Recently in Bright Young Booksellers Category

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Erik DuRon and Jess Kuronen, new proprietors of Left Bank Books in New York City, set to reopen in a new Greenwich Village location this month.


Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 8.16.56 AM.pngHow did you get started in rare books?


Erik: I answered a help wanted ad in the back of the Village Voice. This was in the late 90s. I had done bookish jobs in NYC for ten years after college: assistant to a literary agent, admin work for a book packager, retrospective card catalog conversion at the Butler Library at Columbia University, and most saliently, sales clerk at the old St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village. I was about to turn 30 and was ready to sink my teeth into something. Bauman Rare Books, which was based out of Philadelphia, happened to be expanding their New York presence just then with their Madison Avenue location. I went in for an interview, and ended up working there 14 years, first as a sales associate, then as a manager. It was my school.


Jess: It’s my mom’s fault. She’s a photographer and designer who ran an offset press for artist’s books, first in Chicago and then in Philadelphia, so I was introduced to the idea of “the book as an object” pretty early. I landed my first bookish job at the old Left Bank Books, on 8th Avenue, as I was pursuing my BFA at The Cooper Union. The Left Bank employees used to come into the coffee shop I worked at next door. The manager was complaining about interviewing prospective employees, so I convinced him to hire me and call it a day...somehow that worked. It was my first introduction to the world of bookselling, and it quickly became clear to me that I should stay in it.


Tell us a bit about the history of Left Bank Books. When did you take over? What do you currently specialize in?


Left Bank Books began as a neighborhood used bookshop in Greenwich Village in the early 90s (first as Book Leaves, then Left Bank around 2005, with the first of several changes in ownership). For a variety of reasons, it was forced to close in 2016. We met while working there, which we each did for a year, and like everyone else in the neighborhood were really sad to see it go. We kept in touch, and a year later decided to revive it. We had some ideas about inventory selection and digital marketing we believed would make the business more up-to-date and viable. We started as an online shop, specializing in literature and the arts, with an emphasis on used and rare books we felt spoke to the culture in a fresh, sometimes irreverent way; we built a better website than previously, and established a social media presence. We also did fairs, which Left Bank hadn’t done before. Sometime after that we began talking seriously about an open shop, but only recently did it become a realistic possibility for us. Things have moved quickly - we expect to re-open in late March in our new Village location at 41 Perry Street. The shop - about half the size of the old space at roughly 250 square feet - will showcase an eclectic selection from the 20th and 21st centuries (and occasionally earlier), encompassing literature, art, film, photography, fashion, architecture, design, music, theater, dance, children’s books, and New York City. We look forward to reimagining what a small, well-curated neighborhood bookshop can be, and in time expect to host events and exhibits. We want to be a destination for seasoned collectors, emerging enthusiasts, and curious newcomers the world over.


How do you split your roles at Left Bank?


Erik: We both do a little of everything. With my deeper background in the trade I tend to do more of the traditional “bookman” things, like buying and cataloging, while Jess handles the design and digital side, but really we meet in the middle and teach each other along the way.


What do you love about the book trade?


Erik: First and foremost the books, and the opportunity every day to see things I’ve never seen before, as well as old favorites. I love buying, which satisfies most of the urges I might have as a collector, and going where people live to do so. You get fascinating insights interacting with people compelled by a particular set of circumstances to sell books. Sometimes you’re a peripheral figure walking into a scene of residual distress, in the case of a death in the family, for instance, or a divorce or bankruptcy. In those instances I try to provide calm, professional assistance in cleaning up a little bit of the aftermath. Other times, as when you’re dealing with an older collector deaccessioning, it’s an opportunity to be a willing and eager listener to stories that might not otherwise be heard.


Jess: I agree with Erik (and every other person in the trade); I love the books. I love the daily possibility of seeing, holding, and learning about new material. Looking at new books affords, even encourages, micro-obsessions that eventually culminate in more new books.  


Describe a typical day for you:


Our days right now are all about L-brackets, and the right hardware for suspending plexi shelves, and figuring out the wattage on LED bulbs, and getting up to speed on our point-of-sale system and how the damn thing is going to interface with our database, and a million other tiresome but crucial details.


Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?


Erik: Working at BRB I was privileged to be able to handle a high volume of amazing highspots: Shakespeare folios and quartos, early Americana, major works in the sciences, inscribed Joyces and Hemingways and Fitzgeralds. My favorite thing, though, or one of them at least, I didn’t strictly speaking handle (or did, for a total of like 30 seconds). It was a presentation copy of Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal inscribed to Guy de Maupassant, one French Naturalist to another, being offered for sale. I made a regrettably low offer and quickly saw it walk out the door. I haven’t forgotten it since, or the lesson.


Jess: In the basement of The Cooper Union is The Herb Lubalin Center of Design & Typography, definitely a hidden gem at the school. The core collection is an extensive archive of Lubalin’s work, including original drawings and design paste-ups (pre-digital artifacts for someone who had grown up with Apple). They have a copy of New York Is... (1959), a collection of photographs Robert Frank took for the New York Times, mostly for promotions to drum up the paper’s ad sales. They also had the original proofs for the ads, using the photo Frank took the year before The Americans published. It was a right book/right place/right time situation; I had just graduated art school, I was about to start my first job in journalism and was trying to figure out how to stay in the book trade.  


What do you personally collect?


Erik: Any and every edition I can find of books by a handful of writers who for one reason or another have become lodged in my literary value system: Flaubert, Kafka, Isaac Babel, Tanizaki, Rachel Kushner, a few others.


Jess: If there’s a theme to my collecting, I’m not sure what it is. It’s more a bunch of half-started collections meant to justify buying one or two books I fell in love with. A friend and I started a slightly facetious collection we call “Quick, capitalism is coming!” that includes anything with the wacky aesthetics of Wall Street.


What do you like to do outside of work?


Erik: Read, go to the movies, hear live music, run, eat and drink.


Jess: I just switch to my other career as a digital designer at The Wall Street Journal, so you know, think about what typeface says “what the hell is going on?!”.


Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?


Look at all of the intelligent, energetic and optimistic booksellers you have interviewed for this series. The future of the rare book trade is in good hands, I think we are going to be fine.


Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


We want to publish a digital catalog in April, once the shop opens, so we can test the versatility of our new set-up. No fairs for us until the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in September. But did we mention, we’re opening a shop? We are.

[Photo Credit: Michael Bucher]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Mark Wiltshire, Associate Specialist in the Books & Manuscripts department  at Christie’s in London.


mark_wiltshire_2_001.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?


My first introduction to rare books came at university when I called one up from the stacks of the Bodleian Library. It was an 18th-century book of doggerel which I’d discovered down a rabbit-hole of research for an essay. I remember being surprised that it was handed over to me with very few questions asked; it seemed too precious to be let out of the librarian’s sight. Nowadays, I regularly handle books of greater rarity, age, and commercial value but that first sense of awe has stuck with me.


Out of university, I was very lucky to be offered an internship with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, where I had my first taste of cataloguing while working with the autograph letters of Thomas Bewick. Soon after, I began working with Robert Frew, the well-known dealer and past ABA president, based in South Kensington. It is to him that I owe my proper introduction to the world of rare books, its major characters, its written and unwritten rules, and the first stirrings of an instinct for a good book. I was then offered the incredible opportunity to join the Books and Manuscripts department at Christie’s, where I have been working for two years.


What is your role at Christie’s?


I am an Associate Specialist in printed books. My role encompasses various aspects of the auction process, from business-getting to catalogue and exhibition design, with a large amount of researching and cataloguing in between. I am privileged to handle an exceptionally wide variety of printed material but I have a particular focus on English Literature.


What do you love about the auction business?


Apart from the obvious excitement of sale day, the best thing about working in the auction business is the constant renewal of material. Holding numerous sales per year means that I am always working on something new and unusual, which I consider to be the best way of growing my expertise. Christie’s has such a wide range of specialist knowledge in over 60 specialist departments that the opportunities to learn about art and the art market seem endless.


Describe a typical day for you:


The auction business is seasonal, so my typical day will vary from month to month. Now, at the height of the auction season, my day typically revolves around meeting and messaging our clients, answering their questions, and generally showing off the lots on offer. At other times of the year, my focus will shift to traveling and visiting collections, to cataloguing, and so on. It’s one big cycle.


Favourite rare book that you’ve handled?


My favourite book that I’ve handled is actually being offered here in London on 12 December. It is John Clare’s copy of the first edition of John Keats’s Endymion: an extraordinary association copy linking two of the great English poets. As somebody with an academic background in the Romantic poets, the discovery of this book was just thrilling. Bound in full crushed-morocco by the Doves Bindery, it is, to quote the poem’s opening line, ‘a thing of beauty’.


What do you personally collect?


The problem with working at Christie’s is that I’ve cultivated a taste that far exceeds my means. So, for the moment, I’m content with helping to grow other collections rather than building my own.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I like to spend time exploring the city with my partner Alanna. I’ve lived in London my whole life but there is still so much of it left to know. Like the auction world, London offers a constant sense of renewal. We read a lot, especially poetry, and I write occasionally too. Supporting Tottenham Hotspur also occupies more time and energy than I care to admit.


Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?


The market seems to be in very good health and collectors are collecting enthusiastically. In the future, I hope and expect to see the growth of new markets focusing on hitherto neglected materials that can be rightly celebrated for their cultural importance, beauty, and rarity. There is a strong group of intelligent and innovative young booksellers in the UK, many of whom work with established dealers and auction houses, while some have set up their own enterprises. While I cannot predict the future, I am confident that the trade will be led very ably in the years to come.


Any upcoming sales you’re particularly excited about?


Our Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale on 12 December includes some astonishingly good lots. I’m thinking in particular about Adam Smith’s own copy of the Wealth of Nations (est. £500,000-800,000), a presentation copy of the first edition of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (est. £150,000-250,000) and the two autograph sledging journals of Tryggve Gran (est. £120,000-180,000), an extremely important piece of Polar history.

[Image credit: Christie’s]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Annie Rowlenson, a bookseller with Simon Beattie (himself a former entry in the series) in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England. Annie and Simon will have a booth at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend.

AnnieR.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?


I’m a product of the ‘get them while they’re young’ approach.  As an undergrad at the University of Virginia I took a first-year seminar taught by the director of the Rare Book School on the history of books.  A couple years later RBS kindly took me on as an office assistant and summer staff member.  From there, I developed an interest in the book as an object and ended up getting an MA with a concentration in bibliography and textual studies, followed by an MLIS at the Palmer School.


What is your role at Simon Beattie?


My official title is bookseller, but I suppose ‘apprentice’ would be just as apt; we’re participating in the ABA Educational Trust’s apprenticeship scheme, which has proven to be a fantastic support as I enter the trade.


What do you love about the book trade?


The book community--it really is a 21st-century Republic of Letters.  I like how places like book fairs, the York Antiquarian Book Seminar, and RBS create spaces where dealers, librarians, collectors, and others can come together on the same footing to exchange interests and support each other’s endeavours.  


I also love seeing new things entering the market that might have been overlooked in decades past.  We’re slowly but surely moving towards a place of equal representation.


Describe a typical day for you:


I’m not sure there is a typical day for a bookseller.  Collating and cataloguing new acquisitions always take up a bit of my time, as do book fairs and visiting customers.  I’m slowly becoming more Photoshop-literate and really enjoy helping Simon put together catalogues.  The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I’ve helped match the right book to the right customer or collection.


Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?


I’ll always have a soft spot for anything in the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the University of Virginia.


What do you personally collect?


I’ve collected editions of Wuthering Heights since doing my undergrad thesis.  It’s very much in the same vein as the Jane Eyre collection at the Rare Book School--i.e., it aims to show how materiality affects and effects the meaning of a text over time.  I buy everything from early editions and translations to more recent stage adaptations, pocket editions issued to soldiers in WWII, erotic spin-offs (‘Wuthering Nights’, anyone?), and everything in between.  I like the messiness of it; there’s something really satisfying about seeing a ratty Harlequin-esque paperback from the 80’s on the same shelf as one finely bound in morocco.  Each one has something different to say.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I’m in the middle of trying to coerce my husband into doing another road trip to Wales.  Last time we stumbled upon some castle ruins and I got to have an Ann Radcliffe moment.


Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?


So long as there are booksellers selling material that they are passionate and knowledgeable about, I don’t see it ever changing for the worse.  It’s definitely becoming more female and tattooed, which can only be a good thing.


Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


Our next fair is the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, Nov. 16-18.  If you plan on attending, please stop by booth #226 and say hello!  We’d love to share our books with you.

[Image provided by Annie Rowlenson]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Ellen Saito, proprietor of Excelsa Scripta Rare Books in Hastings on Hudson, New York.

IMG_0176.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?


As an intern in architecture, I thought I had found my true calling, which involved drafting, blueprints, models and handmade presentations.  By the time I finished graduate school, those forms of creativity had become obsolete due to the advent of computer aided design (CAD). Eager to adapt, I became a CAD operator, but found it to be relatively dry work. Having developed a hobby of rare book collecting, the idea to become a bookseller sprang to mind to allow me to continue along a creative vein. As I got deeper into the collecting and selling of books, I realized that my interests lay in the antiquarian books and rare books, those that not only offered the script, i.e. content, but also the beauty and exterior, i.e. form, that allowed me to come full circle back to my architectural, creative beginnings.



When did you open Excelsa Scripta and what do you specialize in?


I opened Excelsa Scripta on September 1, 2015 with rare books accessible online, at fairs and by appointment. I specialize in antiquarian social justice books to provide people with inspirational books of historical importance on topics such as human rights, social reform, anti-slavery, women’s rights, indigenous cultures, LGBTQ rights, poverty, genocide, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, social and economic equality, diversity, the environment and marginalized achievements.

What do you love about the book trade?


I love the books and I love the business. It offers a creative and multifaceted outlet for learning, improvement and camaraderie that I find highly enjoyable.

Describe a typical day for you:


There is no typical day for me day-to-day, depending on the needs of my clients and where I am in the process of bookselling and the process of preparing for an upcoming fair or trade show. I am constantly theorizing and implementing improvements to my overall business plan. Some of those exercises entail business or administrative aspects and some specific to the books themselves such as, but not limited to, describing books, researching the historical significance of authors and the books, communicating with clients and packaging of books for distribution.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?


My equally favorite books are three autobiographies that I have sold multiple times. The first edition of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass was the first book that really moved me. The first edition of Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington was astonishing. The first American edition of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl absolutely broke my heart.

What do you personally collect?


At this point right now, I tend to sell to my clients these special books. I have a significant collection, which includes antiquarian books, beautiful books and petite sets.

What do you like to do outside of work?


Outside of work, I find great respite by spending time in nature. For a change, my eyes focus on far away vistas, while I walk, hike and explore new trails. Far away book shops, rare book seminars, and book fairs enable me to travel and to see new places. I am particularly fond of stunning views, even those in metropolitan cities. Located near New York City, I adore the Morgan Library and Museum, Frick Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art. I also enjoy reading paperback copies of my rare books.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?


The rare book trade appears to be moving in the right direction. Customers are increasingly well-informed. The collection of prints, maps and ephemera for inventory is intense right now. The demand for brand new books is dwindling, which appears to indicate that rare books will become even more rare and will likely increase in value more quickly than before. Book collectors are likely to increase in number.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


Yes, my next show will be at the Albany Book and Paper Fair on Sunday, September 23rd. My next catalog will highlight my recently acquired offerings on antiquarian social justice, such as the 1869 first edition of The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill, the 1881 first edition of A Century of Dishonour: A Sketch of the United States Government’s Dealings with some of the North American Tribes by Helen Hunt Jackson and a 1600 collection of ancient Greek victory odes, including those for the Olympic games, by Pindar.

[Image provided by Ellen Saito]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with A. N. Devers, proprietor of The Second Shelf in London:

IMG_7331 (1).JPGHow did you get started in rare books?

It’s been a series of convergences that now seem like a kind of fate the best I can make of it. I am a lifelong reader who spent a great deal of time in libraries and secondhand bookstores growing up -- my first job that wasn’t babysitting was as a library page shelving books at our regional library, and then I went to the University of Virginia where I studied English Literature and archaeology and would often pass Edgar Allan Poe’s former dorm room on the Commons (it has a clear plexiglass covering the entrance so one can always gaze in), and I also took a lot of impromptu detours to UVa’s Special Collections for exhibits and I knew vaguely of the Rare Book School and its offerings. I was always intrigued by book history.

And I have always been one of those readers who brought home more than I could ever keep up with, and after graduating I worked in bookshops on and off. For the past 10 years I’ve made a modest living as a freelance writer and arts journalist, and adjunct professor -- and the articles and essays I published were often about literary history, book reviews, or people who had made their life about books.

I was not a collector of more than paperbacks except for an occasional lucky find here and there from bookstore shelves. That changed a tiny bit when I met Heather O’Donnell, owner of Honey & Wax Booksellers. I’ve always had side jobs as a writer, as most writers must do, and I was working at Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore as their publicist when we became friends. She was launching her business and starting an annual holiday book fair in Brooklyn -- I volunteered to help her get the word out about it, and I bought some affordable books from her. Her first catalog was inspiring, and I coveted everything she put in it. And not long after Community Bookstore opened a secondhand bookshop nearby called Terrace Books and they soon started offering some rare books as well. I was pretty much completely jealous is what I am trying to say. I was inspired and wanted in. I started going to fairs to see Heather, and pretty quickly became interested in the entire enterprise.

The first time I thought I might have a knack for finding and selling rare books was at one of these fairs, I accidentally hand-sold a $6,000 multi-volume copy of “Tristram Shandy” offered by Adams’ Antiquarian Book Shop, to an acquaintance (I think that’s what it was marked, anyway.). I had opened the lovely set to see the blacked out page and the stunning marbled page pasted in, and showed them off, telling this new acquaintance about how it was considered a forerunner to modernism and the postmodern novel, way back in the mid-18th century. And I mentioned how I had visited his home in England, which is open to the public and is a completely great and surreal experience. And then I put the books down and went on my way through the fair and found out later she had bought them. Just like that. And I honestly felt incredible, it was a huge rush. I couldn’t fathom it. Later the Adamses wrote me offering me a small set of an early but later edition of Shandy for a significant discount, I think as a bit of a thank you, and I bought it for myself despite not being really able to afford them. So they are a part of my very small personal collection of books I probably wouldn’t ever sell. I love Tristram Shandy and that marbled and blacked out page so much.

When did you open The Second Shelf and what do you specialize in?

Books and manuscripts by women, or about women, as well as objects and ephemera that highlight women’s work and contributions to cultural history.

I think it was at the same fair with the Shandy where I noticed that modern first editions by women I consider to be extraordinary writers seemed to cost far less than their male contemporaries. Not in all cases, but it seemed to me the majority of them. And I had noticed the fairs are largely attended by male dealers and male collectors, and though I speak broadly, and know plenty of women who deal and collect, I was frankly bothered by it. It didn’t feel like the most inviting place for women -- the fairs often don’t. And there is a diversity issue in the rare book trade that I am also bothered by. For a trade so geared to identifying rare and great work by the most forward-thinking people in history and investing so heavily in the ideas of great writers and artists and book binders and publishers, it can sometimes feel decidedly unprogressive. Part of that is history’s fault -- part of that is the nature of dealing in books from the past. But then, I would argue there is a reason to hunt for what might be overlooked, and certainly no reason to continue to ignore or dismiss certain books or writers now as “uncollectible.” I’m told all the time certain titles by certain women are unsellable. I don’t believe it or buy it at all. And if it’s true now I’m going to work to change that by being a great saleswoman. It’s easy to go to bat for work I believe in.

I ran the idea for a book business that was focused on women to Heather and other friends in the book world, and they were all so supportive and encouraging, that I eventually became brave enough to decide to learn the trade. It helped that I was moving to London, a city that is very good for finding books. I am not the only dealer who has focused their company on women, but I might be the first one to say that even the phrase “women’s interest” is problematic. We are not a niche. But we have been treated as one and left out or overlooked in the field, just as women have been in most fields, and so I am determined to raise awareness about this and also hoping to inspire and entice more women to collect -- since men historically tend to be less interested in books by women and since the rare books world does help build a market for writers’ legacies and their archives. I’d like women’s work to be equally valued and as collected and that is starting to happen, as institutions begin to redress the inequality of their shelves, and that means “women’s interest” is actually a good business to be in -- although the valuation of 20th-century women writers is not what I think it should be.

I am inspired by the work of book collector and activist Lisa Unger Baskin, who has built an extraordinary collection of books and material relating to women’s work and donated it to Duke’s Rubenstein Library. She says about her collection, “The unifying thread is that women have always been productive and working people and this history essentially has been hidden.” I believe wholeheartedly in this statement and her focus and purpose on documenting this history.

My hope for The Second Shelf is to focus significantly on women writers, particularly modern and contemporary writers, in order to provide an affordable access point for readers to become collectors, and therefore stewards of these writers. It also means as a new company operating on a small budget I have been able to build my stock as I learn the trade without taking huge gambles on wildly expensive books, although I have done that a little bit.

I am also not limiting myself. I will procure books of importance to women’s history and literature from all eras, as my business’s growth allows. The first book featured in my catalog is a beautiful book bound by a preeminent Norwegian binder -- a significant novel by the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and she is a writer I had never heard of until I bought it. I consider my ignorance of her an example of the problem I am trying to address. I should know her name. We all should. It’s Selma Lagerlöf.

What do you love about the book trade?

I love the books. I love the book fiends. And I love showing books to people in person. I might not love aspects of book fairs, but I still love book fairs. I am a visual person and I am a tactile person. Nothing beats shopping and looking at books with your own eyes or handling them yourself. It’s a pretty great job to get to sell people on books you love, and I have all that background from my time in bookstores forcing copies of I Capture the Castle and The Secret History into new readers hands to draw on. It’s a natural job for me.

Describe a typical day for you:

I wake up and hang out with my son and take him to nursery school and try to get working by 10 am. I usually have something due unrelated to the book trade as a freelance writer. I am also finishing my first book any day now. My plate is full. Last year I spent a lot of time in local bookshops turning their stock upside-down. I would sometimes go straight to the stores and then come home and put my books down and then start writing. Then toward the end of the workday I’m a mom again. It’s usually a juggle between writing and loitering in bookstores where I feel guilty about doing one of the other and can feel fairly frantic. I went about things pretty upside-down. I started selling books by men at a monthly fair because I needed practice and to start dealing, and didn’t want to sell my first The Second Shelf stock before I had my first catalog. I was determined to do things a certain way, however untraditional. But what my decisions have afforded me is a rapid introduction and education, so although I’ve started with a bit of a mess, I am quickly in the process of tidying that mess up and when I put up my website, I will have about 500 books cataloged to share, and that’s really only a fraction of what’s in the basement.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

I won Sylvia Plath’s blue and green tartan skirt recently at auction and I don’t know what to do with myself about it. It has her name on the waistband. I brought it home and discovered it fit me, which was an incredible surprise. I am so in love with it that I wore it out once to dinner before the weather changed in London in case I never got the chance again. I bought it to sell, and certainly can’t afford to keep it, but of all the things I have I am uncomfortable with parting with it -- the thought gives me little pleasure right now, though that could change. I consider it a talismanic object in my life. It led me to commission a poem about it called “How to Wear It” by one of my favorite poets, Ariana Reines, and that will be a broadside published by The Second Shelf printed by Hurst Street Press, a woman-owned letterpress in London. I am letting the skirt be my guide about what to do with it.

What do you personally collect?

It’s odds and ends representing highlights of my favorite books and writers. I have some first edition children’s books that I love. I am a huge fan of Susan Cooper and I am one book away from having all the first editions in The Dark is Rising series. I have some Edward Gorey, including one of his fur coats, and signed first editions of my favorite contemporary fiction, but I don’t seek out those books particularly deliberately. The book I most wanted to have for myself was Plath’s The Bell Jar, which she first published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. I bought a rather tatty copy and it was relatively affordable and I will never let it go. I don’t need it to be pristine. I like a loved book, this copy was loved by someone named Diane.

I have a few books that were owned by John Cheever that are also close to my heart despite being in not great shape, and I have his jazz records. It’s a long story why. I have some nice editions of Poe, a carte de visite, and a brick from his house that was partially demolished by NYU to make more student housing -- the Poe stuff is the result of minor fixation on him, and an unfinished book I researched for five years. I have a plastic jar of water from Flannery O’Connor’s pond -- it’s slowly evaporating. I love books. But I also love objects that have unique associations with the writers whose books I love.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to travel, particularly by train. My first book is actually called Train comes out next year from Bloomsbury and it is about a 30-day solo train trip I took circumnavigating America. I like visiting dead authors’ houses that are open to the public. And I hang out with my family and I have a narrowboat on Regent’s canal that is both a pleasure and an endless supply of problems to solve. I read books, obviously, like, a lot of them.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I am running a Kickstarter campaign right now to bring awareness to the historic inequality of the book trade and on bookshelves and to find supporters for my business, and the tagline of it is, “The Future of Books is Female.” I repurposed “The Future is Female” motto that has become current again and that originated from Labyris Books, a 1970s feminist bookshop in New York. I also have a statement on my website about my definition of women being open and expansive. The Second Shelf is intersectional in its stock and perspective.

I don’t think the book trade will survive without women collectors and dealers being treated equally for their work and contributions or being treated as niche, so I’m doubling down on it, even as I specialize specifically in books by women. I feel the same about the trade’s need to diversify. The trade is too white. I am offering a scholarship for a woman to attend York Antiquarian Book Seminar. And Jonathan Kearns Rare Books is offering a scholarship for a person of color to attend. The future of the book trade looks bright ... if it figures out how to become more inclusive. It’s not there yet, it’s feeling a bit dusty at the moment.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I am exhibiting in my first PBFA fair this weekend in London and my first fair list will go out right before. My first catalog has become a bit of a different beast. I’ve commissioned some incredible writers to write about some of their favorite writers that I have in my stock, and now the catalog is something rather different. It’s called The Second Shelf: A Quarterly of Rare Books and Words by Women. It’s available only through the Kickstarter for now or by single issue or subscription and will ship in June or early July. Clients who have bought from me in the past will be given issues, but otherwise, it’s available for purchase. The books will be available to the trade through lists and online when I launch the online website later this year. I consider this business based on both sides of the pond and so I am glad to attend the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in September.

[Image credit Jo Emmerson]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Bryn Hoffman, proprietor of Pyewacket Books in Oakland, California:


Photo for BYB.jpg

How did you get started in rare books?

I was working as an archivist last year and I started meeting independent booksellers and was realized I could totally do that. My undergraduate work was done at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, the great books school, where I studied philosophy and comparative literature and I got my MLIS with an archives concentration from Simmons College. Also I’ve been bookbinding on and off since I was a teen, so once I learned that “rare book dealer” was an actual job, it was obvious to me that I was built for it.

As I learned more about the trade, I started to fall in love with this idea of bookselling in which we could actually help change the larger cultural landscape by reimagining and re-cataloguing important materials. We get to scour flea markets, auction houses, and personal collections with impunity. I was always a thrift store/garage sale/flea market kid, so this is just the best for me. We also get to catalogue without institutional bias and present materials in the light we think they should be seen. In my lists, I get to say what I think is important and why. That’s powerful.

Unfortunately, as I’ve met more booksellers and learned more about the trade I’ve realized that it is, in fact, eating itself. A lot of us are selling the same books in the same ways to the same people. This is a bummer, but it’s not enough to drive me away. I think that there’s a lot of potential in bookselling and I’m confident that it can be extracted from the mire.

When did you open Pyewacket Books and what do you specialize in?

I started on April 2nd. I’m focusing primarily on occult books and esoterica, LGBTQIA materials, and things pertaining to sex and sex work, but I’m open to anything else important, curious, interesting, odd.

What do you love about the book trade?

I like owning my labour and my time. I’m doing a lot of the things I did as a librarian and archivist - cataloguing, researching, banging my head against a keyboard - but at 3am in my bed or 2pm in a coffeeshop in North Beach. I’ve been on the move for the past several years, so I like that this line of work allows me freedom of movement. Plus some of the people have been chill so far. Oh, and spending all my time with books pretty neat, too.

Describe a typical day for you:

I put on my bathrobe, make coffee, and check emails and social media. I generally chill like that for awhile before starting in on work-work, which right now consists of cataloguing and book hunting. The Bay Area is chockablock full of neat places to find books so I never want for adventure. I usually like to pack a bag with snacks, my laptop, and a few books to-be-catalogued and venture out. My apartment is hella small and our cat is a pubescent maniac so it’s not easy working from home. I work in cafÇs, public parks - wherever there’s wifi. I’ve been making an effort to put out one short list per week. Once the list goes out, all those items get added to my website, where they’re available for sale. I try to put out lists on a theme - no matter how loose. This feels sustainable so far - we’ll see what the future holds.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

I was at the Vermont State Archives for a hot minute, doing an internship, and they had this letter written and signed by George Washington in which he expounded on the virtues of Vermonters - tough as nails, gritty, full of whatever “moxie” was in the 18th century. He said that they were rad but also sort of assholes because their loyalty to “the cause” was always in jeopardy. If they thought for even a second that Vermont was in danger of attack they’d hightail it to the home defense. I am a Vermonter and identified with the sentiment. I also appreciated Washington’s candor and very fine handwriting.

What do you personally collect?

I collect a bit around bookbinding. The thing I’m always hunting for are zines and handmade/artists books about online dating and artists books about relationships in general. That may seem niche but I’ve got a pretty solid collection going. A few years ago I was at a zine fest and this person had a zine they’d written about dating via craigslist in, like, 2005. You know, before OkCupid and all the others. I didn’t have the cash on me to buy it (it was like $5) and I’ve regretted it ever since. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot in the past few weeks, especially in the lead-up to SESTA/FOSTA being passed. You can’t do that anymore - date via craigslist - and it’s one of those things that disappears quietly but leaves a big hole. When the next-next generation asks “what happened?” we’re going to want documents like that zine to attest to the fact it wasn’t always this way. Man, I really fucked up not buying it.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m an avid pedestrian so I usually spend a good portion of my day walking around Oakland or San Francisco. I mentioned bookbinding already. I also spend a lot of time knitting and weaving. I just made a loom that I’m pretty excited about.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I’ll preface by saying that it ain’t gonna look like what it looks like now if it’s going to survive. That said, there are definitely some rad booksellers out and about. For example, I’m stoked to be in the profession with the likes of Rachel Furnari of Graph Books and A.N. Devers of The Second Shelf. I’m also a big fan of Fuchsia Voremberg over at Maggs. That said, I think the book trade as a whole needs to take a good long look at itself and ask where are the women in the room? Where are the queers? Where are the people of colour? If we’re not actively engaged in making the trade more accessible to new collectors and newˇbooksellers who are not just straight cisgender white dudes of a certain age, we’re going to collapse. And we’ll deserve to.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I’ll be exhibiting at the Rose City Book & Paper Fair in Portland in June,ˇand at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair in September. I hope to have my first print catalogue ready by the end of the calendar year, but I’m not ready to get into that yet - It’s gonna be rad though. I’ll also be out and about and buying at Battersea at the end of May. I am STOKED to meet Sir David Attenborough.

[Image provided by Bryn Hoffman]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Aaron Beckwith of Capitol Hill Books in Washington, DC:

IMG_3189.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

I started working at Capitol Hill Books in 2004.  Once I proved to Jim, the owner, that I knew the alphabet (one of the few interview questions) and was fairly competent, he was generous enough to start explaining what a first edition was and how to identify one. Soon after, my friend Matt Wixon took over the online rare book operation at the store. Through our occasional trips to book sales, I started learning about this weird world of foxing, slightly chipped dust jackets, and ornery customers (and booksellers). Who can resist that?

Soon after I was making a number of dubious purchases on E-Bay. Eventually, I went to Catholic University for Library Science, and took a really great History of the Book course. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I understand you are in the process of buying Capitol Hill Books.  How is that going?

Things are good! As Jim always says of me to our customers, “this is the guy trying to buy me out!” Several of us who have worked at the store have a great relationship with Jim and have been discussing it with him for awhile. We have a deep love for the place and are ready to keep the store humming when Jim wants to retire.

Matt Wixon, the friend I mentioned above, actually started a moving company, Bookstore Movers, to raise the funds to buy the store, and the two companies support each other in a number of ways. A few employees, such as myself, have worked for both businesses and fill in at whichever place needs help that day.  We are allies and we’ll be around to support each other for many years to come.  

We’ve got enough to keep us busy in the meantime.  Last fall the bookstore partnered with the Poet Laureate office at the Library Congress to host a Day of the Dead Dance Party. We built an altar to Sam Shepard, Derek Walcott, and Carrie Fisher, all authors that had passed in the last year. We drank mezcal rickys and danced as only librarians and booksellers can--with nerdy exuberance and capes.

