Interview with Ken Gloss from Brattle Book Shop

Horacio sat down with Ken Gloss from the Brattle Book Shop. The Brattle Book Shop has been in the family business since 1949 and has become a Boston landmark ever since. Ken is internationally recognized as one of the leading book appraisers in the world, regularly appearing on the PBS Antiques Roadshow. Ken is also a past president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s New England Chapter. He also sits on the Associate Board of the Boston Public Library.

Discussion topics include:

  • The History of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston
  • A trend of younger customers going to the shop
  • Growing up in the bookstore and treating it like a business
  • Learning the business from his father, George Gloss
  • Working with the PBS Antiques Roadshow
  • How the tastes of book collectors have changed over time
  • Buying large private collections
  • How the internet has changed the book buying and collecting business
  • Thoughts on the fractionalization of first edition books
  • One day finding Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe

You can listen to the podcast through Spotify or YouTube.

Welcome back to the alts podcast. I’m your host Hario Ruiz. We bring you industry leaders and creators to give their insights on the rapidly changing and exciting world of alternative assets Opinion expressed on this podcast by the host and podcast, guests are for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Podcast hosts and guests may maintain positions in the offerings discussed in this podcast. Today’s guest is Ken gloss owner of the bridle bookshop in Boston. Ken has managed an own the bridle bookshop since 1973, becoming one of the most respected book appraisers in the world. And he is a frequent guest on the PBS antiques road show seen by millions around the world. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ken. So we’re very excited today. We have one of the most well known and respected, uh, book appraisers in the world. Uh, Mr. Ken gloss, he’s the proprietor and owner of the brittle bookstore in Boston. Ken, thank you for being here with us today.

Well, I’m very happy to do it. I love talking about books.

You know, there’s so much to talk about. I know that you have your own separate podcast. I know that there’s somewhat so many topics, right? There’s, it’s an endless amount of things that you could talk about.

Well, when you think about it, every subject you can possibly think of, there’s a book about it. And when books get done, the reason people publish a book is they think someone’s gonna be interested. So you can go back into medieval times. Uh, but when printing started in the 1450s, right up through now, there are billions and billions of books. And one of the great things about it is you can never know everything there is to know about it, which I think if you did, it would get boring. So there’s always something new to learn, no matter how long you’ve been doing it.

Absolutely. Absolutely. All you gotta do is like take a, take a store into a library, right? And the, the number of books that are out there is, is amazing for people that maybe aren’t familiar with about bookstore, right? It’s, it’s a Boston landmark. I wanna know if you could begin talking about the store. I know that it was established in 1825. Could you tell me about the history of the store? And I know that you, uh, uh, your, your dad was owner of the store in 1940s. Could you give me a history of how it, it, it, uh, the store has kind of evolved over time and, and when your family took over?

Well, basically, uh, my parents were getting married in 1949 and my father was looking for something to do. My mother had $500 saved up the Brattle book shop. Although it went, goes to the early 18 hundreds was basically going out of business. So with that $500, they bought half interest in a bookstore that was going out of business. Uh, it, it was essentially dead. So what it is now really started in 1949, although it goes back from there and my father built the business on his great love of books. His hard work, his knowledge, he was a bit of a character and a showman. We’ve had seven different locations in Boston over the years. And mainly due to urban renewal. People hear the word. There’s a famous bra street in Cambridge, near Harvard. We’ve never been in Cambridge. There was a little side street in what was the scholarly square area of Boston that now is government center in to make it even more confusing.

The street doesn’t exist, but every time my father would move the store, when it was planned, he would move the best books to his new location. Then run sales, half priced dollar, a 50 cent quarter dime. Last day of the sale, everything was free. Literally hundreds of people would line up bags, packs, sachets, whatever he’d ring, a big bell, they’d go charging in, grab whatever they could grab. Five minutes later, ring the bell again, they’d leave. Next group gave away over 250,000 books that way. And the last time he did this at the end of the giveaway, there were books left over. And, uh, he, like I said, he was a character. And what he did was he hired a covered wagon. And on the, uh, covered the covered wagon, it said, go west book lovers, go west street, bridle book shop. They drove it a few blocks to the new store by the Boston Garmen.

