By PARIS WOLFE
Even with a Google search, it’s hard to pin down the most expensive book ever sold. Among the “winners” in the value contest are religious treatises, scientific diaries, and a collection of children’s tales by J.K. Rowling. (A handwritten, hand-illustrated copy of Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” fetched today’s equivalent of $5 million at auction in 2007.)
“The primary reasons for rarity,” says Michael Zubal, co-owner of Zubal Books in Ohio City, “are due to physical scarcity such as short print runs or unwillingness on the part of an owner(s) to resell a particular title, and importance and focus or topic.”
Zubal Books has been providing rare, scholarly, and hard-to-find books to interested buyers since 1961. Brothers Michael and Tom operate a warehouse that has a browsing section of 1,000 to 2,000 books ($5 each) on various topics. Their online catalog, www.zubalbooks.com lists 250,000 items. And they have at least a million books to be processed and listed.
People may collect old books for investment, but mostly choose them because they have an emotional connection. “In my 44 years in the book business the passion for collecting seems to sprout from significant moments in peoples’ lives,” says Zubal. “A person’s collector impulse can be motivated by everything from experienced events with a parent or professor, a TV show, movie, or any other of myriad things.”
“The Cleveland market has always been dependent on the local educational institutions like Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and more,” he points out. “The greater the push for expanded world views, the greater the interest in archival material.”
And, that curiosity isn’t limited to aging baby boomers. “I am always impressed when someone under the age of 30 visits us and leaves with a box of books,” says Zubal. “For awhile it seemed the digital age had tempered youthful interest in books, but lately I’ve found that not to be the case.”
Zubal is Northeast Ohio’s largest dealer, but rare books can also be found at Loganberry Books in Larchmere, Half Price Books in Mayfield and North Olmstead and at antique stores like Attenson’s Antiques & Books on Coventry Road in Cleveland.
Loganberry has much of its rare and vintage collection, including signed first editions, listed online at loganberrybooks.com. Among their specialties is a section on Elbert Hubbard who founded Roycroft Press and the arts and crafts movement around it. (See travel story on page A6)
Meanwhile a signed first edition of Stephen King’s “Misery” is available in a locked case at Half Price Books in Mayfield. For Tolkien fans, the store keeps locked up in back an autographed, three-book set of “Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien. The trilogy is listed at $20,000 and is not eligible for coupon purchase.
Attenson’s has 36 bookcases available for easy perusal.
Loganberry, Half Price books and Attenson’s are easy to shop in person, but Zubal requires an appointment. “Tours of our facility may be scheduled during warm-weather months. One should contact us via email, email@example.com, if interested in attending such.”
Zubal will also search for hard-to-find titles. For those who are interested in their adventures in the used book world, Michael and Tom do a podcast – Book Brothers.
Rare and antique book collecting
By PARIS WOLFE