On a recent trip to Mexico, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a fellow used bookstore, A Través del Espejo. In the memorandum, the two stores agreed to become “sister stores” and engage in activities that “promote friendship between Mexican and American readers, and foment increased understanding of the literary cultures that exist in each country.” We plan to return at least once a year to take them some books, explore the taco scene, and do some book scouting ourselves.

What do you love about the book trade?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of mentors who have shown me the ropes, and making those unexpected relationships has been particularly special. Jim is certainly number one. Erik Delfino was my professor at Catholic University and taught the History of the Book class. This was at the height of e-readers and “The Book Is Dead!” hysteria. Erik was able to contextualize all of this from the oral tradition, to sumerian tablets, to the codex, moveable type, and on up to audiobooks and e-readers. He calmed us all down and taught a great course in the process.

Another whole world opened up when I met Brian Cassidy, who introduced me to CABS (Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars), or Rare Book Camp, as I think of it.  There, I saw how varied the booksellers’ and librarians’ interests were.  Everyone got excited when talking about their collecting or research specialties (whether death, carnivals, or some esoteric binding technique), and there was this great “Oh you like weird stuff, too!” series of epiphanies.  

The trade runs the gamut with old salts, new salts, and wide-eyed naifs like me. Just about everyone has been eager to share advice, though, including “I hope you don’t want to make money.”  I don’t, so we’re good there!

Describe a typical day for you:

Every Thursday, I borrow Jim’s car for what we call “the circuit.”  I drive all over the DMV looking for books, both general store stock or more rare stuff. I’ll fill up a couple carts, focusing on $7 paperbacks. The first question upon my return is whether I found any Vonnegut or Murakami, but I sometimes find some rare gems along the way.

I drive the loaded car back to the shop, and usually enter to find Jim in great mental distress due to a customer using one of the words that is banned in our store (sweet, like, perfect, Amazon, OMG, etc) “Gahhhhhh!  You’re giving me braaaaaaain damage!”

After the proper excoriation, we have our weekly informal happy hour with the “Destickering Crew”.  These are a rotating cast of friends and roustabouts who come to the store after we close to take the stickers off the books, drink, make book puns and, ideally, not talk too much about politics. The night generally ends with margaritas, chili con queso and, of course, more book talk.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

That’s tough, because in Library Science school at CUA we were able to tour the rare book collections of all the major institutions in DC, and at the Library of Congress, for instance, they played all the hits. So getting to see some early Galileo, or all of Charles Dickens’s first editions at one time was pretty dang cool.  

My favorite, though, was a self-made Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. It came from Israel and whoever had owned it had created their own monsters and included extensive descriptions (in Hebrew) and drawings. It was fascinating to look at, and the time period worked out that this author was in Israel playing D&D at the same time I was a husky lad doing the same up in Michigan. He or she created two of their own monsters, and I was drawn to the care and creativity that went into it.  The manual ended up being my first ever book fair sale, so I have fond memories.

What do you personally collect?

It’s become increasingly hard to distinguish what I’m collecting for myself, and what I’m just holding on to for a couple years before selling. But looking at my shelves now, there’s a lot of books from the WW1 and the Lost Generation, the remnants of a hypermodern fetish, Wodehouse Penguins, Virginia Woolf, and a lot about food, cooking, and cocktails.

I also just started a collection of casual dining menus from places like T.G.I. Friday’s, Applebee’s, IHOP, etc. I recently read that Applebee’s used to have quail on the menu, so really hoping to track that one down at some point.    

What do you like to do outside of work?

Mainly I like to travel, cook, and read. Though I rarely get to play these days, 4-Square, the old playground game, is probably my favorite past-time. I’ll bring some chalk and a ball to the next book fair.

I’ve been swimming more and more too. Mostly I do a lazy, frolickey backstroke while staring at the ceiling of the pool trying to think of anagrams for “incunabula.”

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I’m pretty new to the trade, so it’s a little tough for to say anything with any authority. I’ve been thinking more about nostalgia cycles though, and I’d guess there’s some previously unconsidered 80s or 90s items that we’ll start seeing soon on the margins of the book trade, something like early Trapper Keepers.

One idea we want to follow through on at Capitol Hill Books is to host some booksellers at the shop every now and then. We’d have them set up a small display and give a talk about their experiences in the book trade, or their specialty, or wherever they wanted to take it. The trade has so many interesting, vibrant personalities, and having a space to share that and bring together the disparate parts of the DC book community would work well.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We did our first catalogue on Hemingway and the Lost Generation last winter, and it was a blast to put together. We were able to partner up with the Pen Faulkner Foundation, Shakespeare Theater Company, and Riverby Books, our fellow booksellers on Capitol Hill. We met a lot of cool book and theater people, and sold a fair bit at our rare book pop-ups.

In the next year, we’ll focus a little more on events. We’re doing three book fairs - Ann Arbor, Richmond, and Washington, DC.  In the shop, we’ll continue to host our monthly free wine and cheese parties. Book people plus free booze always equals interesting times.

A friend also brings in a couple kegs of homebrew to the shop every month or two. He’s been called the Björk of Homebrewing. We’re certainly not above bribing people to buy our books, and it works every time.

Left Bank Books is Back, Online

logostacked.png                                                                                                                                             Left Bank Books is back, but without the brick and mortar setup. Erik DuRon and artist Jess Kuronen recently relaunched the Greenwich Village book hub as an online shop with a curated inventory of vintage, collectible and rare materials. Both worked briefly at the old Left Bank Books before it shuttered in 2016. They kindly answered a few questions recently about the relaunch and what it’s been like to transition to a digital bookstore.                                                                                                                             

Best of luck to the latest incarnation of Left Bank Books--be sure to visit their website here!

                                                                                                                                                                         What made you decide to relaunch online?

Mostly it was a pragmatic decision. We just don’t have the resources yet to open as a brick-and-mortar shop, whereas a website was a scale we could work within creatively at relatively low cost. That said, we want to make the most of it. It’s been an interesting experiment, trying to recreate the experience of browsing in a well-appointed used bookshop. Obviously the tactile element is just irreproducible, but hopefully the moment of serendipity when you discover something really cool you didn’t know you were looking for but then just have to have is there.



What kind of books do you specialize in?

Broadly speaking, books in literature and the arts - antiquarian, modern and contemporary. Jess is an artist and I’m a writer and we’re both interested in process. Our inventory reflects that and is geared towards people in creative professions, for whom books are a resource, personally and professionally. The old Left Bank was very much a hybrid used-and-rare bookshop and we want to maintain that, but for all the well-known reasons the sad reality is there’s just less of a viable space these days for the kind of general used bookshop I grew up frequenting in the city. Still, it’s important to us to be accessible to people who maybe don’t necessarily identify themselves as rare book collectors, in terms of price, but also in terms of selection, and how we present our books. Hopefully the material is fresh, in that it’s not what you expect to find in a rare bookseller’s catalog, or we have something new and insightful to say about it. We want our books to bypass the rational mind that says I don’t have room for one more book and speak directly to your reptilian brain.

How’s business been since the relaunch?

I won’t lie, it’s been slow. When the old shop closed in spring 2016 there was a big outpouring of grief and frustration in the neighborhood, so we were pleased when we announced the relaunch at the show of love we got. But at any given point in the day fewer people are likely to “stop by” a website to see what’s new, and of course you miss the crucial element of handselling that takes place in-person in a real environment. We’ve tried to recreate that online, and do a lot of individualized outreach and personal attention to our customers, but there’s no substitute for street level contact in a neighborhood like the Village, with all its characters and denizens.

You’ve been selling books for two decades, were you ever involved with the old LBB?

Yes, both Jess and I each worked at the old Left Bank for a year, under its third and final owner. I had been working independently from home while attending grad school, after having recently left Bauman Rare Books, where I had been a manager and worked for 14 years. Left Bank had been in existence by that point for 24 years, first as Book Leaves on W. 4th St. under its original owner, then as Left Bank on 8th Avenue under its second owner. It had always struggled, but the city was a kinder if not gentler place then and it managed to get by. By the time we got there, though, the challenges were many. In a sense we were brought in to help with a turnaround, and things were improving, but in the end we ran out of time. That’s why we want to be deliberate now that we’ve revived things under our own steam, and try to get it right. It may be next to impossible, but we want to give it a shot because we think a good used and rare bookshop has an important role to play in the cultural life of a city.

What else should our readers know?

Until we can scrape together financing for an open shop, we’re planning to do pop-ups, bookfairs, digital catalogs, Instagram, etc. People should visit us for updates and keep a lookout.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Colleen Barrett of Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company.

Colleen Barrett PRBM.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

When asked what I want to be when I grow up, my standard answer has always been “happy.” As a junior at Purdue University, I realized that while I really enjoyed being an English major I still had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. Later that semester, my book history class took a field trip to the Lilly Library at Indiana University. While handling their Shakespeare first folio, it dawned on me that I could actually get paid to work with this sort of stuff, so I promptly decided to become a rare book librarian. Following my MLS at Indiana, I catalogued the Clara Peck collection at Transylvania University before Cynthy and David asked if I would like to join PRB&M. My academic advisor Joel Silver once told me you don’t know anything before you’ve handled 3000 books, so I decided joining a firm that specializes in early books of Europe and the Americas was a great way to quickly handle and learn about a massive variety of texts, even if it wasn’t a traditional library setting.

What is your role at PRBM?

I am one of three cataloguers on staff. Since we’re a relatively small company, this means I am involved in most aspects of the business, from helping with appraisal prep work to buying flowers for our open houses, in addition to actually cataloging things for sale.

What do you love about the book trade?

For me, there’s an inherent romance in being able to handle things *first.* When I worked as a library cataloger I was lucky enough to be one of the first few people to handle a book (following acquisition of course), but here I get to start at almost if not the very beginning of the process.

Furthermore I am continually impressed by the friendliness and passion of other booksellers. I have yet to meet someone who is not excited by what he, she, or they is doing, which is not something I can say for most professions.

Being allowed to drink coffee with the books or take them home occasionally also rocks.  

Describe a typical day for you:

While no day here is typical, mine usually starts with our shared email, where I might find an order to process, inquiry for photographs of a specific book, or even questions about shipment methods to other countries. Once these tasks are finished I often spend the rest of my time cataloging new material for sale, answering phone inquiries, working on various collection maintenance projects, or playing with our shopcat Blake.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Anything Audubon. There’s something so fascinating about the intersection of research, artwork, and pure joy of discovery represented in his works, and every time I look at them I notice something new to love. I’m fortunate enough to have worked with his materials at all of my workplaces in various ways, and even catalogued some of his items at both Transy and PRB&M. We currently have a copy of the third octavo edition at the shop, so I feel quite fortunate to be able to pick one up to look through every now and again during breaks.

What do you personally collect?

I mostly collect books about books with a specific focus on bookseller/collector/librarian memoirs, but I also own numerous contemporary sci-fi fantasy of the steampunk, time travel, or alternate city variety and nicer gift editions of Tolkien and Gaiman’s works. I always plan to (eventually) read whatever I buy, so I tend to think of my purchases as more of a research collection than a pristine gathering of important works.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Cook! Since I subscribed to a CSA vegetable share this summer, I have spent most evenings trying out new recipes for things like bottle gourd curry or bitter melon potatoes. Otherwise I am a fan of pretending to reduce my TBR pile, going to concerts, and celebrating random holidays -- my two current favorites being IPA Day and Independent Bookstore Day. I also really enjoy attending meetings of the Philobiblon Club (the book collecting club here in Philadelphia).

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

It really is an exciting time to be here! There will always be the need for independent, intelligent, and creative people to make a living, and I cannot think of another profession better suited to this than antiquarian bookselling. I have no doubt the trade will continue to grow and flourish in interesting and unexpected ways. It’s such a treat to see so many inventive booksellers coming up with new collecting areas and ways to think about traditional collecting fields these past few years.  

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We’ll be at the California Book Fair in February, and we’re constantly updating the newest arrivals section of our website, which can be found here.

Pint-Sized Bookstore Takes Up Residence in LA


Though already home to a sizable number of independent, brick-and-mortar bookshops, Los Angeles recently welcomed a new addition to the family: OOF Bookstore, which opened its doors in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Cypress Park on July 2. Writer Christie Hayden first felt the call to launch a bookstore while studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and in 2015 created Bookish, a mobile bookshop on wheels staffed by artists in Baltimore City featuring small press titles and independent projects. (Not to be confused with the book recommendation website by the same name created by publishing giants Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.)

Since then, the Bookish founders traveled to New York City, the District of Columbia, and eventually found their way to Los Angeles. Hayden discovered the location of OOF while searching for an apartment on Craigslist. Like Bookish, Hayden stocks OOF with locally published ‘zines and books, catalogues, art books, and ceramics, and hosts artist exhibitions of works on paper.

Whether intentional or not, Hayden is staying true to her nomadic roots and doesn’t have a website for OOF, though the store’s Facebook page contains basic contact information and is updated regularly with new inventory announcements and sales. We wish all the best of luck to this free-spirited endeavor. OOF Books is located at 912A Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90065.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alan Kitchen, proprietor of Black Forest Bookshop, an online bookshop based in Indiana:


How did you get started in rare books?

I received a BA in Fine Arts, a subject still very dear to me, but literature took a strong hold right after college. For several years I worked for a big-box bookstore, and sometime during that period I learned that people pay attention to the finer points of books, something I think which appealed to the burgeoning art “collector” in me, and began vaguely teaching myself the rudimentary aspects of collection building. Though only later a collector, I think it was the childhood visits to the amazing Hyde Brothers Bookshop in Fort Wayne, IN, that opened up the importance of used bookshops in my mind. Midway through the corporate phase, my now wife and I moved to Denver, which is of course an amazing book town and exposure to numerous good sellers and kinds of books really propelled me forward. Like any sensible book person in that city, I adopted the Hermitage Bookshop as a weekly check-in spot. After two years of diligent visits and shyly asking questions or putting forth my “wants,” the kind and knowledgeable owner, Robert Topp, asked me over a cup of coffee, if I had any interest in furthering my book education by joining his shop. Stunned, I had to tell him that my wife and I were committed to a six-month trip abroad in Europe, to which he offered: “I can give you six weeks, then you can start for me.” I spent five years at the shop, which came to an end after another lengthy trip and relocation to Indiana.

When did you open Black Forest Bookshop and what do you specialize in?

After six months of driving coast to coast, a relocation and addition to our family, I opened my online store Black Forest Bookshop in the summer of 2016. It can’t be said I specialize as of yet, but my inventory is prominently literature, with philosophy, poetry, and some history.

What do you love about the book trade?

As many have stated before, the people are a big draw. Any time one gets to talk and share with others that have a like passion, it stimulates one to explore further and try harder. The eye-opening conversations with customers at the shop sometimes verged on the metaphysical, sometimes I felt as though it was a graduate course. Then there are certainly the items themselves, the hunting, finding, researching, and learning. Coupled with this then, are the long stretches of solitude that are also a strong pull for me; like many, I suspect, that love books.

Describe a typical day for you:

Well I am a stay-at-home father for the time being, so beyond those widely consuming duties, I regularly check email, respond to inquiries and process orders. My sidekick and I run to the post office, check for book sales, etc. Weekends are occasionally consumed with long scouting drives across the Midwest.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

One of the favorites currently in inventory: The modest 1949 Alan Swallow edition of John Williams’s poetry collection The Broken Landscape. Deservedly known for the renaissance of his novels (my favorite being Butcher’s Crossing) this little item is inscribed by the author before the famous prose was ever published!

What do you personally collect?

I have been building a collection of literature in translation, with a focus on European and probably specifically German writers, though not strictly limited. I enjoy my collections of books by W.G. Sebald, Thomas Bernhard, and Robert Walser. I am also fond of my very modest but personally important group of contemporary painter monographs.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to travel, hike, camp and read. Hanging out with my wife and daughter is the best of times.

Thoughts on the present state and future of the rare book trade?

I think its future is strong. Why wouldn’t it be? People have always loved important, beautiful, gratifying objects; we have entire complexes built to house them. That being said, I think it’s vital that dealers reach out to a wider variety of customer and will need to extend what is considered of secondary-market importance. Many small and new presses are publishing great material that will need properly cataloged moving forward. Paperback originals will become a new major collectible in the next fifty years. I have daydreams of whole auction catalogs full of these some day. This part of preserving and selling may even come to be seen as a form of activism, environmentally, economically and culturally speaking. While at the shop the largest growing customer group were people in their 30s, spending real money, meanwhile, many of the earlier generation largely lamented...who knows. I think there is room for optimism.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

As of this writing, there are no specific plans.

We can be contacted at 

Image courtesy of Alan Kitchen.

Obadiah in vancouver.jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Obadiah Baird of The Book Bin with locations in Salem and Corvallis, Oregon:

How did you get started in rare books?

My parents opened The Book Bin location in Corvallis, OR approximately 35 years ago and I have spent my whole life, with the exception of a decade spent in Portland, around books. My father for most of his career has specialized in books on the Pacific Islands while also running open general interest shops. When I came back into the business after a hiatus for college I worked at our buying counter, learning the trade and it became clear to me fairly quickly that rare and collectible books are far more fun to work with than common paperbacks. About eight years ago an opportunity came along to buy a truly stunning collection of rare Science Fiction, I used that as a springboard to begin specializing in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror and I have been building my knowledge and customer base ever since.

What is your role at The Book Bin?

My parents have just retired and my wife, my sister, and myself all split the duties of running the business. Along with rare and antiquarian books we have two large open shops which sell new and used books and we employ roughly thirty five people. I deal mostly with the bill paying, HR, used book buying and fortunately for my sanity the online and rare book selling. I try to balance the stressful aspects of running a business with the enjoyable aspects of buying and selling rare books but it can be quite a balancing act and there are definitely tasks that fall by the wayside at times. Fortunately we have amazing managers and a great staff who help keep everything running as smoothly as can be reasonably expected.

What do you love about the book trade?

As someone who grew up in our bookstore in the community of Corvallis, OR I have had the opportunity to see first hand what an independent bookstore can be. Friends and strangers have told me what our bookstore meant to them and how reading the books they bought from us helped shape their lives. It is a unique vantage point from which to watch both individuals and our communities grow and it affords me an opportunity to help guide that growth. On the rare book side of things, I am absolutely in love with the sense of connection that books as objects can give us. I sell mainly signed modern firsts of SF, Fantasy and Horror, and that moment when a reader picks up a book that they love and sees that it is signed by the author - that spark of understanding and excitement, that moment when a passionate reader becomes a collector makes my day every time.

Describe a typical day for you:

I’m not sure I have any typical days anymore. My week is broken up into days for dealing with various aspects of the business but even that much organization usually gets torpedoed by circumstance. I travel a lot for book fairs and trade shows, there is almost always at least one emergency to be dealt with and my attempts to plan often meet with mixed results. It is not uncommon for my work with the rare books and ephemera to occur at home in the evening and I have an excellent cataloger who requires minimal management. I always try to devote Thursdays to our rare book and online sales, contacting customers, buying stock and chasing down collections. Most of my research happens in the evening and on weekends, as I am passionate about the genres I sell and would be learning as much as I can about it even if I wasn’t a dealer.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Not long ago I got and sold a first edition of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers with a signed letter from Chambers relating to the work laid in. The King in Yellow is an extremely important pre-Lovecraftian work of weird fiction and has been extremely influential not only on Lovecraft himself but also on the genre today as a whole. To have the chance to handle a one of a kind association copy of this title has been a high point of my career thus far. Of all the books I have sold that one was the hardest to let go.

What do you collect?

I collect a lot of signed first editions of contemporary SF, Fantasy and Horror authors. Along with dealing in the genre I read it extensively and go to author events and conventions when I have the opportunity. I tend to collect books by authors whose work I enjoy as they are released and am building a collection that I hope will be significant in fifty years. As far as older authors go I really pick my spots. I have a small and growing collection of books by the poet and weird fiction author Clark Ashton Smith, including a couple of rare signed books and two pieces of original art by him. I also have a small but growing collection of works by Lord Dunsany who was another important influence on H.P. Lovecraft along with being a fine fantasist in his own right.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I publish a magazine called The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy in my spare time and have a great time doing it. We publish fiction and poetry in a weird or horrific vein. We have published three issues so far and it feels great to create a venue for some talented writers, poets and artists who may not have been published elsewhere. I read a lot and spend time studying the history of Science Fiction. I also try to leave my house occasionally to have dinner or drinks with friends.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

To be honest, I am a bit bothered by the lack of diversity in the rare book trade. I have had colleagues claim that it is due to lack of interest or the business not being lucrative enough but the rare book community seems to lag behind even the bookselling world at large and I don’t believe for a minute that it is because minority groups are simply not interested in bookselling. I would love to see scholarships aimed at supporting rare book education for minorities and mentorship programs aimed at building minority membership in the ABAA. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Our next fair will be the Rose City Book and Paper Fair June 16-17 and after that we do not have another until Seattle in the fall. I send out a monthly new arrivals list that ends up being bi-monthly most of the time. Anyone who would like to be added to our mailing list can contact us at

[Image courtesy of Obadiah Baird]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with James McBride of William Reese Company in New Haven, Connecticut. 

IMG_1924up.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My background is in rare book and special collections librarianship.  I did my library degree at the University of Texas at Austin and also completed a second Master’s degree in Book History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  While I was at Texas, I also worked as a rare book cataloguer for the Harry Ransom Center, working on 16th century Italian, mostly Aldine imprints.  I figured when I returned to the States from Scotland in the fall of 2015, I would continue on that track and find a library position as a Rare Books Cataloguer.  Bill hired me instead, and so here I am in the trade, thoroughly enjoying myself.

What is your role at William Reese Company?

My official title is Americana Cataloguer, or perhaps Americana Associate.  The second is probably more appropriate.  Principally, I do research and write cataloguing for most of our incoming material, but I also carry out many other duties as the need arises -- filling orders, responding to questions and inquiries, answering the phone, purchasing and collecting new materials, making visits to customers, sellers, and institutions, going to book fairs, bidding at auctions, and, of course, trying to sell books.

What do you love about the book trade?

Working for Reese Co. allows me the luxury of getting to see and to work with amazing material on a daily basis.  Another one of the great things is the variation my job affords me -- there are so many different aspects to working in the trade that it is difficult to get stuck in a rut.  It is also a pleasure to be able to meet and to interact with the fun and interesting characters that populate our world.  And if they’re not fun and/or interesting, at least they’re probably crazy.

Describe a typical day for you:

Generally, I come in and first deal with orders and inquiries that have come in overnight, and then discuss with my colleagues if we have anything that needs our special attention during the course of the day, which is usually the case.  I can then turn my attention to cataloguing, though this is liberally interspersed with other tasks that land on my desk throughout the day.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

One of my favorite books so far would have to be the private first printing of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.  It was the first really important thing that I was sent out to collect, and I spent the entire drive back to New Haven checking my bag in the passenger seat every five minutes to make sure it hadn’t magically disappeared.  I’ve also gotten to spend some time with a complete set of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian, an impressive thing, to say the least.  More recently, I saw a copy of the first pamphlet printing of the Declaration of Independence, made on July 8, 1776, just a few days after the vote for independence and Dunlap’s broadside.

What do you personally collect?

I have a record collection that grows in fits and starts.  Mostly punk albums, with some jazz and rock thrown in, and a few oddities like LPs of the Mr. Rogers songbook and Jazzercise tunes.  In terms of books, I tend toward travel narratives, though recently I’ve been trying to build up something of a reference collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend far too much time watching soccer on weekend mornings, and am also a particular and rather long-suffering devotee of the New York Mets.  The only sport in which I still retain some passable skill is skiing, though I don’t get to do nearly enough of it.  In other, apparently unaffiliated parts of my brain, I have a thing for old gangster movies and for long train rides.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

It is my fond hope that the good people of the book world continue to buy enough books from us to keep me in a job. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We recently put out a catalog of material on Colonial America (#341), as well as two smaller lists on Natural History (Bulletin #45) and Manuscripts (Bulletin #46).  And coming quite soon will be a catalogue focusing on Latin Americana (#342).

Image courtesy of James McBride.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books in San Francisco:

AlexanderAkin.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My mom has a yellowed newspaper clipping that shows me in a baby carrier on her back as she and my dad peruse books at the UC Riverside library book sale. I guess my parents got me hooked early. My dad was a steelworker, and my mom a union organizer, and as a kid I thought every working-class family had a huge library at home. I remember my first purchase of a rare (though not expensive) book when I was ten, when I found a hardcover tract published by missionaries in China about a hundred years ago, using a phonetic transcription to represent the local dialect of a coastal town. I paid something like four weeks’ allowance for it, and still have it. The first item I ever got signed was a campaign brochure from when Angela Davis was running for vice president. (It wasn’t exactly a huge coup to get her autograph, since my mom worked with her). Through high school and college I worked summers for a coin dealer who specialized in medieval Islamic and Indian coins, and I collected books relevant to these fields for a working library. While collecting books, though, I never thought of selling them until I was in graduate school, when I started scouting for the (late, lamented) firm of McIntyre and Moore in Cambridge, MA. I kept finding books I didn’t need for myself, but that I recognized as worthwhile, and it occurred to me that I could try selling them or trading them for store credit. I was working on a dissertation in late imperial Chinese cartography, and I traded stacks of unrelated tomes from nearby thrift shops, estate sales, and even piles of academic books left on the sidewalk before recycling pickup, in exchange for many a title in Chinese history from M&M. I then started selling on Amazon to keep a larger proportion of the proceeds. We moved to San Francisco to follow a job opportunity for my wife, while I was in the writing-up stage of my dissertation and taking care of my daughter during the day. I carried her around in a Baby Bjorn while visiting various bookstores to keep from going stir-crazy. One day I walked into Bolerium and I realized I had found paradise on earth.

What is your role at Bolerium?

It started from the fact that I was spending more money there than my dissertation completion grant could really allow. I started bugging John Durham about doing some sort of work at the shop for store credit. Eventually, he set me loose on the towering piles of boxes in storage, sorting stuff out by category, completing runs of serials, etc, while I set aside things that I wanted for myself in payment. One day I found a box of Chinese-language gay travel guides to Taiwan, going back to the first one that was published. He had no idea how they had found their way into Bolerium’s storage. (There were - and still are - boxes on our second floor that haven’t been touched in 20 years). Mike Pincus, his business partner at the time, picked up the phone and sold the lot to an east coast library in a flash. That might have been the incident that led John to take me more seriously as a potential asset to the shop. My dissertation completion grant had concluded and I was eligible to work for pay, so he hired me as a packer (which was great training for what sells and to whom), working on cataloging after the shipping was done for the day. I had finished my dissertation, however, and with a PhD from Harvard I went on the job market, fully expecting to become a professor of Chinese history. I found a short-term position in Boston as the Smith Fellow at Roxbury Latin School (a wonderful experience), while also filling in at Brandeis in the afternoons for a faculty member who was on leave for the year. The fiscal crisis at that time (2010) had really decimated the market for my field of late imperial Chinese history. Budgets were slashed and many university jobs that had been advertised were quietly canceled. Worst of all, in many cases teaching at colleges on an adjunct basis actually paid less than Bolerium. Since my wife had found a lucrative niche in San Francisco, I realized that it didn’t make sense for me to drag the family around the country scrambling from post to post until I found something with tenure. I came back to Bolerium, this time for good, and after a couple of years we incorporated. I became the junior partner, with John the majority owner. I’ve expanded the shop’s specialties to include more Asian and Asian-American material, and I also buy and catalog stock related to radical politics, Judaica and African American history. When we do book fairs I usually travel with John, though in some cases I represent the shop alone, such as at last year’s Boston ABAA show.

What do you love about the book trade?

As an historian I love discovering new things. You can have all the Hemingway first editions you want; I’ll take the trove of mimeographed newsletters published in the 1940s by underground activists in Chinatown. Our trade is quite diverse, with room for all sorts of specialties and variant approaches. At an ABAA fair I can see things that I fantasize about collecting if I won the lottery, like illuminated French manuscripts from the 15th century. The stuff I really like to handle, though, is what I envision as the raw material for researchers working on relatively understudied fields. Our shop has been cited in the acknowledgements of many books on political history and LGBT studies, and I tremendously enjoy finding librarians who “click” with us and helping them to build their research collections. Some time back we sold a book about a gay religious utopian commune near San Diego, a work of truly awe-inspiring strangeness, to a famous theological seminary - and last year out of the blue we received a letter from a grad student thanking us for having sourced that work, which became a centerpiece of his research. This job combines my academic background with the romance of the treasure hunt, offering endless opportunities for sleuthing.

Describe a typical day for you:

Get up at 6:30 to get the kids ready for school. By the time I head for the shop, sometimes stopping at one of our storage units to pick up or drop off material, most of the orders that came in overnight have been processed by our hardworking early birds, but I may pitch in to find items in foreign languages or to search for recalcitrant titles that nobody else has been able to put their finger on yet (a frequent problem in a large shop where some stock was cataloged years ago). I have stacks of papers, pamphlets and books arrayed around my workspace that crave cataloging, but the amount of this work that gets done depends on all sorts of other factors. Calls come in all the time from people trying to unburden themselves of books or ephemera, and sometimes it’s worth throwing out the day’s plans to make an emergency trip to someone’s garage in the East Bay in pursuit of some trove or other. One respect in which we differ from most shops is that our specialties in radical politics and LGBT history bring us lots of leads from retired activists or their heirs. I like doing these book calls with my partner John, because we have different priorities and different ideas of what things are worth to us, and it can be valuable to bounce these ideas back and forth. The leads often come to us because of John’s own activism in various groups going back to the 1970s. In any case, whatever interruptions the day has brought to my cataloging, by the afternoon I head out to pick up the kids, and it’s family time until they go to bed, after which I often work on cataloging stuff I’ve brought home with me, or I put together thematic pricelists. Sometimes I can get more cataloging done in a couple of uninterrupted hours at night than I can all day in the shop.

PaperSon.jpgFavorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The most amazing thing in the past year was a handwritten prompt book for a “paper son,” someone immigrating from China to the US in the 1930s under a false identity. A racist law from 1882 had banned general Chinese immigration, but there was a loophole if you were the child of a previously naturalized citizen who had gone back to China and married there. (Since Chinese women could not usually immigrate, and it was illegal in many places to marry someone of another ethnicity, going back to China was the easiest way to have a family - often the kids would live there for years before being brought over). In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the local records burned up, which opened a window of opportunity because there was no easy way to verify claims about who had been born in the city. Thus a small industry of “paper sons” sprang up, in which people in China would pay for a false identity as the grown child of a Chinese-American citizen. Immigration officials (correctly) assumed that a significant proportion of such claims were false, so they interrogated would-be immigrants about the most minute details of their family connections, the arrangement of rooms in the house they lived in, what businesses were in their neighborhood in the ancestral village in China, and so on. People who claimed to be related would be interrogated in separate rooms to see if their answers corresponded. In order to prepare for these interviews, handwritten booklets would be produced that listed every conceivable question, paired with an answer for the “paper son” to memorize. The booklet we had included a sketch map of the neighborhood around the alleged clan compound. It is very unusual for these prompt books to survive, because of course discovery would mean serious trouble, including expulsion from the US. The example we handled is now in the collections of the Chinese Historical Society here in San Francisco.

What do you personally collect?

Books on Asian and Islamic numismatics, Chinese propaganda publications intended for foreign audiences, ephemera related to the World Festival of Youth and Students, lots of other series that have personal or academic significance for me. The one arena where I spend serious money is my collection of pro-Khmer Rouge propaganda. When I was in grad school I encountered a book in the library stacks that had been published by a sectarian communist group based in Chicago that had a friendship visit to Cambodia, during which they met Pol Pot and other senior leaders, toured communal farms, and so on. The book was lavishly illustrated with photographs of cheerful peasants in labor camps, children smiling with guns, and so on. Given what was known even then about the Killing Fields and mass starvation, the naiveté of these American visitors seems astonishing. For some radical political groups that are committed to excavating hidden injustices in their own countries, there is a desire to perceive a more just society in some foreign utopia. To see this in Cambodia under Pol Pot struck me as just about the furthest one could push this “grass is greener” complex. I have known a number of Cambodian immigrants who grew up in this period, all of whom have physical scars as well as emotional ones, and somehow it became a passion of mine to seek out everything I could that was published by foreign enablers, endorsers, or supporters of the Khmer Rouge. China was of course their main diplomatic sponsor, and as I can read Chinese I search for relevant material on the Chinese market, including children’s comic books from the 1970s that feature Khmer Rouge guerrillas as heroes, doing things like throwing grenades into boatloads of Lon Nol government soldiers. I have material from all over the world, and my plan is to write a book about this phenomenon - but I still find material that surprises me and adds new dimensions to the picture, so I’m not yet ready.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have two kids, 3 and 10, and I spend a lot of time with them. That’s an advantage to this business, the freedom of scheduling, especially for a shop like ours that has several employees. I used to be a big hiker, going on multi-day treks, but it’s harder with kids of this age. I still have some tenuous connections to the coin business and I sometimes travel to do translation at auctions of Chinese coins; last year I went to a show in Hong Kong to represent the firm I used to work for. I still do research in the field of Chinese historical cartography, presenting papers at conferences of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Association of Geographers, and publishing articles. I also spend more time than I should on Facebook, to be honest!

