Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2004 Issue

Ken Leach Reflects On Over<br>35 Years Of Bookselling

Leach

Ken Leach has been selling books since the 1960s.


by Michael Stillman

If you ever have a chance to see one of Ken Leach's catalogues, it will quickly transport you back to an earlier era of book collecting. Ken Leach has been publishing his catalogues for thirty-five years now, and while the book trade today has little resemblance to what it was in 1970, his catalogues are virtually unchanged. They are not flashy. While one of Leach’s specialties over the years has been fine bindings, these catalogues are bound with paper and staples. His descriptions aren’t novels, but are straight to the point and often contain anecdotes gathered from his many years of experience. And while prices are no longer quite 1970, Ken Leach does not price his books for the 22nd century either. They represent solid values.

Bookselling is one of those livelihoods that people tend to stumble into, rather than prepare for. Ken Leach's first career was in the food business. By the 1960’s, he had risen to supervisor for a chain of A & W Root Beer stands in western New England, running from his home state of Vermont through Massachusetts and Connecticut. Summers are mild in this part of the country, but anyone who has lived here knows that root beer floats are a hard sell in winter. The stands would close down when the weather turned cold. Ken Leach had time on his hands, and looked for something that could provide some side income until spring returned. He began buying and selling various items, books, broadsides, and stamps, in his spare time.

Meanwhile, the competitive environment became more challenging for A & W. McDonalds moved into his territory and with better pay and shorter hours, Leach found it difficult to hold onto good store managers. And so, with $3,000 in cash and three boxes of books, he made the break to become a full-time bookseller in July of 1968. This has been his profession ever since, and at 77-years of age, Ken Leach has absolutely no thoughts of retirement.

There are two things you need to be able to do to be a successful bookseller: locate books to sell and find customers to buy them. Traversing the back roads of New England to locate stock became a full-time job. Leach worked seven days a week, putting in 80 hours through the 1970s, until marriage forced him to cut back. “I slowed down a little and just worked 60,” Leach comments. In those days, supply was plentiful, competitors few. He would hit the flea markets, antique shops, and country auctions looking for books. The antique shops would always have a few books but never knew how to sell them. “I’d go in and clean them out,” he noted. Often he would be the only bidder for books at auctions and would walk off with everything they had. Despite the long hours, Leach thoroughly enjoyed his new profession. “I didn’t have to put up with bosses,” he points out.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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