And he sat in back, throwing books out the whole way. And, uh, you know, that’s, that was sort of my father. And, and then we moved into west street. We’re in 150 year old wooden building, absolutely cram full of books in February of 1980, the store burned down, literally burnt to the ground. We had essentially no insurance, but we wanted to keep going. We found a location, a few doors up the street. People either gave us donated, sold. Uh, we rented folding tables. The mayor at the of Boston came down with a car load of books. And within a month we reopened, the main thing was just keep going and continue. Four years after that, we moved again, a few doors down the street, uh, into the building we’re in now we bought in the early 1980s. And, uh, it’s sort of the old Dickensian outside stands at a dollar three and five, two floors of general use books and a third flow with rare and valuable and unusual books in that type of business. A large, old general secondhand bookstores in the inner cities is a dying business. It’s not dying because people don’t like buy, sell, read books, but particularly in the larger inner cities, property value has gone so high that rent has gone so high that old bookstores, which I assure you are not the most efficiently run businesses in the world. One right after the other have been going out of business. And like I say, we bought our building in the early eighties. So I hope to do this for years to come.

Just off of that story, I could probably ask you questions for hours. So in 1980, when that fire happened, I’m just curious. Now you lost all your inventory. I mean, all, all those rare books, all our great books,

Not only did we lose all our inventory, it was 100%, but I was there that morning. It was a very cold day. The fire of fountain was there. And, uh, the fire captain said to me, do you want to get your demolition company or Oz? But the building has to come down immediately because what was left of the structure was very dangerous. And quite honestly, that demolition cost more than the insurance that we had. So it was 100% gone. And actually one of the things that I can say to people who run into a situation like that, the fact that we found of storefront a few doors up the street that was empty, were able to rent folding tables and were so busy for that month. Before we reopened that I didn’t have time to think about anything else. And I think the, the bigger disaster would’ve been, if we had had insurance and they had said, well, it’s gonna take six months to a year to settle, and I didn’t have anything to do.

And all I would’ve done was sit and worry about it. So the activity, I look as a savings, grace also, the other part about it is three and a half, four years later, we bought the building we’re in now, which is a steel and concrete structure it’s built in the 1920s, but it has every alarm you can think of and sprinklers and all of that. And we know you can burn a building down right next to would, and it won’t burn because we’ve done it already. So it’s actually 40 or so years later, in some ways at the time, it didn’t seem it, but maybe it was forced us into decisions that we never would’ve made. And it might have been the best thing that happened.

Yeah. I mean, definitely an optimistic way of looking at it for sure.

Or if you don’t look at that optimistically, you won’t keep going.

That’s a good point. And thank you for sharing that also wanted to, on what you said previously was, um, you know, talking about a, a, a dying business and you talk more about because of the, the rent price, the rents. Do you feel like a, a, a store like yours belongs in the inner city, or can it exist, you know, on the periphery, you would your store be the same as it was on the outside of Boston, right? Rather than on in, in, in the city proper,

No, we’re, we’re right by the Boston common right in the downtown area. No, it, it wouldn’t be the same, but used and rare and out print bookstores, even the largest of them, a tiny business is on the scale of American business. And they tend to take on the personality of whoever is the owner of running them. So each one adjusts to what, what it is and what they’re doing. But a lot of our business is, uh, people coming in, either who work in the cities, or actually during the pandemic, it’s been huge numbers of tourists, which surprised us. And what really surprised us is with the COVID in the last two years, probably the average age of our customers is dropped by 30, 20, 30 years. We’ve lost the old regulars who maybe are still hesitant to come in, but the younger, the tourists, the students have been coming in in large numbers.

And not only is that great to see, but it’s encouraging for books, book, collecting, book reading in general, but it, it requires the city to be there. Also a big help for us is Boston. Cambridge. The greater Boston area has been a literary area for hundreds of years and a used and rare bookstore depends on people selling us books. So there’s a great supply of people moving or estates. That’s the main reason people sell. It’s not necessarily money, but it’s either the old couple moving from the large house to the smaller, or someone has died in, in a state and the books there. And so there’s a supply and you can’t sell what you don’t have. So that’s also a big part about the cities.

Yeah, definitely. You’re talking about, uh, you know, there’s only a certain number of Bostons right in the country,

You know, the Northeast, but there are books all over the country, but for us, Boston has worked out very well. And, uh, the other part about it is a lot of people go in and think about used in rare book business, sort of like running an in Vermont or opening your restaurant. But I think one of the advantages I have, I grew up with this. My parents say my first word was book. I was born a year after they bought the store. So I’m sure they were talking about it, but I came into this as someone who grew up with it, it’s been a always there. I learned by osmosis. Uh, but I always have looked at it as a business. And anytime you have something like this, if you don’t treat it as a business and you don’t say, well, we’ve gotta make money. We’ve gotta make a profit. Then that causes a lot of people who love books maybe to not be as successful. And the reality is, uh, the fact that we’ve always tried to own our own buildings is probably one of the main things that keeps us going. Now,

You touch upon that. And I, I did wanna ask you, when you picked up the, the store from your father, what are some of the things that you took from your father? What are some of those business values that you from him and what are some things that you did differently?

