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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 17, 2002

Rare books end up in Kohala

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

The last place you'd expect to find Hawai'i's biggest used- and rare-book store is down the road from Kamehameha's statue in sleepy Kohala up on the remote north end of the Big Island.

Every day, 10 to 20 orders from around the world arrive by e-mail at the Kohala Book Shop for books about Hawai'i. Jan and Frank Morgan still don't know how many books they have in stock.

Some volumes could fetch as much as $50, but are still priced at $4 on the flyleaf because the Morgans haven't had time to sort through them all. So browsing can pay off.

With used-book stores going extinct around us, the secret of the Morgans' success is the internet that provides an international market for Hawaiiana. And prices keep going up.

A nice first edition of Gavin Daws' "Shoal of Time" goes for $60. The Advertiser edition of the "Journal of William Ellis" will set you back $100. The Morgans said my "The Island Way" is so scarce that Mainland book finders can't find any more copies. I've seen "Historic Waianae" listed at $65.

As a lover of books, I have a great time talking to dedicated used-book dealers, like the Morgans, whose biggest thrill is to find the right book for the right person.

"The other day a woman from the Mainland cried when she found a copy of 'True Tales of Kauai,'" said Jan Morgan. "It had her grandfather's picture in it. She said her mother had been looking for the book for 25 years."

But as a scribbler of books I'm ambivalent about the way prices on Hawaiiana are soaring because it doesn't help me for diddly squat. If Van Gogh was alive, he'd probably feel the same way about his paintings.

The reason for this is that sales of books on Hawaiian subjects usually don't encourage publishers to make a second printing. As Frank Morgan said, "Here, a big printing is 3,000 books. Essentially, the book is out of print on the day of publication."

So used books here in the Hawaiiana line take the place of paperbacks on the Mainland. Except that they become more and more rare. "Here's Hawaii" cost about $4, as I remember, when it came out in hardback in 1960. Now you might pay $30.

The Morgans said they started their store six years ago with no experience as booksellers. They settled in Kohala because they like it there. While looking around for a stock of books, they visited Tusitala, a long-established used- and rare-book store in Kailua on O'ahu.

"Why don't you buy my stock?" said the owner. So they did, "25,000 more books than we wanted," said Frank Morgan. They had never been cataloged so the Morgans didn't know what they had. It took three years to put most of them in a data base.

But now the Morgans have the largest inventory of Hawaiiana in Hawai'i.

To ask for something, call 889-6400 on the Big Island. Or you can e-mail a query to kohalabk@gte.net.