The art of literary treasure hunting

Ken Gloss took a look at books for Mary Sullivan and Jody Potter (left) after his talk at the Scoville Memorial Library on April 17.

Patrick L. Sullivan

The art of literary treasure hunting

SALISBURY — Ken Gloss, proprietor of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston and a fixture on public television’s “Antiques Roadshow” entertained a bevy of bibliophiles at the Scoville Memorial Library Wednesday, April 17 with stories from the book trade.

He also gave quick assessments of books to about a dozen people after his remarks.

The Brattle Book Shop has had a somewhat peripatetic existence since its founding in 1825, with seven different locations. It has been run by the Gloss family since 1949, when Ken Gloss’ father George took over.

Gloss said the Brattle moved to a location on West Street in Boston which burned in 1980. Undaunted, Gloss moved the shop to its present location a few doors away, and Bostonians (including Mayor Kevin White) donated books to restock.

Gloss said he and his staffers go out on buying trips almost daily.

Some destinations are opulent Some are humble. And there’s no telling what awaits.

One call was to an elderly woman in a small house with peeling paint. Gloss took a look at the books, which were nothing special.

Then he noticed the watercolors. “Oh, those are nice.”

“Oh yes” said the elderly lady. “They’re all [J.M.W.] Turners.”

Gloss said he or his staff get hundreds of calls about books.

“Most are routine, I can give them an answer off the top of my head.”

But every so often there’s a call like the one from the woman who announced, “President Kennedy slept with me!”

Turned out the woman worked for the Kennedy family as a nurse. The infant JFK did indeed sleep with her in her professional capacity.

“She had handwritten letters from the President,” Gloss said, explaining that for collectors handwritten letters are particularly prized.

“As far as I know they still have them. They can’t sell them. They’re part of their life.”

George Gloss died in 1985, and Ken Gloss took over, and in the process hired a young man who seemed promising.

A customer entered, browsed around and asked for an item they did not have in stock but could likely obtain.

The customer said he would come back and left.

The new assistant remarked, casually, “That was J.D. Salinger.”

Startled, Gloss asked how he knew.

“I used to date his daughter.”

Gloss said he enjoys doing the television program and traveling to parts of the country he might not otherwise get to.

He revealed some insider information, such as this tidbit:

“We don’t get paid. At all. And there’s no guarantee we’ll get on TV.”

An ideal day on the Antiques Roadshow trail has him rising early, spotting someone with a promising item, alerting the producer, and filming the encounter.

“So by 9 a.m. we’re finished. It makes the day go easy.”

On the other hand, “if by 4 p.m. we haven’t taped, we’re probably not going to.

The element of surprise remains constant from book shop to TV, however.

One man came into the TV taping and explained he had worked as an airplane pilot for Pope John Paul II. He had a photo of the Pope signing his Bible to prove it.

This was moderately interesting.

Then the man added, offhandedly, “Oh, I’ve got the Bible, too.”

After his remarks, Gloss examined books and other items from about a dozen people, most of whom came away happy.

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