Well, first of all, let, let me just say one of the things about when you talk to people who are in small family businesses, the hottest part that I had about going into the book business, wasn’t the book business. It was working for my father.

I have a degree in chemistry. I was going to get a doctoral degree at the university of Wisconsin and chemistry, 1973. I needed a year off. My father’s health. Wasn’t that good? That year off now is nearly 50 years, but I’m convinced if my father had been younger and healthier, I’d probably still be a chemist. So that’s another whole subject and topic. But I think one of the, the things that I learned from my father was just always going out with him, always being in the store. I worked all through elementary schools and high school summers during, so I was always learning one of the major things that I learned from my father. And he was a character and he used to get on radio shows on TV shows. Uh, he used to talk and lecture and he made me really realize that no matter how well known your business is, if you don’t keep working at it and doing PR and public relations and getting out and reaching out to the public in one way or another people forget quickly. And that’s one of the things that a lot of book deal is don’t do that. I learned from my father and it’s worked and it’s been a lot of fun and it’s one of the ways I reach out.

Yeah. And so, you know, that’s a perfect segue because you are one of the, the appraisers, you’ve been on a number of seasons of the PBS road show, where you are appraising books, uh, that people bring to you from all, all around the country. And I think that’s something to do. Like once you, once you are on those shows, right, they have some pretty, uh, serious fans of those shows. And, and I’m a imagine that that’s awesome that people see you. And then when they get to Boston, they’re like, we, we gotta go visit that shop.

Absolutely. I mean, I lecture, I do the podcast called brat cast. I do toxic libraries, but the antiques road show, which I’ve been doing now for, I think a little over 20 years, it’s a lot of fun and well, first of all, a great way to see the country. I mean, why would I go to Fargo, Boise, uh, Omaha, and anywhere you go in this country, if you can spend a little extra time and effort, it is absolutely beautiful. The people are wonderful. Don’t talk about politics and religion, but it, it, that’s one of the great things that I’ve love about the antique road show, but they also have eight, 10 million viewers a week. I mean, you, you can’t, uh, you can’t, uh, go bad on that. And the other thing that people might not realize, and I, I can mention a few more things, is that a lot of the, uh, connections I’ve made in that show, uh, there’s about 150 appraisers that appraise off and on and many times we become friends. We know each other, if an antique appraiser goes out to a house, they have a library, they might give me a call and a referral, and we do it back and forth. So there’s even that type of benefit along with, you know, the people seeing you on TV and seeing what you’re appraising. And, and it’s a lot of fun,

Two things I’m curious about number one, how did you get approached to be on, uh, antiques road show that’s number one? And then the second thing is, can you share with us, like some of the amazing things that you’ve seen, like maybe one or two, uh, books that came to you that you, you didn’t even know existed, or that really left you, uh, in awe,

There are many, many things. And, and I’ll tell about one, uh, or two that I particularly liked. And then one that might even flip it a little for you and how I first got onto the show. The show’s produced out of, uh, uh, GB, H w GBH in Boston, and we’ve been longtime supporters of public television. And, uh, I didn’t do it the first few years, but I suspect that the fact that I’m in Boston known to the stage had a lot to do with me being able to get on initially with a show. And one thing that people really might not realize about the show, uh, is that they don’t pay us anything. They don’t pay airfare, they don’t pay hotels, they don’t pay meals. The appraisers essentially are doing it on their own, but as an appraiser, what you get out of it, of course is great public relations and getting on TV.

And, and also, like I say, almost all the appraisers who do it, love it. They love going around the country, the sociability that’s part of it, but a few things that, uh, that I love, I one time got in these two sort of civil war items, one, uh, person brought in, they had a signed photograph of Abraham Lincoln, a small photograph that was actually signed by him. And in the same group, they had two letters of Abraham Lincoln to general Hallock, who was the general in charge of the, uh, union army at the time, talking about appointing other generals. And so on at the time that was close to a hundred thousand dollars item, but there was an unusual item that came in. It actually came in, not to my table, but to the folk car table, there was a box, a very nice wooden box.

It was, I get the folk out. People thought it was okay, but when they opened it up, there was a letter inside and they brought it over to me. And I looked at the letter and there was a four page letter of a soldier who was in the hospital in Washington. He had diarrhea. He was hoping to get better. And he was writing to his family, a fairly mundane letter letter, and, uh, saying, please write me. I enjoy it. Hopefully I’m gonna get well and all this. But when you get to the end of this four page handwritten letter, there was a little parentheses at the end. And it said written by his friend, Wal Whitman, the whole letter was in Wal Whitman’s handwriting. And what happened is during the war, Whitman was a volunteer at the hospitals and for soldiers who were either too sick or illiterate, he would write out their letters for them.

