New York’s best antiquarian bookstores do more than offer you a battered edition of some former bestseller. Instead, they give amateur browsers and professional collectors the chance to behold some of the rarest, greatest treasures ever typeset. By Jessica Allen.
Founded in 1925, the Argosy Book Store is still run by the original owner’s family, the third generation. The stock here is so great, in both senses of the word, that it takes six whole floors of a building in Manhattan plus a warehouse in Brooklyn to house it all. Argosy might specialize in antique maps, autographs, modern first editions, the history of medicine and science, and Americana, but just ask if there’s something in particular you’re looking for. The customer service is top-notch.
Bauman Rare Books, as you’d assume from the name, trafficks in rare books, first editions, and extraordinary finds. As its website states, “A rare book is one that is important, desirable, and scarce.” Calling Bauman a store is kind of a misnomer; the outfit prefers the term gallery, and rightly so: here, books are elevated, venerated, and treated with the sincerest of care. Its highly trained staff goes to supreme lengths to ensure that the stock has been verified and certified, and that customers get precise, quality editions.
The Manhattan Rare Book Company sells rare books in extraordinary condition. Emphasis on the rare, emphasis on the extraordinary. Put another way: you won’t find any dust bunnies rolling about here. Instead, you might stumble across an illuminated manuscript from the 15th century, a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls, a typed letter signed by Albert Einstein, or a book about Picasso autographed by the artist himself. OK, so stumble isn’t quite the right word, but you know what we mean. A grade A shop selling grade A stock.
Once upon a time, Fourth Avenue boasted booksellers galore; today, just one bookstore remains. But, man, is it a doozy. The Strand gets our vote for best used bookstore in the world. Its tagline—18 miles of books—holds true: just about everything you want is nestled somewhere among its three floors of old and new books or housed in its enormous offsite storage facility. Several renovations have made room for souvenirs and tote bags, but the back stacks are as full, and magnificent, as ever.
Since 1972, Ursus has specialized in rare books of all types, fine antique decorative prints, and art reference books, both new and old. The store is particularly strong in, and knowledgeable about, illustrated books, roughly dating from the 15th century through the present. (Armchair travelers, in particular, will delight in the huge selection of travelers’ tales and journals.) Let the staff know what you’re looking for, and they’ll be kind enough to help curate a list and keep an eye out for you.