My Visit to the Rare Book Room at The Strand

The Rare Book Room at The Strand.

On my recent trip to New York City there was an article in the New York Times about The Strand celebrating its 90th year in business.  Not only does this bookstore have 18 miles of books located on four floors, but they also have rows and rows of sale books on the sidewalk on 12th st. just outside the store, and a kiosk fully stacked with fabulous books outside of Central Park.  The article in the Times mentioned The Strand’s most expensive book—a first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated by Henri Matisse, signed by both authors.  The Limited Editions Club published 1500 copies in 1935; only 250 copies are signed by both Joyce and Matisse which are rare and very expensive.  The manager at The Strand said that the price tag on their copy is $45,000.    Matisse signed all 1500 copies and the ones with only his signature sell for a lot less—between $3500 and $5000, depending on the condition of the book.

The rare book room is housed on the third floor of The Strand and all of their customers are welcome to visit any time during business hours.  The staff was kind and willing to show me their most expensive and famous book for sale.  The manager extracted the book from a safe where their most precious books are kept and happily allowed me to look at the copy of Ulysses and let me take these photos.

Not all of their books are as rare or expensive as this copy of Ulysses. The rare book room has something for everyone’s budget. There are lots of signed and first edition books by modern authors openly available on their shelves to look at and to browse. I saw a first edition of Derek Walcott’s poetry inscribed by the author, for instance, that was being sold for $40. Some of their more expensive books, the ones that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars are under glass cases—for instance a first edition German copy of Kafka’s The Castle with a price tag of $2500. But the staff is friendly and helpful and willing to let customers hold and flip through any of their books.

The Strand, all four floors of it, is one of my favorite places to visit in the world and I can’t wait to go back.  I am thinking another trip in the fall is in order.  First, I have to recover from carrying almost 40 books on the train back home and find a place for my purchases.  In my next post I will share some of my NYC book haul.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “My Visit to the Rare Book Room at The Strand

  1. Oh I am so jealous! That Matisse-illustrated Ulysses looks gorgeous… and reminds me it’s probably time to re-read my rather more downmarket copy!

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  2. It sounds like a wonderful trip, Melissa. I remember being a bit overwhelmed by the Strand on my one and only visit. So hard to take in such a vast expanse of books despite being a bookseller at the time. Looking forward to reading about your 40-book haul.

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  3. In my most recent trip, I found a numbered copy of an early Paul Auster book of poetry in the Rare Books Room… I think it was $20. Irresistible!

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  4. A great post. Can’t wait to hear about your books!

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  5. Wow….. If I ever make it over the Pond, that’s where I’m heading for first!!

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  6. Thanks for the photos of this precious edition of Ulysses- good to see when I may not make it to The Strand itself!

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  7. How wonderful. I have never fancied NY but I would make an exception to go to Strand, I fear! Looking forward to the haul post – can you share what you carried them all in, too??

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