Kitchen Arts & Letters is a throwback to the days of bookstores where you could easily while away hours browsing and come out with armfuls of books, in this case, cookbooks, both usual and rare.
One of my friends believed you always had to buy more than one pair of shoes at a time and I always felt the same way about books.
Back in the day, you’d wander into a bookstore and before you were done, there was always more than one book in the bag.
If you apply that logic, Kitchen Arts & Letters is a very dangerous place. They specialize in cookbooks and have been around for decades, so it’s exactly that fantasy cookbook store of your imagination, come to life (and ready to accept any forms of payment). Packed to the rafters with any sort of cookbook you need, or suddenly discover you can’t live without.
Recently I got to know the owner, Nach Wachman through a series of emails, while I was trying to downsize miles of cookbooks before a move.
I snapped some photos of the books I have and sent them to him. He wasn’t interested in most of them, which I figured, but in subsequent emails, he thought he might have interest in 3 others. I dropped them off in the store (and was incredibly well restrained—no dawdling, no browsing).
A few days later, I got what has to have been the nicest letter of rejection—or in this 21st century case, an email, saying that sadly Kitchen Arts & Letters found my books to be of little monetary value.
Please understand that I didn’t think a handful of books would be funding our move to France—paying for a coffee and croissant or two was more what I was hoping for.
Here with some edits is the email he sent me:
“Oh, dear, I feel awful about this. Usually a back-and-forth of the sort we’ve been carrying on works out pretty well. You send a list, we pick some likely prospects, we see the books, and we send you a check. I’m afraid that in this case it simply didn’t much work out.
First, the Fannie Farmer: It turns out that what you had was not, in fact, the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook but another book Farmer published in 1912 entitled The New Book of Cookery, which she referred to as “a sequel” to the Boston. That one, available only until a last printing in 1917, was kind of a bust and has practically no market even now.
And the Bugialli, while in very nice condition, is not signed but what is known as “inscribed,” that is written to a particular individual. Inscriptions can be lovely and personal, but to a collector they are of relatively little value–unless the inscription itself had special appeal–say Julia Child sending a copy of one of her books to James Beard. Yours is sweet and quirky, but unless we could find a customer named “Anne,” not too salable.
This is dreadful–books you have owned, books you like, and someone comes along and stomps on them the way they might kick a puppy. I think that under the circumstances, I should simply return the books to you with genuine regret and no small portion of embarrassment. I am dreadfully sorry that I put you through all that bother and sorry, too, that that we couldn’t find books we could use. I surely wish it were otherwise.”
Now if there are any cookbooks to be added to my (pared to the bare bones) inventory, I’m bypassing “Buy now with 1 click” and supporting a small business with a big heart.