Road Journals Blog—There’s probably only one city in the world where you can flip through a 17th century Shakespeare folio at 10:30 p.m.—and it’s probably the last city in the world you would guess.
At a luxury mall on the Las Vegas Strip, tucked incongruously amid the purveyors of high-end fashion and ridiculously expensive jewelry, is the newest location of Bauman Rare Books, an antiquarian bookseller specializing in works from the 15th to 21st centuries.
Bauman’s flagship location on Madison Avenue closes at a respectable 6 p.m., but the Vegas store keeps its doors open until just an hour before midnight—presumably for the benefit of the après "Jersey Boys" crowd or the odd gambler who wants to parlay a bit of luck at the tables into a first edition of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac ($26,000), Winston Churchill’s history of World War II ($16,000), or an inscribed first edition of “Tender Is the Night” in the original dust jacket ($42,000).
You might laugh. But it happens.
“Yes, people will spend their gambling winnings with us,” said store manager Rebecca Romney. “The first week we were open, we had a customer who said that if she won at the tables she’d be coming back. She did come back and she got the book she had been coveting. It was in the low thousands.”
The day I spoke with her, Romney had made a sale she described being in the “mid-five figures.”
You’ll find Bauman’s on the second level of The Shoppes at the Palazzo. While most stores there ooze glitz and glamour, Bauman’s is drenched in old-world, manly charm. If the learned gentlemen from the Royal Geographical Society were to convene in Las Vegas, this would be their venue of choice.
Bookshelves made of dark wood hold rows of books, many in rich, red morocco binding and gilt-decorated spines. Studded leather chairs surround a large wood table, on which sit two silk brocade book cradles.
Many volumes, like Poor Richard’s Almanac, date back centuries. One of the oldest and priciest at the Las Vegas store is a 1493 first edition of “The Nuremberg Chronicle,” a highly sought piece, primarily for its magnificent woodcut illustrations.
Bauman also has a large inventory of books from the 20th and 21st centuries.
“The common misconception is that rare books are old books,” said Romney. “Not true. If there were a small number of copies printed, they can be very valuable. Stephen King’s "Carrie" was a small print run, and it’s valuable. Cormac McCarthy’s "Blood Meridian"–his magnum opus–is surprisingly hard to find.”
Beloved children’s books with dust jackets not gunked up by dirty fingers fetch a high price. Bauman’s is asking $20,000 for a 1957 “Cat in the Hat.”
The authors who tend to do well at the Las Vegas store seem to fit the city’s ethos. James Bond sells briskly, as does “Atlas Shrugged.” “We put it on the shelves,” Romney said of the Ayn Rand novel, “and it sells almost immediately.”
Las Vegas has its share of chain booksellers, though none of them have a store on the Strip. In fact, Bauman’s is the only bookstore of any sort there.
“One of the reasons we chose Las Vegas is because it’s a crossroads,” said Romney. “It attracts people from all over. Most of our business is with collectors, and this retail space is how we meet them.”
Anne Burke writes about Las Vegas in an upcoming issue of Via./em>
Photography by Anne Burke
This blog post was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.