Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2013 Issue

Kevin Mullen:  A Bookseller in a New Light

"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

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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