America’s Oldest Continuously Running Rare Book Shop

by Liz on June 13, 2014 · The Book Trade

Brattle Book ShopAmongst the lively city of Boston, Massachusetts, a rare book lover’s gem is unearthed. Nestled between grandiose skyscrapers and the inevitable routine city bustle, the oldest continuously running rare book shop is found: Brattle Book Shop. From the delightfully carved wooden sign bearing the shop’s name, to the exquisite front window display, all that encompasses Brattle Book Shop gives forth a warm beckoning to the rare book lover and collector, to personally experience all the wonder that the shop abounds.

Rather than adhering to the all too familiar enclosed book shop layout, Brattle Book Shop is charmingly unique in that, flanking one side of the shop, various book shelves, bathed in the natural sunlight, boast a surplus of rare book treasures for book lovers to examine and peruse, while breathing the crisp city air outside the confines of a typical establishment.


Atop the outdoor shelves sit various books pertaining to many diverse genres. Novels of historical fiction and intrigue, knowledgeable volumes on horses and early versions of favorite children’s stories are only a few of the treasures found outside the shop’s enticing door. As book lovers and collectors peacefully browse the many literary finds, a stately mural embodying favorite literary figures graces one side of the shop’s structure. Such figures include Ernest Hemingway, William Butler Yeats, Dr. Seuss, Franz Kafka and many others. To the book lover and collector, they are like old friends who watch over them approvingly from their celestial perch.

Once admitted through the shop’s welcoming door, it is apparent to any book lover and collector that a literary euphoria is about to unfold. In a manner not unlike a magician’s masterful illusion, it is soon understood that the tall and narrow building actually houses three floors overflowing with enough intellectual stimuli to effectively enlighten the mind and soothe the soul of any lover of books. Various employees smile encouragingly from their respective positions, and brightly colored posters of books for sale and books that have been sold flutter from the walls.

As may be expected, the first floor of the shop magnificently overwhelms the senses of the lover of books, with row upon row of rare literary finds and collectibles. By means of the shop’s own “stairway to heaven” of sorts, a splendid curved marble stairwell seductively leads visitors to the second floor of the shop, wherein even more rare treasures await the eager bibliophile. Beyond the many rows of handsomely lined shelves and gaily festooned walls of ads and posters, lies an almost mistakable additional stairway, through which lovers of books are enigmatically led to the third floor of the shop, which is truly the shop’s crowning component.

Amidst the vast diversity and unique conglomeration of rare finds found in the shop, it is little wonder that, to the shop proprietor, Kenneth Gloss, it is the shop’s immense and voluminously varied assortment that has propelled him to delightedly continue running his shop. Rather than pointing to any one genre of book that is sold in his shop as his favorite, Gloss instead explained that it is the shop’s very articulate aspect that has remained most dear to him.

While Gloss has not possessed ownership of the shop since its first opening in the 1940’s, he has instead been involved with the shop since the 1960’s. Moreover, the expanse History of the shop has not been devoid of tragic circumstances. A horrifically destructive fire violently engulfed the shop in the 1980’s, causing even the Mayor to donate books as a means to aid in its rebuilding. Charred remains can still today be observed on the bricks surrounding the lovely outdoor appendage of the shop.

Despite the unfortunate aftermath of the fire, Gloss remained undaunted. Today, Brattle Book Shop is rightfully hailed as a very famous and much beloved rare book shop, which kaleidoscopically enthralls and allures even the most scrupulous book collector.

The Brattle Book Shop Yard


About the author

Partner, rare book dealer. Sekkes Consultants.

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