The Rare Life
Two shops sell rare prints and books in Langley
If you are a book lover, it’s a special thing to hold a first-edition copy of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” in one’s hands.
Or to own one of the original hand-painted works of John James Audubon, complete with his impeccable renditions of North American birds and other wildlife.
Wife and husband Priscilla Lowry-Gregor and David Gregor know the specialness of such a thing very well.
Lowry-Gregor is the owner of Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books and Gregor owns Gregor Rare Books. Both businesses are in downtown Langley only steps away from each other.
Considering both shop owners are members of the prestigious Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America — whose members total only 453 — it is as rare as the pieces they sell that two of the association’s members are both housed in little Langley. Even Seattle has only four active members.
“The ABAA is kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval in the rare book world,” Gregor explained.
A passion piece
Lowry-Gregor is a no-nonsense intellectual with a passion as precise as the fine lines of many of the lithographs she sells.
After receiving an honors degree in art history from the State University of New York at Purchase, Lowry-Gregor had focused primarily on early American furniture. But when she discovered the work of Audubon and the expansive world of natural history, she followed her heart.
Lowry-Gregor was recently inducted into the ABAA and hails as one of only a handful of women who are sole proprietors of a member shop.
Her passion pours out of her descriptions of what she sells. She is obviously proud of her 22-year commitment to her specialty.
Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books specializes in the research, acquisition and sale of extraordinary hand-colored natural history engravings and lithographs from the Age of Discovery, that period in history between 1600 and 1900 when much of the natural world was still being discovered and recorded.
A significant emphasis goes to establishing a realistic value in today’s market for the original works of such prominent naturalist artists such as Audubon, John Gould, Jane Webb Loudon, Sir William Jardine, George Brookshaw and many others.
The shop also deals an impressive collection of rare books from the same period.
Learn as you go
“This is a labor of love,” Lowry-Gregor said. “Both David and I are committed to keep the open shop alive.”
To that end, Lowry-Gregor loves the summertime atmosphere of the sidewalk browsers of Langley and often keeps her doors open later than closing time on those balmy evenings before the shoppers head out to dinner.
Both of these bibliophiles honor the strict guidelines of the ABAA and provide not only a font of knowledge but also an authenticity for their clients.
“You can’t know about everything,” Lowry-Gregor said.
“So being a specialist is important; you delve into acquisitions and learn as you go. You learn to keep your eyes open,” she said.
In Lowry-Gregor’s shop, every print is finely matted in archival materials which she can do personally as she is also an expert archival framer. She also provides complete historical text documentation and a certificate of authenticity for each piece.
But beyond the documentation, Lowry-Gregor revels in the interest of dedicated clients as well as the stroll-by browser.
“The best part of this business is when I acquire something and know which client would want to see it. It’s so fun when a client sees something and a light goes off and we go beyond ‘Collecting 101’ and engage in a higher level of conversation,” Lowry-Gregor said.
For the love of books
Luckily for Lowry-Gregor, that conversation continues at home, as well, with her book-lover husband.
Around the corner on Second Street, Gregor Rare Books is equally inviting with its open door, cozy feel and neat stacks of well-cared for first editions.
With his white beard, Hawaiian shirt and straw fedora, David Gregor has the easy manner of someone who has similarly followed the path of his passion just as his wife did.
Gregor has operated the shop since 1987, specializing in 20th century literary first editions, topics including Paris in the 1920s, poetry, the works of Charles Bukowski, Vietnam War literature, literature in translation, art, photography and signed books.
“I’ve never had a dull day and have never wished I had done something else with my life,” Gregor said.
Not that it is all roses and folly.
Gregor stays quite busy running his shop, organizing the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair with his business partner every year, and keeping the rare bookseller field alive by teaching classes which include “Strategic Bookselling” and “Book Collecting for Fun and Profit.”
The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, considered the best regional book fair in the country, is famous among rare booksellers and attracts thousands of people to the Seattle Center Pavilion each October with about 100 exhibitors.
Gregor met Lowry-Gregor there and they married a year later.
“The good thing about our relationship,” Gregor said, “is that we always have something to talk about. We understand each other and the kick we get out of it. We help each other out with the business end and work out the kinks together.”
The books in Gregor’s shop inspire awe in the sheer romantic meaning they have for anyone who has ever loved to read.
In a glass case just under your nose, you can feast your eyes on first edition copies like Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Isek Dinesen’s “Out of Africa,” or “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss.
The books and other rare materials, such as iconic photographs, range in price from the fairly inexpensive to the very expensive, such as a recently sold review copy of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that sold for $11,000.
A review copy of a book is special to collectors because with every first printing of a title that may have had 50,000 printed, perhaps only 100 of those printed were sent out for review.
Review copies usually contain a press packet, and if a first-edition review copy has that press information still intact, it makes the copy even more special and subsequently more valuable, Gregor explained.
“That review copy of Cuckoo’s Nest was the only one of its kind in the world,” Gregor said.
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Apparently, that goes for collectors as well.
Gregor said that collectors come in all shapes and sizes and their main commonality is that they are very interesting people. Gregor’s clients run the gamut of occupations from commercial fisherman to postal worker.
“Instead of paying $200 for a nice shirt, he may prefer to buy a rare book instead,” Gregor said of a certain collector.
Most collectors he meets are interested in literature with an eye toward the investment and the condition of the book. Both Lowry-Gregor and Gregor said that the condition of the material is not just important; it’s everything in collecting.
“It’s much harder to sell flawed copies and the sophisticated buyer will wait for a good condition copy of a title he wants,” Gregor said.
To Gregor, the hunt for the material and finding the client who goes with the book is one of the most satisfying things about the business.
“I’ve always wanted to have that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “My job is to have those books and materials that you can’t find in any other place.”
Gregor Rare Books is located at 197-A Second St. Visit the Website at www.gregorbooks.com.
Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books is located at 101 Anthes Ave. and the Website is www.lowryjames.com.
The Seattle Anitquarian Book Fair is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Saturday, Oct. 13 and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14 at the Seattle Center Pavilion. For more info, check out www.seattlebookfair.com.
This article appeared in the September 1, 2007 edition of The South Whidbey Record
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