Bookseller Maggie Mazzullo on Roxburghe Club Ephemera, The Long Lost Friend, and Airships in Fiction

Maggie Mazzullo

Maggie Mazzullo

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Maggie Mazzullo, proprietor of M Mazzulloo Bookseller in Colorado.

How did you get started in rare books?

I come from an academically oriented family so libraries, museums and the humanities have always been a big part of my life and I knew that I wanted to work with art and objects, so I earned a masters degree in museum studies and embarked on career in museum collections management. Through it all there was the desire to find, collect and read as many books as possible. 

Every weekend I’d hop in the car with a listing of garage and estate sales and go searching with my treasure hunting gear consisting of a flashlight, some gloves, an envelope with small bills and a first aid kit.  Nothing like sticking your hand in a box with broken glass and sharp metal. I’m lucky I didn’t get tetanus and I can’t even talk about the spiders. I scrounged around basements, attics, old barns, deep into closets and outbuildings and found wonderful things, but my treasures began to pile up, so, I opened an Amazon account and an eBay account and as the books started to sell, I went looking for advice and guidance. I joined and lurked on the Bibliophile mailing list, a private subscription email group for rare and collectible book dealers and sellers, soaking up stories of rare, scarce, out-of-print, and collectible books and related material from the viewpoint of the real professionals.  I started scouting for local bookstores and some dealers were kind enough to give me advice and mentorship.

Then the covid lockdown happened and I found myself working from home for over a year with more zoom meetings than one person could reasonably be expected to endure. I had plenty of time for selling but no way to get new stock. One day a colleague who was moving out of state offered me six large shopping bags full of paper ephemera that she took out of her car and put into my backseat before I could fight back. It looked like someone had emptied a filing cabinet into grocery store bags, but it turned out to be a large collection of fine press keepsakes from the Roxburghe and Zamorano clubs commemorating decades of their joint meetings. 

I had never heard of these two bibliographic and manuscript collecting societies. There were broadsides, miniature books, pamphlets, bound material, all manner of typographic souvenirs and I was totally enamored.  It took months of research and cataloging but by the end I had an organized collection, a spreadsheet, a working knowledge of small west coast presses and authors and the desire to be a professional bookseller. As soon as I could, I applied for and received a scholarship to CABS in Minnesota and that was like a rocket ship into the rare book trade. 

When did you open M Mazzullo Bookseller and what do you specialize in?

I incorporated on April 1, 2021 which was just coincidence but also reflects my state of mind after being at home for many months at that point. I sold through my inventory of general modern firsts and nonfiction reference and text books and began searching for what I determined was the speculative, the fantastic, the supernatural and the unscientific which leaves me a lot of room to explore the nature of reality, perceived reality, and invented reality.  I look for the occult, UFOlogy, fringe science, conspiracy theories, cryptozoology as just some of the topics that have diehard believers and casual fans.  One can engage with this material as fact or fiction, go down the rabbit hole or just enjoy the stories as ideological entertainment. 

I see a cultural global weaving together of customs, stories, mythology, astrology, archaeology, history and internet lore that creates a contemporary universal modern folklore. 

What do you love about the book trade?

I really enjoy interacting with booksellers and collectors, archivists, and librarians.  Before I went to CABS bookselling was a solitary experience but suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. I made lifelong friends, found mentors and colleagues, and experienced a dunk tank of resources and knowledge that I’m still drawing on.  Mostly I love that I found a ready acceptance for people like me who have a wealth of past experience in other fields that can be brought to the book trade. There is no one perfect way to be a book seller. You can have a shop, only sell online, specialize intently, and then change your focus, it’s all an additive process.  

The book trade also helped me frame how I feel as a bookseller about the purpose of collecting. We are transient but the books and papers that pass through our hands are physical objects travelling through time. Most of them were here before me and hopefully will be here long after.  I like to think that I’m adding or rediscovering context and meaning and putting them into hands that will help them on their way or at the very least, be a good caretaker. 

Describe a typical day for you:

On a typical day I am up early and if I’m lucky enough to have the whole day I like to do cataloging, pricing and listing and make offers and bids in the morning while I’m fresh. I check to see what my eBay search requests have brought me. I have about forty spread out over two accounts and they evolve to reflect current interests and topics in which I am looking for material. On a regular schedule I put something up on social media to promote new finds and I occasionally make a sale here.  In the afternoons I hunt the thrifts, estate sales and bookstores. Evenings are for packing and taking photographs so I can list online. 

