feldstein1 400 121918Howard Feldstein hefts an antiquarian volume at his store, Arlington Cambridge Books. / Bob Sprague photo

Remember when there was a bookstore where Artbeat is now? How about the one in the Ready, Set, Kids! space, across from Play Time?

The man behind those shops has returned. Howard M. Feldstein has opened Arlington Cambridge Books, at 348 Mass. Ave., East Arlington location of the former Terra Nostra, a shop that closed more than a year ago, near Edible Arrangements.

It's a slow-motion opening. Hours are noon to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. "Roughly," the 69-year-old adds with a smile.

In an interview, he said he is continuing to open the shop slowly after coming back to town in mid-October. The ability to take credit-card payments is on the way, and he asked that the public call first when it snows, as he must commute from his home in Winthrop. The number is 617-643-2500.

Take a step inside the cramped spot, with room for 3,000 books, but now holding about 1,000. What do you find?

In a modern age, room for the rare

No best sellers here. The volumes reflect Feldstein's visits to home libraries throughout New England -- and also in Arlington, where Harvard and MIT professors live.

"Antiquarian" is the word.

In 2006, five years after leaving Arlington, he closed his downtown Boston shop, Antiquarian Books of Boston, at the location of the former Goodspeed's, at Milk and Washington streets. Since then, Feldstein has been selling old, hard-to-get books wholesale online via AbeBooks, under the heading of his former Boston store.

As we spoke about boxes received that day, one had just been opened to reveal books about Russian art, collected from a teacher at Harvard. Serendipity: In from the gray, Sunday chill walked a customer seeking just such books. A Wyman Terrace resident who is involved in art arrived with a dog, shy at first, but, once inside, was curious about everything.

"You have really cool books," she said, enthusiastically, setting aside a small pile for later pickup.

The shelves embrace an academic potpourri. Open a tome on religion, and see where it came from, Andover Newton Theological Seminary. Other subjects: medieval and military history as well as law. Some are from Franklin Press, publisher of legal classics, including Blackstone's commentaries

Finding love between the book covers

Asked why he loves books, he expressed amazement with abbreviated immediacy: "What you learn!" Libraries and book shops are adventures, "I love going through the stacks."

His mother, Edith, was from England. When he was young, every two years, his family would spend six months at his grandmother's home in London.

His grandmother was a collector with "a good taste in books," and he remembers the home had a "dusty library," which led out to garden. Like a "childhood dream," he called that time in his life.

"I read everything," he said, citing in particular nautical history. The pages of the Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester washed over his youth in waves. (Such fans today might follow the works of Patrick O'Brian). 

Howard's grandfather had a role, too. In the export business, he received piles of letters from foreign nations, each with stamps. For Feldstein, they engendered a love of places and history.

At age 17, we went to Boston University, taking accounting and geology. Afterward, he worked in and took over his father's fabric store, General Textile, in downtown Boston. Howard diversified the product line to his liking, into books.

Perhaps 1 million purchased

In the 40 or so years since, Feldstein estimates he may have bought as many 1 million books, with a number of collections in the 20,000- to 50,000-volume range.

"When it comes to sales, I don't have the faintest idea," he said. "Many books never sell, and end up getting donated."

Each library acquired has tales to tell.

Acquisitions include reprints of some of Galileo's works as well as an original edition was the three-volume Principia Mathematica by A. N. Whitehead and philosopher Bertrand Russell. That occurred about six weeks ago, and it sold within a week.

"Not a first edition," he is quick to add, "but it was a very clean bright set."

A professor at MIT who lived in Brookline had a library of 20,000 volumes, which "took one year to unload." The books, on second and third floors, had to be removed box by box.

Remarkable find, foolish binder's error

The classic 1665 volume Micrographia, by Robert Hooke, included remarkable engravings viewed through a microscope, showing amazing detail of minute subjects.

Feldstein acquired it as part of a private library, one he was able to take time and research before making an offer. "If the book had been in very good condition, it would be worth about $100,000," he said.

But that was not to be. He said he collated the book, making sure all pages and engravings were present and in good condition. It had been rebound perhaps in the early 1900s.

He found the bookbinder had neglected to make sure he was binding the engravings by their blank margins (many were fold-outs). Two of the most important engravings are the images of a flea and of a louse. Brace yourself and see the flea engraving >> 

The bookbinder stitched the binding right through the middle of these two engravings, permanently damaging them. "This is an excellent example of how a $100,000 book can be turned into a $9,000 book, which is the price it sold for," he said.

A beekeeper bought it.

If you stop by, and Howard is not in, at the desk may be Scott Smith, an Arlington resident. The latter has long been active in the Boston used-book scene, and Feldstein has known him for many years. His father, Hedrick Smith, is the author of The Russians, and a former New York Times reporter.  

New Antiquarian, Nov. 14, 2014: Changes: The Boston Bookstore Scene

 This news summary was published Wednesday, July 25, 2018, and updated Dec. 19.