Bag Sale Book Bonanza: 55 books for 16 cents each!

How do you get this many books this cheaply?


Most book sales, whether yearly or monthly, will have a bag sale at some time. Many annual book sales have their bag sales at the end of the sale day. Quarterly bag sales at the public library in Middleton, Wisconsin, run the whole length of the sale.

Every year, I buy a Friends of the Library membership from Middleton because members get into their monthly book sale and quarterly bag sale (second Saturday) one hour earlier than everyone else.  This has netted me a lot of bargains and Christmas gifts over the years.

This monthly book sale has some of the best prices around (outside of a 10-cent box at a garage sale) with adult hardcovers at $1, softcovers at 50 cents, and children’s books at 25 cents. They also sell VHS, DVDs, tapes, and audio books at very reasonable prices. (They almost always have especially low-priced and free items on tables in the hallway as well!) All of these items show up in one of the quarterly bag sales for $4.00 a bag if they haven’t sold during the previous month’s sales. Other items in the bag sale are doubles of items already on the shelves in the regular sale room or simply an overflow of donations.

Many Friends groups will offer some inducement to join their group, such as early sales of books or some other perk for members only. If it is a reasonably priced sale with plenty of selection and not a long drive, it can be worth the fee to get in early. In the case of a normal sale, it allows you a greater and better selection. In the case of a bag event that runs for the duration of the sale, it just allows you to get more of everything!

This month I scored books in multiple categories: mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, cooking, humor, poetry, classic literature, reference, and travel. I came home with two paper grocery bags of reading. Some of these books will become gifts; others will be used in the homeschool and the rest for pure entertainment!

A lot of dealers show up at these sales. These are usually the folks with the hand held database barcode scanners they use to keep track of their inventory. (Sometimes people who collect will use these as well.) They are some of the best customers, and sale organizers often have a love/hate relationship with them. They can be very pushy and concentrated on what they are doing, but most are polite enough, though very focused. Just ignore them. They are harmless—if you don’t bother them by asking what that “scanner thingy” is all about!

When shopping a bag sale, be sure to give the book a quick once-over for damage:

  • A broken spine may not be a problem if you want a reading copy, but it will be a problem if you want to trade or resell the book.
  • Some retired library books can be so soiled they aren’t worth the effort to carry them home.
  • Don’t forget to give the books the “sniff test.” Always open the book up and smell for mold or mildew. No matter how good a book looks, if it doesn’t pass this test, it doesn’t go home with me. Mildew is a living organism and can spread through your entire collection.
  • Pick up any book, movie, or music that looks interesting to you and throw it in your bag. You can always go in a corner, give it a closer look, and put it back on a table if you decide you don’t want it. (Limit the number of books you look at in this fashion. Some sales have rules against stacking boxes of books—dealers with scanners sometimes do this to excess, tying up large numbers of books that otherwise could have been sold and blocking sale traffic.) If you pass an item up and then change your mind, chances are good that it won’t be there when you go looking for it, or you will forget where you saw it last! (This tip also applies to garage sales and junk picking.)

To find book sales in your area, search the internet using the phrase “books sales” and your state’s name or try visiting these sites:

Happy Hunting! Begonia

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