Thoughts on the present and future state of the rare book trade?

Every urban bookstore faces the problem of rising rent, unless the proprietor is also the landlord, and I see many cities becoming culturally desertified. A few years back I went to an academic conference in San Diego and I printed out a list someone had posted online a year or two previously, naming his ten favorite best bookstores downtown. After finishing my other business, I started tracking them down, and found that every single shop on this particular list had closed - one of them just a week earlier. Of course the books are still out there, but the market is atomized, with countless individuals dealing online from their basements or garages, and many collectors, even serious collectors, have little to do with ABAA-level shops. One thing I’ve been happy to see in my area is that even as some shops have been driven out of San Francisco by rising rent and the sterilization of the city’s cultural legacy, relatively young people are opening shops across the bay in places like Oakland. When I read the laments of long-time booksellers about what the internet has done to business, I feel glad that I only came onto the scene long after the process was already underway. This allows me to focus on the opportunities this brings (like selling to buyers all over the world, or being able to scout online for under-described or unappreciated items), rather than the way of life it has undermined. The greatest fear I have, for a business like ours with its orientation to libraries, is the seemingly ever-increasing turn to digital repositories. Many younger librarians seem to be under the impression that everything they need is already digitized somewhere, and their focus is on purchasing access rights rather than seeking out physical material that is unknown (but would cost money to process and store).

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Having recently finished the ABAA fair in Oakland, our next out-of-shop experience will be at RBMS in Iowa City this summer. I’m also putting together a catalog of political handbills, from the Knights of Labor to Black Lives Matter.

[Images provided by Alexander Akin]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Rebecca Romney, of Honey & Wax Booksellers, and author of Printer’s Error, out next week from HarperCollins. (An excerpt from Printer’s Error can be read in the current issue of Fine Books & Collections.)

R Romney.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

Pure accident. I had just returned home from a year teaching English in Japan. I had planned on getting a Master’s degree in Japanese Literature, but was not able to get back to the US in time to start for the fall semester. While I was waiting for the next semester, I looked around for a job in Las Vegas, where I had temporarily settled because my family lived there. This was the fall of 2007, and Bauman Rare Books was hiring staff to open its new gallery in the Palazzo.

It didn’t take long before I knew I had stumbled quite innocently into the perfect job for me. And at Bauman, I benefited from the old-school apprenticeship model, in addition to a quick turnover of books (allowing me to see multiple copies of a single title in a short period of time), and many customer interactions in a retail environment. Thus a better initial answer might be: pure serendipity.

Tell us about your recent move to Honey & Wax and your new role there:

I left Bauman in early 2016 and spent some time drilling down on the manuscript for my book, Printer’s Error. But soon I was craving the rare book trade again. Heather O’Donnell and I are friends from back when we were both at Bauman, and would often grab dinner when I was in New York. We share a similar philosophy about the book trade. When I left Bauman, Heather saw that as an opportunity and opened up a dialogue with me.

We arranged for me to collaborate with Honey & Wax from my home in Philadelphia. (I had moved there in 2014 to manage Bauman’s central operations.) I visit Brooklyn once a week, but I work mostly independently, researching, buying, cataloging, and selling. In addition I lend another hand and eye towards general Honey & Wax projects, like book fairs, catalogs, buying for stock, etc. I feel lucky: we are good friends who also happen to work very well together.   

Describe a typical day for you:

On any given day I can wear many hats. I am most likely to be hunting and researching books to buy, cataloging books we’ve bought, or discussing and selling these books with clients. But the amount of time I may spend in a day on any single one of these tasks varies greatly. 

What do you love about the book trade?

The book trade is an excuse for me to spend my life learning, while still contributing in a meaningful way to our civilization.

I love the research. It doesn’t take much for my curiosity to turn into obsession. In many other situations, this susceptibility to enthusiasm (my euphemism for “obsession”) can be counter-productive. But the kind of cataloging I do means leaving no stone unturned, so this otherwise questionably helpful instinct can be mustered to good use. I am easily fascinated, and not so easily bored.

I also love the social aspects of this business. Many of my closest friendships, and indeed many of my favorite people in the world, I have met through the trade. This applies equally to fellow members of the trade and academics in related fields, but also to customers. Over the years, I have met many clients who are brilliant, interesting, and engaging. I love to talk books with them.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The book I felt most honored to handle was a first edition of Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) in a contemporary vellum binding. It had these yapp was a thing of beauty.

But often I feel that the favorite item I’ve handled is whatever I’ve cataloged most recently. I’m always fresh off some new discovery that has pleased me in some unexpected way.

For example, recently I cataloged the first edition in English of a novel written by Sonja Kovalevsky, a Russian mathematician who became the first female professor in modern Europe. Similar to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, it examines the interaction between the new socialist radicals and the conservatives of older generations in mid-nineteenth century Russia - but, here’s the kicker: it’s inflected with informed commentary on women’s education there. It was not issued again in English until 2001, under the title Nihilist Girl. (That title is so good. So. Good.)

Another recent favorite is an amusing Victorian-era entomology primer called Episodes in Insect Life. The work depicts anthropomorphized insects. Fine; Jiminy Cricket is familiar to us. But these are remarkable: the cricket turned into the weary author, a butterfly as a “painted lady,” a bee doing “Apian Phreno-Magnetism.” Let me say that again: bees, practicing phrenology and mesmerism.

What do you personally collect?

Don’t ask me that question. I hate that question. It encourages me to do something I work very hard not to do (against my natural inclination). Instead, I feed that impulse into collection-building with my clients. I recently put together a collection of great spy novels and, even though I thought this genre wasn’t my thing, reading and researching these books has turned out to be surprisingly satisfying. I prefer this type of collecting, which also happens to keep me fed.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Besides reading, yes? That’s obvious? I’ve found I need frequent physical activity, or I tend to get lost in my head rather too often. I do Krav Maga and try to lap swim regularly. I’m also partial to video games, which I know is a rather unpopular stance in our world. You can argue the merits of that last choice with me if you’re inclined, but play Portal first. Then tell me if you still feel that way.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I see a lot of pessimism and bewilderment in the trade, but I also see a lot of people doing interesting new things. I recall a conversation at the Boston ABAA fair a couple years ago with a brilliant and respected member of the trade, who has been selling books for over four decades. He was shaking his head, saying, “I don’t know what your generation is going to do.” My response: “I am bursting with ideas.” And I’m definitely not the only one. It’s not easy - it takes work, real expertise, vision, and resources - but the possibilities of what one can do in the trade are as exciting as ever.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Honey & Wax just released its fifth print catalog last fall. We will be exhibiting at the ABAA book fair in New York this March. Booth E17: come visit.

Tell us about your podcast and your upcoming book project:

I created a podcast with author JP Romney called Biblioclast, a sort of book club for iconoclasts. Which is to say: we talk about classic books from a place of affection, but we also aren’t looking to pull any punches in our discussions. Each episode is on the short side (10-15 minutes), so they’re meant to be quick, digestible biblio-candy. New episodes will drop in March. The featured book: The Handmaid’s Tale.

y450-293.pngJP and I also co-authored a book about books called Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History, forthcoming from HarperCollins on March 14. That’s just after the New York Book Fair. It’s meant to be an introduction to the major themes and topics in print history, through the lens of individual figures’ absurd, ironic, or just plain crazy life stories. For example, one chapter follows William Blake’s invention of illuminated printing, the medium in which he printed most of his own poetry, and which he claimed to have learned from his recently deceased brother in a dream.

The book is meant for a general audience, rather than the book history community directly. For this reason, we’ve taken a tone of levity throughout (but with over 800 endnotes because I can’t help myself). JP’s particular strength is as a comic writer, so it’s influenced as much by John Oliver as it is A.S.W. Rosenbach.

On March 15, we are having a book release party at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, co-sponsored by Honey & Wax. If you’re in NYC, please stop by; I would love to have you. I’ll also be at the Rosenbach talking about the book on April 27.

You can read more about Printer’s Error on my website or pre-order it here. Or start by reading the current issue of Fine Books & Collections: an excerpt from the book is the cover story.

[Images provided by Rebecca Romney]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Emil Allakhverdov, proprietor of Rare Paper in New York City:

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 10.56.52 PM.pngHow did you get started in rare books and ephemera?

I became familiar with rare books and ephemera ten years ago when I was living in Odessa, Ukraine.  Having a degree in economics, I could never imagine that I would be so drawn into the world of collecting. My first mentor was my father-in-law. It was his passion for collecting which was so contagious that led me to enter into a field absolutely new to me. Very soon I became so involved and interested in this process that I collected my own first collection - postcards of my birthplace, the city of Baku, Azerbaijan. I was really in love with my new hobby and felt encouraged to learn about the deltiology field in depth, and this cultivated my desire to become a collector. However, unlike many collectors of that time, who preferred to find their “treasures” at various shows, I was working only on the Internet.  I was surprised to see how easy and convenient it could be to contact dealers and collectors from all over the world in just a few clicks. Soon I switched to another subject, the history of Odessa, the town in which I lived. Just buying did not work; sometimes it was necessary to have something to offer to other collectors, something that I could surprise them with - that’s how I started selling. Over time I realized that I wanted to do it for a living, meeting new collectors and dealers, researching and studying the subject.

When did you open Rare Paper and what do you specialize in?

My online store opened at the beginning of 2016. I specialize in scarce and unique Russian books and ephemera I have not seen before, that I want to share with others.

What do you love about the book and paper trade?

Most important for me are the people I meet... and the unexpected element of surprise that arises out their breadth of knowledge, experience and interest. I love to meet people, and listening to their stories always increases my knowledge. Also, there is the possibility to travel around the world in search of another treasure.

Describe a typical day for you:

I do not have a daily schedule. No two days are alike. However, my day usually begins with mail and phone calls, which will determine my schedule. It may be meetings with my clients, business trips, attending shows, shipping orders and preparing products for upcoming auctions.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera, or rare paper, etc.) that you’ve handled?

I have seen and held many rarities, but it is more interesting to talk about what I have in stock at the moment. Special among my current rare items is an 1850’s Daguerreotype of the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I. I was able to locate another like it only in the Hermitage collection. Another unique paper is an original hand painted postcard of the famous Russian avant-garde artist, Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni).

What do you personally collect?

For over 10 years I have been collecting objects related to the history of the city of Odessa (Ukraine): Postcards, photographs, books, documents and ephemera. In the US, I’ve started a new subject, émigré books and ephemera, both Russian and Ukrainian. Recently I’ve become the owner of an extensive collection of Ukrainian children’s books. More than 1,000 émigré books were published in Europe and in the US from 1918 to 1970. Now I am searching for new books to add to my collection.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I volunteer in the Thomas J. Watson Library (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), assisting in the Slavic and Special Collections Department. I like to visit new museum exhibitions and other cultural events in New York City with my wife. We also love to travel in upstate New York, especially along the Hudson River.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book and paper trade?

Today we can see how the concept of collecting is changing. We live during a time in which more and more people prefer to participate in online auctions and make purchases from home. Young people show no interest in old books at all. I don’t think the concept of collecting itself is dying; I think people will just be collecting other things. People will always enjoy owning things of value and rare beauty, and those who can afford to will collect them. I believe the main goal of dealers and collectors today, besides buying and selling of course, would be to encourage interest among younger individuals in identifying a new generation of objects worth collecting.  Aside from this it is important to pass along the shared knowledge obtained from previous generations of collectors who did their work without the Internet.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

March 10, New York City Book and Ephemera Fair

March 17-18, New York City Spring 2017 Postcard Expo

March 31, Photo NYC Fair 2017

September 8, Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair with the New Works on Paper Gallery 

Image Courtesy of Emil Allakhverdov.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Derek Walker, proprietor with his wife Anna, of McNaughtan’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, Scotland.


How did you both get started in rare books?

I’ve been a haunter of secondhand bookshops ever since I outgrew the children’s section at my local library, so when I went looking for a part-time job while working towards a degree in London it was a stroke of luck that Charlie Unsworth of Unsworth’s Booksellers was in need of interested amateurs to help staff his then-new concession in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I started there doing basic cataloguing of academic secondhand books and discovered the joys of collation and binding description under Leo Cadogan, who was then Charlie’s antiquarian specialist and shop manager. I was studying Greek and Latin and interested in the history of scholarship, so handling the original editions which I had read about in secondary literature was a strong draw towards that side of the trade for me. The completion of my degree happened to coincide with Leo’s decision to set up Leo Cadogan Rare Books, so I stepped into his shoes for Charlie, later moving to Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford when internal developments at Foyles meant Charlie had to close his concession there.

At Blackwell’s I met my wife and business partner Anna. She worked in the new books side of the business, so she’s now learning about rare books as we run McNaughtan’s together. Pretty much my entire history of paid employment has involved cataloguing or archives, but Anna has many other skills, having studied film and worked in radio and journalism as well.

When did you purchase McNaughtan’s and what do you specialize in?

We took over McNaughtan’s in August of 2015. We had been considering a move away from Oxford, which is a beautiful city but we felt after 7 years that we’d experienced most of it - plus it is impossibly expensive to settle down in that part of the UK. We were planning to visit Edinburgh anyway when we heard that Elizabeth Strong was looking to sell McNaughtan’s, and luckily it all worked out.

We have inherited some of the specialties of the shop - secondhand art books, literature, and the obligatory Scottish history and local subjects - and brought with us the interests I developed at Unsworth’s and Blackwell’s - Greek and Latin classics, the history of scholarship, hand-press-era printing, bindings, private press books. The elegance of type and press-work that was achieved in 18th century printing is something that I particularly appreciate, and Scotland has strong representation in that category, particularly the output of the Foulis Press.

How do you divide your roles at McNaughtan’s?

I am the book-buyer, antiquarian specialist, and accountant, while Anna does most other things. That includes pricing secondhand books, processing photographs of stock, handling the shop’s social media accounts and mailing list, and of course overseeing the Gallery, which hosts a new exhibition of original artwork every couple of months. This is something that we inherited from Elizabeth Strong, a keen painter, and it gives us a venue for promoting local and up-and-coming talent, as well as new and interesting things to look at ourselves on a regular basis.

What do you love about the book trade?

First of all the books - holding something really fine is a physical thrill, and there is always more to find and learn about. Having an open shop ensures that things I wouldn’t have thought to look for regularly walk in through the door, and also gives us the opportunity to occasionally introduce someone new and unsuspecting to the joys of rare books.

There is also a special sense of stability and purpose to maintaining the tradition of the trade in rare books: we are lucky to be able to handle the same objects - not just the same type of thing, but often the actual individual artefacts - that had passed through the hands of scholars, collectors, readers, and other booksellers in generations past. As a hobby I used to practice juggling large numbers of objects, in which keeping a pattern going is a constant effort against gravity and entropy, and I sometimes thought this was a good metaphor for human culture and our purpose in the world. Preserving and circulating this knowledge and these artefacts are ways of maintaining patterns of human ideas and achievement, as much as we can, against the inevitable forces of neglect and oblivion.

slack_for_ios_upload_1024.jpgDescribe a typical day for you:

A typical day involves getting to the shop in time to do a little bit of prep (sweeping steps, emptying receptacles) before opening the doors to the public at 11am. There are always emails to be written, often auction or dealers’ catalogues to browse, and then books to research, describe, price, and photograph. We hope for there to be orders to pack and send, and put up with administrative paperwork and accounts. We also keep a stream of secondhand books flowing out onto the shelves, which requires regular efforts in pricing and reshelving, and all of this is punctuated by questions from customers (some interesting, some inevitably silly) and, we hope, sales.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Not long after we took over McNaughtan’s we acquired a copy of Barnes’s 1711 edition of Homer - this edition was a masterpiece of its type, compiling the learning of virtually all previous commentators and editors, and printed in ruinously elegant style at the editor’s own expense - in an attractive red leather binding. On closer inspection it turned out to have been the copy of John Urry, an Oxford scholar best known for an edition of Chaucer which represents either the nadir or the zenith of Chaucerian study in the early modern period. Furthermore, it had been given to Urry by Edward Harley, who with his father built one of the finest collections of manuscripts ever seen, including manuscripts of Chaucer that Urry consulted. And then the book was curiously extra-illustrated with several plates which turned out to have come from the first edition of Pope’s translation of Homer - except that they were bound into these volumes some time before Pope’s edition was published. The solution to how that came to be may lie in the fact that Urry was at the time working with the publisher of Pope’s Homer towards printing his edition of Chaucer.

A heady mix of fine 18th-century printing and binding (including elegant Greek typography) and notable provenance, touching on scholarship both at its most learned and most naively mistaken as well as high-end book collecting, with a bibliographical mystery thrown in - one would have a hard time imagining a book more relevant to my interests.

What do you personally collect?

My desire for rare books is largely sated by being able to handle them every day at work. At home, I personally collect a number of authors and subjects that I enjoy reading and reading about - focusing not on ‘collectable’ editions but rather on ‘completeness’. These include Anthony Hecht, Philip Larkin, John Lanchester, Umberto Eco, and A.E. Housman, plus books about books, classical reception, and other topics.

Anna is a film buff and looks out for books on the history of cinema and visual culture.

11703083_10152891551120706_9117854333834492894_n.jpgWhat do you like to do outside of work?

I like to read, keep up with new technology, and explore sweet delicacies (Edinburgh is seeing something of a doughnut renaissance at the present moment). Anna enjoys the rapidly developing vegan food scene in Scotland. But we just had our first baby, so he will be occupying most of our spare time for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I don’t think the trade is going away. It’s had boom times and lean times, and governmental failure to appreciate the value of libraries, plus the concentration of wealth in the hands of people who think all solutions are technological, will continue to affect it in the short term. But fundamentally, books will never stop having been the major way in which human beings communicated stories, ideas, and discoveries for centuries. Nothing that can happen in the next hundred years (apart from a total collapse of civilisation) will significantly affect the importance, interest, and saleability of objects that are already three hundred years old. And, as we’ve already seen to some extent, the more that people spend parts of their life in digital interactions, the more they value having a real experience - handling a nice book, eating a quality meal, visiting a beautiful place - as a special treat.

Bookstore-smaller.jpgAny upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We plan to begin issuing printed catalogues, once we have been able to build up an appropriate group of books; in the meantime we issue a short list of 25 or 30 items as a PDF every month or two. The next one should appear in March.

Also in March will be the Edinburgh Book Fair, at which we will be exhibiting. This is one of the few events jointly run by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association, so it features a range of dealers and stock that is broader than most fairs. In addition, this year the fair is the centrepiece of a new festival which I have organised dedicated to rare books and book history, called Rare Books Edinburgh. There will be talks, workshops, exhibitions, and other events from most of the city’s major bookish institutions, including the National Library, several departments of the University of Edinburgh and its library, and the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

Then at the very beginning of June we will be exhibiting at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair, at Olympia, a fair which needs no introduction.

Images courtesy of Derek and Anna Walker.

Tom Portrait-1.JPGOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Tom Lecky, proprietor of Riverrun Books & Manuscripts in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York:

How did you get started in rare books?

As a teenager, literature opened up an immense world to me and I started to go regularly to used bookstores. I tended towards experimental writers on small presses, which meant that first editions were my only options. So, more time in bookstores. Later, in graduate school, I was lucky to have two very different mentors. The writer Gilbert Sorrentino introduced me to a world of authors and artists who have become my lifelong passions. Sorrentino influenced my entire philosophy of life, and since I wanted to know more about the literary and artistic world he’d shared with me, I spent even more time, money and energy collecting books related to that world. And then the Americanist Jay Fliegelman took me to San Francisco to see several antiquarian booksellers. This introduction to serious bookselling illuminated a path other than the academic one on which I’d put myself.  I knew I wanted to work with books as a career, and was lucky enough to be invited to work for Doyle New York. This was a remarkable opportunity for a twenty-two year old. I participated in every aspect of the auction world, from packing to cataloguing, marketing, auctioneering, and running a department. A few years later I met Francis Wahlgren, and he and Felix de Marez Oyens offered me a job at Christie’s. I have been very fortunate to meet, learn from, and work with such great people in the world of books.

When did you take over Riverrun and what do you specialize in?

I bought Riverrun in June 2016. Our core stock is strong in literature, science fiction, architecture, art, photography, and scholarly books. Given my career history, and my experience with a broad range of material beyond Riverrun’s original inventory, I am adding books and collections in a greater range of antiquarian subjects. I also represent private clients in en bloc sales of their entire subject collections.

What do you love about the book trade?

It starts and ends with the books. I want to be around books all day and with a great group of like-minded colleagues and clients. There are few things as motivating as the daily discoveries made in a career as broad and rich as ours.

Describe a typical day for you:

I usually first fulfill orders and then move on to whatever projects are at hand. Cataloguing new material and work on appraisals tends to come first. My days and weeks are usually punctuated with regional visits to people’s homes, travel further afield to see clients, and appointments at the shop. Consultancy projects for Christie’s and advising clients round out my schedule.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

I can’t limit myself to one. Standouts are the bookseller/publisher Samuel Smith’s copy of Newton’s Principia that was sold last December at Christie’s New York, setting a new auction record for a scientific book. I still dream about the condition of the Holford-Bok-Berland copy of Walton’s Compleat Angler, and think of the rare opportunity to have handled Roger North’s copy of Peter Martyr’s The Decades of the Newe World from the Frank S. Streeter sale. Kerouac’s On the Road typescript scroll also has to be on the list.

What do you personally collect?

My wife affectionately calls them “thin books.” From the time we met in high school to today I have collected avant garde American poetry, mostly in William Carlos Williams’s lineage through the Black Mountain College and Language schools, including Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Clark Coolidge, Charles Bernstein, and Lynn Hejinian. But the main figure is Paul Blackburn, a grossly underrated poet whose abilities and influence on other poets are so far out of balance with the attention he gets.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have released four albums of experimental improvisatory music, and so I have a life outside of books that I share with musicians and composers. I honor the engineering gene in my family history by trying to keep an old motorcycle on the road, and spend as much time with my wife and sons as possible.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I see a vast and rewarding marketplace at present, one that continually adapts to the systemic changes of our digital evolution. One can research more easily, reach people more easily, interact more easily than ever before.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I published my first printed catalogue in December. It contained a collection of Adirondack material (to reflect my origins) and expanded to a range of range of subjects: antiquarian to contemporary and including literature, medicine, art, religion, Americana, and popular culture. As John Dewey wrote “Only diversity makes change and progress.” It certainly drives me, as can be seen in the variety of subjects found in the digital catalogues I distribute regularly via my email list and website. 

[Image supplied by Tom Lecky]

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Leo Cadogan, proprietor of Leo Cadogan Rare Books in London.

IMG-20161231-WA0032 (1).jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

My first sustained encounter with rare books was straight after my final exams at university, when I had a library job that included wiping the dust off rows and rows of seventeenth-century volumes - which I enjoyed doing! I liked looking at the volumes (I was probably not the most efficient cleaner). I really got started with an interview at Quaritch, in 1997, at the end of the summer after university. It was arranged for me by a family friend. I was at that point selling leather jackets in Camden Market in London. I think it gave me an edge in the interview to be able to say that not only did I like books (in common with many other people) but I was used to selling things.

When did you open Leo Cadogan Rare Books and what do you specialize in?

I opened Leo Cadogan Rare Books in late 2007. I specialize in cultural and intellectual history from the Renaissance period up to about 1800. I offer books, manuscripts, prints and ephemera illustrative of the life, studies and interests of people of these times. I always look out for the unusual and passionately want to engage people with these old cultures. Early books have to stand side-by-side at book fairs with items that have a lot more obvious cultural impact (say a first edition in dustwrapper of your favourite novel) and I relish the challenge. I began Leo Cadogan Rare Books working mainly in legal history. Legal history is a subject that, following an MA in Renaissance Studies that I took time out of the book trade to do, I subsequently undertook graduate work in. As a bookseller, showing the life in the dry and scholastic subject of Early Modern law was a good way to begin my business - both because there were institutions collecting it and because the working outlook (finding interest in things that immediately seem culturally foreign to many of us) set me up well. Nowadays I look in several other areas besides law and my material is increasingly visual (although to some extent it has always been).

What do you love about the book trade?

We are so lucky to get to handle the materials we do. It is also a trade where people celebrate when you do something ambitious and one that admires care and the development of expertise. Colleagues are tolerant and generous, with their time, favours, and sometimes their prices. With our customers as well, the trade at its best inhabits a unique, serious but friendly space.

Describe a typical day for you:

An ideal day involves making an early start on cataloguing some interesting items, catching the post and email as they arrive, perhaps in the afternoon getting down to the libraries (particularly London Library, British Library, also Warburg Institute) for research, finishing off descriptions in the evening. But there’s plenty else going on - admin, some auctions, travel, book fairs in London, the US, and Europe, and a demanding toddler.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Maybe it’s the copy of the first humanist Latin collected works of Aristotle (1496) that, so I discovered, had belonged to a famous Renaissance cardinal, book-collector, and patron of philosophers called Domenico Grimani. Visually and in its contents, this Aristotle is a really impressive book, and this copy had a very appropriate and evocative original ownership which was shown by a large painted armorial. But there was more to find out. Part of Grimani’s library had been destroyed in a fire in the seventeenth century but another section was put on the market in Rome in 1546. My copy was part of that latter hoard because it was subsequently acquired, probably in a Roman bookshop in the 1560s by a Croatian/Slovenian theology student in Rome called Antun Vramec. He was later to write an important vernacular chronicle printed in Ljubljana in 1578. What a chance that a book should - randomly - have not one but two important Renaissance owners, both in the city of Rome. Vramec disposed of the copy in the city before he left, for Zagreb; after other owners it ended up in an ecclesiastical library in Rome. By around the end of the seventeenth century the copy acquired a typical Italian vellum library binding, but a section of discolouration on the first page showed how the front cover of an earlier binding had broken. The book sums up to me how much interesting history and archaeology there can be in rare books.

What do you personally collect?

I make little starts to collections. I sometimes buy ‘beyond speculatively’, things that appeal to me for reasons sometimes not immediately explicable, and where I certainly don’t know where they are going to fit, or indeed whether they will stay private possessions or become (or stay) part of the stock. It can be a good exploratory process. Sometimes I find an interesting theme doing this, and I then discover other people are also interested in it - and buying that material can then become a straightforward, and rewarding part of my business. I do also occasionally buy old Spanish prints for my spouse, who is an Early Modern art historian.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Reading, general cultural consumption, consumption of food, travel, family life.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

We’re at an interesting time. For different reasons, in the cultural spheres there’s an explosion of interest in external engagement - engagement with people outside of academic or professional siloes - and there’s also an explosion of interest, in academic worlds and society more widely, in material and visual artefacts, and broadly in ‘stuff’. Although it may not be the actual cause of these changes, this is an environment where social media has a strong and positive role to play. The book trade can and does take part vigorously in this broadening world. This is all good, and there is a lot of young interest in the book trade, which is great. On the other hand, I hear concerns about the trading volume - the amount of new cash coming into the book trade as compared to earlier times. I am involved in an interesting new outreach project - I co-organize a new high-end books and arts fair in London in the autumn, called INK (or Inkfair London). Last year was its inaugural, and we had encouraging results. Helping run INK certainly keeps me focused on and inquisitive about the wider environment we are working in.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I have two little lists that I hope to publish soon. One is on science and medicine, and the other contains ephemeral items from the incunable and post-incunable periods. I am doing the Oakland book fair in February, the New York book fair in March, and straight after New York, am co-exhibiting with other dealers from Britain’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, at an important antiques fair in London. Looking ahead, I have fairs at London Olympia at the end of May, and two more in London at the end of October/beginning of November (INK and the Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair). There may be more events, and I have various further plans for catalogues. I am busy!

[Image copyright Claudio Corivetti]

Photo of Abby.jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Abby Schoolman, proprietor of Abby Schoolman Books in New York City:

How did you get started in rare books and the book arts?

I had the great luck to have grown up in a house full of readers with a very wide range of interests: art from ancient Egypt to Red Grooms, mystery novels, poetry, world religions, American history. Being surrounded by prints by 20th century artists such as Bernard Buffet and Marc Chagall, antique maps, and contemporary Inuit art didn’t hurt. My parents were always willing to take me and my sister to the library and to bookstores. I remember that when I was about 12 or 13, I told my sister I wanted to run a bookstore when I grew up, not that I knew what that entailed. Around the same time, I created a card catalog of my dad’s collection of golden age mysteries and spy novels which were double- and triple-shelved. We kept buying duplicates. In high school, like most people in the trade, I stumbled across 84, Charing Cross Road. But the real truth is that my interest in rare books and book arts was entirely accidental.

At my alma mater, Wellesley College, you have to declare your major at the end of your third term. For three terms I had reveled in a beautiful tossed salad of courses and still had no idea what I wanted to do. I decided to read the entire college course catalog and mark everything that sounded remotely interesting. Surely, I thought, I will find enough classes in a single department to fulfill the minimum requirement for a major. I didn’t. At the very end of the catalog there was a note about interdisciplinary majors and a list of those that were pre-approved by the faculty. Bingo! I had marked something like 16 classes that fell within Medieval/Renaissance Studies, a deliciously vague and inclusive course of study. I officially had a license to be an academic dilettante.

What I soon discovered was that the thread connecting my academic choices was an interest in the history of the book. I learned about everything from Books of Hours to the Kelmscott Press. Twice I tried, without success, to get a job in the college’s surprisingly comprehensive Special Collections Department, with holdings, just in printed books, ranging from a first edition of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili to contemporary artists’ books.

After college, I went to library school in Boston. I was trained as an archivist and rare book librarian. In early 2000, while working for a historical society in New York, I was recruited by Bauman Rare Books to work in its then brand new Madison Avenue gallery. I jumped at the chance. For over 14 years, I worked with five centuries of the most interesting and beautiful books in almost every field of human thought. It was heaven. The only type of book I rarely encountered was the type I work with now, but contemporary bookbinding interested me.

A few days before I started working for Bauman Rare Books, I stumbled across an exhibit of contemporary bindings of books on angling at the American Museum of Natural History. For the first time in my life, I bought an exhibition catalog. Little did I know that, many years later, buying books and catalogs of contemporary bookbinding exhibits from the mid-20th century to the present would become my obsession.

Around 2005, a concatenation of events caused me to become the manager of a massive contemporary bookbinding project. The seed that had been sown at the exhibit at AMNH blossomed. The bookbinder with whom I worked for over eight years was incredibly patient and generous in sharing many aspects of the world of bookbinding with me. I learned so much from him. As far as I know, he is still working on that never-ending project.

When did you open Abby Schoolman Books and what do you specialize in?

I opened Abby Schoolman Books in August 2014. I focus on unique contemporary art bookbindings and artist’s books of exceptional creativity and quality. I represent five incredibly talented artists exclusively. Whatever they make, in whatever format, I will sell. I also include in my inventory a number of specially selected books by other talented bookbinders and book artists. The bindings are always unique. The other books range from unique to limited edition fine press books.

Tell us about your role as a book artist representative. How does that work?

I love working directly with my artists: Malina Belcheva (US), Mark Cockram (UK), Timothy C. Ely (US), Christine Giard (France), and Sonya Sheats (US). Mostly, I stay out of their way. I want them to make whatever they want, in whatever format or medium they choose, regardless of what they have made or sold in the past. The freedom to choose, and the freedom from the constraints of set book competitions, juried exhibitions, and traditional expectations allows the artists breathing space. The result is better art.

My role as agent and bookseller for my five principal artists varies greatly based on individual needs or projects. Sometimes I am a sounding board for ideas, sometimes I am a student learning about structure or technique or obscure bookbinder lore, sometimes I gently give deadlines by providing a list of dates of upcoming book and art fairs. For some I write or edit documents. I also try to hustle on the behalf of those artists who wish to line up commissions, lectures, workshops, or other gigs. Often I listen to their ideas for bookselling: some of my artists have been in the book business for far longer than I, though from a different angle. Working a book fair with Christine Giard or Mark Cockram is an eye-opening experience for each of us. Most of all, what I do is try promote each artist and everything they do as loudly and comprehensively as possible, whether or not it relates directly to selling a book I have in stock.

What do you love about the book arts and the rare book trade?

