On the hunt for rare and antique books

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Kenneth Gloss is proprietor of the well-known Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and specializes in rare and antique books. —Jeffrey Dunn

If antique or rare books strike your fancy, you can get a firsthand scoop from Kenneth Gloss on Thursday, July 11, at 6 pm at the Oak Bluffs library. Gloss, proprietor of the internationally known and historic Brattle Book Shop in Boston, will show us some of his favorite finds, and describe some of the joys of the “hunt,” as well as explain what makes a book go up in value. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share, as well as guidelines for what to look for when starting a collection. There will also be a Q and A session and, best yet, afterward, he will give free verbal appraisals of any books you’ve brought with you.

I asked Gloss what actually qualifies as a rare book. “A rare book is one that’s unusual or special in some way, but being exceptional is not enough to give it a high value. It has to be desired. A book can be rare, but if rarer yet is the potential customer, then it’s of little worth,” he said. “A book’s rarity is largely determined by supply and demand. A pristine copy of a sought-after book will command a very high price, but an even slightly worn copy of the same book will typically have a much lower price and may be difficult to sell. Some books, no matter how rare, are unsalable because no one wants them.”

Gloss continued, “Pricing is largely determined by what customers are willing to pay for a book. There’s only so much information you can glean from online listings. It helps to have experience and perspective when it comes to pricing. Being a book expert doesn’t mean you know everything about every book. That’s why we have a network of bookseller colleagues, librarians, and researchers with whom we work. We all have strengths in different areas.”

Gloss explained that each antique book has its own specialized “devotees.” Whether it’s a rare book or an antique book, he says, there’s a joy in finding the elusive treasure.

He told me that the most exciting aspect of working with rare books is “meeting the customers who come into our shop; book collectors are a diverse crowd, and the social interactions are always enjoyable. And our buying trips can bring us to some fascinating places where we experience the joy of the hunt. We never know what treasures we’ll unearth in our business.”

Gloss’s entrance into the book profession was a natural progression. The Brattle Book Shop was his father’s business, and he’d worked in the shop since he was a child. After college he decided to go into the book business rather than pursue a doctorate in chemistry. “Ultimately, I became the sole proprietor of the business,” he said. “I found that books were in my blood, and that I would never be really happy if I abandoned the business.”

As a frequent guest appraiser of PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” Gloss can also give us the inside skinny on what those adventures are like.

“It’s a lot of fun. We travel (at our own expense — we’re not paid anything for our appearances on the show) to some of the most interesting parts of the country, and we invariably meet some wonderful people. We work hard, sometimes appraising items from 7 am until 6 or 7 pm. The goal is always to find particularly rare and valuable items. Off-camera, the appraisers socialize a lot, learn from each other, and we have a great time sharing our passions.”

Kenneth Gloss will appear at the Oak Bluffs library on Thursday, July 11, 6 pm. You can learn more about his store at brattlebookshop.com and of some of his more unique and fun finds on his new podcast, brattlebookshop.com/brattlecast (also available on iTunes at bit.ly/ITBrattle.