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

- by Michael Stillman

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Owners line up to have Ken Gloss appraise their books.


By Michael Stillman

They line up in two separate rows to speak to the man because one line would be too long to fit in the room. Some carry bibles. You would think they had come to see some renowned healer who could bestow great prosperity upon them. In a way, they have. For while this man may not have any supernatural powers, he does have an almost supernatural ability to estimate the value of virtually every book he sees. Meet Kenneth Gloss, proprietor of the Brattle Book Shop of Boston, and book appraiser extraordinaire.

This night happens to be February 27, 2003, and the venue is the Kingston Public Library in Kingston, Massachusetts, but the place could be anywhere. Ken Gloss has spoken for 45 minutes on valuing books, and has entertained the crowd with the many stories he’s developed over four plus decades in the book business. Now the moment has arrived that the audience has been most anticipating, the moment when they can bring the books they have gathered from their shelves and attics and basements to the expert to find out what they are worth.

Ken Gloss works quickly. He has no references or bibliographies with him. There are far too many books to look over tonight for any detailed research. He needs only a few seconds, and then gives an estimate: $35 for the Elizabeth Browning Sonnets from the Portuguese. It’s a nice edition, but not a first, and it’s a little worn. $100-$150 if perfect, he explains. Another book receives a $100 valuation. The next gets a somewhat disappointingly low estimate as Mr. Gloss immediately recognizes it’s only one volume of a three-volume set.

They all leave with a thank you and a certain amount of relief at finally being able to put a number on a book they’ve had for years without a clue as to its value. Some are pleased to know that their books are at least moderately valuable. With others, while smiling on the outside, you can see disappointment in their eyes. You realize that they were dreaming that the book printed in the 1800’s which was handed down from their grandfather was going to be their lottery ticket. One hundred dollars is nice, but it doesn’t make you wealthy overnight. Ken Gloss has warned his audience in the talk that old doesn’t always mean valuable. There must also be demand for the book, and the reality is that there are many very old books that no one particularly wants. Still, once in awhile someone will show up with a book that breaks the bank, and many dream that they will be one of the lucky ones.

If this all sounds like the enormously popular PBS television series the “Antiques Road Show,” that shouldn’t be surprising: Ken Gloss is one of the book appraisers for this show. Last year he appeared at three of their six stops, in Seattle, Kansas City, and Hot Springs. Keep your eyes open for future appearances as he may be there. Ken Gloss enjoys doing the Road Show, but then again, he enjoys just about everything having to do with books. He goes to work at his store at 6:00 in the morning and works until 6:00 in the evening. “My wife says I only work half a day,” he jokes. However, on nights like this, when Ken Gloss goes out on the road, those twelve-hour days can seem short.