Bright Young Booksellers: Zoe Abrams (Revisited)
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Zoe Abrams (formerly Zoe Mindell) who has opened up her own rare book business after working for The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company. We profiled Zoe back when she worked for PRBM. Today, we check in with her again to see how the new business is coming along:
Please introduce us to your new shop. What does Zoe Abrams Rare Books specialize in?
ZARB is a sole-proprietor shop based in Center City, Philadelphia, specializing in social history, especially as it relates to women. My inventory includes books and manuscripts from the 16th to 20th century concerning etiquette, education, domestic science, cookery, fashion, theater, and related subjects. Many of my books have contemporary annotations or hybrid qualities that distinguish them as unique objects.
Remind us of your background in rare books:
I was introduced to the world of rare books through the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. During and after college I did internships at a few lovely libraries and auction houses, including the Book Department at Christie's London. After that I moved to Philadelphia to work for Bruce McKittrick and PRBM, then to NYC to work for Ursus Books. Last year my husband's sabbatical sent us to Paris. It was the perfect opportunity, in one of the best book cities in the world, to launch my own business.
How has the transition been from employee to shop owner?
Very smooth! My work experience has helped immensely and I'm grateful to friends and former colleagues in the trade for their encouragement and readiness to advise. I took the CABS course last summer to boost my business savvy and highly recommend it to everyone. There are still a few things I'm learning: anyone have good tax advice?
Favorite book that's crossed your door at Zoe Abrams Rare Books?
One that I love is also one of the oddest: the author's copy of Napoleon et la Superstition (1946), so filled with clippings, photographs, and manuscript notes that it was expanded from one volume to two. The author, Georges Mauguin (1881-1961), was editor in chief of the Revue de l'Institut Napoléon. He spent about ten years compiling and arranging the documents, judging by their dates. The contents comprise personal matter, like the funeral announcement for his wife (juxtaposed with a facsimile letter from Napoleon to Josephine on the facing page), as well as emblematic ephemera like business cards for psychics. He was obsessed with Napoleon and occultism and finding a relationship there.
Describe a typical day for you:
Not too much has changed since I wrote about it on my blog last year. I still start my day with coffee from a French press, although my croissant is now a muffin. Then I get straight to cataloguing and photography to take advantage of morning light. Throughout the day I communicate with clients by email and phone and check dealer catalogues and auction listings as they arrive.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I'm alone most of the day so when I have free time I try to get outside and talk to people! I often go to flea markets, movies, chamber music concerts, and author talks. Recently I started scrapbooking to preserve the souvenirs from my travels.
Still actively collecting on a personal level? What are your collecting interests these days?
I wouldn't call it "active" collecting but I pick up things here and there, like vintage glassware and clothes. Book hunting is still one of my favorite activities.
Are you participating in any upcoming fairs? Have any catalogues on the way?
I've done five lists so far, all posted on my website. Perhaps I'll do a bigger catalogue someday, but right now I find the shorter format effective. No definitive plans yet for fairs, but I am considering a shadow show or two in the spring.Image Courtesy of Zoe Abrams.