Today I got an e-mail from a used bookstore that has a great feature for finding a rare or out-of-print book. You give them your e-mail address and the name of the book, and they e-mail you when they find a copy of it. The notification I got was for a copy of Andean Folk Knitting, by Cynthia Gravelle LaCount. This is a cool book on, well, yeah, folk knitting in the Andes, and it's been out-of-print for a while. The price for the book? An astonishing $785.03. (I'd like to know exactly how that number was calculated, particularly the last three cents.)
Andean Folk Knitting is a fine book, and I happen to have stumbled over a copy for a very reasonable price in my travels since I first submitted that search request (which, p.s. was several years ago; apparently, this on-line bookseller has an excellent memory). I am very interested in ethnic and folk knitting, and there aren't tons of books out on this subject, although more have been forthcoming in recent years. But I couldn't help but wonder, after reading that email: is Andean Folk Knitting worth nearly eight hundred dollars to own?
I can't answer this question. I suppose it depends on a lot of things, beginning with your income and knitting budget. $800 is a hell of a lot of yarn and other supplies, and I certainly couldn't dream -- wouldn't dream -- of spending that much money on a single book. Even a very interesting and rare one. (It is at this point that I think of my mom, who always puts away for best her nicest Christmas presents. "Oh, it's too fancy for me to use every day," she says, tucking away the leather purse or pair of earrings. I can't help but think that even if I did have $800 to spend on a book, I'd feel the same way about it.)
Consider the apocryphal Principles of Knitting, by June Hiatt. This tome -- for it is one big-ass book -- has achieved a sort of mystique among certain knitters as The Knitting Reference Book To End All Reference Books. I do not own a copy (before publishing this blog entry, I checked prices and the cheapest copy I saw was over two hundred dollars. No Andean Folk Knitting, but still...) although I have examined copies owned by friends. It does indeed look like an exhaustive knitting reference book, but I simply didn't get it. I could not perceive exactly what it was about the book, other than perhaps its size, that I didn't already have, in one form or another, in my own knitting library. (Which, admittedly, is rather extensive, but you know what I mean.) Again, there was no way I could justify spending several hundred dollars for it, even if I had it lying around, which I don't. Nor did I have any real desire to acquire it, just for the sake of having it.
And then I got to thinking about Alice Starmore pattern books. A quick Ebay search of completed items (which reflects items actually sold, since so many Ebayers now snipe) revealed Pacific Coast Highway, sold for $241.58; In the Hebrides, sold for $246.95; and Aran Knitting, with an unmet reserve of $230. Certainly, pattern books with such exquisite stranded knitting designs are rare, and it's highly unfortunate that they've gone out of print (I know what you're thinking and please don't go there.) and Ms. Starmore's design and color talent are beyond peradventure (as judges like to say), but again, several hundred dollars for a book seems rather high.
Then I remembered the crazy run on certain colorways of Opal sock yarn, Opal Tiger and Opal Bumblebee come to mind, when a (what was then) $14 ball of sock yarn was selling for $100 just because it made a little pattern like tiger or bumblebee stripes. And a more recent fad involving pink Chibi cases, or maybe it was green Chibi cases? and how somehow one color on the case of your darning needles was "more desirable" or prestigious than others. And I wanted to hurl.
Yes, knitting is a passion, and yes, for some, it's a business, and yes, there are knitters (like any other group of people) with too much time and too much disposable income on their hands, but isn't this getting a bit silly? Have we lost all perspective when someone is willing to pay for the color of a plastic needle case? Has name-brand-ism and perceived prestige and keeping up with the (knitting) Joneses so infiltrated even a seemingly wholesome hobby like knitting?
I realize the irony of wondering aloud about this, given the extraordinary amount of yarn that is tucked away, stacked in some cases, in my own home. I have more yarn than I can knit in a lifetime. I give yarn away. I now make yarn and sell it, increasing exponentially the amount of wool that passes through my split-level slice of heaven. But I bought each and every skein of that yarn because I thought, even if it was just for a deluded moment, that I would use it someday. That I would make something with it, enjoy it, create with it. Some of it is "fancy" or "luxury" yarn, like Koigu, and some of it is down-to-earth yarn, like Paton's Wool, and some of it is from little producers and farmers and dyers that I may never encounter again, but every yard of it is something that I plan or planned to use, a garment that I optimistically thought I might someday make.
My friend Lisa thinks that consumerism and acquisitiveness lie behind a lot of people's attitude toward yarn and their stashes. That's a post for another day, I think, although I've touched on some of these issues. But when I see a particular kind of sock yarn that becomes "must-have," when I hear about items selling for absurd prices on Ebay, when I get an e-mail telling me a knitting book is selling for $800 if I step right up and click in the right place, well, I have to confess to wanting to shout out loud "LET'S STOP THE MADNESS!!"