I love working with living artists. It is a treat to watch their work come alive and to discuss books, art, and craftsmanship with them. The tradition of collegiality and the depth of knowledge in the rare book trade is incredible. Especially in contemporary book arts, the knowledge and experience of other dealers is a precious resource which most are happy to share. I was recently accepted as a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. It is a great honor to be a part of the best in the trade.

Describe a typical day for you:

I don’t really have a set schedule. I usually start around 7:30, in bed, with breakfast, news, and email. That portion of the day can last for hours. Of course, there are customer visits (by appointment) and shipping. My artists are in several time zones, so my work day has a way of breaking up into strange chunks according to their schedules. If I’m not working with a customer and one of them wants to talk, they get my full attention. I spend much of my time researching, writing, and wrangling the large numbers of images required to showcase each book.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera; or book art) that you’ve handled?

Timothy Ely’s unique manuscript and binding Bones of the Book: An Oblong Identity is a masterpiece. There is simply no other way to look at it. It’s physically huge (44.5cm x 30cm x 3.5cm), very personal and, even for Ely, incredibly complex in scope. It is special in many ways, not least because it took him 25 years to complete it. The title page says 1990 and it was exhibited then, I believe at Granary Books. He didn’t sell it. He put it away. Sometimes he showed it, but the truth is that it just didn’t feel finished to him. In 2015, he removed the original binding (now in the Ely archives), worked a bit more on the original pages, and rebound the book. It is now truly complete and it is spectacular.

Bones of the Book is the second in a three-book series that differs significantly from Ely’s other art. These books are both biographical and autobiographical. Each honors the important influence of family members in Ely’s life, and combines it with an aspect of bookbinding--the format Ely has chosen to house his artwork throughout his career. In each case, there is also a third narrative that plays a significant role in Ely’s identity as an individual and as an artist.

The series began with Binding the Book: The Flight Into Egypt in 1985. Egypt is about Ely’s grandfather, the journal he left behind about his mysterious trip to Egypt between the wars, bookbinding, and the geography of Egypt. For much more information about Binding the Book: The Flight Into Egypt, see The Flight into Egypt: Binding the Book (Chronicle Books, 1995). It’s out of print, but there are often copies available on Abebooks.

In Bones of the Book, the visual narrative combines Ely’s origins (Snohomish, WA, his parents, and their hardware store), and the close relationship between book structure and human anatomy. The third book has yet to be made. Ely plans for it to be about his Uncle Jack and his work as a combat photographer in the Pacific during WWII. In addition to the three-fold, co-mingled story line in Bones, as in all of Ely’s art, there are layers of references drawn from alchemy, mathematics, mythology, geography, and geology.

What do you personally collect?

Bookbinders. Also, books and exhibit catalogs of contemporary art bookbinding for my reference collection. Rob Fleck at Oak Knoll is my crack dealer and he knows it. In other words, I don’t collect. If I did, it would be what I sell.

What do you like to do outside of work?

There is an “outside of work?” Ok. I’ll admit that I like to knit, sleep, and hang out with my husband and our hilarious 12 year old daughter. When I have time, I try to keep my blog American Bound active. I also have an affection for police procedurals, both books and on television.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the book arts field:

The term “book art” encompasses an enormous amount of material produced these days. Even the definition of “book” is up for grabs. “Book arts” is a useful term, but lacks specificity. There is a very large, enthusiastic, international community of book makers of various sorts, from the kitchen table hobbyist to highly trained, ingenious artists. Many of those book makers are also collectors. I try not to be rigid about my definition of “book.” I am aware of my biases, but don’t mind being challenged. Still, I try to focus on my favorite things: art bookbinding and unique (or very limited edition) artist’s books. I want to see exceptional craftsmanship, creativity, and intelligence. I feel very good about the work of the very talented artists who use the book as their primary format for expression. Finding and showcasing a great binder or book artist is wonderful and, unlike the traditional art market, even their greatest works are affordable compared to a work by a contemporary painter of comparable stature. Book collectors know that and they know a good thing when they see it.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I’m excited about exhibiting at the ABAA California Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland, February 10 - 12.

Image courtesy Abby Schoolman.

IMG_6990 (2).jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Zoe Abrams (formerly Zoe Mindell) who has opened up her own rare book business after working for The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company.  We profiled Zoe back when she worked for PRBM. Today, we check in with her again to see how the new business is coming along:

Please introduce us to your new shop. What does Zoe Abrams Rare Books specialize in?

ZARB is a sole-proprietor shop based in Center City, Philadelphia, specializing in social history, especially as it relates to women. My inventory includes books and manuscripts from the 16th to 20th century concerning etiquette, education, domestic science, cookery, fashion, theater, and related subjects. Many of my books have contemporary annotations or hybrid qualities that distinguish them as unique objects.

 Remind us of your background in rare books:

I was introduced to the world of rare books through the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. During and after college I did internships at a few lovely libraries and auction houses, including the Book Department at Christie’s London. After that I moved to Philadelphia to work for Bruce McKittrick and PRBM, then to NYC to work for Ursus Books. Last year my husband’s sabbatical sent us to Paris. It was the perfect opportunity, in one of the best book cities in the world, to launch my own business.

How has the transition been from employee to shop owner?

Very smooth! My work experience has helped immensely and I’m grateful to friends and former colleagues in the trade for their encouragement and readiness to advise. I took the CABS course last summer to boost my business savvy and highly recommend it to everyone. There are still a few things I’m learning: anyone have good tax advice?

Favorite book that’s crossed your door at Zoe Abrams Rare Books?

One that I love is also one of the oddest: the author’s copy of Napoleon et la Superstition (1946), so filled with clippings, photographs, and manuscript notes that it was expanded from one volume to two. The author, Georges Mauguin (1881-1961), was editor in chief of the Revue de l’Institut Napoléon. He spent about ten years compiling and arranging the documents, judging by their dates. The contents comprise personal matter, like the funeral announcement for his wife (juxtaposed with a facsimile letter from Napoleon to Josephine on the facing page), as well as emblematic ephemera like business cards for psychics. He was obsessed with Napoleon and occultism and finding a relationship there.

Describe a typical day for you:

Not too much has changed since I wrote about it on my blog last year. I still start my day with coffee from a French press, although my croissant is now a muffin. Then I get straight to cataloguing and photography to take advantage of morning light. Throughout the day I communicate with clients by email and phone and check dealer catalogues and auction listings as they arrive.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m alone most of the day so when I have free time I try to get outside and talk to people! I often go to flea markets, movies, chamber music concerts, and author talks. Recently I started scrapbooking to preserve the souvenirs from my travels.

Still actively collecting on a personal level?  What are your collecting interests these days?

I wouldn’t call it “active” collecting but I pick up things here and there, like vintage glassware and clothes. Book hunting is still one of my favorite activities.

Are you participating in any upcoming fairs?  Have any catalogues on the way?

I’ve done five lists so far, all posted on my website. Perhaps I’ll do a bigger catalogue someday, but right now I find the shorter format effective. No definitive plans yet for fairs, but I am considering a shadow show or two in the spring.

Image Courtesy of Zoe Abrams.

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Arthur Fournier, proprietor of Arthur Fournier, Fine and Rare, in Brooklyn, New York.

AF IMG_9574.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

I’ve been interested in the ephemeral traces of alternative and outsider cultures ever since I learned about dada and surrealist pamphlets through Reinhold Heller’s undergraduate art history courses at the University of Chicago. The typography, the humor -- it just struck a chord. At that age, though, I was too intimidated to ask a librarian or faculty member to show me an original. But I would sometimes lurk just outside the door of Regenstein Special Collections and try to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside.

Another developmental landmark for me was working at the Hyde Park Art Center, when the institution was sort of in-between directors and I proudly served as the “exhibits coordinator” for its 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. location in the mid-1990s (I was basically a glorified art handler and office assistant to Jaqueline Terassa, Eva Olson, and, later, Chuck Thurow.) One day, I found a neglected trove of Hairy Who ephemera stuffed in a broom closet. It pretty much blew my mind. Eva Olson set aside the best items for HPAC’s archives and said I could organize a sale of the duplicates, which we did. It was so cool. At that time I was also scouring the Canal Street flea markets, South Side thrift shops, and estate sales for hip-hop and jazz LPs, books, photographs, and ephemera. I’d sometimes find copies of the Seed, or Nation of Islam or SDS material alongside the occasional Sun Ra or Art Ensemble record. This was before eBay went mainstream, so being a ‘picker’ felt like panning for gold. My interest in underground materials sort of snowballed from there. 

It wasn’t until I moved to New York in 2001 and began working in the bookstore at Neue Galerie under Faith Pleasanton and Bruno Kreusch that I actually handled rare books, per se. When the shop first opened, there was a small locked case reserved for valuable, out-of-print books. Most of them had been sourced from Wittenborn. Faith trusted me to organize the shelves on one of my first days there and I remember handling a copy of Malevitch’s Die Gegenstandslose Welt with great reverence. We also had an original Die Träumenden Knaben by Kokoschka. It was electrifying.

After a few challenging years trying to find my way in mainstream retail bookstores and the publishing industry, Peter Bernett (of F.A. Bernett Books) and I were introduced through mutual friends. I think it was the summer of 2007. I was delighted when he told me about his business and I probably expressed my enthusiasm for what seemed like the coolest job in the world. We got to know each other over drinks and dinners when he would visit New York from time to time. On the day after Obama was elected President, as I recall vividly, Peter rang me up and offered me a job. Just a few days later I got on the train and made it up the coast in time to work his booth at the 2008 Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, as a kind of trial run. By February of 2009 I had packed my kit, moved to Boston, and joined his firm. I was there as a full-time staff member for almost five years.  Peter and Larry Malam patiently taught me how to catalog, buy, and sell books. For that I am deeply grateful. It was an extremely fun and rewarding place to work and, overall, an incredible experience. 

Funnily enough, the first time I ever actually set foot inside of Regenstein Special Collections was on a sales appointment for Bernett.

When did you open Fournier Fine & Rare and what do you specialize in?

In the fall of 2013, the woman in my life told me she’d be leaving Boston to start her MFA in fiction that following year. We chose to stay together, and I left Bernett to make that possible. While she was doing research in the Middle East that winter, I travelled a bit and used some of the money I’d saved to acquire stock, a lot of it related to protest movements or underground music. My first solo rare book show was Printed Matter’s L.A. Art Book Fair in January 2014. It was a reasonable success, and it showed me a way forward. My partner started her MFA in New York in September of 2014, so we moved into an apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where I started my company. We’ve been there ever since.

Fournier Fine & Rare sells books, serials, photographs, manuscripts, and archives in all fields and genres. I specialize in primary source materials related to the transformative cultural movements of the 20th century, modern conflicts, disruptive technologies, music and the visual arts. My clients include libraries, museums and private individuals.

Recent highlights have included complete-run punk fanzines from New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. Hip-hop music, dance, and visual culture are very important for me. I’ve also handled pamphlets and magazines from Mujahedin groups in Central Asia, dating to time of the war against the Soviets. Right now, the print history of networked computing is a big topic of interest. And fashion, film, food, and design round out the list.

Tell us about your work as an agent for the placement of archives:

At Bernett I developed a fondness for cataloging large collections and major archives. It’s hard work, but I find it deeply satisfying when a significant site of cultural production can be preserved intact, rather than splintered into pieces via the auction market. Often, the whole can be greater than the sum of it’s parts. Over the past two years I’ve had the good fortune to work on projects concerning the archives of Arthur Russell, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Bill Adler, Janette Beckman, and Michael Holman, and several others.

Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs in New York and Los Angeles have also been majorly important for me in this respect. Jordan Nassar and Shannon Michael Cane have totally re-imagined what it means to put on a book fair and they deserve tremendous recognition from the rare book trade. I feel privileged to take part in the NY and LA Art Book Fairs, so I try to represent as well as I can, every time. Sometimes that means selling rare books and ephemera, but on occasion, I get to curate special exhibitions related to archives and collections. 

My favorite exhibition projects so far have been with Maury Stein and Larry Miller, to showcase the Blueprint for Counter Education in the boiler room at PS1 in Autumn 2015, and the massive installation we mounted for the L.A. Art Book Fair in February 2016, to shine a light on Brian and Nikki Tucker’s monumental L.A. hardcore archives, and their underground publishing projects as FER YOUz.

What do you love about the book trade?

My practice is probably as mutant you can get and still call yourself a ‘rare book dealer,’ but I love the centuries-old chain of tradition and evolution the book trade encompasses. Bookselling can be an exquisite aperture into any topic of personal interest, and I’ve used it as a lens to learn more about some pretty amazing people and places. If that gets to continue for a few more decades, I’ll be a happy man.

Describe a typical day for you:

Right now I work at home, so it’s up early and triage the email before breakfast. Followed by cataloging books or project work on archives until I break for lunch and an afternoon walk. Then there’s unstructured time to pack orders, meet with clients, scout catalogs, or do research until dinner. I usually try to reserve my evenings for time with family and friends. Though sometimes there’s an email to write or a deadline to meet and you carve out an hour or two before bed.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

There have been so many. I love having handled Man Ray’s 1929 for example. Also, complete runs of certain fanzines, like New York NOSlash, and Sluggo. But if I had to pick just one for the purposes of this article, it would be the notebooks of Arthur Russell, with some of his original manuscript lyrics for the track known as That’s Us / Wild Combination. He worked it out visually, as a kind of word collage, in this careful handwriting. Anyone who loves his music will understand how special that is. The great thing is that entire archive is now at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where it belongs to the people of the five boroughs, and soon will be accessible to researchers from around the world.

What do you personally collect?

I only really collect on a topic when I’m trying to understand something and I need to live with it for a while. Right now that includes French graphzines from the 1970s and 1980s, like Bruno Richard (ESDS), Bazooka, and Ti5. I have a growing stash of materials from the Parisian post-68 / proto-punk gray area between underground comics, bande dessinée, and fanzines. I’m also a huge fan of Shūji Terayama, and will probably buy whatever I don’t already own of his book works from the 1960s-1980s - Japanese readers of Fine Books & Collections, please quote me! Eventually, however, it will all get sold as stock and I’ll move on to something else...

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a music and art nerd. So I enjoy record shopping, going to concerts, museums, gallery exhibitions, and seeing movies. But making elaborate dinners with people I love is probably my favorite thing. Walking and cycling around Brooklyn and the greener places outside of the city. Taking the Amtrak back to New England to see friends in Cambridge and Vermont, or flying home to the Twin Cities to see my family and the people I grew up with. Flea markets still rate, but that’s probably work related, somehow.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

Rupture and continuity. It’s such a great moment to be trading in the sum total of human knowledge, culture, and self expression that got put down on paper during the last 500 years of the print era. The whole sweep of it, from highbrow to lowbrow. It isn’t the easiest way to turn a dollar, but if that’s all I cared about I’d probably be in the real estate business. And if I were any good at it, I’d probably be blowing most of my earnings on books and underground magazines. So I consider myself lucky.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

An updated list will be available on my website when this article goes to print. My next show will probably be the 2017 LA Art Book Fair, unless I opt to do a pop up salon, like the Salon Society events Fabiola Alondra organized in Brooklyn Heights last year. The quasi-public, quasi-private invitational sale is becoming a nice part of the New York book selling ecosystem, and I hope the trend continues. There are also a few great archives I’m working on that I can’t tell you about yet, but that’s going to be a big part of my winter and spring...

Image credit: Janette Beckman, New York, 2015.

Tom B&W.jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Tom Lintern-Mole, proprietor of Antiquates Fine and Rare Books in Dorset, England:

How did you get started in rare books?

I started as a Saturday boy in my local second-hand bookshop in Dorset, on the south coast of England. After visiting it for three or four consecutive weeks the benevolent owner said that as I was spending about as much time there as he did, perhaps I’d like a job? I jumped at the chance; I’d always been bookish and the idea of receiving payment to be surrounded by them was a thrill. Of course the reality was that it was often hard physical work tempered with highlights: recommending books to language students, visiting the houses of people disposing of books, the ‘treasure hunting’ aspect of processing carfuls of new acquisitions and of course taking the best new acquisitions to a monthly London book fair - one that I still regularly attend to this day. That was in the early Noughties, which was I think a great time to get into the trade. There was still a shop or three selling books in nearly every town in Britain and the internet was just emerging as a great way to sell unusual books. I graduated to listing some of the stock for sale online, picking up the intricacies of book packaging, and dealing with the often unusual requests of customers in distant parts of the world along the way. Our books weren’t always rare - but many of them sold. Handling first editions of my favourite novels gave me the collecting habit - modern first editions by Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Siegfried Sassoon were my catnip. Working in the trade allowed me to build it up quite quickly.

When did you open Antiquates and what do you specialize in? 

My heady days as a part-time bookshop worker continued during the long vacations of my time at Oxford - until the shop bowed to the fate of many and closed after my first year. By this time my own collection had grown, and through haunting online auctions and city bookshops I was starting to acquire more expensive tastes - in fine leather bound volumes and original condition copies of important books (as an historian, an early Das Kapital in publisher’s bindings stands out in my memory) - and so the idea of setting up my own business during the summer of 2007, after my second year at university, seemed relatively sensible. With much practical assistance from my father, an accountant, and my mother, who packs our books and manages the shipping department better than I ever could, Antiquates was born in a spare bedroom. I still loved studying History, and after flirting with jobs in finance and law very nearly went on to apply for a Masters - but bookselling seemed just the right combination of exciting labour, detailed research and, to be perfectly honest, informed gambling. After coming down from Oxford in the summer of 2008 I was a full-time bookseller with my own business at 21. Looking back, especially at the wider economic situation around the world, I was lucky. Beneficial exchange rates and the availability of older books in Britain meant I sold and sold countless first edition copies of Dickens to destinations all over the world. Some of my early buys at auction were unwittingly good; I bought anything that I could see an angle on and learned along the way that the unusual - Hobbes translations of Homer and seventeenth-century English manuals for Nuns, as two examples - tended to sell more readily than the books that can always be found. This led to Antiquates specialising in early printed books, especially in English, and to establish a customer base in this field. This speciality remains a key focus of ours today - but we’ve added a few others, too: we now actively seek and market pre 1850 books by, for and about women and children, books with interesting provenances, library-history, and literary/social history in manuscript.

What do you love about the book trade?

The ability to buy, sell, and perhaps most importantly own - even for a short period - tremendously significant pieces of history and creative endeavour. The book as more than text continues to grow as a collecting trend, encouraging us dealers to look at the book as object, the book as art, and the book as historical record itself. If I’d have gone into the city then I wouldn’t have been in a position to discover, purchase and research books actually taken on first voyages, manuscript collections of little-known, yet sometimes rather good, amateur poets, or sammelbande of Restoration play books. I’d also have missed out on the tremendously collegiate nature of our trade. Despite the fierce competition to buy at opening nights of book-fairs, friendships endure the element of competition; I’m currently drafting a list of friends in the trade to invite to an Antiquates 10th anniversary party and becoming a little concerned about how large a venue might be necessary! In the UK we have even two booksellers associations - albeit with quite a bit of crossover - that allows us the indulgence of an annual cricket match.

Describe a typical day for you:

I’ll be busy cataloguing and researching new acquisitions or preparing invoices if I’m in our newly opened shop, or viewing upcoming auction sales if I’m on the road. As much as I enjoy working in the shop, I’m very lucky to have a tremendous cataloguing, admin, accounting and dispatch team that has allowed me to view more sales than many individual booksellers manage. I try to spend a couple of days each week actively sourcing books, but the good ship Antiquates will still be listing books on our website and sending catalogues to our mailing list in my absence. Of course this level of organisation is abandoned totally when we’re preparing for a fair - all hands get involved in preparing displays, choosing stock, hefting books and finalising the details of our travel and accommodation needs!

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

This has to be the manuscript travel journals and autobiography of a mid-nineteenth century journeyman bookbinder, socialist, and keen European traveller. It took me about a week in total to read and digest before even starting the technical cataloguing work. As the journals of an apprenticed craftsman and committed working-class trade-unionist, these were so much more interesting than the oft-found journals of young toffs carousing around tourist hotspots. ‘My’ bookbinder visited foreign colleagues, discussed working practices, sought tips on toolmakers and noted the best way to avoid the attentions of avaricious stewards and customs officers alike. He also carefully bound the journals in handsome red morocco, with countless examples of ephemera - tickets, passports, paperwork, trade cards and timetables. Needless to say they sold almost immediately - the best books have a habit of doing that.

What do you personally collect?

I managed to keep most of my modern literature collection, small and humble as it is, when starting the business - and that remains as a ‘time capsule’ collection neither added to nor detracted from. I also collect books and paper relating to my old college, Brasenose - the more ephemeral the better! Finally, in recent years I’ve started collecting nineteenth-century editions of James and John Stuart Mill owned by contemporaries - especially politicians. Those owned by radicals tend to be heavily thumbed and even annotated, but those immaculate, un-opened copies with a proud bookplate of an establishment figure please me just as much. It just seems so fitting that those in the latter group felt the need to own the works of a groundbreaking political philosophers, but didn’t deign to even cut the pages!

What do you like to do outside of work?

As you might have guessed from my previous answers, I’m keen on politics and cricket. If it wasn’t also my job, then attending every book fair I could get to would be a firm hobby of mine!

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

The trade itself is now, I think, more dynamic than I can remember. Great educational seminars like YABs mean a lot of us youngsters can benefit from the experience of our elders. The ABA is also very encouraging to us: in the past few years a real effort has been made to introduction internship programme, regular young booksellers get-togethers and networking events that is already showing tremendous results.

I’m very upbeat about the future of the trade. In part I have to be as I intend to be in the business for a lifetime, but I think the reality is that the increasing availability of texts - especially online - doesn’t really detract from the rare book trade. On the contrary, in fact, the internet and developing acquisitions policies means that more copy-specific information can be recorded, and thus what might appear to be a ‘duplicate’ may turn out to be a variant. This teaches us all more about the books we handle, and the history that they reveal. Just this morning, for example, I ‘discovered’ an additional section in our copy of a rare English seventeenth-century surveying book that I can quickly see is not commonly known recorded. That took a few minutes to work out; surveying institutional holdings like that would have taken days or weeks of effort only a couple of decades ago. 

From another perspective, I almost wonder whether the reduction in the number of general shops allows greater attention to be paid to those opportunities that remain. Sure, it might be easier to find a paperback copy of an obscure cookery book on one of the large online listing sites now, but because not everyone under the age of 25 is familiar with the notion of ‘browsing’, book-fairs are an often exciting novelty. I manage the annual Oxford Book Fair for the PBFA and have been thrilled to see a broadening demographic attending in the last couple of years.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We’ve always got a few catalogues in the making. I try to ensure we issue two printed catalogues a year in addition to 8 or 10 pdf e-lists. Right now we’re focusing on a catalogue of books by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors, which should be issued in the next month or so.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am very positive (indeed some might say a bit gushing) about book-fairs - so we do quite a few domestically each year, including the largest at Olympia and York. I’m just in the middle of cataloguing a few choice items for the Chelsea Book Fair - if you’re coming, please drop by and see us at stand 16!

Image Courtesy of Tom Lintern-Mole.

File_001 (2).jpegOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Tom Kiser, proprietor of Vivarium Books in Saint Paul, Minnesota:

How did you get started in rare books?

I was 15 and a freshman in high school when I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, who incidentally died this year.  In fact, the English translation appeared the year I was born. On Nicollet Island in downtown Minneapolis, teachers at my Lasallian high school were introducing me to history, philosophy and theology, strange interests for a 15 year old but it probably kept me out of trouble. I can’t really explain but often attempt to try: Eco was a rare book collector, postmodernist and medievalist - a combination that I find original and interesting - and viewed books I think primarily as things that aid in the investigation of reality while at the same time sort of take on a life of their own. I like to interpret this life as residing in the mind, where they speak and interact with other books through the process of cognition. Like a scientist, I view the past as a guide in peeling back the layers of reality and books to me are primarily explorative aids with intrinsic appeal. When I step into the right library, it is as it was when Br. William of Baskerville and his novice Adso discovered the book labyrinth in the fictional Aedificium, or when Samwell Tarly is granted access to the maester’s library in Game of Thones. I get the feeling that it contains the answers, hidden away, that I need. Eco’s inspiration for this 14th century library was in fact the Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto, a place I had a chance to visit years later while on a book buying trip. A search for a rare book is similar to a search for answers as we work our way through life from birth to death. Possessing a book is like possessing the knowledge it contains, and sometimes new knowledge is created between two or more books.

Completely unconscious of this, I did a BA-History in 2006 at a Benedictine university that is adjacent to a large monastic enclosure in a wooded area of central Minnesota. I chose this place in part because underground the university stores the world’s largest repository of medieval manuscript images and also contains a world-class rare book collection. I interned there vis-à-vis a Greco-Roman study abroad program where I worked my interest in things medieval, monastic and their intersection with books.  My big break came when I got a job as a cataloger and later a buyer for the world’s largest secondhand theological bookseller with a reputation for dealing in medieval studies. Back then, it was set in a beautiful old church in a river town nearby where I grew up. I can easily recall shivering in the dim lighting after closing, in the dark, wood creaking under my feet, smelling nearby bon fires, absorbing it all night after night. It was then that I noticed a knack for memorizing titles and authors and bindings. While I was working through a graduate degree in library science, I had exposure to some aspects of the trade (including rare books and rarer people), exposure I still use to provide myself with food, shelter, and a decent argument for my own existence.


When did you open Vivarium and what do you specialize in?


That’s a really pertinent question given where I am in the evolution of Vivarium. As an upstart, I used my background from school and work in a theological bookstore. It allowed me to deal with some authority in topics like church history, scholastic philosophy, patristics, and related fields like archaeology. My concentration has always been religious thought from the ancient to medieval period in academic, collectible and rare form, a broad niche closely related to my primary interest of monasticism and its role in the propagation of learning through the development of the codex. This gave my business a theme to draw inspiration from, allowed me to work with what I love, and, thanks to experience, a reliable financial situation was produced. Now I am concerned with expansion.

I opened my online-only shop in 2010 as an already eight-year veteran of poverty. I had a box of books from a friend (no joke) who normally steers people away from bookselling, no savings, a small family loan (too small) that funded my first buying trip to French Canada, and too much college debt, but I did have some relevant experience, connections, institutional access and a working business plan that only needed to be re-tooled about twenty times (I’m probably retooling it right now).  This lifted me out of poverty and into the middle class during the recession, although not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. It was worth it because I want to make a living leaving my mark on the world doing something I love. This also allows me to feel like I am discovering my limits and potential, which is priceless. Now that it’s getting somewhere, I’m looking at my next goal of diversifying outside of my niche. It helps that I value learning. I’ll rely on that and the valuable expertise of trusted people when expanding into the unknown, sort of the way explorers used to use local guides. I’ll never stop learning and exploring. Long term (subject to life’s twists and turns) I want to create a bookstore that is a refuge for seekers like myself, really all lovers of learning, on a scenic property that is open by appointment. In the spirit of the middle ages, I want to preserve and disseminate all sacred and natural arts and sciences while staying connected to my core competency. People can help simply by doing business with me, but especially by referrals to individuals or institutions looking to downsize or expand their book collections.

The original Vivarium was a Roman villa turned monastery in the dark ages. There, monks consolidated and copied endangered books from around the dying Roman Empire as it was being subjected to repeated invasions. In this way they left their small mark on the course of humanity. Later monks became copyists on a massive scale, playing the important social role of preserving and disseminating knowledge. They helped to stabilize the intellectual crisis caused by the invasions and brought light to darkness. Once again, the liberal arts that were a hallmark of ancient learning were taught to groups, only this time in monastic schools at places like Fulda, Bobbio and Corbie. Were it not for these events, ancient thought may not have survived the turbulent Middle Ages, allowing it to develop into our modern reality. I think that concept of preservation on its head is in conformity with the ethos of booksellers today. So here I am. I strive to be conscientious and very careful with the patrimony associated with books I source from institutions and private individuals. Occasionally I save books and entire collections (once an ethnic heritage situation) from peril. Right now I am relocating a small library to the Italian town of Norcia, where it will be used in an institute that works on dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. I only wish I could be there for it all.

What do you love about the book trade?

I like that it exists. I like that it allows me to share my interests with the world. I am glad to be a part of a trade that has survived, and even thrived in some places despite Amazon and its warehouses, print-on-demand, mass digitization and the various alliances of these forces.  I like that it’s survived itself, to be honest, with an enormous amount of credit due to organizations like the ABAA, ILAB, IOBA, and inclusive, non-competitive learning environments like CABS, YABS, and Rare Book School that have all been around for years. Interestingly, I’ve noticed supply and demand being generated by skilled dealers and skilled collectors coming together. I also like small business and think it has an important role to play in the economy.

Describe a typical day for you:

I need to be in more than one place at a given time. Shipping and cataloging are supposed to be the most regular, but I’m often forced to hold off on cataloging and then binge on it. I’m involved in 4-5 book buying projects remotely at any given time. Now that the foundational 10,000 books have been sourced, bought, catalogued and mostly paid for I am finding time for development. I hang out at my local coffee shop and do social media, work on catalogues, reach out to other booksellers, watch auctions, look for ways to expand my selection, dwell on cataloging rare books, and lately work on Vivarium’s non-existing website. I have found ways to not have to do all of this myself but in reality I’m always behind. I do spend time daydreaming about building a space for my store and how my books would be arranged. I almost think it would be easier designing and building than searching for the perfect pre-existing space.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Easy. I held a stunning illuminated medieval manuscript in folio, MS Bergendal 1, by Bernardo Gui (the Dominican Inquisitor embellished in Eco’s The Name of the Rose) located at the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies at Toronto. This copy was presented by Gui himself to his ally Pope John XXII in the late 1320s.  The primary illumination on the first leaf depicts Gui handing the book to the pope who at that time was in Avignon. As far as commercial handling, it would be something I just acquired: the best book on medieval Christian ritual, the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum written by Durandus, written before 1286. It is a Giunta imprint from 1551 which belonged to a famous 20th century German scholar of liturgy. I have the book this liturgist wrote in my personal library so that provenance is significant to me. There are also collections. Earlier this year Vivarium handled a gorgeous leather collection of Migne’s Patrologia Latina and Graeca numbering almost 400 volumes. This was sourced in Quebec. Earlier I mentioned the collection headed for Norcia.

What do you personally collect?

Monasticism, bibliography/history of the book, medieval studies (philosophy, science, theology etc.), Aristotle, liturgical books, Crusades, Middle East, Byzantium, Eastern Christianity (lately Syriac), Roman Catholicism, paganism, librariana, medieval manuscript facsimiles, -- sort of a mirror image of my store but not nearly as scholarly. Most of it was formed with credit I had from my previous employer. If I were to pick a serious area to move forward with it would be monasticism, but I’ve been selling what I find.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Nature, swimming, music, learning (lately astronomy), photography, road trips, coffee shops, craft beer (IPA), snowboarding, concerts, bonfires, and thinking. I like the idea of writing (ha).

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

On the trade: I am impressed with the ABAA and ILAB and hope to apply when I’m ready. CABS was great. I have to give an internet high-five to the IOBA for connecting me with a lot of relevant information that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Many of those members are all over this trade and work very hard.

On books: I think books are superior to digital in almost every way and I say that as a digital native. I totally understand not everybody thinks that and particular circumstances vary, but it’s indisputable that in digital times print can feel luxurious. As for me, I have grown as a person from good libraries and bookstores as cultural centers in a way that I am not able to do digitally. There is something about being able to physically maneuver about a library or collection with the ability to see and touch everything that I hope we don’t lose sight of. These experiences add zest to my life and improve me as an individual. Also there is collecting. For those who are into it, books provide the insight we need about topics we care deeply about while simultaneously they act to express who we are and what is important to us. When I visit someone’s home or office, the first thing I do is look at the bookshelf to see if I can gain an impression of what they like. Bonus points are always allotted for nice editions, signed copies, etc. If we need to express ourselves with material possessions, I think books are a very good option.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I recently put out a comprehensive catalogue I personally liked entitled Byzantine Art: Origins to Aftermath. It can be found here. I am now putting one together on late medieval and Renaissance art, and I wholeheartedly intend to do my first rare and antiquarian after that, being hyper-aware of what they say about good intentions. In the meantime I encourage people to follow Vivarium Books on Facebook. As far as fairs, I haven’t made it out yet because my goals have been elsewhere, but recently I did make a return to the International Medieval Congress (there is a book fair attached) where I found new friends, rekindled old relationships, met in person with individuals who I have helped remotely, and in general just scoped out the scene. It was fun to attend to attend as a drifter with no work to do and to write off all the expenses while supporting a great organization. I hope to do recon at other events and look forward to meeting other booksellers.


clareportrait.jpgOur Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Clare Trimming, proprietor of Beaux Books in Hampshire, England:


How did you get started in rare books?


