October 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Bright Young Things: Cassandra Hatton

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Cassandra Hatton, proprietor of the soon-to-launch Cassandra Hatton Rare Books in California.

CassandraHattonSMall.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

CH: It was really by accident, as is often the case. I got my start a little over eight years ago, when I had moved back to Los Angeles from France. I was broke, and honestly took the first job I could find, which was as a cataloguer and assistant for Rootenberg Books. I had no real experience handling rare books, but they needed someone with a background in history and knowledge of several languages, so they hired me. Serendipity! I had always been interested in the history of science and old books, (I actually started collecting books when I was about seven years old) but really had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the first day they handed me a copy of Hildegard von Bingen's Physica (1533), and a stack of illustrated 17th century medical books to collate and research. It was the best first day on the job ever - a few weeks later, I had Einstein's manuscripts on Unified Field Theory on my desk, next to a copy of Euclid's Elementa (1533) and Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica (1543). I can't think of a more exciting job (other than being an astronaut), and still can't believe that I was lucky enough to fall into it.

NP: You've just recently decided to branch out on your own, after managing Dragon Books for several years. What inspired the move?

CH: Ever since my days at Rootenberg, I knew that I eventually wanted to go out on my own - while I loved doing the research and cataloguing, I was also very interested in the business side of things. I was lucky enough to be in a position at Dragon Books where I was trusted to do everything, from the general cataloguing, buying and selling to making financial decisions, handling the books, signing all the checks, doing the payroll and the like. It was really a crash course in running my own business, and after five years there, I realized I was quite good at it. When Dragon moved from Bel-Air to Venice, I decided it was time - the new location was going to be much larger, and have a lot more foot traffic which meant more and more of my time would be spent running a retail shop, and less would spent doing what I loved about the rare book business - going to book-fairs & auctions, scouting, and handling books. Running an open shop can be a lot of fun, and you meet some really fascinating people, but ultimately, you are forced to be more of a generalist in an open shop situation. I knew that working for myself would give me not only the opportunity to really narrow the focus of the books that I deal in, but also the freedom to get back to what I really love about the business.

NP: What will you specialize in?

CH: Anything that interests me really - that is often early science, especially astronomy, natural history, physics, medicine, etc., but I am also interested in original photography, erotica, scientific instruments, manuscripts, history, counter-culture... I have so many interests that it is hard to narrow down - I guess the common theme is rarity. I really like things that are one of a kind, be that a scientific manuscript, an album of original silver prints, or a really spectacular association copy. Certain things just make my heart beat a little faster- so I guess really my specialty is books that raise your pulse!

NP: Will you be exhibiting at any upcoming book fairs?

CH: I will be at the Santa Monica Book, Print, Photo and Paper Fair in February 2013.

NP: Any catalogues coming up?

CH: For now, I am really putting most of my energies into developing my website, which I am hoping to launch by December, so my first catalogue probably won't be issued until Fall of 2013.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you've handled?

CH: That's a tough one to answer. I have handled so many great things, from firsts of Newton's Principia to Feynman manuscripts, to a super rare LP recording of James Joyce reading from Ulysses, which was signed by Joyce. That being said, I would have to say that handling Einstein's manuscripts on Unified Field Theory definitely made my pulse race - I get really excited about a lot of things, but that actually made me feel light headed.

NP: What do you personally collect?

CH: When I was first starting out, a colleague told me "You never smoke your own dope. You are either a collector, or a dealer, you can't be both." I think to a certain extent they were right; if I were not a dealer, and money were no object, then I would collect early science. I am however a dealer, and money is an object. Dealing is very much a way for me to be able to handle more books than I could if I collected. I get to own them for a while, and then place them in someone else's hands before buying some more. That being said, I do have a few collections that are in areas I would not deal in. I have what is probably the largest collection of children's books in Latin. I have been collecting them since I was a kid and have some really fun titles, Magis Mirabilis, Alicia in Terra Mirabili, and Maria Poppina Ab A ad Z, are just a few. I am also obsessed with Galileo and one of his rivals, the jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner, both of whom I am actually writing my thesis on, so I have a collection of books about both of them, and on the history of science in general. I also have a collection of books on secret codes, or books that have been written in code - things like the Codex Seraphinianus, the Voynich Manuscript and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (in facsimile of course!)

NP: Any thoughts to share on the book trade in general or where it's heading?

I think that the trade is heading in some really interesting directions. The market for rare books has become much more global and far more transparent thanks to the internet, and we can now see that a lot of the books that people thought were rare before are not really all that rare. It has really colored our perception of what rare is - I think this has led to a shift in the types of materials that dealers are handling.  I am seeing a lot more dealers offering archival material, manuscripts and the like - the kinds of items that are one of a kind. As we move forward I think that we are going to see more movement in the direction of unique copies, and one of a kind material. As people become more and more adept at finding books themselves on the internet, I think that dealers are going to be the people that collectors turn to for those items that just can't be bought online.