It’s the (Book) Antiques Road ShowWith Kenneth Gloss of the Brattle Book Shop

- by Michael Stillman

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The most valuable item he has stumbled upon came when he visited a woman who had some old papers. Among them was a Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t the first issue, but about a week later. At the time it was valued at $100,000. He also had a person show up with a bunch of Jefferson letters from the time of the War of 1812. In one, Jefferson opines on how to handle traitors. His view was that they should receive the full protection of the law, but nothing more.

Gloss also tells a story of meeting with a collector who had reached his 100th birthday. The collector recalled attending a dinner in his youth with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison, who was quite hard of hearing by then and carried around an ear trumpet, was told by Ford how well he looked. Edison evidently attributed his good health to Carter’s Little Liver Pills. According to the collector, the two yelled back and forth at each other all night about the benefits of this wondrous medication. The young collector never received any of the sage advice he had hoped for.

Some Quick Advice for New Collectors

Ken Gloss offers some quick advice for new collectors, especially those on a budget. The price of books is all based on supply and demand. It’s just basic economics. If you collect what others collect, you will pay more. For example, if you collect rare books by a well-known author, and only in the best shape, you can expect to pay a lot. If you collect books by an obscure author, and are willing to accept something less than mint, you can collect books cheaply. There are major economic advantages to being one of the first to collect a particular topic or author.

The internet can be a useful tool for building a collection. Mr. Gloss points out that you may find twenty-five copies online of a book that used to be hard to find. His advice is that unless there is a clear reason why one copy is priced higher than another to go with the less expensive one. The higher price may only reflect that one seller hopes to get more money, not that his copy is any better.

If you have books to sell or evaluate, particularly if you live in the Boston area or New England, the Brattle Book Shop is located at 9 West Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02111. Their phone number is 800-447-9595 and the web address is www.brattlebookshop.com. The website includes a calendar of when and where Ken Gloss will be speaking and appraising books in the weeks ahead.