I am 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. Of course, this wasn’t true since if you want to keep selling good manuscripts and books, you must continue to buy good manuscripts and books. It is rare to find someone who can make enough money in the trade to make a living off of it.
Craig handled documents signed by Lincoln, Custer, the founding fathers and other items of historical interest. 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. He also 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, which was controversial since Grant was known to be something of an alcoholic.
A visit to his old Victorian home was a treat. On my first visit (at the age of nine), 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 on my first visit. Once a year he would advertise a book sale inMedina, NYand the locals would all come out and pick through his cast offs for pocket change.
Craig got me into the business in my early 20’s 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 only have about 4000 books for sale online, another 5,000 in our personal collection, and have opened a shop with 22,000+ titles. Over the years we have gone in and out of bookselling for brief periods of time, 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 and my teenage daughters read voraciously. What better legacy could my uncle leave us?