Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2013 Issue

Kevin Mullen:  A Bookseller in a New Light

Officefloorlevel

"We love open space... At work we have the same good feelings.”

The colors are warm, the building old but recently renovated.  It’s a bookstore but not what you think of when you think of bookstores you’ve seen.  This is the new old, where specialist used and rare booksellers acquire, catalogue and then post for sale on line all the while gauging price appropriateness.  Customers though the door are rare but orders are steady because Mullens has made themselves specialists in a niche:  books on the Fine and Decorative Art, Photography and Architecture in America.

The company, a 20 year old enterprise located in Columbia along the banks of the Susquehanna in pastoral Lancaster County Pennsylvania, sets comfortably in an Amish area better known for Whoopie Pies and horse-drawn carriages than scholarly tomes.  Here you think traditional book selling will be the approach but in fact their books are sequestered in careful order on the second floor in relative luxury with climate control and double-insulated ceilings.  Setting on what seems like a mile of shelving, the books are accessible only to vetted individuals for this inventory is digitized for quick retrieval and one wrong move (in this case an erroneous placement on the shelves) can send a book into hiding for months if not years.  Entrance to this secure storage, according to Kevin is as guarded as the entrance to the heralded Vault of Grateful Dead Masters described in Nick Paumgarten’s recent article in the New Yorker (November 26, 2012).


I have seen this before.  Three or four years ago I visited Willis Monie Books in Cooperstown, NY and saw first hand their inventory of tens of thousands of books behind locked doors to keep them in letter perfect order.  This is what Kevin is also doing.  It’s the separation of material from the occasional walk-in visitor so to ensure every book is always precisely in its place.

There was once a time when walk-in traffic was the lifeblood of bookshops but as the Internet has taken hold, the new generation of collectors and casual acquirers has learned to price check.  That has meant, for a bookseller to sell, their pricing has to be consistently competitive. And that competitiveness requires efficiency.  Sealed rooms and controlled inventory are logical elements in this new formula.

For Kevin, the new space in the freshly renovated building is the marriage of two themes – a specialization within old, rare and collectible books, electronic efficiency and internet reach.   "The rules are simple; be complete, competitive and quick.  From these requirements his current  business model has emerged.  He describes his printed inventory of fine and decorative arts, photography and architecture as “the broadest and deepest in the land.”  

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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