The joy of collecting

The joy of collecting

Kenneth Gloss, proprietor of The Brattle Book Shop, one of the country’s oldest and largest antiquarian book shops, outside the shop at 9 West St. in Boston. (Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Dunn)
Bookshop owner talks antiquarian books in Smithfield April 30

SMITHFIELD – The proprietor of Boston’s historic Brattle Book Shop, Kenneth Gloss hadn’t planned on running the family business.

“I’ve always been interested in books. I didn’t necessarily think I would take over,” Gloss, who has a degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told The Valley Breeze. “If my father had been 10 years younger and healthier, there’s a good chance I’d be a chemist.”

Instead of a laboratory, Gloss works in one of the country’s oldest and largest antiquarian book shops. He spends his time traveling around New England appraising and purchasing book collections and giving lectures about the antiquarian book field.

His next stop will be at the East Smithfield Public Library on Tuesday, April 30, at 6:30 p.m. where he’ll talk about the value of old and rare books. The event is free and open to the public.

The Boston native will share stories, talk about his favorite finds and explain what makes a book increase in value, as well as guidelines for what to look for when starting a collection. He’ll bring historic documents, including a page from the 1400s and a program from the 1912 World Series when the Red Sox won, for people to view and touch, he said.

Following the talk will be a Q & A session. Gloss will also give free verbal appraisals of books and documents that attendees have brought.

Gloss gives about two talks a month throughout New England, averaging from 35 to 75 attendees, he said.

As part of his lecture, Gloss will also share the history of the bookshop, which was founded circa 1825 and which his parents purchased in 1949.

When his father, George Gloss, died in 1985, Gloss became the sole owner of the shop, which has two floors of general used books, a third floor of rare and antiquarian books, and an outside sale lot that’s open weather-permitting where customers can purchase books from $1 to $5.

The store, which carries more than 250,000 books, maps, prints, postcards and ephemeral items in all subjects, has had a handful of different locations over the years, moving to its current location in a three-story building at 9 West St. in Boston’s Downtown Crossing in 1969.

Gloss lives in his hometown of Boston with his wife Joyce Kosofsky who “keeps everything behind the scenes running” at the shop, he said.

The shop offers full appraisal services for estate, tax, and donation purposes and buys used and rare books in all subjects from one volume to large collections.

Gloss’ typical workday lasts 12 hours, starting at 5:30 a.m. Most days he visits houses or estates across the region to look at and purchase book collections, he said.

“The main reason people sell is that they’re moving from the big to the small house or someone has died,” he said. “We deal with used books as well as the rare.”

While people often associate rare books with being valuable, Gloss said there’s actually a difference between the two.

A book can be incredibly rare, but if the person who wants it is rarer, it doesn’t have a lot of value, he said.

On the other hand, first editions of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dickens aren’t rare but they are in high demand, which bumps up their value.

For a book to be valuable, something about it is usually historically, scientifically, or literarily important, which could be the binding, the illustrator, the designer, or the publisher, Gloss said.

“There are a lot of reasons people collect … and will pay a premium,” he said.

Some books can sell for as high as $50,000, but there are also a lot of books that can be collected very cheaply, he said.

While Gloss says it’s almost a cliche, his advice for newbie book collectors is to “collect what you like.” He also advises people to stay within their budget.

“The most fun of collecting is the hunt,” he said. “Being able to go to bookstores, auctions, antique stores.”

Once when doing an appraisal for a museum, Gloss held a four-page handwritten account of Paul Revere’s ride written by Revere.

“I do this for a living, I’ve done it almost all my life, but holding something written by Paul Revere or George Washington … still sends a chill up your spine,” he said.

Gloss is a frequent guest appraiser on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” and is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers Association, and more.

He co-hosts a podcast, Brattlecast, with Jordan Rich, a Boston broadcaster who works part-time for WBZ AM 1030, which can be accessed through the shop’s website. It’s a way to tell stories and keep the bookstore’s name out in the world, Gloss said.

While Gloss has two daughters in their early 30s, he says neither is likely to take over the business.

“I’ve decided to live forever,” he said. “I plan on doing this literally until I physically and health-wise can’t. I love it.”

Those interested in an appraisal but who can’t attend the talk can visit the website at or call the shop at 617-542-0210.

Kenneth Gloss, proprietor of The Brattle Book Shop, one of the country’s oldest and largest antiquarian book shops, inside the shop at 9 West St. in Boston. Gloss will give a talk at the East Smithfield Public Library on Tuesday, April 30, at 6:30 p.m. about the value of old and rare books. He’ll also appraise books that people bring to the library.