Bright Young Things: Teri Osborn

Today marks the beginning of a new series at the Fine Books blog profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers. We begin with Teri Osborn of William Reese Company in New Haven:

NP: What is your role within William Reese Co.?

TO: I think technically my title is Americana Cataloguer, but I always tell people that I’m here to do whatever Bill tells me to do. So far that’s included--in addition to cataloguing--working book fairs, putting together lists of items for sale, packing up entire libraries, and trying to sell as many books as humanly possible.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

TO: I was a rare book librarian in a former life. I went to library school because it was very practical and I would be employable. A friend said to me, “Hey, you should take this course on rare books with me,” to which I replied, “That doesn’t sound very practical.” But I did take the course and have been smitten ever since. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a rare book professional since I graduated in 2005. I spent three years in libraries before serendipitously landing a job at the Reese Company and have never looked back.
NP: Most interesting book(s) you've handled?

TO: This is always a hard question for me. We have so many amazing items come through our shop. My first big project was a collection of Peruvian imprints (mainly 18th century, but a few earlier and a few later). That was a lot of fun. But the coolest thing I've handled wasn't really a book--I once catalogued a lock of Alexander Hamilton's hair, wrapped up in a letter from his wife to her minister. That was very cool.

NP: What do you love about rare books and/or the book trade?

TO: I love my job. I don't think I've ever had another job where I could say "I love my job" every day and mean it. One of the things I most enjoy is that I'm always learning something - you can't not learn while cataloguing for the Reese Company. I think my appreciation for types of books has shifted, as well. I started out dazzled by medieval manuscripts, but have grown to love early American books in original boards and crude calf bindings. Also, I love the people in the trade. Booksellers are an amazing bunch of folks with personalities so varied and interesting, who all share a common passion. I love being part of a community that speaks my language.

NP: What would you criticize about the book trade?

TO: Maybe the inability of some of its members to adapt? But even that, I think is changing, out of necessity if nothing else.

NP: What do you personally collect?

TO: Bookplates. I started off collecting Margaret Atwood's works, but have sort of evolved out of that. With the internet, collecting modern books is so simple, you just need money and some time to play online. Bookplates are a whole other story, though, because the traditional way to collect bookplates is to have your own made up and swap them with other collectors. That just strikes me as more interesting. I've also very recently started a collection of books on portable housing--inspired by Tiny Houses and the movement for simplified living. But that's still pretty small (only three books so far).

NP: Do you want to open your own shop some day?

TO: Nope.

NP: There's been a lot of talk recently about the uncertain future of the rare book trade. As a young bookseller, do you have any thoughts on this?

TO: I think the trade is evolving--and already has evolved significantly with the advent of the internet. But I'm not worried that people will stop collecting or reading books. Collecting interests have always shifted some with the trends and times, and new areas are always opening up. People collect zines and punk ephemera now--and ABAA dealers sell those things--so it's not just all glitzy modern firsts and incunables anymore. People have always collected and people will always collect. It's just a matter of adapting one's wares to suit the market, which is really nothing new.
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