Bauman Rare Books
takes aim at well-heeled bibliophiles
By BENJAMIN SPILLMAN
Las Vegas high rollers tired of Italian suits and stocked up on designer shoes for wives and lingerie for girlfriends now can turn to Walt Whitman or Benjamin Franklin to scratch their itch to spend.
A bookstore in the posh Palazzo is serving up first-edition literary classics and 15th-century history tomes just steps from where cocktail waitresses sling drinks to dice-tossing gamblers.
The store is attracting customers beyond the wealthy, self-made men who make up the core demographic.
“I love, love, love old books,” said Jennifer Whitehair, online editor for the Las Vegas tourism Web site Vegas.com and book collector. “It is a great store, I’m happy to see it has come to Vegas.”
Hotel-casinos on the Strip have served literature before but nothing like Bauman Rare Books, where a first edition of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” from 1855 goes for $175,000 and “Nuremberg Chronicle,” an illustrated history book published in 1493, is tagged at $150,000.
“It happens to be in Las Vegas. It is not that we sell lesser books here,” said owner David Bauman, who’s sold rare books by catalog and at shops in New York and Philadelphia for 30 years.
The Las Vegas store is in the Shoppes at Palazzo, part of a $1.9 billion resort that opened Dec. 30. The store is a replica of Bauman’s store on Madison Avenue in New York except without a second floor.
It’s also a new benchmark for luxury on the Strip, a place that’s built a retail inventory to include Barneys New York, Tiffany & Co., Prada, Manolo Blahnik and Alexander McQueen.
But tourist markets are largely bereft of booksellers, save for the Gamblers Book Shop downtown and The Reading Room at Mandalay Bay, a shop with inventory to attract the brainy bunch and prices accessible to the hoi polloi.
Bauman is after an untapped market in Las Vegas, customers from cash-rich places such as Wall Street and Hollywood who harbor literary sensibilities beneath bulging bankrolls.
“It is a very small segment of the population,” Bauman said during a recent tour of the shop.
Small but discriminating.
Books in the store come with thorough descriptions of their histories, content highlights and detailed descriptions of characteristics that make them unique.
On page 9 of an 1885 copy of “Huckleberry Finn,” researchers note an uncorrected typo. The word “decided” should have been “decides.” Later editions were corrected.
The error is a testament to the book’s authenticity and noting it is testament to Bauman researchers’ eye for detail. They look for details, called points, that are evidence of authenticity.
Sometimes a point is an error, other times it is a publishers’ subtle mark that denotes a first edition.
“You really have to know exactly the points you are looking for,” said Corinne Weeks, an employee of Bauman for 26 years.
Bauman employs 14 writers and researchers to study and document the collection. They have myriad backgrounds, with advanced degrees in subjects such as law and literature.
Keeping picky readers on board makes good financial sense for a business like Bauman’s where, for example, the Huckleberry Finn book with the page 13 error lists for $15,000.
In some cases Bauman sells books “that changed the way we look at the world.”
Works include a copy of “Experiments and Observations on Electricity,” by Benjamin Franklin dated 1769 for $22,000 and an 1872 copy of a book by Charles Darwin that used a pioneering technique for printing photographs for $4,200.
But the store also offers more offbeat fare.
A cocktail enthusiast might spend $850 for a 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, among the first books of its kind published after Prohibition ended.
A former cocktail enthusiast might gravitate toward a 1948 copy of the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book,” signed in 1953 by Bill Wilson, co-founder of the popular 12-step program, $12,000.
Both are prominently displayed in cases at the front of the store.
Other books include inscriptions from genius Albert Einstein and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to summit Mount Everest.
For all the dark wood, august reading material and high sticker prices, Bauman says book collecting is an accessible hobby for people willing to work at it.
The volumes at Bauman’s are more accessible to Las Vegas tourists than the roped-off paintings at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art or even the acrylic-encased $1 million cash display that used to wow visitors to the old Binion’s Horseshoe downtown.
Customers can thumb through the literary works at Bauman’s.
“When you are able to touch something, you are part of that history,” Whitehair said. “It is a unique feeling you can’t get from anything else, and Vegas is all about unique feelings.”
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org