Chattanoogan: Polly Henry's Love Affair With Books

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - by Suzanne Walker
Polly Henry, Joanne Terry and daughter-in-law Jeanie Henry. Click to enlarge.
Polly Henry, Joanne Terry and daughter-in-law Jeanie Henry. Click to enlarge.
- photo by Suzanne Walker

"People think that this kind of store only exists in movies and TV,” said owner of All-Books Inc. Polly Henry as she flipped through a 400-year-old handcrafted book.

The native Chattanoogan remembers her mother taking her and her six siblings to used book stores. “My mother loved books and words.” Her mother attended UT in 1918.

Ms. Henry said she went to Central High School in Chattanooga because at the time it was the only school that offered four years of Latin, which her mother felt was essential.

Ms. Henry said she always knew that she wanted to own a used bookstore, so in 1989 she started a store on Signal Mountain. Eleven years ago, the store was moved to Broad Street, where it is currently located. Now her store is packed with book shelves that she built.

Many people drive from other cities to All-Books, she said. Her store carries many rare books that date back hundreds of years. One of her books was handwritten and signed by ambassadors of the Vatican in 1560 and could nearly be considered an incunabulum, a book written before the invention of the printing press, since the first printing press began in 1501.

Ms. Henry said she has many handwritten and signed books, as well as many other extraordinary books. As an example, she has a book that dates back to 1741 that was written in a high class German font. Few books in this font remain because most, under Hitler’s command, were destroyed, she said.

In order to price many of these hard-to-find books she uses Sotheby Catalogues which indicate the last time a book was auctioned and its cost. She said she researches prices on all books to make sure All Books is selling at the lowest price.

Ms. Henry said when she began her store she had little experience in business. Previously, she spent many years traveling to craft shows selling toys and puppets she had made. She eventually sold her craft business to one of her sisters. Some of her handmade puppets are displayed in two permanent Smithsonian exhibits in the Museum of Folklore History.

She said she learned how to manage the store as she went. “You learn from your customers.” When she first started the store a “how to” book came in that explained how to run a used book store. She said the book was helpful and it was where she learned that a used bookstore must have at least 20,000 books to effectively reach a wide range of readers.

Ms. Henry’s store certainly covers a wide range that includes fiction, non fiction, local history, out of print books, how to books, children’s books and much more. All Books has a reputation for selling high end art books at significantly lower costs. She also carries old books that customers like to use to decorate their book shelves.

She noted that 75 percent of an older book's value is in the dust jacket. Assisted by several other employees, Ms. Henry takes pride in the quality of books she sells and the care taken in their preservation.

Through her experience Ms. Henry has developed a vast knowledge about book selling. She has even helped several other people begin their own bookstores.

Ms. Henry has a large family that also lives in Chattanooga. She was married in 1952 to Leon Henry, who owns Walter A. Wood Supply Company. For many years he was known for his reputation as a track athlete, she said. Mr. Henry held the 100-meter track record on a cinder track for 10 years. Mr. Henry now has Parkinson’s disease. “He’s still a real inspiration,” she said, “especially to his grandchildren.” They have three children and 18 grandchildren.

Daisy Mae is the greeter at All-Books
Daisy Mae is the greeter at All-Books
- Photo2 by Suzanne Walker

This Week In The Arts

This week in the Arts:   Thursday, March 23 Our America: Drawing and Dialogue a the Hunter Museum  Big 9 Book Club:  The Women of Brewster Place  at Jazzanooga Bob Clement Book Signing Event at Star Line books   The Comedy Catch at The Choo Choo presents comedian DS Sanders Friday, ... (click for more)

Annual EMS Day On The Hill In Nashville Is Held

The annual EMS Day on the Hill took place on Capitol Hill in Nashville. The Tennessee Ambulance Service Association (TASA) attended, as they do every year, with EMS representatives from all over the state. The purpose for the annual visit is to meet with state senators and congressman to discuss and promote upcoming legislation that specifically affects Tennessee ambulance ... (click for more)

Pet Dog Dies In Trailer Fire Near Signal Mountain Road

A pet dog died in a trailer fire off Signal Mountain Road on Wednesday night.   Chattanooga firefighters responded to a structure fire around  9:30 p.m.  in a mobile home park at 174 Bledsoe Terrace. The woman who lived there told Battalion Chief Carlos Hampton that she had just left for work when the fire was discovered. The firefighters got the ... (click for more)

Fingerprint Evidence Leads To Arrest Of Antonio Patton Is Armed Robbery Of Store On Bonny Oaks Drive

Fingerprint evidence has led to the arrest of Antonio Preze Patton for the robbery of a store on Bonny Oaks Drive last Dec. 2. Patton, 27, of 2829 5th Ave., is charged with aggravated robbery. Police were notified of the late-night holdup at the Mystik Mart. The clerk said two black males entered the store with their heads covered with hoodies. They appeared to be looking ... (click for more)

Repeal Obamacare, Congressman Fleischmann - And Response (2)

Chuck: I'm writing to express my strong opposition to the plan that is being rolled out by Paul Ryan to replace Obamacare. And as I'm writing this, I'm remembering all the times you and all of your Republican colleagues over the last six years campaigned on REPEALING  Obamacare and used that call to action as the basis for your reelection. And I'm also remembering the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: You, The Bald-Headed Lady

You were wearing a pretty sweat shirt and blue jeans when I saw you outside the Infusion Center at Erlanger Hospital on Wednesday. You were the one who was nearly bald and I was the guy you greeted with a huge smile as we said hello in passing. You reminded me exactly of my brother Franklin. Years ago when chemotherapy began to rob him of his hair, Franklin was pretty devastated ... (click for more)