Jan Riker, one of the owners of Basset Books, has no problem explaining the appeal of what she sells.
"I love knowing that I'm holding something that people held for centuries and read for centuries," she said, a 1725 edition of Ovid's The Art of Love in her hands.
The book, an English translation of the Roman poet's work, discusses how to capture and keep a lover. "Perfect for Valentine's Day," Riker noted.
With a price tag of $450, the small, leather-bound book is far from the most valuable item in the store. Basset Books, in Savage Mill, has a copy of Profiles in Courage -- signed by John F. Kennedy -- which is valued at $2,500, and a two-volume history of Westminster Abbey, also valued at $2,500.
One of the most expensive books in the store is called East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is valued at $3,000. Printed in 1914, it isn't the oldest in the store. But it is valuable because of the sumptuous illustrations by Kay Nielsen.
The average book buyer need not be intimidated -- not all books for sale at Basset are as valuable, or as old. In fact, most of what is sold in the sunny, spacious shop are children's books and military books, said Geoff Gibson, a partner at the store.
Basset Books was founded by Riker and her husband, Dan, who opened a store in Columbia's Snowden Square in 1998. Gibson joined about a year ago in May, and they moved the store to Savage Mill.
The Rikers have always shared a love of books. Jan, whose mother was a teacher, said she preferred books to toys even as a young child. "I just wanted to be surrounded by books," she said.
Before Basset Books opened, Jan was a lawyer and Dan had been a journalist for United Press International and an executive with MCI.
For years, they had been buying and selling books on the Internet. Finally, they decided their house was too crowded with books and they needed to open a store. Dan Riker also noted that a store would give them more interaction with the public.
The Rikers said that their Savage Mill location draws more browsers and seems a better fit than the Columbia shopping center.
Though the new location is not larger, it has more walk-by traffic, Dan Riker said. Customers are more likely to be browsing for unusual items, rather than something specific, he said, because Savage Mill has so many arts and antiques stores.
Gibson said he worked in a large used-book store in Pennsylvania for about 10 years. For more than 20 years, he was a salesman for HarperCollins, selling to independent bookstores in the Baltimore-Washington region.
In that job, one of his responsibilities was to bring authors to book-signings.
He met the Rikers when he brought Tony Hillerman to a book-signing at the National Press Club in Washington. It turned out that Dan Riker was a huge Hillerman fan. In fact, Riker said, Hillerman and John LeCarre books are the only ones that he collects but refuses to sell.
An avid collector himself, Gibson became a devoted customer of Basset Books before joining the business.
The bookstore, named for the Rikers' dog, has books arranged by category, with a children's book section, a military section, a history section and a section toward the front devoted to the most valuable works.
The owners buy books from private collectors and at auctions. People stop by with books to sell. "When you have an established store, people come in," Gibson noted.
The bookstore also appraises books, and the three owners explained that books are not valuable just because they are old. "A book's value is dependent on so many factors," said Jan Riker. These include the book's significance, its rarity, the demand for it and its condition.
The bookstore owners have to know a lot about a lot to do what they do. They must be versed in literature, history and art, as well as techniques of printing, paper quality and more.
They guarantee signatures on books that are signed, meaning they do the detective work to determine whether the signatures are authentic. (For a presidential signature, that means guaranteeing the signature didn't come from an automatic pen or a secretary.)
Their knowledge has been accumulated through years of collecting and loving books. For people who enjoy visiting bookstores, what can be better than having one of your own?
"It's like a museum, except you can buy the items," Gibson said.