Assessing the value of reading


Anticipation built early as festival-goers gathered at the Bel Air Book Festival to have their books appraised by The Book Guys' Allan Stypeck and Mike Cuthbert.

The syndicated radio show broadcast was one of dozens of activities at the festival, which was billed as an effort to promote literacy in the community.

Under a large white tent at the entrance to the festival, nearly 50 people waited to have their book treasure appraised.

Some unwrapped their parcels to reveal antique books with splotchy covers that the owners handled with care. The crowd assembled for the live taping of two shows of The Book Guys.

A pair of women were in the tent more than an hour before the show's taping in hopes of getting a book appraisal.

As the show approached airtime, producer Warren Wigutow went to each hopeful collector to assess whose books would be viewed on the show.

'Aren't always valuable'

"I am looking for books that the hosts will find interesting," Wigutow said. "They aren't always valuable."

Among those that Wigutow selected for the program were local illustrators, poetry books and first-edition novels. At nearly 1 p.m., the radio show began taping almost 45 minutes behind schedule.

Stypeck and Cuthbert took their seats and began their appraisals.

Stypeck is a senior appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers.

Connie Beims, a guest author at the festival, was surprised when Stypeck told her that a book she brought with a letter from George Washington written on the first page could be worth $7,500 to $15,000 if the signature was authentic.

Beims, who inherited the book with more than 2,500 others from a friend's will, said, "I am realistic. It would be very nice if it was Washington's signature, but what is more important at this point is to get the book into the proper archives." Beims said she plans to donate the book and have the authenticity checked.

Suzette Jackson brought books illustrated by her grandfather, Paul Honore, who lived in Port Deposit in the 1930s and 1940s.

Not for sale

Jackson said she has no plans to sell the books, which she collected by exploring old bookstores, flea markets and the Internet.

Bill Wossowski brought a variety of art books to the appraisers. They ranged in value from $300 to $1,000. He said he began collecting in 1991, while working at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

After the first 54-minute show, Stypeck and Cuthbert took a break before taping their second one.

"We love to travel to new cities to do the show," Stypeck said. "It's refreshing because we see great books everywhere we go. It's something everybody can appreciate."

The Book Guys can be heard in Harford County on Bel Air's WHFC 91.1 FM from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays.

Before the taping began, Cuthbert briefly taught the audience about radio format, warning them against dead air.

"There's an old radio saying that goes 'A radio broadcaster only hears two things,'" he said with a smile. "'His own voice and dead air.'"

The first guest on the program was "Mark Twain."

Stypeck saw the impersonator, who was scheduled to appear later in the festival, in the crowd before the show was taped and asked him to be on the air.

The man spoke of Twain's history in print and embodied his attitude and wit. When asked how he arrived at the festival, Twain replied, "By invitation of course."

In the crowd, the hopefuls waited patiently after the first show for their chance to have their books viewed by the experts. "Who knows?" said Bob Hoff. "You could have a fortune in your lap and not even know it."

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