I discovered Baldwin’s Book Barn on the Internet. The enchanting stone barn has been home to a used-book store for over 80 years. The present owner’s father founded the business in 1934.
I’m always on the lookout for unique and unusual places to visit, especially places that will momentarily transport me back in time. And when it’s a combination of old books in an old barn, that’s almost 200 hundred years old, it’s even better.
Getting lost in old book stores, anywhere, has always been a favorite pastime. Sadly, they’re disappearing.
On Friday, I drove over to the Brandywine Valley to take a peek inside the old barn and hunt for a good bargain on a used book.
I turned onto the country-like road where the barn is located (Route 52). From photos on their website, I thought the stone barn would be set back far from the road but it’s actually fairly close to the road. Drivers can’t miss it as they go by. There’s a large wood sign at the entrance with a tagline: Books Bought & Sold.
I parked in front of the barn where the entrance is located.
I stepped into a cozy and warm room heated with a black wood-burning stove. A black cat with yellow eyes was dozing among used books piled on a table and an employee was reading something nearby.
He said, “Hello, have you been here before?” I said, “No, I actually found out about it on Instagram.” He replied, “We have 5 floors of books.” He then pointed and said, “Over there on the table is a map of the rooms and book topics.” As I walked over I noticed that behind the counter, lining the back wall, were shelves of leather-bound books. I said, “It looks like this is the room with the antique books.”
I turned around and saw a glass case with several old L. Frank Baum Books (author of the OZ series). It turns out I have L. Frank Baum books that I would like to sell.
I said, ” Oh, I wanted to ask if you buy books, I have a few I want to sell? He replied, “No, we’re just selling now.” I thought maybe he thinks I’m talking about common paperbacks readily available for 50 cents at a flea market or yard sale. I walked over to the glass case and said, “The books I have are L. Frank Baum books, a couple MIGHT be first editions, but I’m not totally sure. They were published around 1918. Is that a first edition in your case?” He said, “Yes, that one is.” I continued, “The other books that I have are not first editions and look more like the one on top of your case.” He replied, “Yes, they’re the later printings.” He added that first editions are expensive.
He didn’t say anything more; it was obvious there wasn’t any interest and it was time for me to move on and begin exploring the old barn and old books.
I stepped up and into a cove area with books on the left about the history of Chester County. I paused for several minutes and picked up a book about the history on Old Eagle School (I wrote about the historic revolutionary-era school awhile back). I would have bought it but it was too pricey for a used book.
I then passed the rickety wood staircase and hung a right into a room with bookcases filled with tons of garden books. I immediately saw about six books I would have bought but they weren’t used-book/price-friendly. Most of the 1980s and early ’90s published books that I looked at were priced at $10 each or slightly higher. I thought I could get the same used book on Amazon for far less (including shipping.)
I wandered into an adjacent smaller room dedicated to military books and then went back out into the cove area. At the end of the cove I saw an entrance into another room.
I stepped down and into a room furnished with antiques with walls at least 16″ deep.
I walked over to the south side of the room and took this photo showing the exposed ceiling beams. A small window with a very deep windowsill was across the room. (The doorway to the right led to a room that appeared to be a kitchen and “off limits.”) From what I gathered from various articles, the owner lives in a section of the barn.
I’m assuming that beneath the masonry finish is stone like the exterior.
I went back out into the cove and ascended the old staircase that creaked with each step.
Upstairs, I found a bright room with rows of bookcases. In a matter of a couple of minutes I found several books I wanted. A few books didn’t have prices. I suppose with the colossal amount of stocked books that some probably just get shelved without a price. I also noticed some books had price stickers left on them from a previous used bookstore, yet the new penciled-in price was higher.
I selected four books for a total of $33.00.
I purchased: John Adams by David McCullough ($10), Triumph in Paris ($6)-sticker on front is from another bookstore and says $3.98, Franklin of Philadelphia ($7), and 1215 The Year of Magna Carter ($10).
Of course, I knew all these books are sold used on Amazon and I thought I should just order them online where they’ll be much cheaper. I could have looked up the books on my iPhone right then and there but I didn’t. In fact I momentarily had a brain freeze and didn’t even think to price shop. I was pulling out the phone to take photos of the barn, not to find online bargains.
While I was in the barn, I saw five customers; they browsed, they looked, opened books and left without making a purchase.
I waited until this morning to see how much each one of the books is sold for on Amazon.
Each one is priced at ONE CENT plus $3.96 in shipping. I could have gotten all four books shipped directly to my door for only $16.00–more than half the price that I was charged at the used book store.
Remember when you could find a bargain at a used bookstore?
I read a New York Times article published 7 years ago about Baldwin’s Book Barn. At that time, a buyer offered 3.5 million for the 5.5-acre property and then reneged. I’m not sure if it’s still on the market.