Our Favorite Used Bookstores

Each year we go on vacation to Maine and stop in any used book stores that cater to our interests, technical books and knitting. I look for a good selection of books on engineering, machining, electronics and photography. Naturally the inventory depends a bit on luck, but this is a list of the best shops we've found. Though many shops sell on eBay and have a good list of their inventory, I have my best luck in shops with no real inventory tracking, and where I have to crawl around on my hands and knees to find the best stuff.

The price of technical books has been rising over the last decade, sometimes remarkably so, but pricing remains a complete mystery to me. Things I consider valuable are often inexpensive, and common texts there were printed in the tens of thousands are sometimes priced an order of magnitude over what I think they're worth. Normally first editions command the highest prices but for technical books this rarely makes sense. Technical books that were published and updated over many years often started out with errors and limited coverage. The next printings often had corrections and expansions; I consider those the most desirable. Later printings sometimes had valuable fundamentals and older information deleted to make room for the latest inventions of the day. This tends to be true for several standard electronics texts that enjoyed a many decade publication life.

In my opinion engineering texts up to the '60s or so were written as labors of love by experts in their fields. They were written to educate and assist practicing engineers with practical problems. More modern texts are often written more for mathematicians, and have much theory, but offer little guidance on how to put it to practical use. Books written before the invention of electronic calculators and computers also tend to have clearer explanations of the mathematical foundations of their subjects. The following are given in no particular order, with some brief comments on what to expect.

Bequaert Old Books

37 Route 119 West
Fitzwilliam, NH 03447
(603)585-3448
42.780791N, 72.143612W
beqbooks.com

Bequaert's has a tremendous selection of technical books on optics, electronics and machinery. They sell at ham radio "hamfests" and steam engine shows, so there will be times when titles are missing from the shelves. They also have a large selection of general titles, fiction, non-fiction, art and photography. Parking is limited and somewhat awkward at times. Be sure to check the hours and dates that they're open.

Old Number Six Book Depot

166 Depot Hill Road
Henniker, NH
(603)428-3334
43.17143N, 71.82082W

Old Number Six is simply a mind blowing experience. If they don't have it, you probably don't need it. A huge technical section containing every imaginable topic. Every other category as well. Lots of science fiction. This is not a shop to miss. Two huge floors, steep stairs and narrow aisles- not for the severely claustrophobic and the stairs can be difficult if you have bad knees. A bit hard to find- use the GPS coordinates if you have one.

Northwood Old Books

1563 1st NH Trnpk
Northwood, NH
(603)942-8107
43.22185N, 71.27178W

Northwood is owned and operated by the same people as Old Number Six. It isn't as large, but the selection is nearly as good. I think the photography section is larger and the quality of everything is exceptional. Colored lines on the floor lead you to the various sections.

Scotties

209 Route 1
Hancock, ME 04614
(207)667 6834
44.40367N, 68.543429W (roughly)

You'll likely be greeted and inspected by a genuine Scottie when you enter. If you pass inspection, you'll find a large selection of paperbacks, science fiction, mysteries and just about everything else. Quite a lot of automotive books. Much of the inventory is on shelves but a huge number of titles are randomly stacked in boxes because there just isn't room for everything. I always suspect this shop contains vastly more than I'm able to see.

Wikhegan Books

117 Main Street
Northeast Harbor, ME
(207)276-5079
44.294235N, 68.289342W (roughly)

This shop carries only very high quality items, regional history and guide books plus local authors and artists. They do, however, also carry a small stock of technical books and quite a bit of art and photography. There's a good chance they'll have one or more titles you simply can't live without, and the rarity and quality of those titles will dictate an equally rare price. Always ask about your special interests, since there isn't enough room to display all the books in the shop area.

Local/Regional Shops

Friends of Thompkins County Library

Thompkins County Booksale

This is a twice a year event, probably one of the largest in the country. They claim about 250,000 volumes. Details on the website. I suspect a lot of dealers get their $25 books here for $4. You can too. Since this is a college town you'll find advanced texts on just about every topic. You really need to be there well before the doors open on the first day to get the best of the best. The line will extend down the block and around the corner and they only let in a fixed number of people at one time. After that they let people in at about the same rate that the previous ones leave. The fall sale is at the peak of the foliage season for the area, so the drive into Ithaca can be quite spectacular.

Sean Fagan Books Old & Rare Books

6883 Routes 5&20
Bloomfield, NY 14469
(585)657-7096
42.88432N, 77.40990W
FaganBooks.com

Inexpensive books in the book barn and very nice editions in the book room. Open infrequently and by random luck at best, so call ahead as they're usually happy to open up if they know you're coming.

 

C. Hoffman
September 28, 2010