Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baldwin's Book Barn

Another stop on my Pennsylvania bookstore trip was Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, PA. Baldwin's has always been special to me, it's one of the first antiquarian bookstores I visited and probably led to my addiction of old books.

Located in the Brandywine Valley of Chester County, Baldwin's is a 19th Century barn, built by the Darlington family in 1822. It was purchased by the Baldwin family in 1964 to be converted into a bookstore. It presently houses over 300,000 books on five stories. They did a wonderful job of preserving the barn feel - much of the store is still heated with a wood burning stove giving the shop a smokey, drafty warmth. The floors are original split timber that creak as you make your way up and down the narrow stairways dividing the floors. Each floor is packed with shelves and narrow aisles, making an almost impenetrable labyrinth of books. However, just when you feel like you're going to be overwhelmed with books, you happen upon a quite corner with a period chair set up for reading (or resting).

Nostalgia aside... this had been the first time I'd been back to Baldwin's Book Barn in probably ten years. For an amatuer book enthusiast it's quite impressive, so I was curious what it would be like as a semi-serious collector. I can only speak for the books of my genre, so other areas of the store may be different but overall I was disappointed. Their offerings were common at best... they mostly consisted of pamphlets and cheap local histories. Their small "rare" book area did carry a few classics but all of them were in poor condition and overpriced. I tried to negotiate with the gentleman there but he was only able to reduce the price by a few dollars; not bring it to an acceptable, competitive price. Two examples of this were 'Records of the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania' - they were asking $120, a quick search of Abebook.com revealed several copies of similar quality at $80 and below. The best they could offer me was $110. They had a set of 'Chester and Delaware Counties' for $400 - volume 2 had a detached board and water damage with mold - G.S. MacManus had the same copy for $200 in near perfect condition. I will say that it did help me realize how good G.S. MacManus' prices are... he's competitively priced at market value AND his quality far exceeds what's available in the market.

Though disappointing, it was worth the stop. It was fun visiting the place it all began - I'll probably stop back again. It's fun just exploring the levels and layers of their collection. Small bookstores are always worth your time - you never know when you'll find tucked away in their shelves a diamond in the rough. I should do my next post on book barn finds...

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