Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
Art

Opening Up Treasures at New York’s Rare Book Shops

Walk into a rare book shop and enter the enchanted, rarefied world of collectible books. Passionate booksellers and store owners will take you from shelf to shelf, exalting the virtues of prized first editions: classics, modern, and favorite children's books, too. We visited several on New York's Madison Avenue for a primer. Photographs by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

  1. Bauman Rare Books
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    Bauman Rare Books

    The grandest of the four rare book stores we visited is Bauman Rare Books at 535 Madison Ave. The value of rare books is based on the importance of the work, scarcity, and condition. They appreciate conservatively over time and are not known for the abrupt rises and falls of the art market, so buy them because you love them.

     

  2. Casino Royale
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    Casino Royale

    First editions of Ian Fleming's James Bond books are highly collectible. A first edition of Casino Royale, the first of the series, with a dust jacket can be $70,000. Publisher Jonathan Cape first published smaller editions of the early Bond books until the popularity of the series caught on. Though there are no known records, experts presume Cape printed as few as 5,000 copies of Casino Royale in 1953.

  3. Erin Black
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    Erin Black

    Erin Black, one of the booksellers at Bauman, is a font of knowledge. Though she's a generalist, she studied early printing and books printed before 1500, with a special focus on early scientific works. She has been at Bauman since 2012. 

  4. Moby Dick
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    Moby Dick

    This $16,000, three-volume illustrated edition of Moby Dick housed in an aluminum case is known as the “Whale in a Can.” Illustrator Rockwell Kent, who reissued Herman Melville's book as an illustrated novel in 1930, was responsible for the resurgence of the book. which was not popular when first published in 1858. 

  5. Moby Dick
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    Moby Dick

    Halfway though Vol. 3, we encounter Moby Dick. This edition, dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, is one of only 1,000. 

     

  6. The Cat in the Hat
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    The Cat in the Hat

    Children both love and destroy their books, so it's tough to find one in superior condition. This signed copy of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat is worth $16,000. Who might purchase this? Parents and grandparents collecting for children when they’re older, an adult who wants a childhood favorite, collectors, and institutions. Bauman's clients include museums, private institutions, financiers, and celebrities.

     

  7. The Federalist Papers
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    The Federalist Papers

    An original copy of The Federalist Papers is valued at $225,000. This one has a contemporary binding, which means it was bound within 10 years of publication. When purchasing the book, the collector would take it to his  binder to have it bound to style. Dust jackets are a 20th-century invention.

  8. A Shakespeare Folio
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    A Shakespeare Folio

    Shakespeare's actors wrote down his plays after the scribe's death. This second of 4 folios from 1632 is valued at $95,000. At Bauman, booksellers handle books with bare hands, not gloves, to prevent the volumes from slipping and getting damaged. You're encouraged to touch the pages, too. Antique books, mostly made from rag paper, are very durable. 

     

  9.  James Cummins Bookseller
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    James Cummins Bookseller

    A few blocks north, on the 7th floor of 699 Madison Avenue, is James Cummins Bookseller, with a view of a large statue of a Napoleonic-era horseman on the roof of the Hermès store. 

  10. James Cummins III
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    James Cummins III

    In the main room of this cozy store, James Cummins III, son of the owner, buys a book from an a private seller. Cummins has collectors ranging in age from their late 20s into their 80s. Like Bauman, Cummins also sells internationally.

  11. 12 Years a Slave
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    12 Years a Slave

    A rare copy of Simon Northrup's 12 Years a Slave from 1853, in its original binding was one of Cummins' newest acquisitions. It's priced at $5,500.

  12. Eloise
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    Eloise

    Four Eloise books, Eloise, Eloise at Christmas Time, Eloise in Paris, and Eloise in Moscow, each signed by both author Kay Thompson and artist Hillary Knight, are offered as a group for $25,000. Books have their own histories and fates. The bookseller sold it 15 years ago to a customer who recently sold it back to Cummins.

     

  13. A Separate Peace
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    A Separate Peace

    Look familiar? Hanging from a book shelf at Cummins is the original jacket painting by artist Max Ginsburg for the 1982 Bantam edition of John Knowles's A Separate Peace. The painting is $24,000.

  14. Crawford Doyle Booksellers
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    Crawford Doyle Booksellers

    Further uptown, the book store at 1082 Madison, which has been around since 1938, was acquired in 1995 by husband and wife John Doyle and Judith Crawford. After retiring from IBM in 1992, Doyle didn't want to stay in the business world, so he began selling both new books and rare first editions. Tom Wolfe, who lives nearby, is a regular at Crawford Doyle Booksellers. Woody Allen and Salman Rushdie are among other authors who have frequented the store.

     

  15. The Old Man and the Sea
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    The Old Man and the Sea

    John Doyle, co-owner of Crawford Doyle Booksellers, holds a first edition of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. ($1,500)

  16. On the Road
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    On the Road

    Doyle holds a first edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, valued at $5,000. The dust wrapper was professionally restored.  A copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged sells for $2,000. Doyle said both Robert Frost and Rudyard Kipling are popular. 

  17. To Kill a Mockingbird
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    To Kill a Mockingbird

    A signed 35th anniversary commemorative edition of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee costs $1,400. A signed first edition is worth between $15,000 and $20,000.

  18. Pryor Johnson Rare Books
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    Pryor Johnson Rare Books

    Doyle's good friend David Johnson, owner of Pryor Johnson Rare Books, set up shop in Crawford Doyle's  lower level in 2015. A British transplant who moved to America in 1965, Johnson was an electronics engineer at Standard Telephones & Cable, where he designed telephone exchanges. One-half of his store is filled with rare 20th-century books, with a big section on Beat literature, and the second half is antiquarian (fiction before 1900) and all sorts of nonfiction, including Bibles, dictionaries, and philosophical books, many with fine leather bindings with gilding. 

  19. David Johnson
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    David Johnson

    David Johnson shows us a case with signed first editions of books made into movies. In the case were also a signed copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ($4,500) and Stephen King's The Shining ($1,000). 

  20. Back to Blood
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    Back to Blood

    Back upstairs at Crawford Doyle, a signed first edition of Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. Doyle said the next time Wolfe comes in,  he'd ask him to sign more books.