My secondary school had a tradition of releasing us from the classroom for a couple of weeks work experience. The careers’ advisor suggested I channel my love of books into a placement at the local library but that didn’t sound quite exciting enough. Luckily my uncle, John Collins, worked at Maggs and he put me in touch with, what was then, Bloomsbury Book Auctions. I spent a fortnight there and caught the bug. That was in 1994 and I’m still here.


When did you open Beaux Books and what do you specialize in?


I spent several years working in London, including six years at Sims Reed. During this time I developed my knowledge and love of rare art and design books. When I had my first child the need to be closer to home and work more flexible hours spurred me on to take the plunge and start my own business. In 2012 Beaux Books was born. The company specialises in fine and rare books on art, design, fashion and photography. The majority of our stock is 20th century and we sell around the world. Many of our clients are art and antique dealers, and designers.


What do you love about the book trade?

I love the fact that every day is different. I love the books. And I love the interesting people that I meet - collectors and dealers. I met my husband, Nick Trimming (part of Daniel Crouch Rare Books), at a dealer’s party.


Describe a typical day for you:


I start the day dealing with emails and any orders that have come in overnight. I usually have a few books that I need to source for clients and I check any upcoming auctions. I’ll then catalogue and photograph any new stock. I’m currently working on a catalogue of Bruce Weber material so I’m spending time researching that. I try to fit in regular trips to London to see other dealers and catch-up with current exhibitions. In between all this there’s the school run and trips to the park. Bookselling is a great job to fit in around the children.

Favourite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?


At Sims Reed I handled some amazing objects. Highlights included an archive of original William Morris wallpaper samples and a complete set of Gazette de Bon Ton.

I’m not at that level yet with Beaux Books but David Hicks’s books from the 1960s encapsulate the kind of books I love to sell - good-looking books, striking dust jackets and stylish design by an iconic designer. And my customers love them too.


What do you personally collect?

I have a soft spot for the work of Cecil Beaton and his set. I have just bought a copy of Rex Whistler’s own bookplate which is now hanging on my office wall. I’ve also recently been reading Patti Smith’s memoirs and poetry. Her voice is so powerful and evocative of the creative scene in 1970s New York. I’ve started to collect some of her works.


What do you like to do outside of work?

As a family we like exploring and going on mini adventures. Nick is an excellent cook so food and entertaining is a big part of our weekends. And it goes without saying - reading.


Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?


I am optimistic for the future of the trade. The internet has changed the way we deal in books but for me these changes have been advantageous. I can buy a book from Paris and then sell it to a customer in New York without leaving the office. Yes, it’s not as much fun as before but it’s efficient and fits well around my schedule.

In the past few years I have seen people who started in the business at the same time as me setting up on their own and trying new and positive approaches to bookselling. The emphasis is moving from the generalist to the specialist. The good booksellers are those with an intensive knowledge of their subject coupled with a head for business.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?


Beaux Books will be exhibiting at the Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair for the first time in May. We will be launching “the WEBER list” there, a comprehensive catalogue of books produced by and about the American fashion photographer, Bruce Weber. Do come and say “hi”.


Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Jennifer Ebrey, a Junior Cataloger in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Department at Bonhams, London:

Staff Photo.jpg


What is your role at Bonhams?


I’m a Junior Cataloguer in the Books & Manuscripts Department. I’m still relatively new to the department, so I haven’t yet developed a specialist area, but there are so many things I get enthusiastic about: iconic modern firsts, wonderfully quirky limited editions and delightfully curious and charming antiquarian books. I also have a partiality for E.H. Shepard illustrations.

Describe a typical day for you:

It’ll depend on where exactly we are in the sale’s calendar, but I tend to spend the majority of my day cataloguing and collating and offering valuations. Although, once in a while, I’ll receive something that’s slightly more unusual that would need a little bit more attention and research. Then I’ll spend an enjoyable afternoon reading up on an incredibly niche subject. I’ve also tried to incorporate social media in to the department, so I try to make time every day to share something (hopefully) witty or interesting on Twitter and Instagram. It’s also a really lovely way of showing people what happens behind the scenes.  



How did you get started in rare books?

In a very roundabout, meandering sort of way. Although I’ve loved books ever since I was old enough to read and I chose to study literature at university, I wasn’t sure if I would ever have a career that would let me utilise my passion for books. It was only when I began to work for Bonhams that I thought it might be possible. I originally started in the Collections Department at New Bond Street, which was absolutely fascinating - I literally handled everything from Picasso paintings to Tiffany jewellery and imperial Chinese vases - through that I was able to learn, in a very osmotic way, about appraising and valuing. After a while I was invited to join the Books and Manuscripts Department. Since then I’ve just wanted to learn as much as I possibly can, which is easy when you’re lucky enough to be part of a team with the sort of knowledge that Google would envy.



What do you love about working for an auction house?

Working for an auction house is easily the most fascinating and exciting job I’ve ever had. It’s the ultimate combination of handling some of the world’s rarest and most remarkable books and meeting wonderful, interesting people. If you’ve never been to an auction, please, please do - it’s an amazing experience... and I promise we don’t think you’re bidding if you sneeze.



Favorite rare book or ephemera that you’ve handled?

That’s actually a really hard question because I think that most of the things we have in the office are amazingly cool, but I love the curiosities! One of my favourites was a really unassuming little book that my colleague discovered to have an incredibly rare printed fragment sewn in to its binder’s waste. It was John Stanbridge’s The Longe Accydence and I think it was actually the only located copy in the world. We’ve also had Coleridge’s writing desk, a ‘wicked’ bible, Howard Carter’s archaeological papers, diaries and sketchbooks from pioneering explorers... and who could forget Napoleon’s death mask?!



What do you personally collect?

The wonderful thing about working with rare books is that you accumulate a dream bookshelf in your head chockfull of all the amazing things you’d love to fill it with. There are some things that I’ve always, always wanted - like a first edition of Lord Byron - but now I find myself cataloguing things that I might never have thought of like beautiful botanical plate books and stunning limited editions and I think ‘how amazing would it be to own that?’ I’d also love to have a copy of the very first book I catalogued, which was Sir Walter Raleigh’s The Historie of the World. At the moment though, I just have a few signed books, most of them happily acquired in very long queues in bookstores, but my absolute favourite is a copy of The Midnight Palace signed by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which was a gift from my sister.



What do you like to do outside of work?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I love reading - especially anything with a hint of mystery. Although in the last year, I’ve been trying to teach myself Italian, so perhaps one day I’ll be able to read Umberto Eco in the original. I’m also a huge fan of the theatre - The Globe’s production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance is still the best thing I’ve ever seen.



Thoughts on the future of rare books / auction houses?

I’m still fairly new to the book trade, but I have great faith in its future. I think it is very much its own entity. While other forms of collecting are dependent on contemporary tastes, the variety within rare books means that while certain fields or genres may become unfashionable, other subjects and specialities will continue to be sought after. Working in auctioneering has also made me aware of exactly how global the market has become. Some of our sales have had bidders from over 30 countries and over half of our bidders are now based outside of the UK, which means that we are reaching more and more private buyers directly, regardless of where they are in the world.



Any upcoming auctions you’d like to draw our attention to?

Absolutely! Our next auction is the much-anticipated second part of The Library of the Late Hugh Selbourne, M.D., on 8 March. Dr. Selbourne was a remarkable collector - he collected everything from early medical books to modern firsts, but all with a careful and discerning eye, so his library is like a sweetshop for bibliophiles. This second part will include a first edition of Darwin’s The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle and a minute book of a real life radical Pickwick Club.

     We also have a fantastic various owner sale coming up on 16 March, which has some beautiful (and wonderfully curious) designer bindings from the collection of the late Denis Collins as well as a beautifully illustrated copy of Gould’s Birds of Great Britain, a wonderful John Speed atlas and J.W. Waterhouse’s copies of Tennyson and Shelley, which he used to make preliminary sketches for some of his most famous paintings.

     There’s also something amazing tucked away in the safe for our June sale - but I couldn’t possibly tell you what that is. Yet.


Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Helene Golay of Lorne Bair Rare Books in Winchester, Virginia:

helene golay lorne bair.jpg

How did you get started in rare books?

I think I fall somewhere between the categories “It was a complete accident” and “I was born to do it.” I graduated from Bowdoin in the spring of 2009, which was at the time the worst year on record to be out looking for work (Great Depression notwithstanding). I moved to Texas for sentimental reasons and, after a few weeks of waitressing, was offered a position at the rare books and special collections library at Texas A&M. This meant I got to catalogue some truly beautiful and intelligent private and curated libraries, including those of my former boss Larry Mitchell and the late Robert Dawson, as well as part of the University’s Cervantes collection. Everything changed in the summer of 2011 when I managed to hitch a ride to the RBMS pre-conference in scenic Baton Rouge, where I spent the first heady day amongst ABAA dealers at the bookseller showcase. It was my first encounter with the rare book trade, and Lorne swears to this day that he overheard me say to a colleague: “What’s the f***** deal with all these booksellers?” (This would have been two years before he even met me.) We both know now that this what I was really thinking was, “[Blasphemous epithet], how the hell can I get into this racket?” As will sometimes happen with first love, I ditched my pride and sent my resumé to every ABAA dealer in my hometown of New York (because after two and a half years Texas had finally worn thin). Fred Schreiber took pity on me and recommended me to Jim Cummins, with whom I interned through the spring, and from Jim Cummins I plied Rob Rulon-Miller with beer, which led to two and a half years of employment with him in St. Paul, Minnesota, from whence I made the obvious transition, in the fall of 2014, to Lorne Bair Rare Books.

What is your role at Lorne Bair Rare Books?

My fellow worker Amir Naghib has a broken hand as I write this, so I’ll say that I’m currently the brawn of the operation. But like most booksellers, I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Officially I think I’m the “Head Cataloger,” or at least that’s how Lorne sometimes refers to me when he’s on the phone with a stranger. I’m also the self-titled Alfred Jarry fangirl in residence. 

What do you love about the book trade?

Oh lord, the people. I find that the younger generation of the trade is especially salty and intelligent--a pleasure to spend my life with and thankfully I work for Lorne, the best of them. It’s very hard to be a successful bookseller right now and I think as a result the trade has attracted a lot of very idiosyncratic and blindingly intelligent people who probably “marched to their own drum” as children. I obviously can’t ignore the books, they tend to be as interesting as their sellers and I take an embarrassing amount of pleasure in sitting at my desk with a pile of uncatalogued books, passing them through the sieve, so to speak, and learning from them. 

Describe a typical day for you.

I like to start the morning squabbling with Lorne over whose turn it is to make coffee and tend to the office cat’s hygienic needs. Then I spend the rest of the day cataloging, editing images, selling books, and doing my utmost to avoid hard mylar and the phone when it rings.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

I admit I enjoy a challenge. Currently on my desk is possibly the earliest published appearance of the Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, inscribed by him both as Duvalier and his Action Nationale pseudonym “Abderrahman.” A previous owner has rather ominously redacted throughout the entire book the first name of one of the co-authors, Arthur Bonhomme, who would later serve as a Haitian ambassador to the United States. The book itself is an important early contribution to the négritude movement and is exceedingly uncommon--my guess is that older “livres brochés” (this one is dated 1934) don’t tend to thrive in the Haitian climate. In the grand scheme of things this probably wouldn’t be what I’d refer to as my “favorite” book, but it is certainly the one that’s freshest on my mind.

What do you personally collect?

In terms of reading material, I have a relatively healthy collection of World War I history. As for items I’ve accidentally collected which are on prominent display in my apartment, I have about twenty booklets of Tintin decals (ca. 1960); a racy pulp novel titled Assignment Helene, bequeathed to me by Amir and Lorne on my first day at Lorne Bair Rare Books; a French ad for fezzes marketed to colonial African shoppers; and a pair of vintage cat photographs. If there’s a theme, I don’t know what it is, though of the items described, two of them happened to be uncharacteristically colorful things I found chez Garrett Scott.

What do you like to do outside of work?

When there’s money left over, I’ve been learning to ride a horse “Western” style (which means you don’t need to wear those fancy pants) and I write the occasional review for the local film club. I also cook quite a bit. Last winter I decided to roast a duck after work on a week night--it took until midnight and was a bit of a preposterous undertaking for a woman who lives alone, but I did feast for three days after, grease fire in my oven notwithstanding. It goes without saying that I also try to read like a vacuum. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I’m a pretty firm believer in apprenticeship. When I decided I wanted to be a bookseller, I wanted to be able to start off on my own immediately, though where the money was going to come from was a vast and unsurpassable mystery. I don’t think a penniless youngster, no matter how smart, should really consider diving in without at least a few years with a seasoned veteran. There’s not much room for big mistakes if you’re starting out on your own without any previous knowledge of the trade.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We’ve just sent out an online list of postcolonial literature, of which I’m rather proud. Catalog 22 mailed in September and Catalog 23 is already in the early gestation period, though the marathon of cataloging, editing, and layout hasn’t yet begun. I’m hoping to make it to the Boston fair for the first time this year if only to contribute absolutely nothing to the annual trivia competition. I’m also co-curating with Lorne an exhibit at the Yale Law Library on the Tom Mooney trial, which will open in March to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing.

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Booksellers series can be sent to

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
Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Aimee Peake of Bison Books in Winnipeg:


How did you get started in rare books?

Twenty years ago this fall, I was 19 and taking Philosophy at University. Out for coffee with friends one evening, I saw a “Help Wanted” sign in the window of the adjacent used bookstore, so I went in the next morning armed with my resume and idealism. I’d happened upon one of Canada’s well-respected antiquarian bookstores, Greenfield Books. In my first year there, I vividly remember moving the shop to a new location, painting and assembling bookcases, and hauling countless loads of books. Trial by fire! I worked there on and off for years, inching along in my apprenticeship as I worked on my degree and came and went from the city. In 2001, the proprietor offered me the management position at the new shop he was about to open: Bison Books. I had my run of the place! I enjoyed the independence and responsibility and wanted more of both, so I became a partner in the business in 2007 then assumed sole proprietorship in 2010.

When did you take ownership of Bison Books and what do you specialize in?

I am a generalist, so I specialize in whatever comes through the door! I have a busy open shop in the heart of downtown Winnipeg and I love the daily challenge of filling the shelves with fresh, high-quality, wide-ranging stock, including everything from fine bindings, collectable and antiquarian books, through to quality contemporary literature, art, children’s, and everything in between. If I acquire a collection of cookbooks, well, that’s my specialty for the week! I also specialize in customer service, as I think the old-fashioned personal touch not only makes my days more fulfilling, but also gives customers a sense of belonging. 

What is a typical day for you?

First thing, I get a cup of something warm, put on some good music and sift through the email to enjoy all the orders, catalogues, and correspondence from clients new and old. New and long-time customers file through over the course of the day, to chat and/or browse: a welcome interruption from my paperwork! I handle all aspects of the business, attending to my social media accounts (I’ve been growing the Instagram @bison_books, which has been fun!), accounting, shipping & receiving, collections development, and of course acquisitions: every day, new books come in - or I leave the shop in the hands of my staff to go dig through basements and attics to uncover forgotten gems and restore them to their rightful place in society. Sometimes I tend to the backlog of acquisitions, and sometimes I make it worse. Inevitably I leave before the work is done, otherwise I would never get home!

What do you love about the book trade?

I love the books, and the customers, and the challenge of running a business. I love the daily possibility of discovery - of anything from a book of poems I know will garner a smile from a particular customer, up to a breathtakingly-illustrated antiquarian treasure to enrich the day. I love that every day, I feel a sense of community as customers turn into friends. I love characters who are attracted to bookstores. I have been taking forays into Collections Development work with a few clients, and I love having the opportunity to follow them into their niche, pour over catalogues with them in mind, quote them on items I see, and share in the excitement when we peel open the packaging on their newest acquisitions!

Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

I remember working at Greenfield Books about 15 years ago, on a collection of Nonesuch Press books. There was a turquoise vellum Herodotus that took my breath away. It was out of range for me, and I remember/rue the day it sold. More-recently, I was working with one of my favorite customers, who collects 16th century books. When he opened up the front of his bookcase to reveal his stunning collection, I was filled with hope and awe, feelings that intensified as I leafed through a few of his breathtaking, important books: tangible examples of history, appropriately revered and painstakingly cared-for. For a little while, all was well in the world.

What do you personally collect?

A book can catch my eye for several of reasons: the author, binding, illustrations, content, etc., but my pulse quickens when style meets substance. Sometimes I’ll take a favorite item home with me, unless I know of another good home for it! I am the consummate dealer that way: I am happy when I can find the right placement for any book, be it my house or any other. I also help run the family antique/art auction business, so I really have to be diligent not to bring too much stuff home. Easy come, easy go.... most of the time, anyway!

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I can’t imagine the uncomplicated practicality of the book’s perfect technology ever reaching obsolescence! Many of us will always relish the simple sensory pleasures of turning a page. Some books have lost their relevance, but at the same time books are gaining value as Objects. Vellum bindings, hand-coloured plates, handmade rag papers and the like will always gain ground and provide a living to those of us who remain quick on our feet. And there will always be a core of loyal intellectuals who want to preserve and grow our collective cultural knowledge, and thus continue to patronize the time-honored tradition of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I plan to do one of the Canadian fairs this fall - either returning to the Vancouver Fair if it happens, or wetting my feet at the Toronto ILAB fair. As for catalogues, I don’t have any firm plans at the moment, though I make customized catalogues on request, and I regularly post photos of new acquisitions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the blog on my website!

Nominations for entries in our Bright Young Booksellers series can be sent to

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Nelson Harst of Antifurniture in New York City:


How did you get started in rare books?

I’ve always worked in books, including great independent bookstores like the University Book Store in Seattle and Book Culture in New York. I’ve also sold extensively online. At some point in those book selling roles, I began to focus more on the rare and collectible. 

My particular interest is in display, curation and arrangement of books. For several years, I’ve been involved in the Bidoun Library project. We did shows at the New Museum, Serpentine Gallery and most recently the Carnegie Museums’s last International show in 2013. The Bidoun Library was about presenting books about/from/around the “Middle East.” We included some very rare and valuable items, such as Iranian revolutionary magazines and propaganda photobooks. We had an incredible archive of posters, stickers and flyers that circulated around Tahir Square during the spring of 2010. But then we’d also do things like buy every book on Amazon priced under a dollar that had “Arab” or “Veil” in the title. There’s a lot of them. 

We’d juxtapose the cheap, crap books next to the rare items. In the exhibit, most of the books could be picked up and flipped through; I like to make books accessible and get them out from under the glass vitrines whenever possible. Though as I’ve had access to better books, I’ve learned something about this great contradiction of accessibility. On one hand, rare books maintain their value by not being handled; on the other hand the key to engaging a new generation of collectors and book users is literally getting the best books into people’s hands.

My real break into dealing truly rare books came in summer of 2014. Two things happened, almost at the exact same time. First of all, I enrolled in CABS that summer and learned massively about the inside mechanics of the trade. Completely by coincidence, Harper of Harper’s Books contacted me a week prior to CABS. He had no idea I was attending CABS. But Harper had noticed what I was doing on Instagram and on the streets of NYC. Since then I’ve been working as a sort of traveling medicine show for his books as well as my own. Harper has incredible material and a creative and eclectic taste; I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to work with him and his team.

When did you open Antifurniture and what do you specialize in?

I started Antifurniture in the spring of 2014. It started as a sort of social media experiment on Instagram and then evolved into a NYC book table on the corner of Howard and Broadway in SoHo. My focus has always been visual books. I sum up the scope as as “Visual Culture, Pop to Post Modern.” Some of the subjects I stock include photography, fashion, architecture, art and commercial illustration. Many of my customers are designers, artists and stylists. Often, they are buying my books primarily as reference material rather than as collectible objects-- though often, the impulse to collect does run parallel to creative work.

Please introduce us to your mobile bookstore model:

I like to appear in unlikely places with my books. Last summer, my main spot was in SoHo on the corner of Broadway and Howard Street, just above Canal. But I also appeared in the East Village, Chinatown and Chelsea. My set up is compact enough to fit in even the smallest NYC cab. Two fold up tables, four crates and a directors chair. I also pack a clock, because I think its important to take time into account when dealing with books. Sometimes I also bring a little camp stool too if I’m expecting friends to stop by and hang out. Since the onset of winter though I’ve had to abandon the street model. I’m experimenting now with open house Sunday’s at my apartment in Williamsburg as well as hotel room pop up shops, an idea Harper invented along with Fulton Ryder a couple years prior. 

We also understand you use Instagram in a creative way to advertise your business.  Please tell us about that as well:

I post daily, sometimes several times daily, to my Instagram account, @antifurniture. I always do three posts. A cover shot of course, and two interiors. Sometimes if a book is really great, I do a series of six posts. Aside from my table and pop up shops, my bookstore is virtual and appears on your phone, anywhere in the world. Instagram is not just am advertising tool, it’s an actual marketplace where I buy and sell and chat with other like minded dealers and collectors. It’s also what I do instead of a website, searchable inventory or lists. 

What do you love about the book trade?

It’s an exceptionally cordial and fun profession. It’s also a very creative and open field; anything could be a book. I love being part of the visual culture ecosystem of artists, designers, editors, museums and libraries. But what I love most of all is the space a bookstore creates. When I set up my table on the street, the most fantastic and unrelated people start congregating and browsing and chatting. Something about a selection of books creatives a conversation place, a salon bubble that’s really very special.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

A nearly unknown fashion forecast journal called Presage by an nearly unknown creative director named Rosita Fanto. It’s one of Harper’s. He has a massive archive of the journal, over 80 installments in total. Each installment is a hand made book arts piece that functions as a swatch book, color palate and inspiration object for designers. It ran from 1962 through 1986 and had a small but dedicated audience of people working in the fashion trade. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Because the audience was international, with subscribers everywhere from Paris to Taiwan, Fanto created a non-verbal language that is both visual and tactile. It’s a vastly under appreciated creation.

What do you personally collect?

Not books! But I do rather haphazardly collect LPs and postcards. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

The book trade is obviously at a transitional moment. It’s probably a transition that will never resolve entirely. People think they need books less, but the most active users of books (artists, designers and writers) understand that the print object remains a unique and valuable storage technology. If the book trade is going to remain vibrant, that interest in books must be stimulated. Rare books must function both as collectible objects, cultural totems, but must also continue to exist and be created as useful active objects. 

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson, proprietors of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario:

How did you both get started in rare books?

Vanessa: I started working at an ILAB shop during my undergrad and that’s where I was introduced to bookselling, conservation and rare books in a professional capacity, but the itch really got under my skin when I started collecting L. M. Montgomery as a teenager. I remember being dumbfounded by a signed copy of Pat of Silver Bush, around the same time I met Jason actually. We met each other through working on a regional poetry anthology, and so words and books have always been a part of our relationship. I collected his zine, Paradigm. I guess that was why he helped me get a job at that ILAB shop--or maybe he just thought I was cute. I hope it’s because he thought I was cute.

Jason: A good friend opened a shop when I was still in high school. I got to help open it and loved the experience completely. I was eighteen and, mainly growing up in a small town, to come to London, Ontario--a big city--and work in a cool downtown bookshop was a dream come true. Then I worked with Vanessa for an association dealer for nearly 10 years, and we both cut our teeth there. I grew up in that shop. We loved working. We loved the culture. It all just came into place, and I’ve never left the business.

When did you open Brown & Dickson and what do you specialize in?

Vanessa: Our official launch was January 1, 2015 but we’ve been kind of open since the beginning of November. People seem a little confused by what we call a “semi-retail” environment, but we really like having a half-shop/half-office hybrid. We specialize in Canada and her culture. While we still love traditional Canadiana, we are focusing more on 20th century iconography, pop culture and the development of our national identity.

Jason: I love 20th century Canada. It is something that most folks our age up here adore but don’t take seriously because it isn’t a serious focus for collectors really and, well, we’re Canadian. We don’t take anything we do seriously. But Canada is one of those countries that, because of its relative similarity to the US, and its proximity to the big USofA, it’s culture has crept into much of mainstream 20th Century identity. Ivan Reitman. You Can’t Do that on Television. The Guess Who. We are everywhere, hidden in plain sight. So to come into this and have all of the material new and unprocessed, unappraised mostly, well...Vanessa and I are very excited to be a part of that, bringing 20th Century Canada into the trade, selling it into existence.

What are your roles?  How do you divide your labor?

Vanessa: We’ve worked together for so many years, and have been friends since high school. Now we’re married. It’s hard to describe. We finish each other’s sentences and cover for each other, pick up each other’s slack. It’s automatic. I suppose Jason is better at administration, numbers. He’s more technical with cataloguing. I’m captivated by social media and customer relationships. But we are both equally obsessed with local history and regionalism.

Jason: Vanessa and I are both writers. She writes in one awesome draft that she then chips away, works, coerces, and refines it to form a final manuscript. I collect bits and pieces and break them and stitch them and Frankenstein it into a final monsterpiece. This is how we are at work too. Vanessa is mainly a big picture person. I’m mainly a “how are we going to this, actually” person. But we are both entrepreneurs and finicky managers. Technically, however, we differ greatly. So when we dream together -- dream about what we plan to do and where we plan to go -- it is sparing no expense, but how we actually create it together is very complicated and nuanced. There’s a lovely balance. We’ve honed this over years of working together, and it is magic.

What do you both love about the book trade?

Vanessa: For me, the first thing is the relationships. I find that I get along with book people. I love the eccentricities of collectors and sellers. Just as important, in fact, more important to me, is the hunt. The treasure hunt, the finds, the discoveries. Your network is what makes those happen, so the two things work together. Finding a one-of-a-kind significant item can energize me for months.

Jason: I have clarity of purpose bookselling. I get it, I can do it well, and the struggle means something to me. I don’t find that in other work, honestly. The struggle of other jobs is deeply irritating and soul-crushing. So to come into the shop each day and see the challenge in front of me...that is galvanizing and inspiring. I can live with that, and grow.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Vanessa: I should say the Nuremberg Chronicle, but no. It has to be the 13 page manuscript of the lost, unpublished Mammoth Cave article by L. M. Montgomery. She referred to it in her journals, but no one had ever found it. The owner, who didn’t quite know what she had, inquired with an academic colleague of mine about selling it. He sent her to me. That was a landmark moment for me as a seller. The manuscript is at the University of Prince Edward Island L. M. Montgomery Institute now, where it should be. I also had the privilege to assist in appraising the Montgomery suicide note at the University of Guelph, and that appraisal led to another important finding about her death.

Jason: A complete run of Artscanada. I took a very long time with that. It excited me. Also large chunks from James Reaney [Canadian writer] and Greg Curnoe’s [Canadian artist] libraries. Basically any large collection of arts ephemera from early to mid-century Canada that I’ve had the opportunity to catalogue or even see has made my pulse race. Also I’ve handled some rare photographs of London, Ontario that I really dorked out on seeing things like, “Oh THAT’S what that building was back then.” This sort of thing excites me. Weird self published books of poetry and self-produced records excite me too and I’ve had the pleasure of handling many of those.

What do you both personally collect?

Vanessa: Now that I’m selling, I’m not collecting anymore. It’s the same principal as being a drug dealer. You can’t smoke what you sell. Jason’s a bit more footloose and fancy free than I am. He likes to dance with the devil.

Jason: British and American ghost stories. I also have a collection of wholly inconsequential scraps relating to my life.

Vanessa, I understand you are also something of an L. M. Montgomery expert.  Could you elaborate on that?

Vanessa: I think I have done that already, but since you ask...I think there is a moment where you can turn a hobby into something you take seriously. It’s a conscious decision, and one that I also made as a writer. It’s all well and good to dabble in something you enjoy, but there’s a level of work that’s involved in actual research that exhausts you unless you are truly committed. You hear about that in the trade all the time, people who like books and enjoy reading and tell themselves it would be pretty neat to run a bookstore someday. You can’t run a business that way, and you can’t contribute to your culture in a meaningful way unless you have the determination to see something through. I believe that bookselling is an essential role in the world of academia, archives and cultural preservation. So, taking part in the Montgomery scholarship community is just part of the same thing. These words, these pieces of ephemera, the archives, the cataloguing numbers and the private collections, these are all part of transmitting our past into the future. Montgomery’s work is a cornerstone of Canadian literature, and since I’m a Canadian writer and bookseller, knowing about her makes sense to me.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

Vanessa: The book trade in Canada is massively different from the United States. There are no association book dealers other than Jason and I in Canada under the age of fifty. We are doing things in another way than the generation before us. What I know for sure is that the market is shifting. Up north, we need to focus on fostering the trade. There are lots of collectors, but not a lot of sellers.

Jason: The trade will be fine. Those who adapt will survive. Books are simply too fascinating. And they will always have value. And the sellers who discover new markets or embrace and learn the idiosyncrasies and progressive ways of selling will do just fine. I think bookdealers are being forced to come out from behind the myth of the dusty grump and be visible and accountable. That is not a bad thing. In fact what was once mysterious is now common, and dealers are having to be more creative in finding the mysterious -- I should say romantic -- in books once more. This is work, but good work. And good things will come of it.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Vanessa: We hope to put out our first catalogue by spring. It’s going to be epic.

Jason: What she said.

(Note from Fine Books & Collections: There are several other association book dealers in Canada who are under 50 years old, including the proprietors of Bison Books, Patrick McGarhern, and Spafford Books).

Today we are checking back in with Laura Massey, who was featured in our Bright Young Booksellers series over two years ago when she was employed by Peter Harrington in London. Massey has since gone on to open up her own antiquarian bookshop in London called Alembic Rare Books


Please introduce us to your new shop.  What does Alembic specialize in? Where are you located?

Alembic is based in north London and specialises in books, manuscripts, objects, and visual material in the sciences, with stock in all major scientific fields from the late medieval period to the present. My particular areas of interest are alchemy and the early history of science; nuclear physics & the Manhattan project; natural history; computing; and anatomy. I’m also fascinated by popular science, especially from the Victorian era when scientific pursuits became recreations for the middle classes. Often you find that these books inspired children who grew up to become renowned scientists. They also gave women an entry into scientific fields that were closed to them at the professional level, and a number of women became best-selling popular science authors. These types of books are great gifts or starting points for new collectors, and I keep a good selection in stock.

That leads me to our other area, which is women’s history. In addition to books by female scientists, I tend to focus on the lives of ordinary women and stock things like scrapbooks, manuscript recipe books, diaries, and crafts. One of my most interesting pieces is a manuscript receipt for rent payment received by an Englishwoman in 1353, which demonstrates how involved medieval women were in running businesses and estates.

Remind us of your background in rare books:

I did my undergraduate degree in the history of science at Georgia Tech and spent several years as a student worker in the school’s archives & special collections department. There’s a great bookshop in Atlanta called A Cappella, and the owner Frank Reiss graciously allowed me to volunteer there while I decided whether to pursue a career in rare books. In 2008 I moved to London and completed a master’s degree in book history at the Institute of English Studies of the University of London. I then joined the staff at Peter Harrington, where I spent four years as general cataloguer and blogger, and also began specialising in science books, contributing a significant portion of the firm’s recent science catalogue.

How has the transition been from employee to shop-owner?

It’s been fantastic, and I’m really grateful for the huge amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from the rest of the rare book community. As for the day-to-day stuff, being a general cataloguer in a large shop is great because you encounter so many different types of books, but now it’s nice to be able to focus on the specific areas that interest me. I’m really enjoying making my own decisions about purchasing, and it was a lot of fun to design my website and logo. Though I do really miss the camaraderie of working in a shop, and being able to share my interesting purchases with colleagues.

In your original BYT interview, you mentioned that you were reluctant to open your own shop as you weren’t keen on admin and bookkeeping.  How’s that been going for you?

Much better than expected! The first thing I did when I decided to go out on my own was buy the Financial Times Small Business Start-Up Guide, which was extremely helpful, mostly in reassuring me that all the unfamiliar things I needed to do and know as a business person were relatively straightforward. And I’m apparently such a nerd that I’m even finding accounting software and tax law interesting.

At Peter Harrington, you were a resident blogger.  Are you still writing anywhere online?

I’m writing a blog for Alembic, and my first post is on a rare jacketed copy of The Salamander, the first novel about a flapper and the book that inspired Zelda Fitzgerald’s lifestyle.

Favorite book that’s crossed your door at Alembic?

This wonderful prize-binding that contains two works on the physics of spinning tops and soap bubbles. Prize-bound books were given to students as rewards for scholarly excellence. Most of them date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they’re often works on general topics, such as overviews of natural history. This example is special because the subjects are quite specific and unusual. But what makes it really interesting is that both the books were written by leading scientists who were fascinated by these seemingly minor phenomena because they encompassed some of the great concepts and questions in science. In fact, the work on soap bubbles was considered the definitive account of the subject. It’s a gorgeous book and represents the best of what science writing can be.

