This week, we are delighted to feature an interview with Ken Gloss, one of America’s top antique books and ephemera experts. Ken is a past President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s New England Chapter, and is also a member of the Associate Board of the Boston Public Library. He is often featured on local and national TV and radio programs. Ken has written many articles on book appraising, collecting, and selling, and frequently gives talks on these topics. We are very fortunate to have Ken appraising old books and ephemeral items at our upcoming Boston Book Print and Ephemera Fair on Sunday, April 17, 2016 from noon to 2pm.
Ken, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Can you tell us how you got interested in old books and how you got your start in this industry?
Ken: I literally grew up in this business. There was no moment when I decided that this was for me, it was around me from the moment I was born. My parents purchased the store in 1949. I worked in the store with my family from when I was in elementary school onward. I went to college and got a degree in chemistry. I was about to start a PhD program in chemistry but needed a year off between undergraduate and graduate school. So I worked that “year” in the store. Well, that year continues to this day - I never left! I enjoyed working with my family in the store, but it did have some challenges, mostly having to do with everything but the books! Because of my Dad’s health issues, I was pretty much running the store from my 20’s onward. We had a major fire in the store in February, 1980, and we were forced to rebuild the store and the business from the ground up. It was at that point that I “officially” took over the store from my Dad.
Are you a book or ephemera collector yourself?
Ken: For the most part, I collect stories. I have five pages of notes of interesting stories I have heard, or personally experienced, concerning funny, unusual, or outstanding books and people. Each story is summarized in a one line sentence or so, so you can see that this is quite a collection in itself. For me, it’s the everyday excitement of seeing new things, handling extraordinary treasures, and meeting new people that satisfies my collecting instincts.
My wife and I do have a somewhat unconventional collection that I can share with you. We collect beautifully illustrated books that we display on shelves in a small bathroom in our home. It started with a book called Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper. I think by the name and title of the book you can figure out his place in history!
What would be your holy grail find or purchase?
Ken: For me, that’s the next big opportunity, not just any one book or thing. You never know what will walk into a book appraisal event, or the store, that could just be mindblowingly good. And this does happen, just not terribly often. When I am touching, holding, or handling a book or letter or map that someone like Einstein, a former US President, or our founding fathers signed or wrote, this is just the best experience possible. It always sends shivers through me. Of course, I would not mind finding a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems. I think there are only a handful of copies in existence, and that such a find could value around a million dollars.
Tell us about something breathtaking that you have handled or appraised.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to view and evaluate many extraordinary books, letters, and paper materials in my career. So its hard if not impossible to narrow that down to just one. However, two that come to mind right way date from the early days of the founding of our country. The first is a four page hand-written note from Paul Revere. This letter was his own first hand account of his “Midnight Ride” of April 18, 1775. The second was a group of letters written by Thomas Jefferson. In one of these documents, he outlined how America should respond to “traitors and terrorists.” Ironically, I was asked to review these letters shortly after the horrible events of 9/11.
Finally, many readers will recognize you as a favorite and regular contributor to PBS’ Antiques Roadshow TV program. Can you tell us how you got involved in that series and what it is like to participate?
I have been with the show for 15 or 16 years now, and enjoy it on so many levels. I was not on the show for the first 4 or 5 years of the program. Once my kids were a bit older, and I could handle the travel and logistics, I wrote to the producers of the program and asked that I be considered for a spot on the show as a book and ephemera expert. I was thrilled when my offer was accepted.
It is great being part of the show. And a lot of fun as well. The show takes place all over the country. As such, I have traveled to many places that I probably would not have gone to on my own. My wife and I usually arrive at a show destination a few days before the event taping, in order to see the sights and learn about the area. A typical show taping takes place from around 7am to sometimes as late as 8pm. This sounds like a long time, but I am ok with it and even find it energizing! After the show, fellow appraisers and show staff often go out for dinner and socialize. This is another highlight of being part of the Roadshow experience and family. I have made many new friends and colleagues through the Roadshow; many of my best business referrals have been made through this amazing network.
Ken, thank you so much for your time and insights. We all look forward to seeing you next at The Boston Book Print and Ephemera Fair on Sunday, April 17, 2016!
The Boston Book, Print, and Ephemera Fair sponsored by the Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers and brought to you by Impact Events Group. Impact Events Group is the producer of the top book and ephemera fairs in the Northeast US. Our professionally managed events have a long history of bringing together the finest buyers and sellers in the industry, and are held in major locations including Boston, New York City, Brooklyn, Concord, NH, and Lexington, MA. For more information and a complete calendar of our shows, please see www.bookandpaperfairs.com.