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>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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