Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with David Anthem of The Andalusia Bookman in Philadelphia.
How did you get started in rare books?
I think it all started as a drooling infant surrounded by my theologian father's library; continued as a high schooler skipping school and heading to the public library; and culminated in adulthood via the typical channels: collecting; librarianship; scholarship (in the loosest most dilettantish sense of the word). My break came during my second buying trip to Andalusia Books, the best unknown book house in the Philadelphia area, when I insidiously strong-armed my way into a job. I convinced veteran and redoubtable bookman, Dave Miller, that people were still indeed buying books and we set to work dusting off the 60,000+ tomes ensconced in every room in his house. That was nearly two and a half years ago and I've been living and breathing rare books ever since. I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar last summer, which further solidified my love for the trade and my determination to make a go of this bookselling thing.
Do you still work for The Andalusia Bookman? Or have you branched off on your own?
I imagine myself always working for Andalusia Books in one way or another. Dave has become a trusted friend and an invaluable mentor and even though I'm slowly concentrating more on building up my own stock, I'll hopefully always have a hand in Andalusia. That said, I have begun to take my dream of metamorphosing into D. Anthem, Bookseller (or whatever pretentious moniker I choose to employ), more seriously. But, right now I'm a full-time librarian, I co-own a vegan coffee house, and I'm moonlighting for Andalusia, so I'm usually cataloging books for myself at work or when I'm supposed to be sleeping. I have been selling books online for the last couple of years, engaged in that whole passive bookselling model, but I'm slowly learning and trying to implement what's made others successful.
What is your role at Andalusia? What do you specialize in with your own bookselling?
It's a two man operation, so I do a little bit of everything, although cataloging is where I shine. But institutional quotes, auction and house calls, packaging and shipping, online selling, forgetting to call customers back, eating Dave's Grape Nuts, semi-maintaining a blog
, I'm down for the whole game. Andalusia is a generalist shop, but we have robust collections of occult, erotica, modern lit., poetry, art, etc. I personally specialize in radical social movements ala Lorne Bair and Bolerium, although I concentrate mainly on anarchism. I also go in for a bit of fine press and have begun dabbling in finely cultivated miscellany ala Garrett Scott. I've got future plans for building some very specialized collections, but I'll keep those under wraps for now.
What do you love about the book trade?
You know what I love about the book trade? Everything. The history, the mythology, the mysteries to solve, the forlorn volumes to save, the ineffable transcendence of delving into the past of a book that's not in OCLC. I love everything about the rare book trade. I want Walter Goldwater and Leon Kramer's stock, E.P. Goldschmidt's scholarly precision (and work schedule), and Rosenbach's nerve (I unfortunately have his hair, or lack of it). If I can wax personal and maudlin for a moment, I've gone through some pretty tough personal crises lately and when suicide seems like a dramatic yet welcome escape, I only have to walk around Oak Knoll for an hour, sit down with a cup of tea and a Lorne Bair catalog, scout some forgotten shop, finger the books in my own collection, or sneeze into a box of ephemera to realize that this beats the hell out of the mundaneness of death. So what do I love about the rare book trade? I love it for saving my life.
The collegiality is tear-inducing. CABS blew me away. The dealers who gave so freely of their time, experience and knowledge to foster the development of youngish booksellers like myself. And when Kevin Johnson of Royal Books got choked up at the final dinner... That's real, man. I love all of these vessels of knowledge that find themselves cherished by someone and then passed on through our hands to be cherished by someone else. Touching a leaf printed by William Morris, a piece of handmade paper by Dard Hunter, a Grolier binding, the bookplate of some rich guy who possessed the mania. It stirs my soul.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?
