Sure, every once in a while, someone shows up at Ken Gloss’s talks on antique books with a real treasure, like a personalized, signed copy of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. But for each of those cases, Gloss sees hundreds more old books and papers that are worth next-to-nothing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Gloss says on the phone from his famous antiquarian bookstore in Boston, “the real value is in your personal pleasure.”
Still, if you’ve got old books (especially signed copies or pristine first editions), or historical newspapers or magazines, it’s worth bringing them to one of Gloss’s appearances in Portland next week — you might not win the library lottery, but you might have something in your collection worth a few hundred dollars. (Gloss also offers free appraisals over the phone or in his shop.)
Gloss, who owns the Brattle Book Shop in downtown Boston, is an old-book expert — he appraises books all the time, whether at his store, at estate sales, or on the popular PBS television program Antiques Roadshow. Combing through book collections makes him feel like “Jim Hawkins on Treasure Island,” he says (an appropriately literary reference). He’s been in the business since birth; the Brattle Book Shop used to belong to his father, who claimed that Gloss’s first word was, in fact, “book.” He’s seen some pretty odd specimens over the years (of both antique and human natures), such as the gentleman who once showed up at a talk claiming to have a test tube of dirt from a nuclear bomb testing site (Gloss declined to appraise it, thank you), or the guy who was berserkly excited over an antique pamphlet entitled “Coconuts and Constipation.”
More modern books likely to cause a commotion are first editions of the first Harry Potter book (which didn’t have a large press run because it wasn’t expected to take over the universe with its popularity), or mint-condition early Stephen King novels (like Carrie or Salem’s Lot). As authors become more famous, even first editions go down in value, because publishers print more of them — which means, Gloss tells me gently, that my signed first edition of David Sedaris’s fourth book, Dress Your Family In Cordoroy and Denim, won’t get me out of debt. Luckily, he reminds me, it was worth a lot in laughs.