Each year we plan a book scouting trip of 1-2 weeks in length to a different part of the country. We hit the road in search of special books to enhance our inventory at Old Scrolls Book Shop. Last year we explored the Midwest, this year we covered several New England states. As we start out, we have some idea of the destinations involved, including wonderful book shops we have visited in the past and still others we plan to visit for the first time. Our itinerary is never set in stone because booksellers often make recommendations along the way, for which we are grateful.
In addition to acquiring books that enhance our inventory, this is a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with fellow book sellers. It’s also a learning experience, for we see all the different and unique ways book shops present their books to the buying public. We often learn how their businesses are faring, what is working for them, and what is not. It is true that many independent used & rare book shops are closing for a variety of reasons – high overhead costs, competition from the internet and from e-reading devices, declining interest in reading. But there are book shops that are thriving, as well, and new ones opening. We encountered customers of all ages in the book shops we visited; however, the preponderance of book shop owners were 50+ years of age. There were young people employed in book shops, however, so perhaps there will be a new crop of bookmen and women to carry on the trade after all. All of them seemed to be enjoying their work!
This year our journey took us on the road for twelve days through five states: New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, a corner of Vermont, and New Hampshire – visiting antiquarian book shops in two large cities (New York and Boston) and in many small towns and hamlets, and a few that were deep in the woods. We also attended two Friends of the Library book sales – one in Poughkeespie, NY and one in Westbrook, CT. We spent time in a total of 23 antiquarian, used, rare & out-of-print book shops. We also visited the 100 Year Celebration Exhibit of rare books and literary materials currently on display at the New York Public Library in New York City.
We traveled 1,453 miles.
We looked at hundreds of thousands of books, but purchased 266 carefully chosen ones at a total cost of $2,466.52
(Average price paid per book: $9.27 with Low price of $1.00 – High of $300)
Happily, we acquired at least a dozen lovely decorated American Trade Bindings in excellent condition, some of them quite scarce. We also gathered an excellent fresh inventory of Modern Library Editions, in fine condition and some hard-to-find titles in this collecting genre. We also scooped up some excellent first edition mysteries, novels, literature, signed first editions, and children’s books, plus some intriguing non-fiction titles.
We sold two scarce books the evening we returned home from the trip to one of our loyal customers; in the first week since our return we have sold 18 books acquired on the trip (many of these to established customers). We haven’t yet finished cataloging and adding most of these books to our inventory.
Of the 23 book shops we visited on this trip, our personal favorites – top 3 book shops — were:
1. Whately Antiquarian Book Center – Whately, MA
This is book hunting heaven for collectors or antiquarian book sellers. The inventory of 40 or more book dealers is available under one roof, and although there are some books here that are strictly reading material, there is an abundance of collectible material as well. We found some real treasures here. The prices were reasonable, with many a dealer running sales from 20-50% off at the time we visited. This was our third visit to WABC, and we always have found it to be well worth the trip.
2. Troubadour/Grey Matter Books – Northampton, MA
Wonderful selection of vintage fiction and non-fiction titles in a lovely setting. Easy to browse book cases stocked with books that are in clean, collectible condition (no junk here) – and reasonable prices. Store is well organized. Knowledgeable and pleasant owners who know what they are doing, and want you to leave happy. Our third visit to Troubadour, first to Grey Matter and first since they combined forces.
3. The Book Barn – Niantic, CT
Third pick was hard, because many shops were in the running for a variety of reasons. We are picking the Book Barn in Niantic, CT because of the sheer volume of books which are well organized, mostly in nice condition, with great variety of subject areas—and because the parking lot is full most of the time – can’t beat this place simply for promoting the act of reading and BOOKS of all kinds. Their set-up is unique, with great appeal to vacationing families or the casual reader or book lover. Prices are very reasonable, and there are some sleepers to be found here at bargain prices. We picked up some collectible quality books in the two days we hunted in their stacks. Definitely a “destination” spot for book hunters. This was our first visit to The Book Barn in Niantic.
Our thanks go out to the booksellers we visited on this trip for their hospitality, their willingness to be photographed for this blog, and for keeping the antiquarian book store alive and part of the American scene.
Our 2011 book scouting journey is now history. Of course, we frequently take shorter trips throughout the year to view books offered for sale by private individuals or to attend book sales. If you have suggestions as to special book shops in your area of the country that you feel we should include on one of our next book scouting trips, please let us know in the comments section.
And if you are on the road and in the Finger Lakes area of New York State, be sure to stop and visit us at Old Scrolls Book Shop…