Started any personal collections beyond antique jelly moulds yet?

Not yet! My personal collecting is still pretty haphazard. But I am pleased to be branching out into scientific objects and other types of antiques as part of my business. I have a particularly nice diptych sundial & compass at the moment.

Any upcoming fairs / catalogues?

Nothing firm yet, though I’m working toward catalogue number 1 and my newsletters can be subscribed to at the bottom of this page. I also regularly post images of new acquisitions to twitter, facebook, and Google+.
Our Bright Young Things series continues today with Kaitlin Manning of B & L Rootenberg in Sherman Oaks, California.

Kaitlin photo.jpg
How did you get started in rare books?

My journey into the trade was anything but straightforward. My first love was Shakespeare, and after college I pursued classical acting (inevitably picking up some bartending skills along the way). I started feeling pretty dissatisfied with that lifestyle, so I decided to transition into the visual arts.  Though my undergraduate major was in Art History, I knew I wanted more training and expertise in a specific field. I was lucky enough to secure a spot at the Courtauld Institute where I completed a Master’s degree in Medieval Art, with a special emphasis on illuminated manuscripts. While writing my dissertation, I went to the London book fair for a little inspiration and, frankly, to get out of the library for a few hours. It was there that I met Howard Rootenberg, who got me thinking about turning my academic interests into a career in rare books. Five months later I was working for him!

What is your role at B & L Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts?

I was interested in working with the Rootenbergs because I wanted to learn the business from top to bottom. I do everything from packing and shipping to cataloguing and attending book fairs throughout the year. Now that I understand the business and the culture a bit more thoroughly, I am also starting to develop a social media program to engage with the broader community. As images are becoming more and more important to what we do, a big part of my job has been learning to photograph our inventory and think about ways to promote it. At our last few book fairs we featured illustrated, digital versions of our catalogues, and I think we will continue to do so in the future.

What do you love about the book trade?

I get to learn something new every single day. The first book I catalogued here was a British treatise on kidney stones, and I just finished researching a rare seventeenth century book on heavenly phenomena. I never know where my day will take me. There is so much to learn, so many rabbit holes to fall into, that there will never be a point when you can “know it all.” That, to me, is a pretty exciting line of work.

Favorite rare book or ephemera that you’ve handled?

Handling first editions of the major scientific breakthroughs - Newton’s Principia, Copernicus’ De revolutionibus, and Darwin’s Origins, to name a few - have certainly been awe inspiring moments; but the art historian in me is always drawn (pun totally intended) to exquisite images. One of the first rare books I handled in grad school was a copiously illustrated Apocalypse at the Wellcome Collection in London. I think that was the one that hooked me. 

What do you personally collect?

Nothing at the moment, though I would love to start. At each book fair I will have my heart set on some Japanese prints, only to be lured by the pull of some bizarre ethnographic study, which then gets me thinking about travel and voyages. In short, I’m still looking for that “gateway” book. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

Now that it’s looking like this whole internet thing isn’t just a fad, and with technology continually replacing itself like some asexual swamp frog, the times are, clearly, a changin’. I think it’s easy to project fears and anxieties about the future of the trade onto young people (particularly those who grew up with the new technology) by arguing that they just aren’t interested in what we do. Frankly, I think that’s unfair. The challenges of bookselling and reaching new customers may be different than they were fifty years ago, but the tools at our disposal are also more powerful. Unfortunately, the multitude of digital platforms out there can seem overwhelming, and I think it prevents a lot of booksellers from really investigating the potential power of social media, particularly in terms of expanding the community and sharing expertise. But although maintaining an online presence is becoming more and more important to what we do - and indeed, to EVERY business and institution out there - I think it’s equally important not to swing too far in the other direction; I am still of the opinion that personal contact will always carry the day. In a way, this is a great metaphor for the rare book trade itself. The era of the “e-book” might be here to stay, but words on a screen will never replicate the experience of interacting with the real deal.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We have been talking about putting together a catalogue of books related to chemistry (with images, of course!) in the coming months. We will be attending RBMS in Las Vegas at the end of June, and then hopefully a relatively quiet but productive summer before gearing up for Boston in the autumn.

Our dormant Bright Young Things series returns to life this week with an interview with Amy Candiotti of Pistil Books in Seattle.

How did you get started in rare books?

I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Comparative Literature and one of my first jobs was in a used bookstore.

When did you open Pistil and what does the shop specialize in?

My partner, Sean Carlson, and I opened Pistil Books & News, a retail store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle in 1993. As a brick and mortar store, we carried used and new books, periodicals, and zines. We also hosted readings and art shows. We were a general used and new bookstore with books in all subjects, but with specialties in alternative culture, such as politics, gay & lesbian, sex, and drugs/consciousness.

In 2001 we lost our lease and became an online-only store, Pistil Books Online, selling on our own website as well as many other bookselling sites. We still carry used books in all categories, with an emphasis on scholarly non-fiction and books on how to do things: homesteading, crafts, building, do-it-yourself.

What is your role at Pistil?

I am co-owner of Pistil Books, and do everything from buying, cataloguing, supervising our two part-time employees, to the fun stuff like bookkeeping and taxes. I’ve also been making recycled blank books from discarded library books for years, and am recently delving into other formats of handmade books, and printmaking. My books and cards are for sale on our website.

What do you love about the book trade?

I love being surrounded by books and being constantly exposed to the different ideas and subjects they contain. I love being self-employed and having the freedom of a flexible schedule, and since we’ve been online only, of working at home, which means I can do things like cook lunch while I’m working, or take a break and go for a walk. My work life and home life are integrated in a pleasing way. And I never run out of things to read.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

A couple of years ago I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and my class visited the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress where I got to see and handle an Alice in Wonderland with original pencil drawings by John Tenniel.

As for ephemera, a favorite zine from the nineties is called Crap Hound, created by Sean Tejaratchi. It’s entirely made up of black and white images very skillfully compiled (cut and pasted by hand, no computers) from vintage advertisements and the like, based on juxtapozed themes, such as “Clowns, Devils, Bait”, “Hearts, Hands, Eyes” or “Death, Telephone, Scissors.” Some of the issues were reprinted in the last few years, but the originals are collectible and hard-to-find.

What do you personally collect?

I collect authors I like - Paul Bowles, Alan Watts, Alice Munro. But I also have a lot of books that I keep just because I like the book as an object - for instance, a beautiful accordion book from the sixties, with removable colored cards, printed in Japan, that is a “Test for Colour Blindness” - I recently had an eye exam, and the doctor used the same book! I’m also very fond of The Golden Book Encyclopedia and Golden Books in general for their wonderful illustrations and depiction of a specific world view of knowledge and science. I have a collection of children’s text books from the turn of the century to the sixties for the same reason.

Thoughts on the present state and future of the rare book trade?

The business has changed so much during the time that I’ve been involved, it’s hard to predict what will happen. But I am confident that there will always be people who love physical books and who will want to read, handle, and collect them.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

Nothing scheduled, but we will have our annual outdoor book sale this summer. It’s a chance to see old customers from our brick and mortar store, neighbors, and have a party.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jason Rovito, proprietor of Paper Books in Toronto.


How did you get started in rare books?

Nausea. I was working on my dissertation and not feeling particularly pleasant about academic life. And medieval Bologna charmed me. Especially the scenery of the early university--with professors and students conducting their business in rented brothel rooms, while the Papacy plotted to build some spectacular academic palace, at the centre of which was an anatomy theatre, with its lecturer’s chair supported by two flayed statues. Within all this, I started paying attention to the booksellers, and to the ways in which they supplied the material that allowed this academic drama to play out. (Rather than sell full manuscripts, they tended to rent out individual quires; an early form of the packet-switching model that built the Internet). Blah blah. When Atticus Books announced that it was retiring its bricks-and-mortar, and there were bookcases and shop-stock to be had, I applied for academic leave and opened up an upper-floor scholarly shop and seminar space. As a business, the project was totally unsustainable (to be kind). But it got me handling books to pay rent. And I was able to stay afloat long enough to find my way to CABS (thanks to a scholarship from Foreseeing Solutions). CABS was a total revelation and I started to appreciate that a rare book is much more than just an expensive (non-rare) book. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out my way into the trade.


When did you open Paper Books and what do you specialize in?

The “Paper Books” shtick started last Spring, while being evicted (more or less) from my first open shop. To raise money for the move, I needed to launch a crowd-funding campaign, but I didn’t want to play the charity card. Since I was in the process of developing a new website, I figured I’d link the two projects together by hijacking the language of subscription: i.e. “subscribe to paper books, to add depth to your screen.” I still think that this hybrid style of retail can work (inbox as foyer). But I realized after CABS that my skill-set isn’t suited for retail, and that my time would be better spent working on quotes, catalogs, and fairs. It’s been almost a year of fumbling around in transition. But I think I’m almost ready to confess as “Jason Rovito, Bookseller.” It’ll be my third name and hopefully the hardest one to shake off.

As for specialization--it’s something I’m still rather anxious about. I’ve known for a while that I’m interested in the nineteenth-century, especially as something that almost happened. But every time I try to further narrow the focus, something from the periphery catches my attention (likely because the cost-of-entry at the periphery is much lower). My latest intuition is that I should just embrace this anxiety as a bibliographic tool, and become known as “that guy who’s really anxious about the nineteenth-century.” For starters, that’s got me trying to catalog nineteenth-century myth, with keywords like [Commercials], [Hygiene], [Weekend], [White Collar], and [Wireless].

What do you love about the book trade?

Its ethics. It doesn’t always happen (by a long stretch), but it’s possible that a single deal in the book trade can bring value to everyone involved: the creators, the created, the sellers, the buyers, and the dealers. And I don’t mean that in a high-horse kind of way; ethics can be really pleasurable. The friendships that emerge at CABS are great examples of what’s possible from a trade that (at its best) doesn’t involve zero sum games; where a part of the profits can be shared, especially through meals, drinks, and conversations. In 2013, I’m not sure that many other jobs can offer the same health benefits.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Deutsche Menschen by Detlef Holz (one of the pseudonyms of Walter Benjamin). It was my first year in the trade and I was fortunate to be brought-in on an impressive estate; the reconstituted library of a Jewish exile from Nazi Europe. As the junior dealer, I was supposed to box-up and haul-off the hundred-plus boxes of common books. But I was also invited to pull aside a handful of rare books before other dealers arrived. I’d selected eight books that I could afford to make offers on, including this pseudonymous work of Benjamin’s, which was published in Switzerland and specifically designed to be smuggled into Germany (which it was, successfully, until the censors got wise to the second printing). As I was packing haul-off boxes into the rental van, an employee for an institutional library arrived in the driveway, said hello, and asked whether I was the grandson. I said no, I’m a local bookseller. He quickly darted into the house. When I got back inside, my pile of books had been reduced from eight to two; one of the two being the Holz (smuggled once again).

What do you personally collect?

Booksellers’ catalogs, IOUs, road trips. Stories, mostly injury-related; really tall fish.

On your website, you mention that collecting is a “social activity.” Could you elaborate on this idea?

I guess the basic idea is that, unless you collect dust, you never just collect as a solitary individual. But that’s probably an all-too-obvious point for collectors themselves, since they primarily interact with society whilst collecting. And so, by definition, the activities that build their collections are necessarily social. But probably even more social are the abstract decisions that inform what (or whether or how) to collect in the first place. An iTunes library is still a library, and an e-reader is nothing more than a digital collection of texts; it’s just that the collecting is being filtered through the social parameters of the screen, rather than through paper-based media.

Which is maybe why the bookseller--rather than the collector or the librarian--is often the only actor within this system without a salary. I.e. when money starts to dry up in the trade, it’s the bookseller who’s motivated (by survival) to stress the social nature of collection and the social consequences of any changes to how we collect as a society. Paper-based collections are built through curiosity, conviviality, and travel (amongst other social things). And the bookseller is the first to suffer when these values can no longer pay rent. Blah blah (chirps this canary).

All that aside: I’ve never been much of a reader. As a kid, I used to withdraw bags of dinosaur books from the library, shut them up in my closet, and return them three months overdue. So this “collection” angle helps me sleep at night.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I think it’s fair to say that this is a period of adaptation. But I’m sure the trade will remain familiar enough. Private collectors will continue to be fascinated by their particular fascinations, even if they work with auction houses and search engines in a more direct fashion than before. And libraries will continue to collect what they don’t have, as long as they continue to be granted budgets with which to do so. (And maybe, in that sense, the politics of austerity will have more of an impact on the book trade than digital technologies.) Urban landlording, through rent inflation, seems to have shrunk the cashflow-margins that most bookshops relied upon; so I’m skeptical that any one city can support more than a handful of open shops at a time. And that makes the pop-up model--whether through fairs or markets or bars or sidewalks--potentially more relevant to those who might not have considered it before. (Although the schlepping is a barrier to entry; says the one with bad shoulders.) It’ll be interesting to see how this change in retail models will effect browsing traditions, especially in terms of sections and depth of stock; when you don’t have an affordable ten-year lease in your back pocket, it’s harder to develop a German History or Theatre section.

But it’s also likely that the trade will expand into rather unfamiliar territory--perhaps in search of some of the dollars that have been diverted elsewhere (to rents and cell-phone contracts). By now, on the everyday level, the screen has supplanted paper as popular medium, so that--strangely--non-rare books have themselves acquired some degree of rarity. I.e. when you happen to come across someone who’s reading a book, and you compare her to someone who’s palming a screen, it’s now obvious that the book isn’t only providing her with information, but it’s also producing a particular posture in her, and a certain mode of attention. A number of booksellers--in their own styles--seem to be hunting for the value within this strangeness (i.e. Heather O’Donnell’s bees or D. Anthem’s zombie-vaccine). But this probably isn’t all that different from Rosenbach hyper-linking the steamship with the auction house; the tradition of the trade is entrepreneurial, which is a source of real (and non-sentimental) inspiration.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

For this summer, I’m working with colleagues to carve out a weekend curiosity shop from the front of our shared office space. I thought I’d already sworn off retail (twice), but it’s a good group of people involved, and the location has promise. If I can settle into a rhythm, I’m also hoping to issue a digital catalog on Charles H. Kerr & Company. It’ll be the fourth--and likely last--catalog that I design with the subscription service Mailchimp. Past examples (like Withdrawn) have generated great feedback. But it’s just pure windmills trying to compete for screen-attention with (free) gossip & pornography. For the autumn I’m working to publish my first print catalog, on those nineteenth-century myths I’d mentioned before. But the material never seems to want to sit still long enough.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Lizz Young of lizzyoungbookseller in West Dover, Vermont:

How did you get started in rare books?

I have always been in love with cookbooks. When I was an assistant editor at Gourmet Magazine my desk was in the middle of their library. Part of my job was to answer questions that the loyal subscribers would ask, either by phone or by letter (before computers). I was in heaven. Imagine a job where they pay you to be surrounded by cookbooks. So, as luck would have it, when my father Roy Young, who has been an Antiquarian Bookseller for over 30 years, suggested I join him, there was little hesitation on my end. 

When did you open lizzyoungbookseller? Also, tell us a bit about why you format the name the way you do?

I officially started lizzyoungbookseller in January 2012. After working with my father for over a year, I realized that I could specialize in the world I know best while still continuing to work with RoYoung and the beautiful books he surrounds himself with. As for the name, lizzyoungbookseller, I have to admit it’s a bit of an inside joke. As I mentioned, my father has been in the business for over 30 years which means that when I was in High School he was always looking for people to work (haul boxes) for him.  Many of my male friends ended up working for him at one time or another, and always referred to him as RO-young. After that, my good friend Peter Callahan started calling me lizzyoung, and it stuck. 

What do you love about the book trade?

I would have to say the thing I love most about the book business is the fact that I learn something new every single day. Whether I’m researching a Cuban manuscript from the 1800’s or a psychedelic inspired cookbook from the 1960’s, I always find something fascinating about the history of the piece or the people who were involved in the production of the item. Another wonderful thing about the trade is the people. Last summer I attended CABS (Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar). This seminar is taught by some of the best and brightest booksellers in this country. Besides gaining an amazing amount of knowledge, I met some fantastic people that I hopefully will be in touch with for a very long time. 

What do you love about rare culinary books in particular?

Culinary books give you a window into the cultural narrative of the specific time and place in which the book was composed. For instance, I have learned a lot about prohibition by studying the tracts and broadsides that the temperance movement published. Another example would be an English manuscript from the late 1600’s I purchased at auction. After cataloging this manuscript I realized more than half the “recipes” were more what we would now refer to as “remedies.” It was a remarkable insight into the way in which people at the time nurtured one another with what they had at hand. I have always been captivated by the human condition. Culinary books show us how much we have changed but also how much we have stayed the same. 

Any vintage/rare/old recipe to share with us from one of your books?

From: THE COMPLETE COOK, Plain and Practical Directions for Cooking and Housekeeping; with upwards of Seven Hundred Receipts, By James M. Sanderson. Philadelphia, Lea and Blanchard, 1843.

Walnut Catsup
Take three half sieves of walnut shells, put them into a tub, mix them up well with common salt, about a pound and a half. Let them stand six days, frequently beating and washing them; by this time the shells become soft and pulpy; then by banking them up on one side of the tub, raising the tub on the same side, the liquor will run clear off to the other; then take that liquor out. The mashing and banking my be repeated as long any liquor runs. The quantity with be about three quarts. Simmer it in an iron pot as long as any scum rises; then add two ounces of allspice, two ounces of ginger, bruised, one ounce of long pepper, one ounce of clove, with the above articles; let it boil slowly for half an hour; when bottled, take care that an equal quantity of spice goes into each bottle; let the bottles be quite filled up, cork them tight, and seal them over. Put them into a cool and dry place, for one year before they are used. 

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you have handled?

As much as I would like to say my favorite book is some old and crusty manuscript, I have to admit I loved (and have sold it twice) Son of the Martini Cookbook, by Jane Trahey & Daren Pierce. This comical book, illustrated by Edward Gorey, is broken up into categories according to how many martinis one has had. The recipes are ridiculous and the illustrations are more than entertaining.

What do you collect personally?

I have been collecting cookbooks for over 30 years, it is a bit of an obsession. I’m a bit of a Jello nut too. I love the idea of jello and jello molds. At Thanksgiving I always make a jello mold; everyone make a face at first, but guess what, it is the first thing to go? My favorite food writers are Laurie Colwin and M.F.K. Fisher. Fisher was the grand dame of food writing; a real trail blazer. The way she wrote about the experience of eating is unrivaled. Colwin wrote novels and short stories but she had an incredible knack for food writing that made you feel as if you were sitting in the kitchen with her while she cooked. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I love to tell the story of the porter who helped us move into our booth at the Boston Book Fair last year. In a very heavy Boston accent, this large, jolly man says to me, “You know, you got a lot of nice books here but what do you think of the Kindle?” I replied, “I love the kindle, gets people to read, maybe makes them appreciate books more...and in my opinion it increases the odds that these books will be all the more valuable in the future.” That said, I think there are a lot of different things going on in the rare book trade as we speak. Personally, I have an optimistic impression of the state of business. I have attended CABS and The Rare Book school at the University of Virginia in the past couple of years and have found incredible enthusiasm emanating from everyone I encounter. Of course this is like preaching to the choir, but it does give me hope that there is a whole new generation of people out there that treasure the world of rare books. I attended an art book fair at the MOMA in Queens, NY last fall and it was crawling with a younger audience that were highly energetic about books. I tend to believe the Internet and the access of information has given reading and writing a whole new audience that has an appetite for knowledge. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogs?

lizzyoungbookseller will be showing at the Vermont Book Fair, Sunday August 11th, in Brattleboro at the Living Memorial Park Skating Rink. I will also be sharing a booth with RoYoung Bookseller at the Baltimore Summer Antique Show, August 22-25 at the Baltimore Convention Center. As for a catalog, I have been thinking about putting together a manuscript catalog, but thinking and doing are two very different things!

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Lesley Rains of East End Book Exchange (EEBX) in Pittsburgh:

DSCN1947.jpegHow did you get started in rare books? 

In a lot of ways I feel like I’m still in the process of getting started in this business.  But the story has to start somewhere, and for me it was in 2011.   I had just moved back to Pittsburgh a few months earlier.  I was in the midst of making a dramatic career change, leaving behind a doctoral program in history, with little sense of what I would do next.  Around the same time, I noticed that there were hardly any bookstores in the city.  It seemed like an opportunity to do something fun and meaningful, to do something that would resonate with the community.  I started with a small collection of trade paperbacks, mostly classic and contemporary literature. My first substantive and deliberate introduction to the rare book trade was at the 2012 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS).  

When did you open East End Book Exchange and what do you specialize in? 

I opened East End Book Exchange in July 2011.  EEBX was conceived to be a general interest used bookstore.  We feature books in a number of genres, but we emphasize classic, modern, and contemporary literature, poetry, history, and philosophy.  I want our shop to appeal as much to the avid reader as to the avid collector.  

I know that East End began as a “pop-up bookstore” - could you define that term and tell us some more about that phase of your existence?  

A “pop-up bookstore” or business, is a nomadic business that opens in a location 
temporarily - a day, a month, several months, then closes and reappears at another location at a later date.  It’s not unlike booksellers who follow the book fair circuit, except instead of selling at fairs, I was setting up the shop at coffee shops and art galleries around Pittsburgh.  After three months of “popping up”,  I settled into a bookstall at the Pittsburgh Public Market, a weekend indoor vendor market.  It’s a permanent market, so I didn’t have to schlep books in and out every weekend. The bookstall was in operation from October 2011 - October 2012 and I regard it as a self-made internship in bookselling and running my own business.  It was a low-financial risk way of gaining experience in the bookselling business.  I learned so much about building and managing an inventory and maintaining a budget (or attempting to).  During this time we also developed a bit of a following, so when we moved to a storefront, we had an established audience and did not have to start from square one. 

But you’ve recently opened a brick-and-mortar shop, right? How’s that going? Do you prefer having a stationary shop?

Yes, the response to the bookstall had been so positive, coupled with a common lament about the dearth of bookshops in Pittsburgh, that in November 2012, we moved to a storefront in the city’s Bloomfield neighborhood (which, together with a number of other neighborhoods comprises the city’s East End, hence the name).  It has been going really well so far.  The response from the community, and the local literary community in particular, has been universally positive.  The shop has its slow days, to be sure, but there have been plenty of very good days as well.  Nothing offends me more as when someone states that they don’t believe another bricks-and-mortar bookstore could survive in Pittsburgh.  There are so many good readers and booklovers in our town.  This isn’t to say that the success of a bookstore is a given, but I do believe that a wellcurated bookshop that engages its community has to have more than a fighting chance.  

I do prefer having a stationary shop.  It has been the most fun growing our inventory and cultivating our identity as a bookshop.  We moved from an 80 square foot stall to a 1600 sq. ft. shop (and we opened within three weeks of that move), so we had to get big quickly.  It’s been a rewarding challenge balancing the need for more books while staying true to our identity as a bookshop.  I enjoy the hustle and bustle that comes with running an open shop.  I like creating the space, setting the hours, and working with local writers and artists to host public readings.  Being a fixed place has allowed us to become more of a community bookstore.  In addition to the hosting literary events, we also host local artists for monthly (or so) art shows and  we work with a local vintage furniture dealer to outfit the shop with comfortable and attractive furniture.  Works by local authors, as well as the art and furniture, are all sold on consignment, so it gives people a lot of different reasons to come to our shop, and ultimately buy books.   Retail businesses have to be multifaceted, but never to the point where the furniture and art crowds out the books.  I like managing all of these dimensions of our shop in the service of bookselling.   To put all of this another way, I like being my own boss and exhilarating/terrifying/just plain fun roller-coaster ride that comes with that.  

What do you love about the book trade?

I love how this business is so incessantly stimulating.  Whether book-scouting and the sense being on a treasure hunt, or the writing catalogue descriptions and crafting narratives, there is rarely a mundane moment.  There is always something to learn, always ways to improve.  I have also found that I have been able to utilize a lot of the research, writing, and analytical thinking skills that I developed while in grad school, which is satisfying and helps me to feel like less of a novice.  

The sense of community among booksellers is astonishing and deeply moving.  
Everyone is so incredibly helpful and kind.  Living in Pittsburgh, I’ve been fortunate to get to know two mentor-friends: John Schulman of Caliban Books and Luke Lozier of Bibliopolis, as well as assorted local writers, who have been crucial to the growth of EEBX.  I can state emphatically that EEBX would not be where it is without John and Luke.  Luke, in fact, was the one who told me about CABS and encouraged me to attend.  CABS 2012 blew me away.  David Anthem and Gabe Konrad (two recent BYTs) thoroughly and colorfully described the experience.  I knew going into the week that I was going to learn a lot about books; I had no idea that I was going to make lifelong friendships.  I’m still in awe of that week and the people that I met.    

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Two items come to mind.  First is the Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping (Buckeye Publishing Company: 1877).  I found it at an estate sale and assumed it was just another old cookbook, but I like cookbooks, so I picked it up.  When I got researching it, I found it had a much richer history, namely that it is one of the original church-lady cookbooks.  It was such a sensation when it was published that the second edition includes recipes submitted by Lucy Webb Hayes, then the First Lady of the United States.  The second is Fontainebleau: En Relief par les Anaglphyes, which contains a pair of 3D glasses from 1941.   Both of these books are memorable for the work that went into figuring out what they were. 

What do you personally collect?

I don’t personally collect, although down the road I would like to.  For now, all of my collecting time, energy, and money are focused on the needs of the shop, my customers, and clients.  

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I am really excited about the current state of the rare book trade.  There are a lot of booksellers meeting the challenges of bookselling head on and doing really interesting and exciting work.  At CABS I met Adam Davis of Division Leap and Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax Books, both of whom who have successfully created niches for themselves in the rare book trade and are also finding new audiences in their larger communities.  I think that going forward, new booksellers will have to pursue both of those avenues.  While I rely heavily on social media to promote the shop, I know that it is also necessary to study the book trade’s history and traditions, issue catalogues, and attend fairs.  All should be utilized in order to create new booksellers and new book collectors. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I just completed my first short list and I am working on the follow-up.  I don’t have any fairs planned for this year, but my goal to attend the Ann Arbor Book Fair and other regional fairs next year.  I am also working on my IOBA membership.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Heather Pisani of Glenn Horowitz in New York:

How did you get started in rare books?

I began thinking about books as objects early. The elementary school I attended often had author readings, so as a kid I had this wonderful little collection of inscribed children’s books from people like Stephen Kellogg and Bernard Waber. It wasn’t until later though, during a trip to England as an undergrad at Vassar, that I bought my first “rare” book. It was a nineteenth-century edition of Middlemarch - not actually rare, it turned out... just old. Before I graduated, I was also lucky enough to take a very small, irregularly offered senior seminar on Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts that was co-taught by a Dante scholar and the curator of Special Collections. I wasn’t quite sure at that point where I was headed but knew I liked old books and manuscripts. After graduation, I spent two years in the Rare Book Room at the Strand. Then I attended grad school, during which time I interned in the Rare Book Division at the 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue branch of NYPL. For a little while, I was torn about whether I wanted to be in the trade or in a library - both have always had a certain allure for me.

What is your role at Glenn Horowitz?

I’m the firm’s full-time literary archivist. I work with individual rare books and manuscripts but my main job is cataloging complete archives. In a nutshell, I’m dispatched to homes, offices, storage spaces, attics, barns, and - my personal favorite - “work sheds,” where I usually get to spend a few days with an author, cataloging drafts, letters, notebooks, diaries, etc. We usually end up sharing a meal or two and discussing their creative process. 

I understand that you’ve done a lot of traveling on behalf of the firm. Any favorite bookish places you’ve visited?

I joke that I peaked early! Within my first year I went to Australia to work with John Coetzee. The room where he writes definitely qualifies as a favorite place. 

What do you love about the book trade?

Probably most things. I think a wonderful aspect of the field is that there’s always more to learn, whether about the history of the book itself or the life and work of a particular author. I also appreciate that it’s an evolving field right now, not least because of the internet and rise of born digital materials. I’m not sure whether the latter is for better or worse - I struggle to find email printouts as compelling as holograph manuscripts or autograph letters - but at least it’s an interesting issue. 

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The answer to this changes constantly. Right now I’d say that Samuel Beckett’s undergrad text books rank very high on my list. We had three volumes of French literature from his freshman year, each with his ownership signature - Samuel B. Beckett / Trinity College / Dublin / Michaelmas Term - 1923 - and each copiously annotated. His English translations filled the margins and there were endearing notes to self - like “Learn by heart” - as well as words defined repeatedly, suggesting he had trouble remembering them. I came in to the office on a Saturday to catalogue those. 

What do you personally collect?

I have a nice group of inscribed books from authors I’ve worked with. I was collecting 19th-century publishers’ bindings for a time. At one point when I was living in Prague I became set on finding the first Czech edition of Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. It was brought out by a Canadian publishing house and is hard to come by, so whenever I see one I buy it. I have two. 

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

I don’t think print books are going to vanish. I do think that in a survival-of-the-fittest kind of way the market will only support the best, most desirable copies. Manuscripts and correspondence are a bit trickier. Archives will be comprised of an increasing amount of electronic material, so instead of notebooks and letters we have hard drives, stacks of obsolete discs, email accounts, etc. Born digital material is a quagmire of technological, practical, and intellectual issues that are now being dealt with formally by creators, dealers, and repositories in terms of preservation guidelines and collection policies. 

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

We recently published Write a Madder Letter if You Can: the Letters of Jack Kerouac to Ed White - the catalogue is available for $25 and the collection of letters themselves for $1.25 million. We’ve also been circulating a PDF list of Seamus Heaney Books from the collection of James O’Halloran that will be available as a print catalogue this summer. My colleague Lauren Walsh is putting the finishing touches on a very cool catalogue of the archive of dust-jacket designer Philip Grushkin, also coming out this summer. No fairs, but at the end of June we’re moving to a new location that will include a street-level gallery space on 54th Street to open in the fall. 

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Gabe Konrad, proprietor of Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books in Sand Lake, Michigan.


How did you get started in rare books? 

I don’t think my story is unique among booksellers.  I started collecting when I was a boy - buying used from a shop a couple of blocks from my childhood home. Over the years collecting evolved into scouting, and then selling.  I used to publish a ‘zine, Æoleus Butterefly (named after a brand of bike pedal from the turn of the last century), that focused on vintage bicycles, touring and racing. The ‘zine evolved into a magazine of similar content, On The Wheel, and a couple of books.  All the while I was selling scarce bicycle books to my subscribers.  It was my first attempt at a specialty.  The thought of opening a used bookshop, however, was always in the back of my mind.  I was in the Army during the Gulf War and I kept a notebook with my plans for opening a shop.  It was very detailed, right down to the design of the store’s sign.  Unfortunately, that notebook was lost to the sands of Saudi Arabia or Iraq, but my passion for fine books never faded. 

When did you open Bay Leaf Books? 

My wife, Melanie, and I opened our shop in early 2007.  The jump from thinking about a shop and actually opening one was actually pretty quick.  I had seen an old friend of mine at a library book sale, John Rau of Mecosta Book Gallery in Mecosta, Michigan, who has been one of my mentors in the trade.  Talking about the old days really brought those old feelings rushing back, and Melanie and I sat down to plan the opening of a shop in a year or two.  But books just began appearing, boxes of them filling every spare inch of our house.  Then an affordable storefront became available and five months later we were open.  It was a real crash course in retail sales.  Kind of like diving in head first - head first into a brick wall.  It really was all John’s fault - I mean inspiration... 

What do you specialize in? 

Specialize is a strong word - I would say that I have a special interest in several areas.  One of the things I love about this business is that it allows me to follow my whims - to a certain extent.  If bookplates are piquing my interest, I’ll pursue it.  African art and ritual, punk rock, art, poetry, martial arts, radical politics.  I have a special interest in all of these. The day will come when I settle down with one or two of these and truly carve out a niche for myself, but at the moment I’m having too much fun with the variety. 

I understand that you maintain an open brick-and-mortar shop in a small Michigan town of about 500 people. What’s your secret? 

The secret is I’m an idiot.  So, you can scratch the “bright” off the “Bright Young Things.”  In fact, you should get rid of “young” as well.  Just call this installment “Thing.”  Yes, we’re in a tiny village with a minuscule year-round population.  There are several little lakes around here, so the summer crowd is decent.  Unfortunately, Michigan summers only last about two-and-a-half months.  I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone.  At the end of each winter I seriously consider moving to a more populated location, yet we’re still here.  Idiot. 