After getting involved with the Rocky Mountain Antiquarian Booksellers Association I volunteered to pick up the Instagram and Facebook accounts, so I try to get some content up on a regular basis. I’m on social media intermittently throughout the day to see what other dealers are finding and make notes on authors, titles and subject matter that intrigue me and to follow up on.  Also, I’m working my way through all the ABAA member interviews which is an amazing wealth of experience and I like hearing all the origin stories. 

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

This is a tough one, but my favorite has to be finally finding a copy of The Long Lost Friend or, True and Christian Instructions for Everyone. Comprising Wonderful and Well Tested Remedies and Arts, for Men as well as for Livestock by John George Hohman published in 1850, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  

Growing up, I was a big fan of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John novels in which the protagonist and itinerant hero practices protective magic using his copy of The Long Lost Friend. After a youthful experience of disappointment and a little relief that the Necronomicon wasn’t a real historical text, it was a delight to discover that the Hohman book is a very real American folk magic grimoire that was published in many editions in the Pennsylvania Dutch country and used for generations to ward off malign witchcraft and illness with charms and spells. It is believed that if The Long Lost Friend is carried on one's person it will act as a shield against bad fortune, so you never find them in pristine condition. My copy is typical. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, with brown paper marbled boards worn down to the cardboard and a darkened leather spine. There are water spots, and the pages are soft with wear and fingering. It isn’t flashy or fancy, but someone used this daily, and it was an important text in their life. 

What do you personally collect?

I collect American fiction that features airships published between 1800 and 1940.  Romances, comedies, adventure novels, mysteries and young adult books all fit my collecting criterion of popular fiction in which lighter than air powered flight is a domestic reality. I’m looking specifically for U.S. publications because unlike Europe, America never had to face the airship as a terrifying long range bombing platform and thus had a more positive public perception of lighter than air technology. 

In America airships were going to be the future, they had greater lift capacity for cargo and passengers, were quieter and more comfortable for long distance travel, were popular for advertising and presented as amusements at county fairs. Then the Hindenburg tragedy happened, and it was all over for domestic LTA flight. History diverged at this point as technology turned to the airplane and away from dangerous gas mixtures and public catastrophes. I think of it as a VHS vs Betamax moment in American history and my collection represents what people thought the future would be like. Even current fantasy and sci fi use airships as an indication of an alternate history or future. 

I have a parallel collection of American vernacular airship photography starting from as early as I can get it to about 1980. I try to find images that capture the moment of excitement when someone heard or saw a giant floating gasbag in the sky and rushed to take a photo on the street or in their backyard or from a boardwalk.  Sometimes the pictures are tilted and wonky and you can feel the exhilaration.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to spend time with my husband and our two greyhounds, with which we take a lot of walks. We both love good coffee, movies and reading and travel. Last fall we went to Mexico and had an amazing time seeing Mayan pyramids at Palenque, and the mysterious Olmec heads at La Venta. The Lancandon Maya people protect and guard the ruins of Bonampak where the gorgeous and vivid Mayan frescos are still preserved. Walking in the jungle and experiencing ancient cultures up close and firsthand was a huge adventure and we saw some amazing ruins and tropical birds.

Thoughts on the present state or future of the rare book trade?

I’m excited about the future for rare books and collectibles. Despite all the doom and gloom when digital reading platforms came out people are still buying and collecting. I see lots of younger people out there looking for pieces of their childhood and searching out obscure and rare volumes in line with their careers and academic pursuits. There is interest in building collections that reevaluate social narratives in America and non-western cultures or document 20th century political movements. These are the new antiquarians, and they are making space for themselves in the trade. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogs?

I just did my second fair in Albuquerque and am looking forward to the Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair in Castle Rock Colorado.  I’m on the RMABA book fair committee doing my best to help and I’m completely fascinated at how a fair comes together and all the hard work that goes into making it successful for the dealers and the public. Active selling is a whole different animal than passive internet sales. I get so excited to meet people and talk about what I’m presenting that sometimes I don’t sit down or eat for hours. The energy is incredible, and it still blows me away to find people who like the same obscure or weird subjects that I do and want to buy them from me.