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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide

Las Vegas: Rare Books Hotspot

Along those lines, she recently sold Hamilton on Public Credit, an important book in the history of economics and Americana by Alexander Hamilton, for over $100,000 and a printing of The Federalist Papers from the New York Packet newspaper for $32,000.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Sin City’s strip, the world-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop attracts thousands of visitors daily. Since its television debut in 2009, Pawn Stars, a reality show focused on the shop’s dealings with customers, has become a cultural phenomenon. Occasionally, rare books get some camera time. Rick Harrison runs the shop with his father, Richard Harrison, affectionately known as the “Old Man,” and his son, Corey. While he may exude a gruff exterior, the business allows Harrison to nurture one of his passions—book collecting. He recently estimated his personal collection at about five or six hundred books; one of his favorites was acquired right off the shop floor.

“I have a book written in the early 1500s on metallurgy and alchemy that was owned by Sir Isaac Newton. It turns out that the notes in the margin are actually by Sir Isaac Newton,” he said.

That book purchase appeared in season 4, episode 8, which aired on January 31, 2011. The book in question is Agricola’s De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum, and in the episode, the “Old Man” purchased it for $7,000 (a very good wager, considering the seller’s claims about its provenance).

Only a few of the pawned books ultimately stock Harrison’s library—in a March 2013 episode, Harrison bought an incunable with later illumination for $2,500, saying, “It’s no secret that I love antique books”—and most are for sale each day. The occasional celebrity stumbles in for a purchase. For example, in season 4, episode 32, which aired on June 6, 2011, viewers watched George Stephanopoulos, anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America and former political advisor, buy a first edition of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Tourists, however, are the majority of his clientele, and Harrison said that is part of the fun of his business.

“I get some serious buyers,” he said. “We get about five thousand people a day, so some of them have some money. It’s such a diverse crowd. And you get a lot of wealthy tourists that go absolutely bat-shit crazy and need cash real quick. They don’t want the party to end.”

Other antiquarian book-buying options in Vegas include Academy Fine Books, Las Vegas Fine Books (formerly Greyhound’s), Plaza Books, Dead Poet Bookstore, BookLovers, Westgate Books, and Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America member, Amber Unicorn Books. Founded by Lou and Myrna Donato in 1981, Amber Unicorn specializes in out-of-print cookbooks—they have about twenty thousand of them—but the shop also carries a strong selection of general non-fiction, fiction, and first editions. Myrna Donato said there is a big market for rare books, but getting a large enough supply to meet demand out in the desert has been a struggle.

“Most of our antiquarian and older stock is brought to us by the public or through estate sales,” Donato said. “We have regular customers that have us search for the harder-to-find titles that they can’t find in stores. Our sales are strong and would be better if we had a steady supply of this type of book coming in on a regular basis. Our customers are made up of 65 percent local, 30 percent tourist, and 5 percent Internet sales. These customers are both readers and collectors and are from all walks of life and from many countries around the world.”

So whether you’re attending one of those ubiquitous conferences (or weddings) in Vegas, or trying your luck at blackjack, finding a fine book is a good bet in this town.

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His new book is Raising the Stakes: True Tales of Gambling, Wagering & Poker Faces, available at his blog,, Amazon, and
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