PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Berkshire book lovers have two opportunities to hear from rare book specialist Kenneth Gloss this week.
The owner of the 200-year-old Brattle book store in Boston and longtime contributor to WGBH-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow” will speak via Zoom to the public at the Berkshire Athenaeum and the Milne Public Library in Williamstown.
Gloss is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the International League of Antique Booksellers, the New England Antiquarian Booksellers of America, the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers Association, the Boston International Antique Book Fair Committee, and of the Boston Society. He is also a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and serves on the board of trustees of the USS Constitution Museum. He has been reviewing books and documents on the âAntiques Roadshowâ for 20 years.
He will talk about some of his favorite finds and describe the joys of “hunting”, as well as explaining what makes a book valuable. He will share some trivia as well as some guidelines on what to look for when starting a collection. There will also be a question-and-answer session before the conclusion of his talks. Participants can get a free verbal appraisal of the books they have on hand or will do so at their Boston store at a later date.
- The Berkshire Athenaeum conference takes place tonight, Wednesday, at 6.30 p.m. Register here.
- The Milne Library Lecture is Thursday December 2 at 6 p.m. Register here.
We asked Gloss a few questions about his career, his books, and his participation in “Antiques Roadshow”, and found that he had done a little side work beautifying people’s Zoom backgrounds (when you’re on the news national, you want to look well read). His responses, by e-mail, can be read below:
Question: Selling books is a family affair for you, but was there a time when you considered doing something else?
Reply: I was intended to work with books. My parents told me that “book” was the very first word I said. I have worked in my father’s store since I was a child and ultimately chose to go for the book rather than pursue a PhD in chemistry. I became a sole proprietor when my father died in 1985. I discovered that the books were in my blood and that I would never be really happy if I gave up on the business.
Q: Brattle Book Shop is a well-known destination in Boston. How did you survive when other bookstores went bankrupt, especially during the pandemic?
A: The Brattle Bookstore is our property; we own the building, so it’s a major advantage in helping us get through the pandemic. Also, a contingency fund, which we always had in place to deal with an emergency, helped us stay afloat during the darkest time, when we were in lockdown. However, it was not easy. We had to be resourceful; During the pandemic, we launched a service where we designed Zoom backgrounds for professionals doing TV and online interviews who wanted to project a specific image. They would describe what types of books they would like in the background, and we would select them and deliver them and build a suitable design. Another factor that has kept us solvent is the care we have taken to protect the health of our staff and customers. We have been vigilant and lucky.
Q: Do you think there is a different type of customer who haunts used bookstores instead of buying new books? Are there collectors who focus more on the physical book – cover, binding, flyleaves, age – rather than the author? How important is the physical condition of the book to the subject?
A: There is a distinct difference between customers who come to buy used or rare books and those who want to browse the latest releases from a store that offers new books. The former client is often on the lookout for “that gem,” something he may have been looking for for years, and he likely has other interests that go beyond “reading copies” of books. .
Serious collectors and bibliophiles look for special editions and have interests such as first editions, illustrations, bindings, sets, maps, bound periodicals, decorated covers, flyleaves, and book history. . In almost all cases, the condition is very important. Occasional book buyers are usually happy with a paperback bestseller or other new book that suits their tastes and aren’t necessarily concerned with the book’s appearance.
We attract buyers of all types of books and can often supply recent titles at a fraction of what they cost in new bookstores.
Q: Was there a particular volume that you came across that really cemented your love of old books?
A: There is no particular volume that comes to mind. This has always been the new additions. We’re always getting new, fascinating books, and for me that’s the excitement of what just happened. There are always surprises.
Q: What book do you personally own that is a favorite?
A: This is the one with great sentimental value – a copy of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”. It’s not a particularly rare copy of the book, but it’s one I’ve had for years. Every Christmas Eve, I read it to my daughters, in person or from a distance. And now I read it to my grandson. A book doesn’t have to be rare to be special.
Q: Between the bookstore and your visit to âAntiques Roadshowâ, you must have evaluated thousands of books. What was the most surprising book someone has brought? What was the most disappointing rating for the owner?
A: What comes to mind is a first edition of “The Great Gadsby”. It was in poor condition, and at first glance you would think it was not a valuable book. But it turns out that Fitzgerald had registered it with TS Eliot, who had completely annotated it! However, on another occasion, someone who was convinced that she had printed the Declaration of Independence very early on contacted us for an expertise. Based on her description of the room, I discouraged her from coming – she was traveling a fair distance – but she persisted. When she arrived, I inspected the document. At first glance, it was clearly a modern facsimile, but the printed copyright date of 1976, which had eluded him, confirmed what I already knew. Needless to say the owner was disappointed.
Question: Speaking of âAntiques Roadshowâ, how did you get involved in the program? What did you like the most (or not!) About it?
A: The “Antiques Roadshow” is produced locally by WGBH-TV, a station that I have long supported, and where I made some professional acquaintances. It was a great pleasure to do reviews for the show, for several reasons. Traveling to parts of the country that I probably would never have visited has been a great pleasure – seeing the towns, meeting locals, examining their antiques – all of which is informative and a lot of fun. Perhaps the best part is getting together with the many experts, each with their own area of ââexpertise, from all over the United States. The social aspects of the “Antiques Roadshow” are probably the greatest source of pleasure for me.
Question: You are doing virtual conferences here for our local libraries. How have platforms like Zoom changed the way you review or give lectures and programs?
A: Zooming works, and in some ways virtual presentations are even better than in-person ones. For example, we had participants from as far away as South Africa. This would not happen at an in-person event. The reviews are a bit different, and due to the format I can’t do as much as I usually do in person, but I always encourage attendees to contact me after the event if there isn’t. enough time to evaluate their material during an event. But whether on location or virtually, the presentations are always a pleasure, and their popularity is underscored by the extensive local media coverage, which continues.
Question: The pandemic appears to have inspired many to return or take up new hobbies, such as baking bread and raising chickens. What got you through the pandemic?
A: During the lockdown, I continued to come into the store, even though there were no customers. I would answer the phone and take orders – some people order books over the phone and remotely from devices. There was still work to be done. And when I wasn’t at the store, my wife and I took long walks. And there were always a lot of books to read! I had no problem staying active during the darkest time of the pandemic. It’s wonderful to see the store filled with shoppers (albeit in masks) once again as we continue to move forward in the fight against this pandemic.