The Brattle Book Shop

The Brattle Book Shop is without doubt my favorite used book shop in Boston. It was not around during the Regency, but it was founded in 1825, during the reign of the former Prince Regent, George IV. It is possible that visitors to Massachusetts from the British Isles who had lived through the years of the Regency might have paid a visit to the shop while they were in Boston, so there is a tenuous connection between The Brattle Book Shop and the English Regency.

So, what do I like the most about The Brattle Book Shop?

In no particular order, I like that it is within walking distance of where I work, so I can pop over there on my lunch break. I like that they have an outdoor section where I can shop for books and enjoy the weather on good days. I like that they have a huge, ever-changing selection of books, so I always find something new every time I drop in. I like that they have very reasonable prices, which means I can afford to shop there often. And, I like the staff, who are always friendly and helpful.

The outdoor section is an open lot next to the shop. They have shelves against the outside walls and a whole flock of rolling book carts which they put out every day the weather is good. The books in the outdoor section are priced at $5.00, $3.00 or $1.00. I call these the demoted books, as they are books that have been on the shelves inside the shop for a long time and have not sold. So they are marked at $5.00 and put outside. If they do not sell at that price after a certain time, they are demoted to $3.00 and if they still do not sell, they are eventually demoted to $1.00. I have found some really excellent buys here. For an example, I got an 1808 two-volume set of General John Burgoyne’s Dramatic and Poetical Works for $5.00 each. They are a little rubbed on the edges of the covers and some of the pages are a bit foxed, but at $10.00 for the set, which was on someone’s library shelf during the Regency, I am delighted to have them. I have also found dozens of more recently published books on Regency topics, some of which I did not know existed. And that is only what is available in the outdoor section.

Indoors at The Brattle Book Shop there are even more potential treasures, on three floors. My favorite haunts are the Textile, Costume and Decorative Arts sections on the first floor, and the English History, Gardening, Horses and Book History sections on the second floor. The third floor is where the rare and antiquarian books live, but they are rather beyond the reach of my budget, so I don’t often go up there. But I have made some great finds indoors equal to those I have made outside. For example, I found a 1904 edition of Pierce Egan’s Life in London. This particular title was known to be in Georgette Heyer’s own research library and was one of her best sources of information on the sporting life of the Regency buck. Needless to say, I was delighted to find it. And even though it is not a first edition, it is in very good condition and well within my budget.

The proprietors of The Brattle Book Shop buy books from many sources. In New England, some of these sources are estate libraries which have a plethora of interesting books on English history, including the Regency period. Many of the people who owned those books traveled to Europe, including England, and there are many books on the shelves which were brought back to Massachusetts by these travellers. I love browsing the shelves, indoors and out. It is an enlightening experience, as I have found so many books on topics of interest to me which I had no idea even existed. In many cases, these books were never released in the United States. But I must admit, I was rather surprised, but fascinated, to read on their web site that they offer a "decorating service." They will provide books of various binding types, for decorating homes or movie sets. What an interesting facet of the book business!

If you are in the Boston area, treat yourself to a visit to The Brattle Book Shop, you won’t regret it. Well, you might regret having to leave, but you won’t regret your visit to the shop. If you live outside of the Boston area, you have my condolences. The Brattle Book Shop does sell some of their books online with one of the bookseller aggregators. But these tend to be only their rare and antiquarian books. Their regular stock of used books is not online, nor is it cataloged, so you really do have to visit to explore their bibliographic treasures. So, if you don’t live in the area, put it on your list of things to do if you ever come to Boston.


About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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