Bright Young Booksellers: Ellen Saito

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Ellen Saito, proprietor of Excelsa Scripta Rare Books in Hastings on Hudson, New York.

How did you get started in rare books?

As an intern in architecture, I thought I had found my true calling, which involved drafting, blueprints, models and handmade presentations.  By the time I finished graduate school, those forms of creativity had become obsolete due to the advent of computer aided design (CAD). Eager to adapt, I became a CAD operator, but found it to be relatively dry work. Having developed a hobby of rare book collecting, the idea to become a bookseller sprang to mind to allow me to continue along a creative vein. As I got deeper into the collecting and selling of books, I realized that my interests lay in the antiquarian books and rare books, those that not only offered the script, i.e. content, but also the beauty and exterior, i.e. form, that allowed me to come full circle back to my architectural, creative beginnings.

When did you open Excelsa Scripta and what do you specialize in?

I opened Excelsa Scripta on September 1, 2015 with rare books accessible online, at fairs and by appointment. I specialize in antiquarian social justice books to provide people with inspirational books of historical importance on topics such as human rights, social reform, anti-slavery, women's rights, indigenous cultures, LGBTQ rights, poverty, genocide, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, social and economic equality, diversity, the environment and marginalized achievements.

What do you love about the book trade?

I love the books and I love the business. It offers a creative and multifaceted outlet for learning, improvement and camaraderie that I find highly enjoyable.

Describe a typical day for you:

There is no typical day for me day-to-day, depending on the needs of my clients and where I am in the process of bookselling and the process of preparing for an upcoming fair or trade show. I am constantly theorizing and implementing improvements to my overall business plan. Some of those exercises entail business or administrative aspects and some specific to the books themselves such as, but not limited to, describing books, researching the historical significance of authors and the books, communicating with clients and packaging of books for distribution.

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

My equally favorite books are three autobiographies that I have sold multiple times. The first edition of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass was the first book that really moved me. The first edition of Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington was astonishing. The first American edition of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl absolutely broke my heart.

What do you personally collect?

At this point right now, I tend to sell to my clients these special books. I have a significant collection, which includes antiquarian books, beautiful books and petite sets.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work, I find great respite by spending time in nature. For a change, my eyes focus on far away vistas, while I walk, hike and explore new trails. Far away book shops, rare book seminars, and book fairs enable me to travel and to see new places. I am particularly fond of stunning views, even those in metropolitan cities. Located near New York City, I adore the Morgan Library and Museum, Frick Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art. I also enjoy reading paperback copies of my rare books.

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

The rare book trade appears to be moving in the right direction. Customers are increasingly well-informed. The collection of prints, maps and ephemera for inventory is intense right now. The demand for brand new books is dwindling, which appears to indicate that rare books will become even more rare and will likely increase in value more quickly than before. Book collectors are likely to increase in number.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Yes, my next show will be at the Albany Book and Paper Fair on Sunday, September 23rd. My next catalog will highlight my recently acquired offerings on antiquarian social justice, such as the 1869 first edition of The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill, the 1881 first edition of A Century of Dishonour: A Sketch of the United States Government's Dealings with some of the North American Tribes by Helen Hunt Jackson and a 1600 collection of ancient Greek victory odes, including those for the Olympic games, by Pindar.