Jesse Rossa of Triolet Books: Bright Young Booksellers

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jesse Rossa, proprietor of Triolet Rare Books in Glendale, California:

Courtesy of Jesse Rossa

Jesse Rossa

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JR: My path through the book world has been circuitous. While in retrospect it seems inevitable that I'd wind up on my own as a dealer that was not always the plan. As a kid I was a reader but more importantly a book lover, fussing with the arrangement of the books on my shelf. In college I studied printmaking, and did a tutorial with Leonard Baskin, but he and I talked about crows and intaglio and anatomy, not books. It wasn't until 1996, when I met the bookbinder David Bourbeau, that I became fully immersed in the rare books world. During my two-year apprenticeship with David I learned binding and preservation techniques, and absorbed everything I could about hand-made books, letterpress printing, book people and bookmaking. My experience at the bindery led me to pursue a career as a special collections librarian, and I went on to get an MLIS at UCLA.

While in graduate school I worked at Heritage Book Shop, which gave me the chance to handle and sell some of the highest-end books on the market. After working in several libraries in Los Angeles, I landed a job in the Special Collections Department at the University of Delaware Library in 2004. In addition to acquisitions and reference, I curated exhibits, including one on Ezra Pound for which I wrote a catalogue. A long-distance relationship led me to return to Los Angeles in 2010, where I worked for a photo-book dealer for a year before going out on my own.

NP: When did you open Triolet?

JR: Triolet was set up in the summer of 2011. My focus is nineteenth and twentieth century literature, but I also deal in photography, film, fine press, and art books, and I am open to anything interesting that comes along.

NP: As someone who has worked on both sides of the rare book spectrum, (librarian and dealer), do you have any thoughts to share on the divide?

JR: In 2005 I was asked to be on a panel at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association pre-conference called "Going Over to the Dark Side," which brought together current dealers with librarians who had worked in the trade. The joke was that each side thought the other was the "dark side." There has long been suspicion on both sides. I think the most important thing is that the dealer and the librarian, once established as colleagues (because that's what they are), can mutually benefit from their association. Once collecting areas are defined the dealer can provide what you could call curatorial outsourcing--helping librarians build on existing collections or develop new ones. I am very interested in bridging the divide.

I'm at the point in my career where I want to cultivate relationships. I'm thrilled to scout for certain things and work on building collections. It's not just about making a sale. Budget cuts have arisen in the past several years, of course, and the days of the 1950s and 1960s when Larry Powell and others were building huge and magnificent collections in American institutions are over. With smaller budgets, and so much material being held already, collecting interests will expand and diversify in creative and unexpected ways. And as more and more information is available digitally, primary source material will be all the more special, and libraries will continue to serve as repositories and destinations for the rare and unique.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you've handled?

JR: I'm always most excited by whatever it is I just found, but a couple of recent acquisitions stand out. More and more I find myself gravitating towards what I would call literary ephemera. I have a copy of Vicente Huidobro's "Moulin," which was printed as a laid-in supplement to an invitation to an exhibition of his work in Paris in 1922. Huidobro was active in the Dada and Surrealist movements and the poem is a calligram, shaped like a windmill, with the text in normal lines on the verso. I love that something this fragile and ephemeral has survived. Along those lines I recently acquired a flier announcing the publication of City Lights magazine in 1952, which preceded the bookshop and publisher and even Ferlinghetti's involvement. It's a Beat incunable, as it were.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JR: I've been collecting twentieth-century poetry for a while, but as I've made a full transition to the trade I find that I don't really feel the need to own anything forever anymore--it's enough to enjoy it while I have it and move it along. As the artist/bookseller Ben Kinmont said, "sometimes a nicer sculpture is to be able to provide a living for your family."

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JR: I love the daily sense of possibility--what am I going to find today? Who might call with a question or request today? What's in this dusty box of paper? I love the pursuit of knowledge and the fact that knowledge is cumulative in the trade--every new book or item I handle is now something I know about. I like the collegiality and friendship of dealers and librarians, the chance to handle amazing objects and share them with people who feel the same way, and to be able to do it all on my own terms, for the most part.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

JR: I think there will be always be a market for unique and beautiful items. In the library world there is often talk of special collections departments having more in common with museums than with the rest of the library, and the book trade reflects a similar focus. Modern publishing is being drastically transformed, and newspapers and scientific journals will certainly almost fully transition to digital or online presentations. But who wants to look at a photo book, or poetry, on a device? And that's not to mention the untold number of books that already exist in the world.

Book collecting has always appealed to a narrow segment of the population and will continue to do so; younger people who grew up in the Internet age who have that certain inclination will still be enthralled by beautifully crafted books. But the nature of the trade has certainly changed, and I like Brian Cassidy's thoughts on the curatorial role of the dealer. It's something I'm trying to do as well. And as for younger dealers, this series of interviews is proof positive of the continuance of the trade.

NP: Are you currently producing a catalogue or an e-list?

JR: I put together an e-list for the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, at which I exhibited in early February 2012. It can be viewed on my website here. I don't have a printed catalogue currently in the works but eventually I'd like to do the occasional one. Plenty of my books remain unlisted and I encourage people to contact me at info [at] trioletrarebooks [dot] com if they're looking for specific things.