We really are running two separate businesses here.  One is the open shop with general stock.  We’re heavy on the non-fiction side, but stock a lot of popular fiction, classics, and a massive section for kids and young adults.  And then there is the “antiquarian” side of the business which we traffic via catalogues, shows and the internet.  We have some pricier, oddball material in display cases, but this is really for the museum effect that so many people are after when they visit a used book store.  They ooh and ahh, but rarely buy that material.  It’s all part of the experience. 

Both facets of the business take a tremendous amount of time and it’s a constant push and pull between the two. 

What do you love about the book trade? 

The holy trinity - books, buyers, and the trade itself!  Buying and handling books, the hunt for books, is the most exciting part of the experience.  It’s why most booksellers do what they do - the thrill of the conquest, teasing out a book’s importance, and passing it on.  I love my customers... for the most part.  Bookshops, like bars, tend to draw in the nuts, and I do tire of hearing about how little green men are living at the center of the earth or how this or that politician is, literally, a demon sent from hell, but most customers are great.  I love talking with artists and architects, professors, train engineers, gardeners - everyone has a great story to tell and we all have a love of books in common.  And then there’s the trade itself.  Booksellers are remarkably generous with their knowledge and it never ceases to amaze me that a relatively low-level dealer like me can pick up the phone and have the ear of some of the best booksellers in the country.  It’s true that we give each other little discounts, send books on spec, etc., but the collegiality, the advice, and the understanding that we’re all in this together is priceless. 

Last year I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar in Colorado Springs.  This is a seminar where some truly talented and successful booksellers gather to teach up-and-coming dealers every aspect of buying, researching and selling antiquarian books.  Trade secrets were shared, every question was thoroughly answered, and lifelong friends were made.  While I had been in business for years prior to going to CABS, the week I spent in Colorado was transformative, and I was able to do this because I received a scholarship from the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), a trade organization to which I belong and, now, serve on the board.  How great is that!  Who wouldn’t love a trade where everyone wants everyone else to succeed? 

Favorite rare book that you’ve handled? 

Yeah, my favorite books are the ones I’ve been able to sell!  I have a lot of interesting titles, but once they’ve sat on the shelves for a while they begin to lose their luster.  But the books that clients are excited about, that move quickly, those are a lot of fun! 

I do like books that have been altered in some way - Grangerized, accessorized, whatever.  I recently sold a copy of Fluxus Codex by Jon Hendricks.  Not a particularly scarce or expensive book - you can still get a fine copy for a few hundred dollars - but this copy had an original (unsigned), Fluxus-style collage on the rear pastedown with spray-painted stencil letters, Shakespeare postage stamps, a bus pass, etc.  I laid in an archival tissue guard, and “poof” it was gone.  Wonderful stuff. 


What do you personally collect? 

When we opened Bay Leaf Books, pretty much everything I owned went into the shop, but that rectified itself pretty quickly.  I collect books published by The Legacy Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who specialize in titles related to the history of bookbinding and papermaking, and books on Goju-Ryu karate.  I have an interest in provenance and tracking books through private and professional hands, so I collect bookplates from a select group of American designers and bookseller labels from around the world - and I created a poorly maintained website.  I’m also gathering books that include any history of bookseller labels and binders’ tickets. 

Thoughts on the present state and future of the rare book trade? 

The changes in the book world speak directly to the two-pronged approach of our business.  On the one hand, the advent of megalisters, penny sellers, e-books, big box stores, and online retailers have devalued the printed book dramatically and made it incredibly difficult for used bookshops to keep their doors open.  At the same time, publishers are printing fewer paper books and there is a lot of competition for popular titles on the second-hand market.  As far as popular fiction and non-scholarly non-fiction, I only see this getting worse and I can envision a clash between the lack of inexpensive books and a demand for them.  Supply and demand will, I think, eventually raise prices, and when e-books have cornered the market, those prices will increase as well.  Not everyone can afford, or wants, an e-reader, and when people can no longer afford to read books, we’ve truly got problems. 

The rare book trade, on the other hand, seems to be in pretty good shape.  While the number of open shops is diminishing, there’s an increased interest in fine books and ephemera and a new wave of booksellers coming along to keep the traditions alive.  I can point again to CABS, which is helping develop some exceptional young booksellers, as well as the IOBA striving to improve the online selling experience for buyers and sellers alike, and the ABAA, America’s bastion of fine bookselling.  All of these facets are coming together to create a wonderful pool of sellers and dedicated collectors. 

Any upcoming catalogues or fairs? 

I’ve found that I like experimenting with catalogue formats - and our next catalogue will be no exception.  I like to keep the content and format pretty close to the vest, so I’ll just say it will cover modern art and be out sometime in July.  Our upcoming eLists will include poetry, bookplates and radical literature.  Folks can email us at to be added to our mailing list. 

I just returned from the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair, which is a fantastic event.  People complain about the decline of regional shows, but Ann Arbor is thriving with great attendance, community support, and a top-notch lineup of booksellers - including many ABAA and IOBA dealers.  This fall we’ll be sticking with mainly regional shows including Chicago, the Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show in Lansing, and back to Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown Book Festival.  A schedule will be available on our website

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Joe Fay, manager of the rare books department for Heritage Auctions in Texas.


How did you get started in rare books?

I’ve visited a bookstore at least once a week since I was 11 years old. There is a chain of used bookstores founded in the Dallas area called Half Price Books. There were two in my childhood hometown of Arlington, Texas. Between HPB, the little paperback shop down the street from my house, and the school library, my interest in books started young. My interest in rare books and manuscripts, however, began while in college in Austin, specifically the day when I learned that I could go to the Harry Ransom Center and hold in my hands the original manuscript for a Sherlock Holmes story (“A Scandal in Bohemia”). I couldn’t believe that I could just walk in the building, show them an ID, and get to read what, to me, is a priceless artifact of literary history. Later, while working at Half Price Books just after college, I ran into the Nicholas Basbanes books, the books about rare books by the Goldstones, the Rosenbach biography, and many other books-about-books in that vein. These tales of the rare book trade, the landmark auctions, and the people who inhabited this world further stoked an interest in working in the field of rare books. Then, after working a “real job” for awhile in medical informatics (yeah, it’s as exciting as it sounds), an opportunity came open at Heritage for an entry-level position in the Americana department. I jumped at the chance to work with objects of all types that ran the gamut of American history. Six or eight months later, my current boss, James Gannon migrated to Heritage Auctions from the recently-closed (and now revamped) Heritage Book Shop in Los Angeles. I volunteered to be his lieutenant, and the rare books department at Heritage Auctions was born.

What is your role at Heritage? Do you have a particular specialty?

I currently serve as the manager of, and one of the consignment directors for, the rare books department. I solicit consignments of rare books for our catalogs and also our weekly Internet auctions. On top of that, I manage our catalog production, serve as the main customer service contact for our department, and generally do whatever is necessary, including cataloging books for the main sales once the deadline has passed. I also handle appraisals, purchase the occasional collection for re-sell at auction, and travel all over the country securing consignments, and attending book fairs and appraisal fairs.

As an auctioneer, it really doesn’t pay to specialize. We see such a broad spectrum of material in printed books and manuscripts of all eras, maps, prints, original art, and more that we have to be generalists. I especially enjoy handling handpress period books and early American imprints, and have been able to learn more deeply about each from classes at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. My particular personal interests are in genre fiction from the Romantic period to the present, including science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and most importantly, horror: Polidori and Shelley; the Sherlock Holmes books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Arkham House imprints; H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. And then all of the side roads, back alleys and dark, deserted streets that fork off from those subjects.

What do you love about book auction events, or more broadly, the book auction business?
There are many things to love about the book auction business. First, I’m lucky enough to work with books each day. I get to travel quite a bit, too. Also, as some of the other book dealers who’ve appeared in this series have said (and it holds true for the auction business), I just never know what I’m going to see next, what’s going to come across my desk each day, what kind of collection will be revealed in the next phone call, or what that Excel file attached to the next email will contain. No two days are remotely alike. Further, I generally just love talking about books with collectors and dealers, finding out what someone collects and trying to fill vacancies for them in their holdings. I often get to do this once the catalog is completed, and we start “selling the sale.” Lastly, there’s an excitement to auction day that is almost electric, at times. Sitting in the room last week in New York when the Francis Crick Nobel Prize medal sold for over $2 million, my hands were shaking as the increments climbed. Then, when the hammer fell, I felt my heart start again as the applause rolled through the crowd. We also set two world records at auction last week, one for an unsigned first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and one for an inscribed copy of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (inscribed to W. W. Jacobs, author of “The Monkey’s Paw”). Those are the kinds of results I’ll remember fondly even decades from now.

Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

On a personal level, my single favorite book that I’ve handled at Heritage was the first book Stephen King ever signed, an advance proof copy of Carrie that King inscribed to his former college roommate, Phil “Flip” Thompson. It sold last year at our New York auction for $11,250. The inscription reads, “For Flip and Karen - two of the best there are - and I mean that - by the way, this is the first book I’ve signed in my life - it’s kind of fun. All the best, no matter what. Stephen King February 4, 1974.” Are you kidding me!? I’m a nostalgic fool, and sometimes it seems like Stephen King WAS my childhood. His books, and the films made from them, permeated the culture when I was growing up, and to hold the first book he ever signed was a religious moment for me.
What do you personally collect?

It’s changed over the years. At some point in the past, I’ve collected baseball cards, comic books, bookmarks, Star Wars toys, foam fingers from sporting events, chess sets, craft beer, movies, movie posters, silk-screened music posters, and Mr. Potato Heads. I still collect movie posters (generally genre movies and anything printed in the early days for the original Alamo Drafthouse), art made by my kids (which all but wallpapers the house and I LOVE it!), and a friend of mine recently introduced me to the wonderful world of mid-century furniture. I think I’ve finally settled on a few areas of book collecting, namely books about books, Lovecraft, Bradbury and King, scholarly works regarding the Sherlock Holmes stories, McSweeney’s publications, and any imprints, posters or ephemera published by the Harry Ransom Center (or the Humanities Research Center as it was once known).

I have a grand dream that someday I’ll have the time and wherewithal to collect together in one place every single printed and recorded expression of horror from the 1980s: novels, story collections, periodicals, posters, videos, ephemera, you name it. But I probably won’t live that long, make nearly enough money, or be able to stretch my wife’s patience that far.

Thoughts on the present and future of book auctions?

First of all, the “book” is here to stay. Period. And I’ll stand up and fight (with words, of course) anyone who says differently. Every generation sounds the death knell of the book, and it ain’t happened yet. Book auctions are only going to get better, I think. With the Internet and tools like the Heritage online bidding platform, Heritage Live!, anyone, anywhere, at any time of day or night can bid from his or her home, office, or wherever he or she can catch a wireless signal. As technology like this helps more people grow comfortable with bidding at auction, I think you’ll see it become an even bigger and more muscular vehicle for transmitting books directly to collectors and institutions.

Any upcoming auctions you’re particularly excited about?

I’m always excited about our next sale, which is October 10-11 in Beverly Hills. You can see it develop at It is early yet, but we’re working on some fantastic single items and collections for that catalog. Personally, I’m also always interested in the Illustration Art auctions (next one in July) and Movie Posters (also July, but I pay most attention to their weekly Internet auctions). Needless to say, there’s always something afoot at Heritage.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Zoltan Földvári, proprietor of Földvári Antikvárium in Budapest.


NP: How did you get started in rare books?

ZF: I was always interested in avant-garde art and I started to collect Hungarian avant-garde books when I was 14.

NP: When did you open Földvári Antikarium and what do you specialize in?

ZF: Beside collecting I was also trading and for that reason I founded Földvári Books in 2007. First I was specialized in avant-garde, literature and philosophy, later the fields has been broadened so now I also trade with books and manuscripts from the 16th to the 20th century in various fields.

NP: Could you tell us about the rare book trade in Hungary? What’s it like?

ZF: In Hungary most of the antiquarian book stores are not specialized in any field and they are both trading with rare and used books.

NP: Do you source most of your books within Hungary or do you travel abroad to find books?

ZF: I buy books in Hungary from collectors, and I also travel in Europe, America, and Asia to find books.

NP: What’s your favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

ZF: Always the recent acquisition is my favorite.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ZF: It is not easy to create the harmony between collecting and trading, but I’m working on this and continued to collect rare avant-garde editions.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ZF: There will only be market for scarce and important books.

NP: Any catalogues / fairs coming up?

ZF: I have participated at the California Antiquarian Book Fair in February. The next fairs in 2013 are Paris and London.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Alex Obercian of James Cummins Bookseller in New York City.  

photo (7).JPG
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AO: To pay the rent, I took a job in the rare book department at the Strand in New York. I had been an electrician and had some plan to study architecture. I quickly changed course. The Strand was a wonderful place to learn about the trade - every day I was faced with an onslaught of books to catalogue and price. About this time, I had a friend who worked for a big shot bookman, and it was through this dealer’s catalogues that I first learned something of what was possible at the upper end of the trade. It was time to move on, so I petitioned Jim Cummins (also a big shot) for a job, and he found some room for me.  

NP: What is your role at James Cummins?

AO: I share the basic bookselling duties of buying, cataloging, pricing, and selling with the other fellows in the shop - Tim Johns, Henry Wessells, and Jim himself. We all pitch in and pack books and mind the shop, as well. I also work with Jim’s son, James, on website design and other projects peripheral to the books themselves. As for the books, I tend to handle the fine bindings, photography, and gastronomy, but I’m in no way limited to those areas. Much of my time is taken up with the production of print catalogues. We put out about 6 full-color, fully-illustrated catalogues a year, and I do all the photography and layout and design. The catalogues look sharp and they sell books - I think of them as my particular contribution to James Cummins Bookseller.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AO: Well the easy answer is, I love the books, and I love, or at least like, the people who sell them. I imagine every community bound by a trade learns to muster a bit of congratulatory self-love for its members. But I doubt that people who sell tractor parts feel the same way about what they’re pushing.    

NP: Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

AO: This is a fairly well-known book that we were fortunate to own for a time -- a copy of a 17th century ferrier manual, The Complete Horse-Man, owned by Nathaniel Hawthorne since a child and later presented to Herman Melville as a birthday present. Hawthorne met Melville on the road in Massachusetts one summer day in 1851 (the year Melville was writing Moby-Dick) and the two went back to Hawthorne’s farm to spend the night smoking cigars and talking. They exchanged books that evening -- Hawthorne must have thought a book on the care of horses would be useful to Melville on his farm. The dedication leaf contains both authors’ signatures, probably the only extant piece of paper so distinguished. 

NP: What do you personally collect?

AO: Cocktail manuals, books and photographs on butchery and meat, wanted posters and rap sheets with real photographs, Agnes Repplier first editions, Alvin Lustig dust-jackets. This list sounds willfully eclectic, but everything on it is rooted in some personal interest. 

NP: Thoughts on the future of the rare book trade?

AO: I’m optimistic that there will be enough new collectors in the coming decades to sustain the trade. So what if everyone is reading Dan Brown on a Kindle? Rare books have never had mass appeal. A lot of the gripes I hear are variations on the “good-old-days” argument --- that there was a lost golden age of extraordinary books and easy money. I see plenty of younger people interested in rare books, printing, typography, binding, book arts, and so on. It only takes a relatively small number of intelligent, modestly wealthy individuals who would rather develop a taste for rare books than waste their time speculating on contemporary art for the trade to continue to thrive. That said, there has been a definite shift in the trade towards the high-end and the unique object. Internet listing sites have created transparency in the market and the designation of rarity, and have made it harder for the dealer of general used stock to survive. Something Bill Reese said in a talk at the Grolier Club a few years ago has stuck with me -- when he puts a book online, he wants it to be “the best copy, the only copy, or the cheapest copy.” When a collector is faced with 20 mediocre copies of the same book online, what’s the rush in buying one today? But a copy of a book given by Hawthorne to Melville? Go find me another one. 

NP: Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

AO: In April we’ll be at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which is the highlight of the bookselling season. I’m currently working on a catalogue of new arrivals and a catalogue of sporting books for the the spring. They’ll be available to all on our website.
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).

BYT_travislow_kensandersrarebooks_web-res.jpgNP: 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 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?

TL: Yes:


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)

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. 

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Simon Patterson, proprietor of Hyraxia Books in Leeds, England.

simonpatterson.jpgNP: When did you open Hyraxia and what do you specialize in?

SP: Hyraxia, as a bookshop, officially opened in 2010. I’d been buying and selling for about a decade prior to this but more as a collector as our stock (or collection as it was then) was in storage which made it tricky to sell. My wife and I moved house in 2010 partly to have a room for our books and she started working on the business too pretty much straight away. She does most of the marketing and admin work, and I do most of the client contact and buying. We have a two-year-old and three-year-old, so it’s been a pretty hectic couple of years.

We sell modern first edition fiction primarily, specialising in speculative fiction. We’re gradually increasing our stock of science fiction, fantasy, horror and weird fiction. It’s what I’m most familiar with. Saying that, a good portion of our stock is in regular fiction, and it’s just as exciting getting a rare Evelyn Waugh in stock as it is getting a Tolkien - well not as exciting, but exciting still! We’re also buying and selling fine press books and photobooks, though that’s something we’re just branching out into and the dynamics are slightly different, so it’s pretty slow.
NP: You also are a partner in a children’s bookshop, is that right?

SP: Yep, though that’s really just in the embryonic stage at the moment. We’ve got the site, a small stock and a handful of ideas. Building the Hyraxia brand takes enough time at the moment, never mind building a secondary brand. But we do keep on top of it and do intend to progress it over the next five or ten years.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

SP: I used to read a lot of fiction as a young child, but as I grew up I was encouraged more towards educational books. I read very little fiction between the ages of seven and 21. I remember clearly the first day of my first job as a computer programmer after I’d finished university. I was on the bus with a textbook and realised that I didn’t need to read them any more. That lunch I went out and bought Salem’s Lot by Stephen King in paperback. I was immediately pulled back into the world of fiction and haven’t read a textbook since. A short while later I was looking for a copy of The Regulators again by Stephen King, I found a US first edition and bought it for a couple of quid. I barely knew what a first edition was at this point. When it arrived I thought it was a lovely object to hold, the cover was striking and the reading experience was quite different. I read it and sold it for twice what I’d paid for it. I used that money to buy a couple of other books, reading them and selling them on for more. Eventually, I found myself buying more than I could read but not spending any more. Moving forward a decade I found myself with a sizeable collection which formed the basis of our stock. The majority of that collection has since sold, and those that haven’t are annoying me a little. I’m not sure how I made the transition to a dealer from a collector, I feel possessed.
NP: What is your favorite rare book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

SP: It has to be Ringworld by Larry Niven, it’s not the scarcest or most-valuable book we’ve had but it is quite important to me. At the first book fair I attended (A PBFA fair in York, UK) I found a copy of Ringworld in the lovely yellow Gollancz wrapper. I had little idea of value at the time but saw it had a price tag of something like £2000. Along with Neuromancer, another yellow Gollancz book with a similar price tag, it just stood out as something very important and desirable. It was far too expensive for me, but stood out as a book I would want more than any other. As a dealer though, it was a feasible purchase and when my own copy arrived I had it on display in the book room for a good six months before reluctantly listing it. It was like a rite of passage. It sold a couple of months ago and I was a little sad - I put three return address labels on it.
NP: What do you personally collect?
SP: Haruki Murakami - signed books, limited editions and ephemera. As a collector I couldn’t justify spending too much on a single book, and bought plenty of books that were only worth say £10 or so. When it came to making the transition to a dealer I found it easy to sell books that I found highly desirable, simply because I treated them as stock and they were very common. Murakami was different though as I had some uncommon items that I bought around the publication date, so the attachment was already there and there was the thought of appreciation in value. I still haven’t made them available for sale but will this year - probably at prices that will stop them from selling too soon! Ask me the same question next year, and if I’ve been brave, I’ll say that I collect nothing. I still think I collect Philip K. Dick too, but my wife reminds me that I don’t and puts them on sale.
NP: What do you love about the book trade?

SP: The books. Sounds obvious, but I’ve come in from the collector angle, so getting lovely, scarce and often expensive books in stock is still a buzz. I admit that they’re not as special as when I would buy for my collection but as my business has grown I find books in my possession that I would never have dreamt of. I’m very picky when it comes to stock. I mean, I won’t turn down a bargain just because it has a chip in the jacket or fading to the spine but there’s a good chance I’ll dislike it and make it sit on the naughty shelf. There are a handful of books that I need to own before I can be satisfied with the business. Those books keep changing as I get them in stock, so I know I’ll never get that closure, but I guess that’s part of the fun. 

It’s also a fairly trusting trade. I like the way that dealers will send you a book to have a look at, and you can be comfortable with what you receive knowing that it’s not going to be a problem to return it. I actually like it when I have a book at £100 and a dealer hands me a cheque for less than that. It sounds ridiculous, but I like the implicit trade discount - it gives the deal a much friendlier feel to it. It’s an honourable trade, and a reputation for honesty is everything. I’m getting to know people in the trade a lot better, other dealers and collectors. I don’t know that many people yet, but pretty much everyone I’m getting to know I’ve found very approachable and friendly. They’re more like colleagues than anything else.

I love telling people I’m a rare bookseller, it’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I’ll be happy to look back on a life of.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

SP: Coming into the trade within the last few years means that I haven’t seen things change. All the doom I hear of the Internet ruining the trade doesn’t ring true with me. The way I see it is that the supply of rare books stays pretty much the same with minor fluctuations (authors go out of fashion, authors come into fashion) and the demand stays pretty much the same (the number of collectors and their combined buying power is pretty flat). What needs to be flexible is a seller’s business model, constant reinvention.

I can see the number of printed books dropping dramatically over the coming decades, but to me this implies that the supply of new collectables will be lower. I’d like to see small presses having an increasingly important role to play. Publishers like the Tartarus Press, Subterranean Press and PS Publishing are producing books that are not only for reading, but are for collecting.

What I think we need to do as sellers is focus on bringing new collectors into the marketplace and this means being accessible and responsive, pulling them away from sites like eBay and offering them a preferable and more reliable alternative. I’m 100% certain though that the trade will persist. 
NP: Any upcoming fairs / catalogues?

SP: We intend on doing our first catalogue this year, it will be an electronic version though I imagine. We’re also doing a number of PBFA fairs in the UK, the York fairs, Harrogate, A couple in London and hopefully some others as the year progresses (and if we can get a babysitter!)

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Seth Glick of Caliban Books in Pittsburgh.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

SG: I found my job through craigslist. Instead of sending a resume, I wrote a smart-ass paragraph about myself, and included the last 3 books I had read. John Schulman, the owner of Caliban, apparently thought I was an endearing smart-ass, and after an interview he offered me a job as cataloger.

NP: What is your role at Caliban?

SG: Currently, I’m the manager of our online department, which operates out of The Warehouse. My average day includes cataloging, answering customer inquiries over email and phone, scanning and photographing books. I oversee sales on our website and the mega-sites we list on. I also schlep plenty of books - boxes and boxes of books.

NP: What is your favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

SG: A few years ago we sold a photo of F. Scott Fitzgerald in drag from a Triangle Club production. It was inscribed by Fitzgerald, “Lovingly, Geraldine.” Currently for sale we have a 1759 bound volume of The Scots Magazine that has the first published map of Pittsburgh so-called; it’s basically 5 lines showing the rivers and a few forts, but it’s pretty cool.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

SG: My favorite part is just handling the books. Feeling the different bindings, looking at the type, flipping through the pages. I also love the spell that books cast on people, and how discernable this trance can be. Without fail, whenever someone walks in The Warehouse for the first time they stand in the doorway, look at the stacks of books and gasp like they’re looking at the Grand Canyon. It’s nice to be a part of that.

NP: What do you personally collect?

SG: I always keep an eye out for a few things: books by Aldous Huxley, especially his writings on psychedelic drugs, and Lenny Bruce material. Also, a few years ago a coworker turned me on to the dust jackets of Alvin Lustig, specifically his designs for New Directions’ New Classics series - I have about a third of those. Looking for books and ephemera on 80’s-90’s hip-hop is going to be my next project.

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

SG: That’s a tough one. I certainly hope to be active in the bookselling community for a long time, but I don’t think that a brick and mortar is in my future. Caliban has a storefront where I work occasionally and I enjoy the rhythm of working behind a counter, watching customers come in and browse. But operating an open shop is a challenge these days. Pittsburgh is a relatively large city, and we can barely sustain five physical bookstores. If I go on my own, it would be solely online.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

SG: I think we have no option but to keep on finding better, rarer, more interesting material, and finding new and exciting ways to promote and package it. Outstanding books will sell themselves; we may just have to try harder at convincing the public on why they would want to start collecting antiquarian books. It’s an exciting time to be an online business. We’ve mailed books to people a mile away, and to people in over 100 countries. We have an enormous base of potential customers, we just need them to notice us.

NP: Any upcoming fairs / catalogues for Caliban?

SG: We’re still working on getting a catalog out there. In the last few months I’ve seen a lot of exciting catalogs, both in print and .pdfs -- they’re starting to look like works of art. We do three fairs a year: NY, Boston and San Francisco/LA. We’re looking into trying out some of the smaller, regional ones as well.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Stefania Pandakovic, a junior specialist in the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s in London.

Stefaniac Pandakovic.jpgNP: What is your role at Christie’s?

SP: I am a Junior Specialist in the Books and Manuscripts department; my speciality is printed books, with a particular eye on Italian pieces, as well as Italian clients. I often organize Valuation Days in Milan and Rome where collectors bring their books to be valued. One of the things I enjoy the most about my job is the chance to combine the study of the books with the opportunity to meet interesting collectors from different backgrounds and visit amazing places and libraries.
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

SP: As I always tell people it was the books that called me, not the other way around. I had just started my MA in Venice on Italian XVI century paintings when I received a call from Sotheby’s Milan asking me to do an internship in their Books, Drawings and Prints department. I will always remember my first day of work: everyone was called into a meeting and I was left in the office with a pile of what I remember calling dusty books to collate. At that time I was even unaware of the meaning of the word collating, but I was keen to make a first move into the business. I got home that evening and decided I never wanted to work with books again. A few years later I was working full time in the London Books and Manuscript department of Christie’s.... something must have changed my mind!
NP: What is your favourite rare book that you’ve handled?

SP: Difficult to say; I love XVI century Italian books, especially the ones with engravings of architecture, science and technology. I also enjoy the books that had a huge impact in the history of the world: Dante, Galileo, Darwin, Kafka, Freud - just to mention a few coming up for sale in the next few days.
I did fall in love with a collection of fantastic books from the Pillone Library in Belluno last year. Seeing the fore-edges painted by Cesare Vecellio, cousin of my favourite artist Tiziano, was special: it created a bridge between my passion for Italian paintings and my knowledge of books.
NP: What do you personally collect?

SP: I personally collect contemporary art, mainly prints: it all started with a Chinese sculpture I bought in Shanghai some years ago. I am now a very proud owner of a Michelangelo Pistoletto and a [very] small Gerhard Richter. I have some first editions too and I recently bought three lovely XVIII century maps of Venice and Corfu. As you may well know apartments in London are very small and I will soon have to find another hobby, or a larger place.
NP: What do you love about working for an auction house?

SP: The main thing I love about Christie’s is that you get to see the best art objects in the world. In my case, I feel proud to handle and study so many nice books every day. I also love the thrill of the auction and the various different tasks I get to work on during the year: business getting, researching, cataloguing, selling etc.
NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of rare books and auction houses?

SP: Things change very rapidly in current times and the main auction houses have to move quickly to follow the trends. During the last 4 years, since I joined Christie’s, the strategies have changed, the market is different and the clients are looking for new things. It is very important to keep up with the fashions and the new technologies, I believe Christie’s is doing it very well by offering a number of new tools such as the online auctions and the Ipad applications. If we manage to balance well between being innovative and maintaining the traditions (client service and competence) I think there will be successful times ahead besides the general crisis the world’s facing right now.

The same could be said for the rare books market: collectors are probably some of the most conservative in the art market, but the ability to involve new potential buyers is what will eventually determine those who will succeed and those who won’t. One of our personal most innovative achievements here in the Books Department was selling an Apple 1 in 2010! There is a lot of space for new ideas, we just have to find them and be the first to do so.
NP: Any upcoming auctions you’re particularly excited about?

SP: Of course, there are two in particular: an amazing auction at Christie’s King Street on November 21 where you can find some fantastic illuminated manuscripts and leaves, an amazing group of autograph letters and documents including a musical manuscript by Beethoven and an original typescript by Kafka. Among the printed books I catalogued there is a first edition of the Hypnerotomachia Polipjhili by Francesco Colonna (lot 101), a beautiful Dante from 1502 in a contemporary Venetian binding (lot 104), a great book on perspective that was only ever offered twice at auction (lot 112) and a Cellarius/Doppelmayer with fantastic contemporary hand-colouring (lot 139).

If you want an advice I would also suggest keeping an eye on our South Kensington auction. On offer there are some amazing London maps (lots 201-205), various Kirchers (lots 153-155, 197-199 and 238) and a collection of European avant-garde together with Catalan and South American literature (lots 308-384). And as I always say at the end of my emails: don’t hesitate to contact me for any further assistance!

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington in London. Jonathan also runs the Bibliodeviancy blog.

me1.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JK: I ended up in London as a vagrant after a stint in Eastern Europe as The Worst English Teacher on The Planet™ and got an emergency job in a bar frequented by drunken book-dealers in London’s Chinatown. They decided I was overworked and underpaid as a barman and invited me to experience the same conditions in the book trade. I started out at Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road back when collectors used to queue round the block to get their hands on our latest stock and I was eagerly hanging on the coat-tails of some of the best, brightest and strangest in the British book trade. I knew nothing.

It was just before the internet really made an impact on books, much faster and more reckless than it is now, loads of deals done in pubs, half of what you bought might be sold before you got back to the shop in the van and people used to run down the aisles at book fairs as soon as they opened in search of treasure.
It was more Fear and Loathing road trip than Antiques Road Show. I fell in love with all of it and knew pretty quickly that it was something I could do, and probably the only thing I was ever going to do at all well.

I loved the adventure of crawling around in someone’s basement rooting through tea-chests and at the end of it being able to stand in front of them and say “Now this, this is exceptionally rare and wonderful. This is a beautiful thing.” To me it felt very much like I’d come home to a place I belonged. That sounds very cheesy I know, but I love the rare book trade and many of the people in it to distraction. It has given me opportunities I would never otherwise have had, and it has done so just because it could. It’s a generous business.

After Any Amount of Books I went on to work for other firms including the late, much lamented Nigel Williams who was a wonderful man to be employed by, and eventually turned up on the doorstep of Adrian Harrington Rare Books. In a fit of probably misguided optimism they employed me.

NP: What is your role at Adrian Harrington?

JK: I buy, sell and catalogue as many books as I can get my hands on, I assemble and create our print catalogues, deal with customers, answer telephones and email queries and try and keep the website content up to date. In addition I run the Bibliodeviancy blog and other social networking, attend domestic and international book-fairs and I occasionally impress people by knowing something useful; very occasionally.

That probably sounds like a lot, but like many small firms we’re more like a family than anything else, we all overlap and we all have our individual qualities and we all pick up the slack for each other. I have a personal specialty in weird and supernatural fiction, my colleague Jon Gilbert is probably the world’s leading authority on Ian Fleming and Blair Cowl is happiest when immersed in alchemical treatises, Aleister Crowley and assorted grimoires. Pierre Lombardini is our shop manager and front of house with a personal predilection for travel books and antiquarian decorative colour plate volumes. We all do a lot. 

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

JK: So many favourites. Working for Adrian means I get to handle a lot of stuff I’m personally enthusiastic about, as well as things that are drop dead gorgeous or historically significant. There have been rare Galileo items and hand coloured treatises on comets and literary milestones in perfect dust-wrappers and those things are all awe-inspiring and wonderful. I read William Hope Hodgson’s own annotated first edition of “The Boats of The Glen Carrig” on my lunch hour once; there was a previously unknown inscribed copy of Oscar Wilde’s “Duchess of Padua” I got to work on; I bought the first ever appearance of John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre.” and recently ended up with Vanessa Bell’s copy of Virginia Woolf’s “Two Stories”; the first Hogarth Press publication. I won’t forget any of those in a hurry.

In the first few months of being a book dealer I was sent to a tiny auction house in the middle of nowhere and, after I’d bid on the things I was instructed to, on a whim I put forty quid on a box of books I hadn’t even looked through. Hidden at the bottom it contained a signed and annotated volume of poetry that had somehow made its way from T.S. Eliot’s bookshelves to me. That’s one of my favourites because it was more magic and luck than anything else, it’s like the book chose me to go home with.