I have a few answers to this question. Back in March when I walked into the Washington fair, Lorne grabbed me and said, "I've got something to show you." He took me over to a dealer I wasn't familiar with, White Fox Rare Books, and I believe it was the proprietor Peter Blackman who placed a copy of an early Joseph Ishill publication, Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol in my hand. I had never encountered this particular title before. It was the first book that Ishill printed and included an introduction by the ribald Frank Harris, author of the Casanovaesque memoir, My Life and Loves. It was his copy, signed by him, and although it was the most money I'd ever paid for a book, I certainly wasn't driving back to Philadelphia without it. It's now the high spot of my own collection. I can't fail to mention browsing the shelves of Rosenbach's study at the Rosenbach Museum here in Philadelphia and touching the Bay Psalm book, a Shakespeare First Folio, the Eliot Bible, etc. For me those experiences personify what Virginia Woolf called the "perfection of the moment" in Orlando, and I try to experience as many singular moments of perfection with individual books as I can. I remember perusing the shelves of Barbara Farnsworth's beautiful shop in CT last summer and coming across a book on William Morris with private press operator and chronicler Will Ransom's library ticket in the back and a note that said it had been given to him by the typographer Frederick Goudy. Who in their right mind saw that before me and left it on the shelf for me to buy?? God bless 'em. Likewise, I recently purchased a book from the inestimable Eugene Povirk of Southpaw Books on anarchism with the bookplate of Leon Malmed. Leon who? Leon Malmed! An Albany delicatessen owner who had an affair with Emma Goldman. Gold, man. This trade offers up pure gold.
What do you personally collect?
I'm an unapologetic and inveterate collector, which means I'll probably never be a great dealer. I have what is probably the largest private collection of Oriole Press titles, the imprint of the anarchist and indefatigable printer, Joseph Ishill. I'm currently working on a biography of the man and I get to pretend like I'm buying all of his work for "research" not for the intoxicating fetishistic qualities they possess. I collect books by and about William Morris (although I only have one Kelmscott), and a little Ruskin too; books by and about back-to-the-land pioneers Scott and Helen Nearing; I have a large collection of 19th and 20th century books on anarchism; I have nearly every book published by graphic designers and publisher, Fuel Publishing. I think I can personally blame you, Nate, for my growing collection of Scarlet Imprint and Three Hands Press titles; I collect books that have to do with the straight edge subculture; and of course books on books.
I hear that you have many tattoos. Any bookish ones?
My tattoos are diaristic and represent certain time periods, ideologies, or artistic interests. I have just begun a bibliophilic tattoo phase, which I imagine will probably last for the next couple of years. I've started documenting the Philadelphia-area authors who I love the most with their portraits on my thigh: right now I have Poe, Whitman, and a third little known writer named George Lippard is in the works.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
Maybe it's my relative youth (read naivete) or my lack of years in the trade, but I've never bought into the doomsday predictions of other dealers or pundits. The physical book is not going away; our history and culture will never be solely represented by 1s and 0s. As an anarchist and a wanna be bookseller I have to be an optimist. As a semi-Luddite I have the luxury of despising much of the technological advances that have unfortunately enabled the trade to move forward (this goes for my beloved libraries too), and I accept its role in our world. But I'll never take a PDF of the latest Philip Pirages catalog to the bathroom or enjoy the sublimity of a grassy field with a Kindle, and I'd venture to guess that there's a lot of other folks who feel the same. We're selling more books at Andalusia than we've ever sold. I'm not saying that the trade hasn't had to subscribe to some kind of Darwinian adaptability, but so what? We are the purveyors of history, culture and art, and there will always be a role for us. I sat at CABS and felt the palpable excitement that pervaded the classes, the field trips, and the interactions. The CABS '12 Picnic Table Crew is crushing it: Heather O'Donnell; Philipp Penka; Jason Rovito; Travis Low; Seth Glick; Lesley Rains; Erin Barry-Dutro. Come on.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
We're not presenting at any upcoming fairs, but Dave and I are hard at work on an erotica catalog and I'm working on one of my own material called "White Power, Black Power, and Power to the People." And look for a specially-designed catalog on Satan later this year. Hit me up at email@example.com if you want to receive any of these catalogs when they're out.
Shout outs to The Church of the Brotherhood of the Paradise Children, Lorne Bair, mentor and colleague, Dave Miller, CABS crew, god (Odin), the ALF, Nicholas Basbanes, who I've never met but who writes so inspiringly about books, Voltairine de Cleyre, and you for the interview on this wonderful, invaluable blog.