Bright Young Things: Joseph Mandelbaum

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Joseph Mandelbaum, proprietor of The Royal Mandelbaums in New York City.

Joseph_Headshot (1).jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

JM: I was first made aware of the significance of First Editions when I was a student at Antioch University in Seattle. I was very close to the Director at the Center for Teaching and Learning, Anne Maxham, and I would be in her office on a near-constant basis telling her about this and that amazing sentence I found. One day, out of the clear blue sky, she told me that whenever I buy a book, I should always buy a First Edition. I believe her friend had just lost her job and had sold her collection of First Editions to get back on her feet. That was the first time I equated books with monetary value. When I moved back to New York City, I got a job at Left Bank Books in the West Village. It goes without saying that I learned what it takes to run a book business there. I loved the experience; I catalogued their stock, learned about condition, and picked the brains of the different book collectors and scouts that made up the clientele. The owner of the shop, Kim Herzinger, is a collector himself, as well as a literary professor and book dealer, so in one conversation with him, I was able to get all three perspectives. 

NP: When did you open The Royal Mandelbaums and what do you specialize in?

JM: I have been personally selling books through ABE for just over a year now. We launched The Royal Mandelbaums website two months ago. We specialize in Modern Literature, with a focus on Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Signed Books. We will and do reach outside of our specialty genre's for specific clients and their requests, but we do not keep a stock or actively buy anything that isn't Literature. 

NP: The name is a nod to the Royal Tenenbaums, right?  What is your favorite Wes Anderson movie?

JM: I have to admit that we didn't come up with the name, or the nod, for that matter. Our good friend Olivia Wolfe - she is one of two owners of the Manhattan boutique, American Two Shot - came up with it on a whim. American Two Shot is our only brick-and-mortar retailer, and we kicked off the summer with a book fair. Olivia was making limited-edition bookmarks and realized we were without a name for the fair. Olivia was like, "I'll just write The Royal Mandelbaums." In short, the name simply stuck. We have to admit one more thing - we have never actually seen The Royal Tenenbaums! My favorite Wes Anderson movie, though, is "The Darjeeling Limited." I love the look of the hotel room that Jason Schwartzman's character lives in.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JM: I really love everything about the book trade, and most of all, I enjoy being in this business. I love explaining the importance of books and collecting - at any price point, I might add - because it is often the first time someone realizes that something they love also has, in some instances, enormous monetary value. I love the process of scouting for books. There is this few-second rush of spotting a title I desire, flipping through to the Copyright page, seeing that it's a First, turning to the Title Page, and seeing if there is a Signature or Inscription, and finally seeing who blurbed this book in my hands. Putting the purchase into the context of my collection is just a joyous experience. 

NP: What is your favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?  

JM: Personally, I am a huge James Baldwin fan. I was reading Sol Stein and James Baldwin's co-written book "Native Sons" and, in that memoir, Sol Stein writes about being on the student writing staff of his High School journal, along with - this still amazes me - his classmates James Baldwin and Richard Avedon. They all attended DeWitt-Clinton High School in the Bronx, at the same time, no less. I was so intrigued by the anecdotes he was recounting about those days. I went in to work the next day, and was talking about the stories I had just read. I was told that (my now dear friend) Eric had just dropped off an original copy of the exact High School journal I was referring to. I ran to see it, and there it was, the journal called Magpie Review. In its Table of Contents was writing by Richard Avedon and a short story and poem written by James Baldwin. I purchased it right away for my own personal collection! I think it was Baldwin's first published story. As a side note, I learned then that Ralph Lauren and Burt Lancaster were also graduates of DeWitt-Clinton High School.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JM: I collect books by Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. My Fiance and I also have an extensive magazine collection.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

JM: The future of the book trade - I hesitate to say "the future" as I only think in the present - is fundamentally about added value and curation. By added value, I am really talking about education; educating young collectors on the importance of the library and the importance of First Editions. When I say added value, I am also implying that people are done with basic descriptions and publication information and condition, although all of those things are critical to the business, and always will be. People now want to know the context and provenance of books. What was the environment of the world that the author was in when he wrote this book? Who was the author? What were his biases, and who were his fans? The future is in Association Copies, Inscriptions; we will likely see a new found importance regarding Advance Reader's Copies. Books that include press materials and issue points play a huge roll in my sales, absolutely. 

NP: Any upcoming book fairs or catalogues?

JM: We are planning another book fair at American Two Shot. We are also working with an excellent creative team on a BookLook, a twist, so to speak, on a fashion brand's LookBook. It will be our version of a catalogue; heavy on editorial, the books photographed in a new context. For this project, we will be staying away from books-on-shelves or the traditional still-life-on-white-background. We love both of those for their individual purposes but it isn't the story we are interested in telling.