Get a feel of rare, vintage collections

Tucked away in rows of 1930s-built Spanish-style villas is one of the city's smallest bookstores, A Gang Study.
Li Qian / SHINE

A Gang Study

TUCKED away in rows of 1930s-built Spanish-style villas is one of the city’s smallest bookstores, A Gang Study.

The bookstore has extraordinary collection of rare Western books, first editions and even signed copies of famous writers. The owner, A Gang, is a book collector and trader and opened the 7-square-meter store near Jing’an Temple in January.

Unlike many other book venues that add in-shop cafes or sell artworks to attract people, A Gang just wanted a “pure” bookstore.

“I hope to create a private place for literary aficionados instead of a fancy hangout decorated with books, where people just come to take selfie and have coffee,” he said.

A Gang is obsessed with all things old, from vintage furniture to historical archives. He went to study in Britain in 2002 and got into the habit of collecting antiquarian publications. His collections became a “heavy burden” when he decided to return home in 2006. So he opened an online store, and unexpectedly, it proved popular.

“It struck me then that it made sense to become a professional bookseller,” he said. “It seems like books changed my life.”

While other individual booksellers are losing money, A Gang has loyal customers. But he wanted a “real” place for the books.

“You have to really touch the rare books to feel their quality,” he said.

Rare books are not second-hand books. In many cases, they are limited editions with leather covers and man-made papers with fine illustrations and artistic fonts.

“My favorite is Western rare books with illustrations. Illustrators add colors on black-and-white pictures printed on the books. It’s very time-consuming.

“So there are just few copies in the world, and they are so valuable,” A Gang said.

Li Qian / SHINE

Some of the rare books displayed at the 7-square-meter A Gang Study bookstore in Shanghai.

Li Qian / SHINE

“Maskee: A Shanghai Sketchbook,” a limited edition signed by renowned illustrator Friedrich Schiff, a Jewish refugee who lived in Shanghai in the 1930s. 

One of the books in his collection is “Maskee: A Shanghai Sketchbook,” a limited edition signed by renowned illustrator Friedrich Schiff, a Jewish refugee who lived in Shanghai in the 1930s. The brocade cover of the book was designed with traditional Chinese elements like bamboo. It contains 30 illustrations of the city including shanghai ladies, American soldiers, child beggars — a perfect period piece.

There is another book, the first edition of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H.Lawrence. In 1928, Lawrence published 1,000 copies privately in Italy because it was banned by the conservative British ruler for its explicit descriptions of sex and relationships between different classes.

It was not until 1960 that Penguin Books won the case to publish the book in Britain. It was a major breakthrough in the literary world.

The most expensive one is the rare edition of “The Golden Legend” written in the 13th century. A Gang holds a copy published by William Morris at the end of the 1800s.

“You may not find a second copy anywhere in the world with illustrations featuring woodcut prints and designed by Edward Burne-Jones,” A Gang said. “Actually, I just can’t estimate its price. It’s invaluable.”

Other prized collections include original photos of writers like Victor Hugo of France and signed letters and autographs of British writer W. Somerset Maugham. They are preserved in three vintage cabinets — one made in the 1880s in France and two others in Britain in the early 1900s. A Gang believes vintage furniture is perfect for his collection.

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