Sometimes the urge comes on me, and I desperately need to be among old volumes. The scent of fine aged paper, unopened boxes of new acquisitions, rows of superior bindings and dust jackets, ordinary reading copies that will be passed along to some other biblio, is essential to my mental health. The spot I rush to is about three quarters of an hour from where I live–a pleasant enough drive on a busy highway-certainly not around the corner, but not in the hinterlands either. Bordentown NJ is one of those lovely historical towns with a rich background of revolutionary war, local industry, and upstanding homes. Francis Hopkinson–signer of the Declaration of Independence, Clara Barton–Red Cross founder, Joseph Bonaparte–Napoleon’s brother, Thomas Paine–author and patriot, and ‘Ginny Sacramoni’–wife of Johnny Sack–mob boss on the Sopranos, are among the notables from Bordentown. Chances are, students are more familiar with the overweight Ginny Sack, than those who helped shape our country. The Old Book Shop stands on the corner of a main street chock full of trendy coffee shops, little restaurants, art galleries and antique shops. Not a large store, it carries an amazing array of various subjects, from a large section on local New Jersey history, military, baseball, history, literature, even a little spot about Saints. Naturally, there is also a decent mystery section–where I always seem to find something worth purchasing–either a collectible volume in jacket, or a reading copy–which is what I found on Saturday–a book club edition of an Ursula Curtis suspense. At a fantastic price–5 bucks. A separate children’s book section curves past New Jersey ghosts and lore-into an area surrounded by shelves and a little area for kids to sit and lay their possible purchases on. One entire wall contains contemporary titles, another, has vintage to Victorian, including classics–Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, etc., all very reasonably priced. One of my favorite finds from the store cost me $3.00–a fun compilation of stories, and poems illustrated throughout with various artists works. No, not a first, nor in dust jacket, but a nice durable book with pristine tipped in plates–enchanting work for a song!
The Old Book Shop of Bordentown, was once The Old Book Shop of Freehold. Bill Faris, one of the partners, said they keep the name short and general, thereby assuring, if they need to move again to another town, it will still be The Old Book Shop. When the Freehold rent became unmanageable, Bordentown became its new home. As you enter the store, prints in holders, and tantalizing boxes greet you. Usually, my husband dives right into the one nearest–and usually, Bill Faris, behind the laden high book counter, has to warn my husband the boxes have not yet been checked in–so, no prices. Which may deter him for around 30 seconds. Bill is always busy at his computer–furiously typing info about books, I assumed. Although busy, he can and does multi task, and chat about our mutual love. I usually make a bee-line to the first shelf–full of rarer illustrated titles–pieces with Arthur Rackham, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish contributing their artwork. I usually can’t afford these, although the prices are incredibly reasonable. Many times, reaching out and gently flipping through one of these illustrated gems, is the first time I’ve seen the original prints. Nice dust jacketed first edition mysteries circa the 1920s through the 40s are also displayed. One visit, I was allowed to photograph some of the jackets and interiors–with my eye on writing this article. That was quite a generous thing–many booksellers become paranoid, although about what, I’ve yet to discover, when asked if photos can be taken.
On several occasions, I’d noticed an illustrated edition of French nursery songs. Too rich at the moment for my blood, I found many 0f the illustrations from the book online and posted them to my flickr account. As nice as that is, nothing compares to the touch, smell, turning of pages, colorful ink and lines, a real live book has. I say live, because to me old books live a secret life–allowing those in the know to pick up and peruse their inner mysteries. Too esoteric? In other words, as fun as it is to be able to download and print some illustrations, nothing compares to the real deal still within a binding.
Finally, one trip, spotting the book, I blurted out how much I would love to own it, but it wasn’t within my budget. Within a few minutes, I was given a new price that just managed to fit–with some meals cut back on! The nursery rhyme about ferrets is my favorite, and I tend to go right to that one whenever I open the book. Funny how that works! Naturally, my real ferrets aren’t allowed to read the book–they tend to scratch and claw at things that are pretty.
I had to ask–“how does the store survive?” And his answer was pretty much what I expected, but hoped was not the case. Internet sales. Not only internet sales, but amazon.com and B&N sales. He stated that without the internet, the store would not exist-80 per cent of their sales come from online. That was sad to hear. Yet, at least the store WAS still there for those of us who can’t live without the solid reality of written word.
A more depressing statistic, at least to me, the sales from amazon count for 3 times the sales of any other site. Not that he’s unaware of the repercussions of amazon’s power. He believes that between amazon and ebay, our economy is in a deep decline. That vicious circle I tend to pontificate upon–cheaper prices of amazon and Walmart, wipe the smaller business out, which in turn create the jobless, who turn to amazon and Walmart for the cheapest prices. But we all do what we must to survive, and if he can sell that much via amazon, that it keeps the physical store alive, who can disagree with the tactic?
Another important question of mine–does he ever sell self published titles. I ask, because they have a very nice extensive section on New Jersey history, and sometimes the pamphlet’s or volumes in these areas are of the self pubbed variety. “NO! Never!” was his concise response. That piece of info made me very happy. I feel more and more stores are capitulating to the so called ‘publish on demand’ crowd who are really, ‘publish without being paid’ to me.
We probably lingered for a couple of hours, perusing, choosing, and chatting, myself breathing in the endorphins exuded by communities of words surrounding me. By the time we pay, say our goodbyes, I’m able to face the tedium of life again, knowing in my bag lay several unknown territories waiting for exploration.
Owner Douglas J. Palmieri
“Born in New York City, Doug is a survivor of a 30-year Wall Street career who turned to bookselling full time in the late 1990s. His particular area of expertise is baseball and his private library of baseball books and photography, mostly pre- WWII, is among the finest in the country. Doug is currently serving his second term as president of the Antiquarian Booksellers of New Jersey (ABNJ), and is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). In the age of electronic books, Doug feels that “books are a tactile as well as an intellectual experience–the touch, the feel, the smell, the comfort of a book tells me that there’ll always be a place for bookshops…”