The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 2, January 8, 2012, Article 24


No, I haven't been there, but it sounds like a nice place. The Washington Post published an article this week about a local bookshop. Nothing numismatic, but the bibliophiles among us should appreciate this. -Editor

Bookhouse The title is “A Descriptive and Illustrative Catalogue of Chinese Bronzes Acquired During the Administration of John Ellerton Lodge.” Brown cloth with gilt titling. It is somewhere among the 30,000 volumes in the Bookhouse, which is exactly what it sounds like: a 100-year-old house collared by ivy and packed with antiquated books, hidden on a side street off Wilson Boulevard in a strip-malled stretch of Arlington.

Edward, 91, heads to the stairs.

“They're never where they should be,” says Natalie, 80, watching him begin the hunt. “Although sometimes they're exactly where they should be.”

Natalie was born in the Philippines into a military family and lived on a series of air bases growing up. The itinerant lifestyle forbade the accumulation of possessions. This may be why she made a life out of acquiring and amassing books, she thinks.

In 1968, on a whim, she bought 3,000 books for $40 at a hotel liquidation in Bar Harbor, Maine, intending only to read them. Then she bought “Gold in Your Attic,” a guide to collecting books.

She was behind the counter in her first shop two years later.

Edward retired from the Transportation Department in 1973 and decided that he would raise broadleaf evergreens as a hobby. Natalie had a robust collection of botany books at her bookstore, in a new location on Irving Street in Arlington. They met as customer and shopkeeper.

“I liked him,” she says. “I would find books he was looking for, and I would use that excuse to call him at home to see if a woman ever answered. None ever did.”

Their first date was a hike in Turkey Run to see the ferns. They were married within a year. Edward got hooked on the book business. He and Natalie moved the operation to the Bookhouse on Emerson Street in 1975. The Washington region is a prime spot for book dealers, Edward says, because aging military officers would rather sell or donate their ephemera than pay to ship it to their retirement destinations.

Collecting books is a passion inspired by what's not on one's bookshelf, says Bruce McKinney, the proprietor of Americana ­Exchange, an online database of 3.4 million titles.

“And it's never complete,” McKinney says. “Particularly in the age of the Internet, we are delving more and more deeply into these subjects,” and the ability to find material is almost limitless, and “the enormous availability is redefining what's collectible.” (The second-most-expensive antiquated book purchased at auction last year was a comic book: Issue No. 1 of Action Comics, which introduced Superman to the world in 1938, sold for just over $2 million.)

About $381 million in books, manuscripts and ephemera were sold at U.S. auctions last year, a healthy and stable sum, according to McKinney, especially given the state of the economy. What's changing most about the old-book business is the closure of storefronts. If Borders can't stay in business , there isn't much hope for other bookseller storefronts. Public places of perusal are vanishing. In the '80s, in Georgetown and certain parts of Northwest, you'd have five antiquarian bookshops within walking distance of one another, says Allan Stypeck, owner of the 37-year-old Second Story Books.

“It's an eccentric interest, and individuals go into them as a hideaway from reality,” Stypeck says. To time travel. To obsess over the minutiae of a particular subject.

“My wife's just finishing editing the 200-year history of our church in Washington, and we could always count on the Bookhouse to have the best primary source material available,” says Dave Snyder, vice mayor of Falls Church. “There's nothing like having a book in your actual hands that was owned by a member of the Civil War unit that the history pertains to. It's the ability to reach out and touch history, and no online version of a book can match that.”

To read the complete article, see: Venerable Bookhouse owners share a life among the stacks (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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