March 4, 2010

Appraiser to share wisdom about book values


— By

Staff Writer

Ken Gloss loves a good book, but he knows lots of smart people who love bad ones, too.

Gloss, a longtime book appraiser who regularly appears on the PBS series ''Antiques Roadshow,'' will tell you that a book's monetary value is often connected to its literary value, but not always.

''William Faulkner's first book, ''The Marble Faun,'' was so awful he had to pay the publisher to publish it,'' said Gloss, owner of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston. ''But after he became famous, that book became valuable. A first edition is probably worth $25,000. And it's a horrible book.''

Gloss, 58, will be sharing his bookish wisdom and wit at 7 p.m. Saturday during a free talk at the Vinalhaven Public Library. Gloss, who grew up working in his family's old book shop, says he never tires of talking about old books and investigating people's queries about books or old documents.

''Once on 'Roadshow,' a woman brought in this box of old school papers, and I didn't think much of it until I found the teacher had been Robert Frost. There were all these comments in the margins, and Frost had a very distinctive hand-writing,'' said Gloss.

While the value of a book is dependent on many individual factors, Gloss has a few bits of book value wisdom he shares with people when he speaks publicly. They include:

n Narrow is good. When buying up somebody's book collection at a yard sale or estate sale, look for a narrow focus. ''If someone has 300 books on everything, novels, cookbooks, the books aren't going to be as good or as valuable as someone who has worked hard to collect 300 books about Vinalhaven,'' said Gloss. ''If someone has a lot of books on one subject, it usually means they know their field really well and will find better books.''

n Less is more. ''The less a book is about, the better, and probably more valuable, it is,'' said Gloss. ''A 200-page book on world history is not going to be of much value to anyone, but a 200-page book on Portland probably will be.''

n Go to the source. ''Books written around the time something happened are always more valuable than books looking back at something,'' said Gloss. ''A book about the Civil War written during the Civil War, for instance, would be much more interesting to a collector than a book written today.''

n First editions of the first book. A first edition of a Stephen King book that comes out now, after he's had years of fame, wouldn't be worth a whole lot because the first run of any King book is huge today, said Gloss. But if you can find a first edition of King's first novel, ''Carrie,'' which came out more than 35 years ago, when he was still unknown, it's probably worth ''a few thousand dollars,'' Gloss said. A first edition of the first ''Harry Potter'' book is probably worth $20,000, and it's only 12 years old.

n Space travel is hot right now. Books about astronauts, by astronauts, and about space exploration, are popular with collectors right now, says Gloss. It's partly because a lot of people with the money to collect books are baby boomers and were teenagers or young adults when space exploration first captured the public's imagination, Gloss said.

Gloss likes traveling the country with ''Roadshow'' and giving talks, because he never knows what people will bring him, or ask him about. Sometimes the question requires more research, and he'll tell people to call him at his shop for a more definitive answer.

He likes doing ''Roadshow'' because there are other book appraisers he can bounce ideas off. So he usually can give people an estimate fairly quickly, though he says what we see on TV is only a small glimpse of what he and the other appraisers on a ''Roadshow'' location see.

''The appraisers probably see 5,000 people, with two items each, at an event, but only 75 or 80 get taped. And then only 50 items or so get shown on TV,'' said Gloss. ''It's really a fun show, and 99.9 percent of the people I see are really happy to be there and find out what they can about the book. But there are those who don't like what I tell them and they let us know.''

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)