And those letters are particularly rare. Most of the people who got ’em didn’t know who Wal Whitman was, so they didn’t save them as long as people who knew the great American writer. So th that’s one of the things that was just a total surprise and a great story went over well. And then one other one I’ll tell about is it’s also a way that you can sort of say that no matter what you say, you can’t make everybody happy. Uh, and my wife was actually with on this one, a lady brought in a book to a table and you know, they wait a long time. There are long lines other than COVID and you wanna always be nice and respectful of the people. Sometimes you can look down the line and you go, oh, that’s nothing. That’s nothing that’s, but you’d really open and look.

And anyways, the lady goes, I have a book signed by a Lincoln and my wife took a look at it. And she said, after looking at a little and spending some time, she goes, it is signed by a Lincoln, just not the a Lincoln. We want it to be. And the lady goes, how can you tell? And my wife turned the page and said, the first clue is this book was printed in 1915. And the lady goes so, and my wife goes well, when I was in school, I heard that he was assassinated in 1865. And the lady slammed the book shut and goes, you don’t know what you’re talking and went off. And H so you can’t make everybody happy.

No, not even 50 years later. Right?

Not even 50 years later.

And I’m sure you have plenty of those stories too. Uh, you know, where people think that they have some, you know, priceless item and, and in some ways maybe it’s kind of sad, but, uh, some of this stuff is rare for a reason, right?

What can happen a lot of times, and this can happen to professionals and dealers, and so on, something comes in and you want it to be the right thing so much that psychologically, you almost trick yourself into making yourself believe it, which is many times why you do extra research, or, you know, I have a lot of colleagues in this business and when I’m not sure about something I can get on the phone call, ’em up and say, can you look at this? Can you give me an opinion? And a lot of times you need that just as a second, uh, opinion. And also you don’t need to know everything. You just need to know where to look, who to call and who to ask. And one of the most important things is doing the same for your colleagues, treating people well and have them more than willing to help you out. Absolutely.

Uh, so many great stories, uh, that I’m sure you’ve accumulated over time. I kind of wanna turn the conversation into like the hobby, right. Collecting, making a hobby. And then to some extent, you know, the, maybe a dirty word, the investment, how has the hobby changed in terms of preferences, uh, where the, the collecting has moved maybe from the classics or even Shakespearean works, uh, in the vintage area, very, very vintage to more modern, or has it always kind of stayed the same?

Well, in a way it’s the same it’s books and autographs and manuscripts, but no, it, it, it regularly changes what people want, the way they collect, uh, obviously computers in the internet. You could do a whole show on that of collectibles, but I’d say a couple of the major changes that I’ve seen over the years is that people, when I first started working with my father, which is, I mean, 50, 60, 70 years even growing up with it, a lot of people would get into one type of collecting and they would want every single thing. They could get every magazine article, every scrap of paper, every single item, the really valuable along with anything that goes with it, sort of, they wanted to be absolutely complete in their collecting, everything they at tendency has dropped off to some degree. And what a lot of the collectors now is they’re looking for the, the high point, maybe in a number of different areas.

If they like, uh, F Scott Fitzgerald, they don’t want all of Fitzgerald’s writing. They want the great Gadsby. They want the best copy of the great Gadsby they yet, and that carries over into many areas. The other thing is when you first started just age wise, things change. When I first started, there were a lot of men who collected harra your Alger, uh, the strive and succeed in rich because that’s what they read when they were young and what they grew up on. Then there are the people who grew up on the Tom swift and then the ones on the Hardy boys. And then the one. So just as your age changes, what you grew up with and what you studied. And when you learned in school becomes what people are, are looking for. So it’s always changing what the authors are subject me can change too.

I mean, there were people not as many people collecting, uh, space travel, you know, 50, 60, 70 years ago. Now it’s a major, major field because in the 50, 60 years, we’ve gone to the moon. We’re going explor outta space, star Trek in a way is real. And there are many changes that happen. Uh, and then there are some authors that fall in and out of, uh, favor. So there are changes that happen, but that’s sort of, one of the main ones is people really, really paying the absolute top dollar for the very best of the best copy. Being able to say, look what I’ve got. I’ve got the best. I’ve let the most wonderful essentially I have what you don’t have and people who can afford it will pay apps, the low top price for the very, very best, but might not consider spending anything at all for slightly less. And that’s, that’s been a, a definite trend.

