Bright Young Things: Travis Low
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Travis Low of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City. (We also profiled Kent Tschanz of the same shop earlier in the series).
NP: What is your role at Ken Sanders?
TL: I get to wear a few different hats here: I manage online orders and inventory, I create and upload book images, I order new books and process special orders for customers, I catalogue some books, I'm beginning to venture into buying used books. Also, we run an open shop, so I help customers find books, answer phones, and work the cash wrap.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?
TL: In 2008-2009 I was directing a film called "The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Life...in Sound" which is an experimental documentary on the writer/performance poet, Alex Caldiero, who happens to be a good friend of Ken Sanders. Ken appears in that film, so I got to know him a little bit that way. I had also been a regular store customer for some time, but didn't know very much about the rare book world. One day I was shopping here and casually asked if there were any open positions. As luck would have it, a spot had opened up just a few days earlier and I immediately began working as a part-time shipping clerk. I always had a love for books and printed material, so the wealth of experience and stock that circulates here had my undivided attention. As I learned more about the trade, I began taking on more responsibilities as they came up. I have also continued to work on documentary films. I am currently working on a series of short documentary films called the Lost & Found Series. Someday I'll do a documentary on a story from the rare book world, I'm just not sure which one to follow yet (ideas welcome).
NP: What's your favorite rare book that you've handled?
TL: This is a difficult question because I see interesting material on a daily basis. A recent favorite of mine is a signed first edition copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, rebound by Stikeman in two beautiful volumes. I'm a sucker for nicely designed copies of modern first editions and fine illustrated editions of the classics. The items that we deal with from local history are always fascinating as well. My current favorite thing that I've personally purchased for my own collection is a six volume reprint set of William Blake's Complete Illuminated Books (Princeton University Press)...for what I can personally afford, the reproductions are excellent -- and it is a great way to read William Blake!
NP: What do you love about the book trade?
TL: Handling and researching the books. More than anything, I love it when an exciting new collection comes in. Maybe it is something that you already know and love, maybe it is something that you know almost nothing about. Either way, it is an exciting learning opportunity. We recently received a great Lafcadio Hearn collection. I had previously known of Hearn's work only by way of a brilliant Japanese film adaptation of Hearn's book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Masaki Kobayashi's 1964 film, Kwaidan). What I discovered in that collection is an incredibly rich, diverse, and beautiful body of work from a unique genius of the late 19th century.
NP: What do you personally collect?
TL: I am a generalist, so I read and collect anything that I find curious or interesting that fits into my budget. My interests are pretty broad and integrated. I am particularly interested in Film, Philosophy, Literature, Poetry, Illustrated Books, Art, and Photography. I'm becoming increasingly interested in Utah and The West as I interact with that material on a daily basis here at Ken Sanders Rare Books.
NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?
TL: It is a hard question to answer. I do plan on working in the trade long-term, and I love working in Ken's shop. There are very few things that I enjoy as much as browsing in an open shop, and I love the kind of culture that can form around open shops, but I don't know if I would have the guts to open a shop myself. If I were ever to do my own thing, it would probably be out of an office with sufficient space to organize and conduct trade online, by phone, by mail, and on the road (book scouting, book fairs, etc.).
NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?
TL: Excited. I think there are many interesting new opportunities for booksellers in 'the information age'. Having said that, I also believe it is becoming increasingly important for young booksellers to understand the history of the trade and to engage with experienced individuals and institutions. I have been fortunate enough to benefit from the mentorship of Ken Sanders, a seasoned veteran who has been at this for 40+ years. I was also fortunate to have attended the 2012 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar where I benefitted from a diverse and immensely knowledgeable group of professionals that are actively engaged in the antiquarian book trade. Personally, I love the printed and bound word and image. For me, digital technology is great in that it provides new ways of researching and circulating that physical material. I know a lot of folks my age and younger who seem to understand and share that perspective, so I am very optimistic.
NP: Any upcoming fairs / catalogues for Ken Sanders?
We have recently released the following catalogues:
Ken Sanders Rare Books Catalogue #45 (PDF file)
The Collective Returns (The Collective Catalogue #2) (PDF file)
(A cooperative effort by 6 ABAA booksellers, The Collective Returns features highlights of each firm's offerings at the coming February San Francisco International Antiquarian Bookfair.)
We are also working on Ken Sanders Rare Books Catalogue #46 which will likely contain new acquisitions of books, maps, art, photographs, and prints in our favorite categories of Utah & The Mormons, Western Americana, and Literature. I am working on another catalogue of approximately fifty items comprised of a handful of old gems as well as some new acquisitions which I am personally fond of. In addition to these catalogues, we often issue smaller lists of new and noteworthy items or collections.
We will be exhibiting at the following upcoming book fairs:
The Santa Monica Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo and Paper Fair: February 9-10, 2012 (Santa Monica, CA)
The California International Antiquarian Book Fair: February 15-17 (San Francisco, CA)
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair: April 12-14, 2012 (New York City, NY)