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Ken Gloss gives talk in Sherborn

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By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

On Thursday, March 21, members of the community made a pilgrimage to the Sherborn Community Center. Many of them carried books, some in their arms, others in bags. Some brought books wrapped in protective coverings, worried that transporting them could damage them in some way. In itself, the profusion of books was not odd, since the Community Center currently houses the library.

What was extraordinary, however, was the age of some of the books; some of the youngest were just a few years away from being a hundred years old. Their owners brought had them to the Community Center, hoping to have them appraised by Ken Gloss.

It was a full house for Gloss’ presentation on antique books and appraising. Gloss is the owner of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston. Established in 1825, the Brattle Book Shop is one of the oldest antique book shops in the country. Gloss has spent much of his life tracking down and selling antique books. He has served as an appraiser for the popular PBS program “Antiques Roadshow.”

“I can go on and on about old books,” he joked at the beginning of his talk.

Gloss filled his talk with a mixture of important book collecting facts and experiences he has had while working at the Brattle Book Shop. “What makes an old book?” he asked his audience. He explained that a book’s lifespan tends to be longer than the average person. “A hundred years old is not old for a book,” said Gloss. With him, he brought a page of a book from the 1400s and gave it to the shocked audience to pass around.

Gloss shows his audience a brochure for the Titanic made prior to its tragic voyage.

Gloss shows his audience a brochure for the Titanic made prior to its tragic voyage.

Gloss noted that the value of book depends on the condition of its pages and binding, its significance in history, and other qualities. He gave the examples of J.D. Salinger and Edward Rowe Snow. Salinger, who was famous for his novels, including the popular “Catcher in the Rye,” was a known recluse and rarely made appearances or signed books. In contrast, Gloss recalled a story about New England writer Edward Rose Snow. Snow once went into a bookstore where he spotted one of his books, looked at it, and was surprised to find that it was a rare unsigned copy. He promptly took out his pen and signed the book. “So his signed books aren’t worth nearly as much,” Gloss said.

Gloss brought a treasure trove of different items he has collected throughout the years. One was a brochure for a new cruise ship traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, offering all the newest bells and whistles for travel at the time. Back then, people were ecstatic to travel on it as they made their way to America. The ship was known as the Titanic.

Another piece of Gloss’ collection was a page from the “Tamerlane” pamphlet written by Edgar Allen Poe. Gloss noted that if anyone finds an entire original pamphlet, they should let him know about it. He just happened to find this page at a book sale; a copy of the whole pamphlet would be worth thousands.

After introducing his audience to his job and the world of book appraisal, Gloss moved on to appraising some of the books his audience brought along. He started by telling his audience that Bibles, no matter how old, are usually not worth much monetary value. “It’s the most commonly printed book of old time,” he explained. However, any copies of the Gutenberg Bible can be worth millions.

At the end of his talk, many lined up to have Gloss examine and give brief appraisals for their books. Some people left knowing that their books were worth more than they initially thought. Others left finding out that their books were worth less than they had hoped.

Regardless of whether they’d uncovered buried treasure or something more common, attendees at Gloss’ talk had learned something: that there may something precious on their bookshelves, and that they should always check to see if it’s worth something before throwing it away.

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