One of Oxford’s most famous stores has expanded for a third time, including an even more niche market.
Rare Square Books opened its doors in the rooms above Square Books Jr., the same space Square Books called home from 1979 to 1986. The opening of the new store marked the business’s 40th anniversary.
Richard Howorth, one of the owners of Oxford’s literary empire Square Books, said that his plan to enter this particularly lucrative market – rare and antique books – has been a long time coming.
It all started when attorney Kenneth Coghlan, whose law practice previously inhabited the space Rare Books now occupies, told Howorth he was leaving Oxford. The opening of the space allowed Howorth the room to start his fourth business on the square.
Howorth has always had bookshelves filled with antique and unique books, both in his home and office. But he had a vision for those books. He said he wanted a central location to house all of the books he has accumulated over the years, where collectors, students and patrons alike could come together to admire them.
“I always kind of had this collection and sold them, but it was always a sideline,” Howorth said. “People would kind of look in my office, but they wouldn’t want to go in there because it was not very welcoming. I would always tell people, ‘Come look at these and help yourself.’”
The Rare Square Books inventory will be wide-ranging, featuring collectible, vintage, signed, out-of-print, first edition and unique books and by authors from the South and Mississippi.
Since its opening in 1979, Square Books has placed an emphasis on these types of books. Many of the books in the store have previously been showcased at different Square Books locations on the Square. As of September 14, they now have a home of their own.
The collection of books will be priced on appraisal, determined by age, edition and condition. Howorth explained that most of the store’s inventory will be placed on shelves, so customers may interact with them. However, there is an area of the store where particularly ‘rare’ books are locked in cabinets to protect their covers and pages from human touch.
“It’s quite different from the other book business that I’m in,” Howorth said. “Every item is unique. You’re not buying 10 or 20 or 100 copies from the publisher and getting them all in a box one day and scanning them and getting them in the system and getting them on the floor. Every book has to be described and appraised and priced.”
Working alongside Howorth is his son, Beckett, who attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar at Colorado College. Beckett brings an invaluable skill to his father’s business; his education included understanding pricing of antique books, knowing what to look for when appraising them and becoming fluent in unique aspects of books.
“It’s more about books as a physical object than anything to do with literature,” Beckett said. “That was an interesting aspect for me. I’ve been selling literature my whole life and now it’s a little different. The fact that a book is more than the literature within it. It’s got history. It’s got a story to tell.”
There has been much interest in the store since it has opened; several Oxford families have donated their personal libraries to the store. Howorth added that supporting local business and community is very important to his family and business. The business’s plan is to support local communities by donating up to half of the proceeds from selected libraries of each book donor’s choice.
Over forty years, Howorth has meticulously crafted the Square books brand, capturing the market for bookstores in Oxford and making literature relatable to a town composed predominantly of college students. But after four decades, books still remain at the core of the square books mission.
“I often say the book remains one of humankind’s greatest inventions, like the bicycle or the sailboat,” Howorth said.