Bright Young Booksellers: Liam McGahern

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Liam McGahern of Patrick McGahern Books in Ottawa:

liam mcgahern.jpg

How did you get started in rare books?
 
I started working in my fathers shop when I was 12 (1986). I was trying to raise money to go to Europe, on an student exchange with my glass. I’d take the bus downtown after school, and then run errands: deliver parcels to the post office, take out the garbage, get coffee for the other staff, and straighten the shelves...
 
When did you take ownership of McGahern Books and what do you specialize in?
 
When you work in a family business, you never really take ownership... My father started in 1969, and I started full time in 1999 when I finished university. We still work together.
 
We specialize (and publish catalogues) in 18th and 19th century books that relate to Canada (and North America) and the Arctic. We also specialize in fishing and angling, and Irish History and Literature.
 
What is a typical day for you?
 
Every day is different. Mostly though, I arrive at our office downtown, go through usual checking emails, returning calls, and then spend most of the day wrapping and shipping orders and cataloguing books.
 
What do you love about the book trade?
 
I’ve always loved business. All of my grandparents ran businesses, and I think it is really ingrained deep in my DNA.

I love the variety of the book trade. Every copy of every book is different, and every customer is  different.  If I sold car batteries, I probably would have gone crazy along time ago. Booksellers are constantly learning new things, discovering lost treasurers. Many Canadians are very passive about their history. I believe that I’m helping promote and preserve Canada’s history and heritage, by doing what I do, and I take pride in that.
 
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?
 
In 2014 we sold off the Franklin Search Collection of Bertram Plimer, one of the finest collections in private hands. It took over a year to catalogue. The catalogue which contained 460 items over 160 illustrated pages has become a reference book in itself. You know when other dealers are willing to pay for your catalogue, you’ve done something right. My father was responsible for 90 percent of the work, but it was thrilling just to be involved with it.
 
What do you personally collect?
 
I collect books about a small part of the Ottawa River where my family is from. Samuel Champlain and Alexander Mackenzie both paddled up that river.  There is very little about the area, which makes collecting a challenge... and more fun. I also have a Salinger collection which I started as a teenager. Its grown a bit stale though, as I can’t afford to buy and keep the few things I don’t have.
 
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
 
I’m not too worried about the next 20 years. The market is changed greatly, but collectors keep collecting, and great copies keep selling. The internet has changed the world forever, and we can’t turn the clock backward. It’s a bit sad to see the bottom end books disappear, but not much we can do about it. Markets change, and you need to be able to react to them. Nobody know what the future holds, so why worry? 

Collecting is ingrained in human nature. I believe its always been about having it, owning it. This hasn’t changed.  
 
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
 
We’ll be exhibiting at the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair in November of 2015, and our local fair as well. We currently have a Polar, Early Canadian, Irish History and Angling catalogues all in the works.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Booksellers series can be sent to nathan@finebooksmagazine.com
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