Las Vegas Sun

December 12, 2017

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Bookworms’ apple on Strip

Purveyors of rare tomes show that not all Vegas draws need be glitzy


Steve Marcus

Dave Bauman shows a 1493 edition of “Nuremberg Chronicle” to Anastasia, left, and Claudia Soare of Los Angeles at Bauman Rare Books, in the Shoppes at the Palazzo. The item, one of the oldest printed books and an exemplar of early publishing, is priced at $150,000.

Rare Books

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Beyond the Sun

When David and Natalie Bauman opened an antiquarian book store on the Strip a year ago, it seemed a daring move — even though the couple have been buying and selling rare and expensive books for more than 30 years.

Las Vegas tourists thrive on the flashy and ephemeral, not the historic and literary.

But cash flows easily through Las Vegas, and Bauman Rare Books in the Shoppes at the Palazzo is, in its own way, an attraction.

Where else in town can you flip through one of the oldest printed books, a 1493 edition of "Nuremberg Chronicle,” or see one of 250 copies of “Ulysses” that were autographed by both James Joyce and Henri Matisse — before their rift over the fact that Matisse illustrated the book based on Homer’s “Ulysses” rather than Joyce’s novel?

Bauman Rare Books also has reached out to the local culturati. In September the store hosted a cozy little private event for the Black Mountain Institute with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley reading to a cluster of fans. Last month it closed its doors for another private gathering: Nevada Ballet Theatre’s formal announcement of James Canfield as its new artistic director.

That doesn’t mean the book dealers are turning their backs on tourists clutching Eiffel Tower-shaped souvenir glasses or sipping margaritas-by-the-yard, though owner David Bauman says with a polite smile, “That’s a new thing for us.”

It only means that Bauman Rare Books is balancing itself on the line that separates Las Vegas the city, and Las Vegas the tourist attraction.

This mix of the nonprofit arts world and the Strip isn’t such an unusual relationship. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has the Modern Council, a local art-enthusiasts club for young professionals, and the now-defunct Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum had a similar program. High-profile nonprofit cultural institutions hold galas at Strip properties, and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts has past and present casino executives on its board. The Luxor gave $3 million in replica artifacts to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, earning philanthropist of the year honors for President and Chief Executive Felix Rappaport and a tax write-off for the casino.

It helps that Bauman Rare Books publicist Melissa Warren sits on the board of Nevada Ballet. The visit to Bauman gave ballet board members, dancers and patrons a chance to flip through a proof copy of the piano and vocal score of Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella,” complete with the composer’s notations, and look at items signed by Martha Graham and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

It’s all part of Bauman Rare Books’ mission to bring books to where the people are. The Philadelphia-based business also has a shop on Madison Avenue in New York.

Peter Michel, director of special collections at UNLV’s Lied Library, would like to see more specialized book stores in town, even if they are on the Strip. “If that’s the only place that can sustain a niche store like that, fine,” he says.

After all, the Special Collections’ reading room, which is free and open to the public, features the history of gaming and games that date back to the 16th century.

At Bauman Rare Books, you might not have $68,000 to plunk down for “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,” a first edition of the 1729 English translation of Sir Isaac Newton’s “Principia,” but you’re welcome to look at it. You can also check out a Dec. 16, 1795, newspaper that features George Washington’s State of the Union Address discussing progress with Indian tribes. A 36-star flag commemorating Nevada statehood hangs in the back room and there are plenty of first edition novels — some autographed — on the shelves, including Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love.”

The gallery also reflects pop culture. In conjunction with the release of the new James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” a first edition collection of Ian Fleming books was displayed.

You never know what you’ll come across.

“We’re totally undisciplined. We go into everything,” Bauman, a soft-spoken businessman, says with a smile.

That includes an original teletype detailing the events of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in real time and a letter from Edgar Allan Poe to an editor at Wiley & Putnam.

It also includes one of the finest examples of early publishing in “Nuremberg Chronicle.” The history of the world from creation through the 15th century sells for $150,000. It features more than 1,800 woodcut prints, including those reportedly made with the help of a young apprentice, Albrecht Durer, and maps of the earliest views of cities of the world.

It only adds to the charm that while you are paging through history, pop music such as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is piped through the speakers, courtesy of the Shoppes at the Palazzo — a humorous reminder that strange things happen in the Mojave Desert.

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