in from Jon Speed: The Book Scout
I’m a bookseller by birth. My uncle, Craig Ross, was an old-school
gentleman bookdealer. He was the eccentric of the family. It was rumored
in some family circles that he had money, probably because of the few great
items he sold from time-to-time. He handled documents signed by Lincoln,
Custer, the founding fathers and other historical items. During his career
he had at least five true first editions of the Book of Mormon, which he
thought may have been a record although he was too humble to prove it. And
he handled really obscure, one-of-a-kind sort of stuff. One of his
mimeographed lists contained a notarized document from a sheriff (if memory
serves) who testified that when President U.S. Grant visited his town he
never once even stopped by the local pubs
A visit to his old Victorian home was a treat. On my first visit, I
remember being shocked. Books were shelved everywhere imaginable; all of
the large portions of wall space being taken up, he fashioned shelves for
closets, above windows, and anywhere else he could get them. At that time,
he had a large barn where he kept the cast-offs from his book hunting; boxes
of common stuff which were leftovers. I bought three Horatio Alger, Jr.
books from that barn when I was nine. Once a year he would advertise a book
sale in Medina, NY and the locals would all come out and pick through his
cast offs for pocket change.
Craig got me into the business when I found a first American edition of one
of David Livingstone’s books. He explained to me the difference between the
American and British editions, the condition of the book, and how these
factors influenced price. He graciously offered to carry the book on an
upcoming list and sell it on commission. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to
do with it and thought I might like to become a collector. I read
everything I could get my hands on regarding book collecting in the
Rochester Public Library. I started frequenting the local antiquarian
shops; many of those dealers were friends of my uncle’s. I was pleased when
one introduced me to a customer as “the next Craig Ross”. I will never live
up to that billing, but I loved being associated with him. It opened a lot
of doors for me when I decided that I would never be able to justify
collecting rare books, but could sell them. Those were the days when you
needed more than a computer and a credit card to sell books.
Our homes have resembled Craig’s. Right now we have about 30,000 books.
Over the years we have gone in and out of bookselling, but always come back.
The last time we came back my wife surprised me when she said, “This place
didn’t really seem like ‘home’ until now”. My kids love reading and I can
only credit the atmosphere of a bookselling home. They have grown up
believing that books are important. What better legacy could my uncle leave
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