Once each year, we escape from the shop for a two-week book-scouting adventure. We take a road atlas, our cell phones (no data plan, no GPS), a small bag of clothes and hit the road.
We recently completed a 16-day book scouting road trip through ten states in search of fine books to add to our stock at Old Scrolls Book Shop. While traveling, I posted a blog here at WordPress nearly every day of the trip, which you can see in detail on earlier posts; this is our wrap-up.
Some of the Decorated American Trade Bindings we unearthed on the trip
These trips allow us to get out and meet fellow antiquarian booksellers in other regions of the country. We get to see their shops (each with their own personality and unique approach to the business), talk books, and buy stock. We also get to see some of this beautiful country of ours.
- Sunrise on the coast of Georgia (Jekyll Island)
This year our trip took us from our home and bookshop in Stanley, NY (about 30 miles S.E. of Rochester, NY) west to Ohio, then South on I-75 through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and the along the gulf coast of Florida. On our return trip we crossed over to the East coast of Florida to St. Augustine, then drove up through Georgia, the Carolinas, the Virginias, Pennsylvania, and back home to New York State.
Our heaviest book scouting was done on the way south, where I had researched ahead of time many of the book shops we wanted to visit along the route. There were many more places we would have liked to have stopped on our way back up through the Virginias and Carolinas. One must put a deadline of some kind on the trip to stay on budget and return to doing business with our own customers. I could have kept on going! We purchased books in all ten states, shipping some home via media mail, packing most home in our vehicle.
Our main objective in acquiring stock was to find antiquarian books in early jackets in excellent condition, decorated American trade bindings, better books in the Adventure/Travel narrative genre, and some of the scarcer Modern Library Editions. The trip was successful in all regards. We visited a total of nineteen antiquarian bookshops, six antique stores carrying books, two consignment shops, two thrift shops, and one flea market.
Here’s more of what we found:
- More decorated American trade bindings
We uncovered a multitude of antiquarian books (mostly novels) in beautiful early jackets from 1900-1940’s.
Antiquarian books in early dust jackets
We bought a total of around 200 books during our travels, sticking resolutely to our standards of quality in our search for books and jackets in the best condition. This involves going through every nook and cranny of each shop; it is a time-consuming treasure hunt. At night when we close our eyes, what do you think we see? A parade of titles on the back of our eyelids!
We purchased a number of books in the Adventure/Travel area. This is our favorite:
“Rolling Stone” by Lowell Thomas, first edition, inscribed to famous NY City Restauranteur Gino Circiello (owner of “Gino’s”), along with two letters in their envelopes written to Gino by Lowell Thomas during his later travels and signed by him.
Three of the book shops we visited were selling off their inventory in preparation for closing their stores. We are sorry to see them go — we found really nice stock at each of them. I believe all have some plans to continue to sell books on line. If you want to visit these shops, you shouldn’t waste any time:
Significant Books, Cincinnati, Ohio
Wolf’s Head Books, St. Augustine, Florida
Tappin Book Mine, Atlantic Beach, Florida
We enjoyed all the book shop we visited, and made purchases at every one. Each had a special quality — unique atmosphere, stock, personality, and variety of titles. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to scroll back through earlier entries for details on the book shops we visited.
Thrift shops, most (not all) antique shops, and flea markets are a shot in the dark, and can be a huge waste of time…once in awhile you get lucky, but generally they are overpriced, and seldom offer the quality, variety or condition of a selective antiquarian book shop. In our opinion, they often are a dumping ground for book sellers’ overflow stock they haven’t been able to move or items left over from estate sales that didn’t find any takers.
Every antiquarian book shop is unique, which is what makes them so interesting. The inventory we saw seemed to be mixed as far as condition — we struggled at times to find collectible copies in our areas of interest. For the average reader, good reading copies are readily available. Collectible quality books in top condition are more difficult to locate. We look for books that are clean and sound, without cracked bindings, missing or loose pages, frayed or dirty covers…in other words, “Very Good+” condition or better. So the search for books that can meet the grade is always challenging.
Foot traffic seemed good in the each of the book shops we visited. There were always other customers present. The most high traffic stores were the least appealing to me — but they have definitely found an audience — and those were the stores offering cheaper mass market used-but-recent hard and soft cover books in a big box store atmosphere. They offered little in the collectible book genre, but their parking lots were full and the check-out lines busy.
As usual, all the booksellers we met were extremely hospitable and helpful to us in our search for stock and in our travels — offering us great information on where to look further for books, and where to find good food and lodging. Some drew us maps, made phone calls for us, gave us mementos (such as a book shop t-shirt or coffee mugs), and just generally made us feel happy and proud that we belong to the brotherhood of antiquarian booksellers. No official club or association can make you quite as assured of this “brotherhood” as being on the road where the dots on your map take you from bookseller to bookseller on a cross country trip, and you find these wonderful book people who are willing to help you “connect the dots.” Our hats off to all of you!
Advice for book hunting travelers:
1. Do some research ahead of time via the internet and sites like Literary Tourist, ABAA and IOBA, to learn what book stores are available to visit in each state.
2. Two to four book shops a day is about the limit if you want to really search their inventory, get to talk with the owners, and learn more about the area. Most book shops don’t open until 10 a.m. or later, and often close by 4:30 or 5pm, so there is limited time each day for the hunt.
3. It’s very helpful to have a state-wide or regional guide to book stores in the area you are visiting. These can usually be obtained at the first antiquarian book shop you visit upon entering new territory, or you can request the information ahead of time by searching the internet for antiquarian book associations.
4. Introduce yourself as a collector or bookseller when you enter the store. Take time to talk with the staff and proprietors — you will learn much and they can be very helpful to you.
5. Be flexible. We have a general plan in mind when we leave on a book scouting trip, but we find it pays to be open to suggestions, which you will surely receive if you talk with people along the way. We have found books and book shops we never would have located just by being friendly, open and willing to get a little lost!
If you have questions about our book scouting road trips, please feel free to contact us.