It’s amazing you say that because, uh, you know, we interview people, experts from across different fields industries, and they say the same thing that it’s really, you know, sports cards now. It’s like people going and for the top notch stuff, not so much just the, the lesser, uh, it just seems like a overall movement. And then the entire collectibles, you know, where entire hobby, depending on what it is. Uh, so interesting to note that the, the parallels, how are books viewed within the book community, right? The collectors community. Is it okay to, to call these books invest? Or is that still sort of a taboo thing where it’s kind of looked down upon where you can buy a book, you know, at some point, sit on it for 5, 6, 7 years and then flip it for a profit.

Well, of course you can do that. I mean, you can do that with everything. Although I, I tell people if you can see the future, I would, I would suggest lottery tickets to be quite honest, if you knew what was gonna happen five, 10 years from now, uh, that would be a better investment, basically, any type of investment. And I, I’m sure you interview loads of people, the ones who do best on that are the ones who learn know study and really know their field and subject. You know, whether it’s one type of book collecting or another type or autographs or a particular author, a particular area, because if you become the expert in that area, you know, when something is a Bo and you know, when you’re being charged too much, and it’s really that knowledge that makes an investment or not good. Now, anytime you’re talking about collectibles, it’s not like the stock market.

It’s not like you can sell instantly. It’s not like, you know, the broker takes a certain small percentage. Those percentages can be a lot higher and that’s not always instantly liquid. So you have to be care. You have to watch what you’re doing. Everybody will always say also if you’re collecting, collect in an eerie or in field that you like, because the real fun, and everybody wants to see their, what they’ve spent go up in value. But the real fun is the hunt. It’s the search. It’s being able to go to every bookstore library, every auction, every little store or meeting other people who are interested in the same things you, you are. And it’s that hunt and search that you are going on forever looking for things. And matter of fact, I’ve known collectors who have been looking for books for years and years and years.

And they’re almost disappointed when they find them, cuz they don’t have it to look for anymore. But again, uh, as an investment, I would always say the best investment you can is you are learning your knowledge, learning, who you’re dealing with, what you’re dealing with and the biggest mistake you can make when you’re dealing with collectibles. I deal with books and so on is if, whenever I’ve met either a colleague of mine or a collector and they say you, I study so much, I’ve never made a mistake. My immediate reaction is that’s the, probably the biggest mistake you’ve ever made because it means you’re too careful. It means you’ve probably passed up so much over the years that you should have gotten that probably would’ve been your best buys. And every once in a while you take a chance, you make a mistake. You don’t make that same mistake again, but you probably at the same time extended yourself and said, boy, that was the best thing I ever did.

So that’s what I advise and ask. Most people who are in this business, most, either book, sellers, librarians, rare, most people ask. If you ask someone a question who really enjoys and loves what they do, problem, isn’t getting an answer. It’s getting them to stop answering. So that, that would be my advice. As far as that goes, it can work out fabulously. Well, it can about, okay. Just the biggest thing to be concerned about is it’s not as liquid as selling a stock or something. It can take some work to get, you know, the real value out of it in time.

You know, I, you answered it sort, but I was very curious, like you buy these collections, you know, 2000, 3000 books in them. And I always wondered, like there’s no way you’re going through every single book right. To, to appraise and kind of see what it’s value. It’s like, how do you make those decisions to buy something like these large collections? And, and you know, obviously you’re using your experience, your expertise, but at some point, right, kind of have to take a, a, a chance.

Well, yes, you definitely do take a chance. We just bought 20,000 books in a, in a house, in, uh, new Haven and they were odd books and a lot of ’em were in upper floors. And you know, the other part about it when you buy books like that, you’ve gotta move books like that. It’s an incredible amount of work. People don’t think about that part of the business. But a lot of times when, when I go into a house or an estate, one of the things that you look for, or you ask people before they even, or send pictures to you, are there a lot of books or subject on one field or subject? If people say they have a little bit of everything, it means they probably don’t have it in depth. Whereas if someone says I have 200 books on the history of investing or the history of finance or the history of the Amer you know, that someone spent time putting that together.

That’s a good indication. Also, one of the things you usually try to ask is at least I do. When I go into a large collection, I outright will ask the people and say, is there any few things in here that, you know, are much more valuable? Because once in a while you can go into a library, have a large collection in 5% of it can be worth 95% of the value. And over the years you learn to recognize that, see it spot it. Whereas when you see everything about the same value, then you do estimates and sampling and so on. And hopefully most of the time you get it right, occasionally you don’t, we’ve been doing it a long time. So, uh, our eye is pretty good on that.

