Volume 18 • Issue 39 | February 10 - 16, 2006

Courtesy Strand Bookstore

The Shakespeare Folio that recently sold from the Strand’s rare book collection.

Bargain bookstore sells $100,000 book

By Rachel Fershleiser

Most New Yorkers know the Strand Bookstore as a place to browse for bargains, roll their eyes at rude employees, and pick up a paperback for a dollar on a cart outside. But on January 28th, one anonymous industrial figure plopped down a more significant sum for a book— $100,000 to be exact.

The William Shakespeare Second Folio he purchased was published in 1632 and had been in the Strand’s rare book collection for over twenty-five years.

For store owner Nancy Bass, the sale was bittersweet. “Its hard to let go of a book that was part of our store for such a very long time and something that is truly a rarity created by a literary master,” she said. “At the same time I’m comforted that in an age of technology, celebrity and instant gratification… something so important is still appreciated, is still considered desirable.”

That desirable book was kept in the rare book room’s heavy gold safe along with other treasures like a first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” a slender Walt Disney volume marked with the familiar yellow discount sticker: STRAND PRICE $1200.00, and an unusual copy of Ulysses signed by both James Joyce and Henri Matisse.

“There’s a great story surrounding the copy of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ we have,” says longtime employee and rare book specialist Vasilis Terpsopoulos. “Joyce asked Matisse to illustrate his book ‘Ulysses’, and Matisse hadn’t read it, so he decided to make the illustrations as they would be for Homer’s ‘Ulysses’! When Joyce realized what had happened, he refused to sign any more copies of the book. So ours is one of a very few signed by them both.”

Even for more casual collectors — and people without six figures lying around —the Strand’s third floor rare book room deserves a look. Renovated in the store’s recent overhaul, the space is surprisingly large and airy, the walls adorned with photographs of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Built-in bookshelves hold mostly gold-embossed, leather-bound tomes, but modern art books and new classics are also on display. A signed edition of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “Endless Love,” or “Waiting to Exhale” can be purchased for roughly the same price as an ordinary new hardcover book at Barnes & Noble.

And though the rare book collection carries everything from a six hundred-year-old religious text to the new David Foster Wallace, the specialists employed there seem indiscriminate in their bibliophilia. When asked what he thought was the most exciting thing in the safe, a manager would only say, “I don’t play favorites.”

Strand Bookstore (www.strandbooks.com) is located at 828 Broadway and E. 12th St. The rare book room is open daily until 6:20 pm.


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