slake the thirst of the volunteer masses.
The case can still be rescued from the curling rink this week if its contents can be described.
“Every year since the book drive started in 1998, our book sorters have found items that were probably worthwhile, but were definitely not books,” said Times Colonist publisher Dave Obee.
Sorters have found money — not all of it Canadian, and not all of it current — as well as CDs, DVDs, games, family photos and keepsakes such as family Bibles.
When possible, they try to reunite the family photos and keepsakes with their owners, Obee said.
“In some cases, we have published the photos, which usually helped to get them back to their rightful owners. We chose not to publish a few photos that were not appropriate for a family newspaper.”
For several years, Obee kept a small urn with a cat’s ashes, just in case the owner called about it. “We mentioned it in stories on the book drive a couple of times, but never heard from anyone, so I tossed the ashes before we moved to our new location in 2020,” he said.
This year’s treasures include a folder of tickets, menus and game cards from a travelling couple who enjoyed cruises and rail travel around the world in the 1930s; a copy of Ben-Hur: Or, the Days of the Messiah by Lew Wallace from 1887; what appears to be a first edition of T.S. Eliot’s later poems; and early editions of John Steinbeck novels and Christopher Fry plays, juxtaposed with the satiric Vladimir Putin, Life Coach by Rob Sears.
There’s also a copy of Lighter Side of the Ledge written by the incomparable Times Colonist political columnist Les Leyne and a 1910-1911 book of political cartoons.
A slew of donated items won’t make it to the sale floor this weekend, including several stamp collections, housed in what look like books, a tiny pocket translator to help say “F—Off” in nearly every language, and a few risqué and racist titles.
Taylor said this year’s book haul includes many older volumes, as people have had time to go through their collections or into their attics, and many mystery, romance and adventure novels, which he said may be due to people looking for escape.
The sale is organized by the Times Colonist Literacy Society. The non-profit distributes the money raised to school libraries and literacy organizations on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The book drive takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 1952 Quadra St. COVID protocols will be in place to reduce the risk of transmission. All volunteers will be wearing masks, which are strongly suggested for buyers as well.