Yeah. Uh, 20,000 books. I can only imagine what that actually looks like. You know, when you’re in charge of moving it,

When you’re carrying it down three flights in hot weather, that can be a problem too,

You know, for your, your business or even just in general, like getting, getting the best price, right. It, how has the internet and the rise of certain, you know, websites changed the game? Do you view it as a positive or negative in terms of like what it’s done to the price, or do you feel like it’s been able to kind of, you know, regulate the marketplace or, or give it a true marker of what every book is worth?

Yeah, no, I, I, I understand it’s again, we’ve had so many questions that I could do always on, but, uh, the internet has definitely made a huge effect and there are many things that it’s changed, but if you stop and think of the internet as a tool, you know, some people like a cabinet maker can have their tools and make these gorgeous were just cabinets out of ’em. I could take those same tools and end up bashing my thumb with a hammer. The Internet’s a tool and those who learn and know how to use it, it’s a tremendous benefit, but it has changed some things. I mean, how many encyclopedias, a dictionaries have you bought lately? I mean, think books that people bought in the past and would pay large sums of money for, for reference, in other words, so that they at their fingertips had reference right there.

A lot of those have gone down tremendously in value because you, you just Google it. You don’t need that huge library to reach up and find a specific date or who was born here or so it’s affected that kind of book. Also, I had a friend recently retire and he said, you know, do you have any books on tennis? And, you know, we went and looked. He wanted to take it up again. And he looked, he found one or two nice ones. And he said, you know, YouTube is better because you can actually see what the stroke. So for any of that, how to just pure information. And that’s the only reason you want the book, those have come way down. Uh, the other thing it’s done is before the internet, they used to be a lot of quote, rare books. You’d go into a bookstore, you’d say, oh, that’s a little high price, but I might need it a few years from now.

I better buy it. I’ll pay the price so that I have it, or it’s a rare book. And then now you go click, click 50 copies, pop up, you look at ’em and you know, you’re not gonna buy the highest price. You’re not, not gonna buy the middle. You’re gonna buy the cheapest one. So a lot of books that work rare really now are easy to get. But the other thing the internet has done for society, the fact that this information is out there and all over the world, relatively cheap and free and easy to access fabulous for the world. It’s not as great for used book sellers, but also the other problem, one of the big problems with the internet is there’s too much information. Uh, many times you’ll go online and you’ll see a book and it’s listed from a dollar to $5,000 and you go, this looks the same.

In some cases, it might be, it might be the person who’s putting it online. Doesn’t know what they’re doing. Uh, in some cases they do. And, and so you almost need somebody who can help you in, in judging. So it’s evened out the price in people who go into it again, opening a retail business in a city it’s very difficult, expensive, high priced, and so on. But a lot of people nowadays will either collect or sell outta their house. And the internet makes a nice platform for that. And, um, you can do it. And a lot of people have fun. And probably the main thing to take into account is how much time time you spend and how much work you do. And is it more a hobby or is it actually a money making or a business? But, um, one other effect it’s had is that book that people say I need, and I would’ve bought it before.

Now, when they see that there are 20 copies online, they go, what I’ll buy it when I need it, which means they might never buy it. On the other hand, people still like shopping. They like coming into a store. They like the sociability. They like finding the book that they never knew they ever wanted. That was next to the book they were asking for. So there’s still a lot of room for stores, businesses, people keeping going. And, uh, but the internet has changed things. It will change things. Uh, but I don’t think it means the end of book business or rare books or collecting, but it also gets the information out, which is good.

Absolutely. I, I, I would say that the, that rare books still have a, definitely have a place among collectors and even investors. Are you aware of, uh, like the fractionalization of assets? Yeah.

To some degree.

So for example, like, uh, one of the big, bigger platforms right now is rally. And, uh, what they’ll do is they’ll offer up, uh, for example, you mentioned FCO Fitzgerald, but, uh, the great Gatsby and they’ll a first edition, and then they’ll break it up into a certain number of shares and people are invited to invest into it, depending on how many shares they buy and all that and books have really, uh, taken on a huge, uh, part of the platform. And what I notice is the first, the are really, really valuable. You know, you’re talking about F Scott Gerald again, you know, Jack Carac, uh, the first edition, uh, Harry Potter, is that really where the, um, the high value is today, where people are seeking to get that first edition, that first copy,

Well, people are seeking to get that first edition. That first copy, the first Harry Potter book recently sold at an for 400 something thousand dollars. The high point has really sort of gone shooting high. You know, the, the reality is that a lot of people during the pandemic, they’re at home, they’ve been making a lot of money. Uh, they go online, uh, and are more than willing to spend, uh, the money. But one of the joys of having a book collection and having the books is touching and holding and you get to feel, oh, I’m holding a first edition of the great Gadsby or in autographs and manuscripts. A couple of example. Now some of these I’ve just done on appraisals. I’ve some of them I’ve actually owned, but I recently had to do for an appraisal for a museum. They asked me if I do, if they were loaning something, I said, yeah, I’ll do it.

