Bright Young Things: Doug Flamm

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Doug Flamm of Ursus Books in New York City.  Doug's father, Eugene, a prominent book collector and president of the Grolier Club, was profiled recently in our magazine. In addition to selling books, Doug brews beer and recently won a brewing award in Brooklyn for his Oyster Stout.

Douglas Flamm photo3.jpgNP: Since your father is a major book collector, you must have grown up around rare books.  Did you develop a resulting interest in rare books early in life?

DF: It is true, I did grow up around books and have always been interested in them. My father's love of books did manage to somehow seep through to me because here I am dealing with books. While my father's collection is focused primarily on 16th Century medical books along with a strong concentration on bibliography, I have been quite interested in art and illustrated books. This focus on art books stems directly from my background in photography and my strong interest in art history.

NP: How did you come to work for Ursus and what is your role there?

DF: In the late 1990's, after having worked for an art gallery for years, I developed my own art book business. I handled a lot of conceptual artist books of the 1960s (a personal interest of mine) which included such artists as Sol LeWitt, John Baldessari and of course, Ed Ruscha. While the business was still quite young, the catastrophe of 9/11 occurred and business completely fell off. With a young baby girl at home I felt the need to have something a bit more stable and began to talk to Peter Kraus, the owner of Ursus Book, for advice. He offered me a position where I could continue to work with artist books/livres d'artistes of the 20th century through today. I also do all of the purchasing of the out-of-print art reference books for the shop. In addition I work with clients directly to help them find specific books or to help them develop their own collections - something I greatly enjoy.

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

DF: Between my own shop and working for Ursus books I've had the amazing opportunity to handle a diverse group of many very exciting books. These include anything from Bruce Nauman's LAAIR and CLEARSKY to Matisse's Jazz.  And as I think about it, my mind begins thinking of Hans Bellmer's La Poupe, Ansel Adam's Taos and Ollafur Elliason's Your House. There are really so many great books out there.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

DF: Such a difficult question - and I suppose it is an evolving list depending on my interests at that time. And while that may seem like a big cop out, I think it stems from always being surprised by the unexpected in unknown and/or new books.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

DF: I very much like being able to see and handle a vast array of books and interact with collectors and customers - all of which make this field so exciting. It does feel like a very small world - where book dealers and collectors all seem to have connections - this is a very nice aspect of the business.

NP: What do you personally collect?

DF: While I still have many of the books from my original enterprise of Flamm Books, I no longer actively search or buy these books for myself. My collecting these days seems to be limited to helping my son develop his baseball card collection, and I suppose I would also have to say that my increasing interest in beer brewing has led to my buying books on beer and brewing as well as brewing equipment in a never ending fury.

NP: You recently won a brewing award. Tell us about that and your brewing hobby:

DF: Most of my free time in the last couple of years has been devoted to learning how to make beer. It has been exciting to learn the process, technique and science behind the brew - and then you get to drink your creation. What could be better? It has been an amazing undertaking. In April I was lucky enough to win the Judges Choice at the Brooklyn Wort homebrew competition. I brewed an Oyster Stout that my son named 'Moyster'. It was a somewhat chocolately stout with nice roasted flavors complemented by a dry mineral finish. The oysters in the beer help add to that quality - they do not make the beer taste "fishy" but really add an extra layer of complexity to the taste. Winning the contest was extremely rewarding. I put a lot of time and effort into this and it feels great to recieve such praise. If anything, it certainly fuels the fire!

NP: Do you want to open a micro-brewery/rare book shop someday? Because I'd be one of your regular customers.

DF: Although in theory the idea of brewpub and rare bookshop sounds fun, I don't think it's practical in the real world.  Spilled beer and rare books do not make a good combination!  

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?  

DF: The book trade is vastly different in this age of the internet - but there is still something very solid about a book in your hands.