Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2003 Issue

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



Kenneth Gloss and the Brattle Book Shop

While extraordinary appraising skills may be his most notable attribute, there is much more to Kenneth Gloss and his Brattle Book Shop. Brattle Book is something of an institution in Boston, with its $1, $3 and $5 tables. Of course there are much more expensive books available if you are so inclined. He describes the Brattle Book Shop as the oldest continuously operating bookstore in America. It traces its roots back to the 1820’s, while his family’s involvement goes back over 50 years. It was 1949 when his father bought the store as it was about to go under. Over the years, it has changed locations numerous times. Mr. Gloss points out that Brattle Street, for which the store is named, no longer exists. It’s now covered by Boston’s Government Center.

Ken Gloss came to work full time in the store in 1973 after earning a degree in chemistry. He wanted to take a year off from his studies. Instead, he stayed. However, he doesn’t consider the chemistry degree a waste. He needed something to fall back on just in case. Small family businesses can be trying. He was “fired” numerous times. But, Ken Gloss stuck it out, and books are now at the foundation of his life.

While thousands of books are sold through the storefront, particularly less expensive volumes, Mr. Gloss also sells very valuable titles through his contacts or other dealers. He is always on the lookout for supply. Mr. Gloss explains that there are two main reasons why a collection is sold. One is that the owner is getting older and moving to a smaller house. He or she needs to downsize. The other is that the collector has died and the estate is dispersing the collection. Interestingly, he says, the most important question for most people selling a collection is not how much money they will receive. As long as the price is fair, that’s satisfactory. What they really want to know is “are you going to take it all?” What they most want is someone who will take everything away, not just the best titles and leave them with the rest.

The reason Ken Gloss can buy so many complete collections where other booksellers are reluctant is that he is a generalist. He will buy just about anything, though he may pass niche books on to specialists for resale. Amazingly, his knowledge of books and ability to appraise spreads to almost all types of books. Surprisingly, Gloss is not a collector himself. His wife collects books on jazz. His father, he recalls, was an “accumulator,” buying three or four books a day for years. “You can imagine what happens with that,” he laughs. Still, it seems to be more the hunt then actually possessing the books that most intrigues Ken Gloss.

Asked about some of his more notable, surprising finds, Mr. Gloss says about a month ago he was doing a show when a woman brought in a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that had been left behind by a previous tenant. It turns out that tenant was Truman Capote and the scrapbook was part of his research. More recently, he was brought a copy of Catcher in the Rye, a not very valuable book that was in poor condition. When he opened it, he found a long inscription from the very reclusive J.D. Salinger. When someone brings in a book like an Audubon, Gloss explains, the owners generally know it is worth a lot, but the value of odd items like these can be a total surprise to the owner.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Rackham (Arthur). The Old Hag Standing Outside a Cottage, original drawing, signed by the artist, [c.1909]. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Rowling (J.K.) <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,</i> FIRST EDITION, first printing, signed by the author, original pictorial wrappers, 1997. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Castiglione (Giuseppe, after). Twelve plates from <i>Twenty views of the European Palaces of the Yuanming yuan,</i> 1783-1786. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Spanish Antiphonal.- Antiphonal manuscript, [Spain], ca. 1650. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Almanach de Gotha.- Almost complete run 1769 to 1945, 12mo & 8vo, Gotha, C.W. Ettinger [- Justus Perthes]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Bible, Greek.- New Testament [Greek], Novum Iesu Christi D.N. testamentum, ex bibliotheca regia, 2 parts in one, Robert Estienne, Paris, 1550. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Lithgow (William). <i>The Total Discourse of the rare Adventures… from Scotland, to the most famous kingdoms in Europe, Asia, and Affrica…,</i> woodcut illustrations, 4to, I. Oakes, 1640. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Spanish Interest.-16th -18th Century. Large collection of letters related to prominent members of the Spanish court and clergymen,; v.s., late 16th-mid 18th century. £1,800 to £2,200.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Darwin (Charles). <i>The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,</i> 2 vol., FIRST EDITION, first issue8vo, John Murray, 1871. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <center><b>Chiswick Auctions<br>Books & Works on Paper<br>Including Autographs & Memorabilia<br>31 March 2020</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Loewy (Raymond) ARR. Mickey Mouse, original gouache and air brush illustration of Mickey Mouse, signed by artist., n.p. [1946]. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Potter (Beatrix) & Sendak (Maurice). <i>The Tale of Peter Rabbit,</i> NUMBER 2 OF 250 SIGNED COPIES, WITH AN ORIGINAL DRAWING BY SENDAK, New York, 1995. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar. 31:</b> Wolstenholm (Jonathan) ARR. Books on Books, original watercolor, signed and dated by the artist, 2005.

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