Hidden Treasures – Book Gallery

Book gallery

Several bookcases house the automotive collection on the floor with rare automotive books located in glass cases

It is not uncommon for car enthusiasts to collect books and most of them that I know are avid readers on a variety of subjects. Perhaps there is something about an appreciation for archaic automotive technology that also lends itself to a deep and abiding affection for the printed word. For as long as I can remember there have been two constants in my life – cars and books. A review of my library shows that my reading material reaches far beyond the realm of cars, with hundreds of books covering history (both maritime, military and otherwise), baseball, children’s literature, mysteries and aviation subjects. Whenever I have had to move, most of the boxes contained books and little else.


Volumes on Offenhauser and Miller are not typically found at used bookstores

While it’s hard to add to an automotive collection for reasons of space and money, a book collection is something that can always stand to be added to in increments that can be stashed in almost any available space. During our travels around the country we constantly find ourselves seeking out used book stores in search of that rare or forgotten book to add to an ever growing library. Most of the time we have to content ourselves with finding one or two gems hidden away on the shelves but recently on a visit to Phoenix for the Copperstate 1000 we found more than we could ever have hoped for.


A smattering of the books on British marques

The Book Gallery – with two stores in the Valley of the Sun located in Mesa and Phoenix – is unique among the ranks of fine and rare book shops in that there is depth behind the spectacular breadth on offer. Any particular section – whether it’s automotive, aviation, fiction or history – would make a speciality store blush. All sections contain hundreds of hard to find volumes (most in impeccable condition) and we were particularly struck by the automotive sections in the two stores. Close to 1000 automotive titles comprise the section and the examples on hand are compelling. Both stores harken back to another age, where well organized books rest on wooden shelves or in glass cases. The man behind the counter isn’t a kid that has heard of books, but never read them and the atmosphere is conducive to spending hours and hours at thumbing through the collection.

Rather than the handful of prosaic offerings that are found at most book stores, there were hundreds of titles on the great marques as well as technical manuals and stories about the great men and races of the past. Expectedly, manufacturers like Porsche and Ferrari are well represented, but the selection also covers British cars with greater depth than even most dedicated automotive bookstores with several volumes on Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Jensen, Jaguar, MG, Riley, Sunbeam and Triumph. There was even a five book set on British cars through the 30s to the 50s that I had never seen before.

MG, Triumph and Healey, but Riley too?

MG, Triumph and Healey, but Riley too?

Do you need an original factory manual for the TR2? The Book Gallery has it. A German publication on the TR4 or Big Healey? Of course, they have those too. Unlike most used bookstores, the rare automotive book collection is even more impressive than what can be found on the shelves with incredibly rare and limited production volumes that would be the crown jewel in a personal library. What makes the store even more interesting is that proprietor Mike Riley is an anachronism for a world taught to believe that books are best purchased on the internet. Strikingly, none of the books for sale are offered on the internet which forces the book lover to come in and peruse the shelves (like we all used to do) preserving the thrill of finding things by chance and favor. The staff on hand is incredibly well versed in all subjects and if something is not on hand they endeavor to find it for you.

Ferrari is well represented as expected

Ferrari is well represented as expected

It speaks volumes that during a hectic week amidst several Copperstate related events I visited the two stores on four separate occasions and spent hours looking at the books – the military history and aviation sections are fantastic – and talking about books with the staff. I have long been a proponent of Powell’s in Portland – a selection of good books and great prices – but the Book Gallery is my new favorite book store. The chance to see books that I have heard about but never seen in person is a thrill matched only by looking at the pages inside. It’s worth braving the heat of the Arizona climate to make the special trip to see what happens to be on the shelves on any particular day and the rare book section is a special treat.

If it sounds like we’re fans, we are. This is the book store we all hope to find on our travels and it makes Phoenix a destination for the hardcore book enthusiast. Mike Riley is a throwback to the days before Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Half Price Books, when a bookseller was a friend and confidant who enjoyed the task of finding the books you wanted almost as much as you enjoyed reading them.

Some of the titles in the stacks

Some of the titles in the stacks

We can hardly be more effusive in our praise of this hidden gem in Arizona and are awed by the incredible range of the volumes offered. We typically are grateful to find a shelf devoted to car books in this day and age but to find several bookcases devoted to our favorite topic makes us giddy beyond belief. We were further gratified to find that the military and aviation sections – which we are equally interested in – was also as broad with the entire Osprey Series available and rare airplane books on display that we had never seen. A great place filled with an even greater selection of books.

Book Gallery (Phoenix)  – 3643 East Indian School Road, Phoenix 85018 (602) 508-0280

Book Gallery (Mesa) – 50 West Main Street, Mesa 85201 (480) 835-0757






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