I’ll do it for free, but I don’t want to do it from your website. I don’t want to do it from anything. I want, see the item. They said, fine, come down, do it four page handwritten account of Paul Revere’s ride by Paul Reve. So I’m sitting there holding four pages of handwritten paper from the 17 hundreds that Paul Reve sat down and described what happened on the ride. You touched that piece of a paper and it’s like, I do this for a living and it still sends a chill up your spine. Uh, another time I got called to, uh, a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Preki mathematical in the 16 hundreds. First edition of that is upwards of a million dollars. This was Isaac Yin’s copy of the book that he wrote in the margins. I got to touch it another time I got called to a, another library and totally unexpected on the table was three or four documents.

Uh, my manager and I were there. We didn’t know what they wanted us to look at an original copy of the bill of rights, the Pilgrim charter, and a printed copy of the declaration of independence, but actually with handwritten and signature of John Hancock on it, I got to put my little pinky finger on each one, and that was just joyous. So when you’re, fractionalizing it, and it’s sitting in a bank fault somewhere where you don’t even get to see it for me, that would lose a lot of that. Imediacy the real joy of having it. So I understand how it’s an investment. I understand probably my real issue with that would be very, very careful read the fine print of whoever is doing this. What type of percentages are they taking? But that’s any investment you do. And you know, what happens if it has, you know, all of the little details. It sounds great at the beginning, uh, make sure that the small print works out. But I really think the collectors who love things, it’s the holding, the, touching, the possessing, the hunting for as opposed to a third party. That’s the joy.

Absolutely. I mean, I can only imagine you holding that Paul Reve letter. And then, uh, I’m just curious, cuz I have to ask, I mean, that’s a piece of American history, right? Like, I mean that’s a Relic and, and what value did you give that? Can I, I don’t, I don’t, I mean,

At the time it was about $450,000. Now I’d probably say about double that and it could probably even go higher, but you, you get to touch it now. Something like the bill of rights, the original copy of the bill of rights, first of all, anytime, something like that comes up be really, really careful because this one was owned by the state of Massachusetts. But uh, anytime something that comes up, that’s almost too good to be true. Make sure you know where it’s coming from. Here’s a story I’ll I’ll do quickly. The, we brought a collection of 2000 cookbooks. Very good, happy, good collection. There were a bunch of little pamphlets like how to Baker’s chocolate company, how to make jello. They’re pretty, they’re nice. Some go for more. We didn’t have time to deal with ’em. I said, put ’em out on our dollar table.

Uh, one of my assistants put on two, always later, a man comes running in with one of the pamphlets and he was beside himself. He was so happy. He said, I’ve been looking for this for years and years and years. And he was just you the joy on his face. And he says, it’s a dollar. And I look at it, the title is coconuts and constipation. So you never even know what’s gonna, what people are looking for or what’s gonna set them up. And uh, you know, me, it might be touching a declaration of independence signed by John Hancock, him. It might be coconuts and constipation, so you never know what the other person’s gonna want.

That sounds more like a, like a comedy to me than a cookbook,

But that is the fun because you’re running into different people, different personalities, different characters. Matter of fact, one of my major collections now, and I don’t collect books that much, partly because when my, when I was growing up, he’d bring home four or five a day, do that for 40 years can imagine what, uh, I collect stories. I have page after page of either a word, a paragraph, a phrase that are all stories about going out, looking at books, seeing books, seeing items that we’ve had. And, uh, and that’s what I want wanna remember is being able to relate and, and, and do those stories just, uh, the other day I bought a book on wine, on vineyards in France. So, you know, I’ll look through it, I’ll eventually sell it. It’ll be fun. We also, the other day bought a really beautiful book from the 1870s filled of original photographs of Yosemite and the photographs were gorgeous, but Yosemite. Wow. I I’d been there. It’s fabulous. But it brought back memories of that. So any subject you want to think of, there are books about it.

