Bright Young Booksellers: James McBride
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with James McBride of William Reese Company in New Haven, Connecticut.
How did you get started in rare books?
My background is in rare book and special collections librarianship. I did my library degree at the University of Texas at Austin and also completed a second Master's degree in Book History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. While I was at Texas, I also worked as a rare book cataloguer for the Harry Ransom Center, working on 16th century Italian, mostly Aldine imprints. I figured when I returned to the States from Scotland in the fall of 2015, I would continue on that track and find a library position as a Rare Books Cataloguer. Bill hired me instead, and so here I am in the trade, thoroughly enjoying myself.
What is your role at William Reese Company?
My official title is Americana Cataloguer, or perhaps Americana Associate. The second is probably more appropriate. Principally, I do research and write cataloguing for most of our incoming material, but I also carry out many other duties as the need arises -- filling orders, responding to questions and inquiries, answering the phone, purchasing and collecting new materials, making visits to customers, sellers, and institutions, going to book fairs, bidding at auctions, and, of course, trying to sell books.
What do you love about the book trade?
Working for Reese Co. allows me the luxury of getting to see and to work with amazing material on a daily basis. Another one of the great things is the variation my job affords me -- there are so many different aspects to working in the trade that it is difficult to get stuck in a rut. It is also a pleasure to be able to meet and to interact with the fun and interesting characters that populate our world. And if they're not fun and/or interesting, at least they're probably crazy.
Describe a typical day for you:
Generally, I come in and first deal with orders and inquiries that have come in overnight, and then discuss with my colleagues if we have anything that needs our special attention during the course of the day, which is usually the case. I can then turn my attention to cataloguing, though this is liberally interspersed with other tasks that land on my desk throughout the day.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?
One of my favorite books so far would have to be the private first printing of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia. It was the first really important thing that I was sent out to collect, and I spent the entire drive back to New Haven checking my bag in the passenger seat every five minutes to make sure it hadn't magically disappeared. I've also gotten to spend some time with a complete set of Edward Curtis' The North American Indian, an impressive thing, to say the least. More recently, I saw a copy of the first pamphlet printing of the Declaration of Independence, made on July 8, 1776, just a few days after the vote for independence and Dunlap's broadside.
What do you personally collect?
I have a record collection that grows in fits and starts. Mostly punk albums, with some jazz and rock thrown in, and a few oddities like LPs of the Mr. Rogers songbook and Jazzercise tunes. In terms of books, I tend toward travel narratives, though recently I've been trying to build up something of a reference collection.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I spend far too much time watching soccer on weekend mornings, and am also a particular and rather long-suffering devotee of the New York Mets. The only sport in which I still retain some passable skill is skiing, though I don't get to do nearly enough of it. In other, apparently unaffiliated parts of my brain, I have a thing for old gangster movies and for long train rides.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
It is my fond hope that the good people of the book world continue to buy enough books from us to keep me in a job.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
We recently put out a catalog of material on Colonial America (#341), as well as two smaller lists on Natural History (Bulletin #45) and Manuscripts (Bulletin #46). And coming quite soon will be a catalogue focusing on Latin Americana (#342).Image courtesy of James McBride.