Can I, I thank you. I’m gonna ask you one more question and you’ve been so gracious with your time and it just kind of a fun question. You have a bookstore, I’m sure you have like a mini museum or a museum worth of amazing copies of, you know, books. Is there something, you know, is out there that has kind of alluded you and that you’re kind of in the back of your mind kind of hoping that you kind of don’t see it, you know,

Well, I’ll answer that in two quick things. Uh, first of all, the store isn’t a museum would sell it. I mean, I guess the ideal store of Arti would have no books in it. I’d buy it one day, come back to the store and there’d be someone standing there buying it from me. That would maybe be the, but it’s always changing. So people, when they’re coming in, there are people who come in almost every day, uh, because they’re always afraid we’d get a book in that day and they would sell before they go. We even used to have a customer who would call in sick because he’d be afraid we’d put something out. So it’s always a constant, uh, time. There’s a little pamphlet that’s, uh, called Tamar lane. It was done in the 1820s by a Bostonian. Uh, it’s actually a poem. It’s a terrible poem quite honestly, but it was the first book of Edgar Allen PO and it’s a classic rarity in American literature.

First copy to ever show up, showed up in the 1890s on a deal is 10 cent table at the time, it’s over a thousand dollars. Uh, a copy recently, uh, was at an auction maybe 25 years ago, um, and sold at $120,000. Uh, and one even sold it close to a million dollars and it would sort of be nice to be able to say, yeah, I had one of those once, but you know, it’s, it’s more what’s coming in today. Tomorrow the next day. There’s always something and there’s always that hunt and that search and, and, um, that’s what keeps me going. I get to work at five 30 in the morning. We close at five 30. My wife says I only work half a day, 12 hours, but it, it doesn’t feel like I’m working

Ken. Uh, thank you so much, uh, some great stories and I’m sure every day is, uh, you know, kind of an, an adventure wanted to end with, with, uh, you know, how can people find out more about the Brita bookshop? Sure.

Well, first of all, we’re in downtown bar, we’re open nine to five 30 Monday to Saturday, and we’re right by the Boston common right in the downtown. If you Google Bri a bookshop, our website comes up, you know, it has all the information there. We have an outside area. People are constantly taking pictures and posting them on different, uh, sites, Instagram and so on. So you can see a million pictures. And then I do a podcast called Brattle cast, which is a firsthand look at secondhand books. I’ve got about a hundred episodes. I put one out every two weeks. And, uh, just sort of interesting, odd things that come in that I can talk about for 15, 20 minutes, half an hour. And there’s a never ending supply. And, you know, come in, introduce yourself. If you have questions about books, don’t hesitate to call emails, send pictures again.

We do this all day long. You don’t have to show up in an antiques road show. You can just come in and we’ll try to verbally help you with anything. And most people, they don’t have anything terribly valuable. And one surprise in that is that you’d think when you tell someone they don’t have a valuable item, if you tell ’em that it’s worth thousands, they’re happy. But if you tell ’em this isn’t valuable, probably 80% of those people are thrilled because they go, oh great. Now I can read it. I can give it to my grandchildren. I don’t have to take care of it so we can help you out. Feel free to call and ask.

Awesome. Um, you know, to our listeners, uh, so happy that we had, uh, Ken on Ken, it was a pleasure talking to you, uh, meeting you and getting to know you. Uh, so again, uh, Ken, he is the owner proprietor, the bridal bookshop in Boston, and one of the most, uh, well known appraisers in the world. Uh, Ken has been my pleasure.

Well, it’s been my pleasure too. And I could talk with you forever. So thank you.

Thank you so much, Ken. Uh, hopefully we keep in touch and maybe we can get in, you know, we can do one of these every so often.

I would, I would be more than happy to, as you can tell, I love like talking about it and, uh, and, uh, all the different aspects, almost every question you asked, you could go on with a whole show, probably about that specific question. And, uh, and there’s always stories involved.

Absolutely. Um, I’m gonna get to work on that well for whenever we talk again, um, and, and looking forward to it. So thanks again, Ken. Well,

Thank you. And good luck with your podcast and your business.

When experts like Ken speak, you just have to stop and listen. His stories and Ortiz combined with his humble spirit, really make him a one of a kind ambassador for books and collectable antiques. If anything stands out above anything, it’s his resiliency and optimism that has guided him all his life. If you enjoy today’s podcast, let others know about it. We find our guests so interesting and knowledgeable, and I know no others will too, or leave a review and hit the follow button on the next episode. Take care.



Horacio Ruiz

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio is a veteran math teacher of the New York City public school system. Prior to teaching, he lived in New Orleans where he worked in sales for the New Orleans Hornets before joining The Institute for Sport and Social Justice to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish. He currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Alicia, his three sons; Oliver, Henry, and Jacob, and their pitt-mi,x Tipitina. In 2019, Horacio published a biography, The White Knight: Calvin Patterson and the Integration of Florida State University Football.

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