One day I’ll get my hands on my own Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, oh yes I will.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JK: I accumulate books on gypsies, pirates and highwaymen and everything written by Mervyn Peake. In addition I’ll grab anything on 15th century printers, early Gothic or John William Polidori. I also really like Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, histories of the Indian Mutiny, Angela Carter and various copies of Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love”. So clearly I am to considered and intellectual book collecting what hyaenas are to picky eating.

NP: Do you hope to open your own shop someday?

JK: I’ll be in the book trade for the rest of my life in one way or another. As I’ve said before Adrian Harrington is a very family based business. When I get told not to darken its door again, or not to come home until I’ve learned some manners then we’ll see what happens.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

JK: Shameless, brazen, lustful optimism. As a trade the rare book field had to change. The change hasn’t come as an accident of passing time, it has arrived because for the last decade or so certain levels of this business had turned into that joke about 3 antique dealers on a desert island with one chair and they’re all doing very well thank-you. Some of the best booksellers I’ve ever encountered are just starting out and already making their presence felt; B&B Rare Books, Simon Beattie, Brooke Palmieri of Sokol. (Interviewer’s note: Brooke is a regular contributor to this blog. All the names mentioned in this section have been profiled for this same series). They all have knowledge and commitment and boundless enthusiasm for their stock and customers. Ashley Wildes of BTC for example is actually made of pure enthusiasm...and possibly glitter.

As an example I just received Honey and Wax Books catalogue no.1 in the mail and it’s lovely. Really beautifully presented and full of commitment to both books and customers. It’s rare that it’s actually exciting to receive a book catalogue; but you have a business that has been up and running for just over a year and is managed from someone’s living room and it can produce something as nice as this? I think new dealers like these are the backbone of the modern rare book trade, they’re the people who will be attracting new collectors and enthusiasts and putting rare books back on the mainstream cultural map.

NP: Any upcoming fairs / catalogues for Adrian Harrington?

JK: Loads; the more the merrier. We’ve got Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair on the 3rd-4th November, that’s a really old school, wood panelling and tweed kind of fair, one of our favourites. Then I’ll be in Boston later in the same month working hard. West Coast US fairs in February, followed by the always fabulous New York antiquarian fair in April. With any luck I’ll get to go to Seattle later in the year, it’s one of my favourite US fairs. I’m aiming for four catalogues next year, I usually end up with three because I have the organisational skills of a goldfish.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Heather O’Donnell, proprietor of Honey and Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn:


NP: How did you get started in rare books?


HO: Growing up, I had a strong feeling for books, and poked around secondhand shops and used book sales whenever I could. One of the books on the Honey & Wax website dates from those days: I bought it when I was fifteen. (You’ll have to guess which one.) As an English major at Columbia, I held lots of bookish jobs, including a formative summer at the Strand. In grad school, I worked as a curatorial assistant at the Beinecke Library. There I had my formal introduction to rare books and manuscripts: what they are, how they trade, how to handle and describe them properly. After Yale, I taught for several years at Princeton, but found that the academy and I were drifting quietly apart. In 2004, David Bauman offered me a position with Bauman Rare Books in New York. It was a great opportunity, and I took it.

NP: When did you open Honey & Wax and what do you specialize in?

HO: I started Honey & Wax in the fall of 2011, and launched the website, the following February. The first print catalogue mails this fall. I specialize in rare and unique copies of literary classics, with occasional forays into the arts. My favorite books are association copies: books presented by one writer to another, books from the libraries of interesting readers, books with a secret past.

NP: What is the origin of the name?

HO: A few years ago, at a book fair, I was leafing through a nineteenth-century English grammar, and came across the phrase “use books as bees use flowers.” I was so taken with the line and all it suggested that I wrote it down. Later, when I was thinking of starting my own company, I came back to the idea of the social life of the printed book: the way that books bring writers and readers together, of course, but also the way that a special copy can forge a bond between giver and recipient, or connect generations of readers over time. How do bees use flowers? Together, they make honey and wax.


On a more prosaic note, the apostrophe in my name screws everything up online, so O’Donnell Rare Books was out.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

HO: It’s hard to choose just one. Two of my favorite books, recently sold, were an 1809 anthology of dramatic verse inscribed by the Shakespearean actress Sarah Siddons, who defined many of those speeches for English audiences, and a copy of Nightwood annotated and revised after publication by Djuna Barnes. In the fall catalog, I’m particularly fond of Walker Evans’s copy of The Waste Land and George Gershwin’s copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

NP: What do you personally collect?

HO: At this point, the only rare books I own are those that have been given to me as gifts, or inscribed to me personally: I try to channel my acquisitive impulses into my customers’ collections. That said, some books I’ll always buy. I love quirky editions of Henry James. Last year in Prague, I picked up a Communist-era Czech translation of Washington Square full of sexy expressionistic woodcuts: so wrong, and yet irresistible. I have two shelves of paperbacks designed by Edward Gorey when he was art editor at Anchor in the 1950s, and a small collection of vintage books on charm (theory and practice).

NP: You’ve worked in a variety of bookish and academic professions.  What do you love about working as a rare book dealer and how does it compare to the other fields you’ve worked in?


HO: For me, the revelation of working in the rare book trade has been how many people, in all walks of life, at every level of collecting, are pursuing a passionate reading life. In the academy, the unspoken assumption (and sometimes, the spoken one) is that the really serious reader writes about literature for a living. The book trade has given me a much broader and truer sense of what the well-read life can be.

NP: Any other thoughts to share on the book trade and its future?


HO: This is an exciting time for the trade, because the explosion of digital text has made everyone newly aware of the unique qualities of the printed book. Some people don’t miss those qualities, but others do, and seek out printed books by choice. They don’t necessarily call themselves collectors, but that’s what they are, and they ask more from their books than just the presence of the text. Sometimes they want a classic first printing, or a copy inscribed by the author, but they might also be drawn to a striking vintage edition, or a copy with curious early marginalia, or an innovative artist’s book. The truth is, when readers buy any printed books today - new or old, commonplace or rare - they’re making a choice to collect in a way that was not true even five years ago. I think there’s a real opportunity for dealers to meet those new collectors where they are and show them books they haven’t seen.


NP: Tell us about the production of your first catalogue and how to obtain a copy.


HO: Because Honey & Wax is devoted to the social life of the book, I wanted to feature the books in the context of a real home, not floating in space. We shot the catalogue on a sweltering August day in Brooklyn, borrowing my friends’ house and much of their stuff. My one regret is that I had intended to get a Kindle or Nook into one of the shots, to show the printed book and the e-reader coexisting in peace. I’d love to do that in future Honey & Wax catalogues, so that when readers page back through them, they can date each catalogue by the comparative obsolescence of the gadgetry. Books age better.


Eventually, the catalogue will be posted on the website, and available as a PDF. Readers who prefer a hard copy can write

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Laura Massey, an American working for Peter Harrington in London:

Laura4.jpgNP: What is your role at Peter Harrington?

LM: I started as the general cataloguer in 2009, and my job quickly expanded to include a variety of other responsibilities. I’m particularly interested in using the internet to make rare materials accessible and interesting to those who aren’t specialists, which is why I started our blog and Twitter feed. I also love science, and my main goal is to specialise in that direction. I’m in the process of compiling my first catalogue, a selection of important 20th-century science books with a strong focus on a favourite subject-nuclear physics. I’ve always been interested in the ways that science and medicine are presented to the public, and I think that there’s room in the book world for us to improve the ways that science books are catalogued.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

LM: It really began with my parents. Both of them love books, especially my mom, who started reading to me as soon as I was born. My dad trained as a ceramic artist and was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and the Japanese philosophy of making everyday objects both beautiful and functional. So I grew up with not only an appreciation for literature, but for the book as a material object. I always loved the idea of working with rare books but, growing up in a small town, that world seemed so distant that I never considered it a serious career choice. After finishing my undergraduate degree I was living in Atlanta and having trouble finding a fulfilling career. I spent a lot of lazy summer afternoons in my local used and rare book shop, A Cappella, and it dawned on me one day that this was something I could really do. So I made a long-term plan: I read everything I could about book history and rare books, began volunteering at the shop (thanks Frank!), and started a blog so that I could connect with other rare book people. A few years later I entered the book history MA programme at the Institute of English Studies in London. I knew that, in addition to the amazing faculty and all the libraries I would have access to, I would also be in one of the world centres of the book trade, and hoped I might get my foot in the door with an internship or part-time job. As my course wound down I sent out a few CVs and was lucky enough to approach Peter Harrington just as the firm was looking for a full-time cataloguer.

NP: What do you love about the working in the trade?

LM: Having access to so much wonderful material and getting to work on something different every day. I also love writing and doing research, which is a huge component of my job.

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

LM: At the moment I have two. The first is our Ars Moriendi block book leaf, which I’ve written about for the blog. I became fascinated by these during my master’s degree because they’re a sort of proto-printing technology, but they’re rare and I never thought I would run across one outside of a special collections setting. The second is my first major book fair find, a copy of Alexander Fleming’s Penicillin: Its Practical Application. It’s not a scarce book, and this copy didn’t look unusually inviting, but I picked it up because bacteriology is of particular interest to me. And it turned out to contain an uncommon presentation inscription to one of the contributors. A good lesson in rare book buying!

NP: So, this copy of Frankenstein is pretty awesome.  Tell us about your thoughts on it:

LM: It is! Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft have long been feminist heroes of mine, and the relationship between the Shelleys and Byron is fascinating. But the book’s sudden appearance is the most exciting part. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing objects since I joined the firm, but most of them already had an extensive provenance. It’s truly rare for an item of this significance to appear out of the blue, and I feel privileged to be present at its reappearance.

[Note: This question was in reference to the copy of Frankenstein inscribed by Mary Shelley to Lord Byron which was recently acquired by Peter Harrington.  The book will be on display and viewable to the general public at the shop, 100 Fulham Road in Chelsea, London, from September 26 to October 3].

NP: What do you personally collect?

LM: Unfortunately, I’m more of an accumulator than a collector. I tend to buy objects that interest me personally, but without feeling the urge for comprehensive acquisition in any one field. What catches my eye could be a book one day, then a natural history specimen, bicycle poster, or piece of jewellery the next. That being said, I do have a wonderful collection of antique jelly moulds, all of them gifts from a friend.

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

LM: Probably not. I’m really happy working in a large shop because of the opportunities it provides to learn from colleagues and to work on material that I would probably not see on my own. I’m also not keen on admin and bookkeeping, so consider it a reasonable trade-off not to be my own boss if I don’t have to deal with any of that.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

LM: I feel very positive about it, and think that the e-book revolution will be beneficial to rare books in general. Instead of the massive, low-quality print runs of the last few decades we’ll see small runs made to higher standards-books that look better, last longer, and are more collectible. Digital may be more convenient, but people still want the human touch a physical object provides. This is already apparent with other formats such as vinyl and film photography, which are seeing a renewal of interest.  At the same time, overall access to literature will increase. There’s evidence that people with electronic readers consume more books because of the ease of access, and more book lovers means more collectors. Additionally, greater access to out-of-copyright works from Project Gutenberg and the like will encourage people to explore books they would not have been exposed to in the age of the chain store. It’s a very exciting change to live through!

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Elizabeth Svendsen, proprietor of Walkabout Books, in Xenia, Ohio.

eks5.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

ES: Like a number of other booksellers of my generation, I got started in rare books largely as a result of attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I had been running a general-interest brick and mortar bookstore for three years before I went to CABS in 2009. The more I handled older and scarcer books, the more interested I had become in the antiquarian end of the trade, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it. Within two months of returning from CABS, I had produced my first print catalog, and a few months after that I did my first book fair. I haven’t looked back.

NP: When did you open Walkabout Books and what do you specialize in?

ES: I sold my brick-and-mortar business (which I am happy to report remains alive and well under new ownership) last fall. I loved the shop, but I was finding it impossible run the everyday business and still make time to seek out and catalog the books I really wanted to work with.  I’m still re-building my inventory, but Walkabout Books has formally been open for business since October 2011. I now specialize in mountaineering, travel, Alaska, polar and other nineteenth century exploration, national parks, and some western Americana--pretty much anything outdoorsy and adventurous. I also carry a fair amount of modern literature just because I like it and always have customers for it.

NP: You formerly owned a brick-and-mortar store, but now only sell online.  Could you tell us a bit about that?  Do you miss having a brick-and-mortar store?  What are your thoughts on brick-and-mortar vs online?

ES: Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I operate Walkabout Books from second floor downtown office space, where I have books on display in two rooms that are open to the public whenever I’m here--which is most of the time. I don’t get a lot of walk-in traffic, but I do get some, and it provides a place for people to come sell books to me. I also do book fairs (six this year), so it’s not all online. I think the ability to interact with and meet new customers--as well as other dealers--is critical to developing a successful antiquarian book business. That said, I am the kind of bookish person who’s happy to work quietly and not talk to anyone all day, so I don’t miss having a full-fledged brick and mortar store.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

ES: That’s tough. I’m going to cheat and give you two--one book and one non-book. The book was a signed association copy of John Muir’s Our National Parks. I loved it for many reasons--it was visually lovely, it had subject matter that appeals to me, and most of all, researching the association--which turned out to be between Muir and the Merrill family of Bobbs-Merrill fame--was fascinating. The non-book item was an ipod filled with hundreds of audio files of Warren Jeffs (disgraced leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) teaching classes to his followers. That was a whole different kind of fascinating.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ES: Actually, I don’t--at least not in the traditional sense. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this---especially in this venue--but I’m one of those people who just wants the content and isn’t much concerned with edition or condition. Of course, in my business I cater to people who do care about those things and I respect those concerns, but what you’ll find on my personal shelves are literary fiction, mysteries, and a whole lot of mountaineering and solo sailing books narratives. I can never seem to get enough of tales of people toughing it out against the elements in remote places. I have a lot of books about Mt. Everest.

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

ES: Theodore Roosevelt’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness. That would give me the chance to meet TR and explore the Amazon jungle at the same time!

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

ES: The opportunity to learn new things and explore new worlds every day. There’s nothing better.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ES: I think it’s in good hands. You just have to look at the archives of this blog to see that. The way we do business continues to evolve and adapt to new technology, but that’s okay. There are smart, creative, and energetic young dealers seeking out new material and cultivating new collectors, and I really believe--and see evidence--that people will continue to love and value physical books even in the electronic age.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Katharina Koch, daughter of Joachim Koch, the proprietor of Books Tell You Why in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina:

BYT Interview Picture.jpgNP: As your father is Joachim Koch, you must’ve grown up around rare books.  Did you develop an interest in them early in life? Or did it come to you later?

KK: While I always read books as a child and my bookshelf was always full, I would say that my interest in collecting rare books came later.  Then came Christmas 2002: In my stocking I found a scroll of papers packaged in a tube that tennis balls would usually come in. This package contained the beginnings of Books Tell You Why, which was at that point the smallest bookstore in the world.  Little did I know that this Christmas present, a bookstore, would change the rest of our lives.

NP: What is your role at Books Tell You Why?

KK: I coordinate all of the marketing efforts at Books Tell You Why (although, sometimes they coordinate me). This includes designing and updating print advertisements, helping with newsletters, supporting social media activities on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as organizing six book fairs we currently attend each year. 

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

KK: What I love most about the book trade is that there is so much to discover.  Whether traveling to book fairs and seeing new places, or cataloguing a pile of books, I am always learning something new and I am constantly exposed to interesting literature.  Oh, and interesting people.  There are so many great people in the trade; I have seen exciting collections, and the people who built these are fascinating.

Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

KK: After being introduced to Walt Whitman in my AP Language & Composition/American Literature class, I became truly interested in Walt Whitman, his life, and his career. After learning about how Whitman was inspired by human interactions and the magnificence of nature, my classmates and I deeply considered his work and created written analyses on his life. We explored how Leaves of Grass is designed to show the world sensations of humanity through poetry. To write our analyses, we received a packet of documents to reference in our paper, and the first document was a print-out of an Abebooks search showing first editions of Leaves of Grass. I recognized some of the booksellers on the print-out and knowing that I would soon be going to the ABAA California Book Fair, anticipated that a particular bookseller would bring his copy. It was amazing to see a first edition of this book, published in 1854, in an original print run of only 795 copies, being kept in such good condition. With the class experience, I was able to much better understand and see first-hand the cultural significance of such an important piece of American literature.

NP: What do you personally collect?

KK: I personally collect The Night before Christmas titles and Charles van Sandwyk books. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year by far.  When I started collecting books and wanted to collect something I actually enjoyed, I knew it would have to be The Night before Christmas books! Of course, as collecting doesn’t come without having the right bibliography, Nancy Marshall’s The Night before Christmas: A Descriptive Bibliography is sitting on my shelf.

I also collect Charles van Sandwyk books, which I started after visiting the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair one year. Van Sandwyk, an author and illustrator who divides his time between Canada and Fiji, adorns his hand-sewn works with whimsical fairies and woodland scenes that are reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s work. I fell in love with his works and enjoy collecting them, since they are so charming and magical!  He has a great publisher whom I enjoy working with.

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

KK: Living within five minutes of the ocean for most of my life, I have become dependent on the sensation of sand between my toes and life on the seashore. Like Santiago in The Old Man and Sea, I love feeling the warm sun beating down on my head and the salty breeze whipping the hair around my face.  I would love to live inside the pages of this book by Hemingway, watching and learning from the old fisherman who struggles to bring home the giant marlin he has caught out in the middle of the Gulf Stream.

NP: Do you plan to continue in the family business?

KK: My current plans are to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and study Biology; then we’ll see what happens. As many things at Books Tell You Why can be done remotely, I am most definitely going continue working on my marketing and collecting endeavors. As part of that, I am looking forward to doing some book hunting in Scotland and the United Kingdom as well!

NP: How do you feel about the future of the book trade, being the youngest member of the ABAA?


I feel positive about the future of the book trade and do not think that anyone considering starting in the book trade or collecting should be discouraged in any way. While technology such as the Kindle or iPad will constantly be developing and improving, I think that people will always enjoy curating their collections. I think that there is definitely something alluring and satisfying about holding a rare book in your hands, and admiring how well it was made and the work and art that went into its creation.

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.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with John O’Mara of Maggs Brothers in London. This entry concludes our brief sojourn across the Atlantic in celebration of the Olympia Book Fair last weekend.  Look for the series to return to British shores this fall in the weeks leading up to the Chelsea Book Fair.

omara small.jpg
NP: What is your role at Maggs?

JO: Maggs has five departments - Travel, Early British, Modern British, Continental, and Autographs. I’m one of four members of the Early British Department. We handle books and manuscripts up to about 1800 that have some connection to the British Isles. More specifically we are interested in British culture and its dissemination which means that we are able to cast a wide net. Doing so means that we have the freedom and flexibility to discover some remarkable (and often very rare) non-English language items printed outside the British Isles that have some bearing on British history. Within our department each of us function with a fair degree of autonomy. I’m charged with buying books, writing descriptions of the items I buy, selling my purchases and, when required, applying for export licenses for my sales.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JO: My grandmother was an antique dealer in the Midwest and from an early age my mom dragged me to antique shows and auctions so an interest in ‘old things’ is probably to some degree genetic! As a child growing up in rural Massachusetts, I collected stamps, coins and baseball cards and I also liked to wheel and deal. My mom likes to tell the story of when, as a six year old, I wanted to buy a rock from a local antique shop. I brought my prospective purchase to the dealer and asked how much it was. The elderly proprietor thought I was the cutest thing until she quoted me a price for my prize and I replied: “Is that the best you can do?”. I discovered that I wanted to work with early printed books after an internship in the Collectibles department at Sotheby’s in New York. Books captured my historical imagination and also embodied many of the subjects I was pursuing academically at the time. Once I realized that I wanted to work with books and manuscripts, it was a small step into the trade. Dealing is also a good fit for my temperament - I enjoy taking risk given the prospect of the right return.  Dealing books and manuscripts provides me with the opportunity to buy a book or manuscript and to use my knowledge to add value and realize a profit.

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

JO: One of the privileges of working at Maggs is that we get to see so many incredible items so it’s hard to identify just one. That being said, the two Caxtons that our department handled were really special!

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JO: Working for one of the old established London firms is like stepping back a century. We have a tea room and traditionally staff members have met at 11 and 4 for tea. I have always been very struck by this tradition and while fewer people meet for tea twice a day these days, the fact that this practice existed at all suggests to me that the firm is deeply grounded by humane values. I think this is generally true for the trade as well. Especially in the UK dealers are very collegial. I’ve developed great friendships with other dealers, travelled with them and stayed in their homes. The trade is also predicated on trust. In what other business could you borrow an item valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds from another dealer to show to one of your clients without contracts or lawyers? You can do that as a book dealer provided that you are respectable..

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

JO: Who knows what the future holds. However with the demise of H.P Kraus and with Heritage no longer functioning at the level it once did, I see an opportunity in the US for a larger firm that could handle a broad range of books and manuscripts focusing not only on private collectors but also on institutions.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JO: I love the Renaissance and particularly its manifestation in England. I’ve assembled a small collection of books and manuscripts related to Renaissance Humanism in England. I also am interested in the history of collecting, and the Grand Tour.

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

JO: I’d probably choose the original manuscript of Samuel Pepys’s Diary ... oh the fun he had!

NP: As an American working in the British trade, what do you notice about the difference between British and American antiquarian bookselling?

JO: I’ve been in the trade for about a decade. I worked in the US for three years, first for a bookseller in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then for myself when I opened my own business. I’ve been in London for the last seven years working first for Quaritch for about six months and the remainder of the time at Maggs. I think that European dealers generally view bookselling as the means to have a life immersed in culture. The focus isn’t so much on how much money one earns but rather on experiences that the trade provides i.e. eating well, drinking good wine and sharing those things with others.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

JO: It’s certainly a time of transition for the trade. Some of the old models that worked for decades (if not centuries) are no longer viable. The internet has something to do with this as does broad cultural change i.e. collecting books isn’t as fashionable as it was 50 to 75 years ago. We as booksellers are subject to these changes but we can influence them as well. We need to really believe in what we do and sell the broader public on the idea of collecting books. We need to be missionaries.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues its trip across the pond today with Pom Harrington, the proprietor of Peter Harrington, in London.  Peter Harrington will be exhibiting at the Olympia Book Fair in London, which began today and continues through Saturday.

pom harrington.jpg
NP: Considering you grew up in one of Britain’s most prominent antiquarian bookselling families, did you develop an interest in rare books early in life?  Or did you come to it later? (On a related note, did you always plan to work in the family business, or did you consider other options first?)

PH: I have been surrounded by books all my life, so I actually was quite blasé about rare books. I am not a strong reader so I had little reason to show much interest in them or the shop until I needed a summer job. I spent most of my teenage summers working in the shop for pocket money, but had no real plans to work in the family business. I had a quick fling with University and when that didn’t work out I started to look at the shop more seriously. I eventually asked my Dad for a job when I was 19. He actually said no! It took a bit of persuading for him to change his mind. He felt that I should do an apprenticeship elsewhere first. But to cut the long story short, at 19 I began to work full time for Harrington Brothers as it was then for my father and Uncle Adrian.

NP: When did you take over Peter Harrington and under what circumstances?

PH: Adrian and my Father went their separate ways after selling the business property. My father, I think might have retired at this point, but with me now 22 and chomping at the bit to do business, we set up Peter Harrington on the Fulham Road. Initially my father had control, but he was fairly good at letting me get on with it. We were already exhibiting at the American shows and I was starting to do these on my own with an assistant. In February 2001, my father was diagnosed with throat cancer which forced the situation and I took over the day to day running of the shop.

NP: What does Peter Harrington currently specialize in?

PH: Our strength is in English books. Particularly Literature and high spot collecting. We try and make sure we always have something special to show, be it a 1/100 signed Ulysses or a Shakespeare folio.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

PH: It is still for the most part an honourable business, your word, trust and reputation mean everything. I can walk into virtually any ILAB bookshop in the world, one I have never been to or done business with before and leave with a valuable book on invoice. This is done on trust and honour. I have also developed many great friendships over the years with booksellers all over the world.

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

PH: There have been a few. I have bought Mark Twain’s copy of Huck Finn, Shakespeare’s first folio, Presentation Galileo, Newton Principia Mathematica. All amazing and brilliant books.

NP: What do you personally collect?

PH: In 1994, I started collecting Roald Dahl. He’s about the only author I read as a child. He was inexpensive then and I always thought he would become more collectable. The collection has become more serious in recent times and I have all his books.

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

PH: A Walter Scott novel. I’d be left alone and not disturbed.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

PH: It’s changing fast. The internet is continually having a strong effect on our business. Those who adapt best will thrive. On this basis, there are some young talented booksellers starting up and using this to make up for small stock and tight funds.

NP: Tell us about your exhibit at the Olympia Book Fair and any upcoming catalogues you have in the works:

PH: We have taken two stands this year. [71 and 83] One for books and the other is for our gallery. [Here is Peter Harrington’s catalogue for the fair]. I have been putting together a large amount of book related art and wanted a way of displaying them properly. So we have the usual Rackham and Shepard artwork, but also a recently acquired collection of watercolours of the Brock illustrated Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We are always working on catalogues. In the summer, we will produce two new ones. A specialist 75 Great Books and then a larger but more regular catalogue.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Ed Lake of Jarndyce Booksellers in London.  Ed’s father, Brian, is the proprietor of Jarndyce Booksellers, which was founded in 1969.  Our Bright Young Things series is migrating across the pond for a few weeks in celebration of the upcoming Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair, from May 24th - May 26th in London.

NP: What is your role at Jarndyce?

EL: The privilege of working at Jarndyce is that no one day is ever the same as the next.  I do everything from cataloguing to packing books, designing our website, and organizing our first forays into the world of American book fairs.  I have designed catalogues and calendars, overseen photography, created a greeting card business, cleaned drains, cooked lunches, and occasionally sold a few books .

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

EL: Jarndyce is a family business and, although there was no pressure to join, I started work in 2007 having previously been a chef for 4 years.

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

EL: Items stick in my memory for different reasons - mainly for beauty, scarcity or historical importance.   For sheer beauty I remember a stunning folio Baskerville Bible; a scarce regional Newspaper, Creswell’s Nottingham Journal, has stayed in my mind because of its elaborate masthead. We currently have Dickens’s own reading copy of Mrs Gamp, annotated by Dickens, signed and presented to his Boston publisher - the copy from which Dickens read on his final American reading tour.  To think of where that book was, what it was a part of, and whose hands it passed through is incredible.  

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

EL: Having studied history at University I love the academic aspect of bookselling, the challenge that you face when opening a book or looking at a manuscript, of making every item into a story, whatever it is worth.

Where my dad loves the thrill of buying - I am slowly gaining the confidence to follow my instincts in that department - I enjoy selling; building relationships with our customers, learning from them and developing a greater understanding of what it is they are searching for.  It sounds corny to say but seeing someone walk away delighted with the book they have just bought, whether it costs £10 or £10,000 is why we do what we do.  Or at least it should be.

NP: What do you personally collect?

EL: I am running out of wall space but I collect original posters - I’ve thought of just buying food related designs and original artwork but I’m failing miserably and just buy what my eyes like.  

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

EL: Rather than being inside the pages of any book I’d like to be the pages on which letters and documents were written; to see Thomas Clarkson pen his letters to Wilberforce or Dickens writing to his mistress Ellen Ternen or settling down at his desk to write another chapter of Great Expectations.

NP: Do you plan to take over the family business one day?

EL: Who knows what the future holds but at this point in time, yes, I see myself working here for a long time to come.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the trade?

EL: There are a lot of talented booksellers doing things their own way and with a great deal of style in their presentation.  For those setting out on their own, a small stock of scarce and unusual books seems to be the way things are heading.  In general, manuscript material and one-off items are certainly where the interest is; universities and collectors who have everything are now searching for background material to supplement existing collections.  I recently attended an excellent seminar on bookselling and the internet.  Although it has altered the way in which we can sell books and to whom, the fundamental relationship between collector and bookseller remains the most important part of our business.

NP: I understand your father will be chairman of the Olympia Book Fair in May.  Could you tell us about the fair and what you will be exhibiting there?

EL: Brian and his Committee - and ABA Events Organizer, Marianne Harwood - have worked hard to attract a record number of exhibitors in this time of financial austerity.  We look set for an exciting fair with a lecture programme, live demonstrations and activities including bookbinding and calligraphy, guided tours of the fair (for new collectors) and an ABA Roadshow valuing the hidden treasures among visitors’ books.  In the year of Charles Dickens’s bicentenary, we will be exhibiting items from our catalogue, The Library of a Dickensian, including the reading copy mentioned above and numerous other presentation copies and manuscripts.  We try to bring a wide variety of items to reflect our 18th and 19th c. stock - anything from Penny Dreadfuls to fine three-decker novels, political pamphlets to satirical prints.

[Be sure to check out the website for the Olympia Book Fair for further details on the programmes and events mentioned by Ed].

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Amir Naghib, proprietor of Captain Ahab’s Rare Books in Miami.

amir naghib.jpg
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AN: I think the first time I realized that books were special and had value was in my grandfather’s study as a child.  There were floor-to-ceiling shelves, all of them filled with books on every imaginable subject, and my grandfather was very specific about how important those books were.  I made my first rare book purchase while in college (an early jacketed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy), and I was more or less hooked after that.  Regardless of where I lived around the country, I’d haunt bookshops, library sales, and just about anywhere else I could scout for books.  I became a collector and a periodic seller of books, selling off books I scouted up in order to purchase volumes I really cared about.  Most of my education took place in large open shops, the types of places you could easily spend a day getting lost in.  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to establish good relationships with several dealers who offered sound advice regarding condition, scarcity and the like, and a number of these people had a hand in shaping the bookseller I am today.

NP: When did you open Captain Ahab’s and what do you specialize in?

AN: Between 2009 and 2010 I was working at a job I absolutely hated, and decided that working 60-70 hours a week and being miserable wasn’t for me.  I left my job, and a few months later I found myself at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, courtesy of a scholarship by Bibliopolis.  I figured setting up shop as “Amir Naghib Rare Books” would sound too self-involved, so in September of 2010 I started Captain Ahab’s Rare Books.  My first year was successful in many ways, and this year has exceeded my expectations thus far.  I focus on offering the things that interest me: literature, the Beats and counterculture material, crime fiction, important pulps, and science fiction.  I find myself buying more and more literature in Spanish and French.  Mostly, an item has to interest me for me to buy it, so I will often purchase material outside my focus area if I find it engaging or significant in some way.   

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

AN: Lately it’s been a lot more ‘etc.’ that I’ve been handling.  Over the last six months I’ve handled some wonderful pieces of illustration art related to important books.  The cover paintings for Charles Willeford’s Honey Gal and High Priest of California were both stunning, and it was a real treat to have those pass through my hands.  I recently purchased the original dustjacket artwork for the U.K. edition of Calvino’s The Path to the Nest of Spiders, and a recent consignment has brought us the painting for James Avati’s very first paperback cover (Worth Tuttle Hedden’s The Other Room).  In addition to being a stunning painting, it’s historically significant, as it’s also the first interracial cover painting in American publishing history.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AN: I stopped collecting when I decided to do this full-force.  There are certain books I keep for myself that were given to me as gifts, or that I have a strong emotional attachment to.  Since I largely purchase the sort of material I would want to collect anyway, I don’t really feel the need to hang on to things anymore.  I’ve also learned to be content with nice jacketed reprints of titles I want to keep; they’re a fraction of the price a First would cost me, and I’m able to justify keeping it.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AN: I love that on a daily basis I am able to handle some of the coolest stuff on earth.  I’m interested in nearly everything that passes through my hands, and the research that goes into cataloging is always intellectually stimulating.  There’s something gratifying about connecting with a customer who has overlapping interests, and being able to place something significant in proper and appreciative hands.  Mostly though, I’d say that my colleagues are the best part of the book trade.  Unlike nearly every other field I’ve worked in, I’ve found members of the trade to be a pleasant lot.  I’m constantly amazed at their willingness to lend a hand, whether it’s sharing knowledge or their experiences, or connecting you with a particular item or customer.  

NP: I see on your “About” page that you are also an avid reader.  What are some of your favorite texts?

AN: Since the first time I read it, I’ve always felt that The Count of Monte Cristo is more or less the most perfect novel ever written.  Some of my more contemporary favorites are Bukowski’s Post Office and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  I recently finished Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, and am currently working through Mickey Spillane’s early novels.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the rare book trade?

AN: Generally optimistic.  Judging by the growing number of younger dealers, I’d say the trade is steadily solidifying it’s future.  I’ve also been surprised by the growing number of younger collectors, and by what they choose to collect.  I think developing relationships with customers of all ages and being able to engage them and connect them with material they care about is a large part of what will continue to help our trade thrive.

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

AN: Either The Hobbit by Tolkien or Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  I’ve always love the epic sense of adventure in Tolkien’s books, and since I have a three year old wild thing at home, I’ve developed a new-found appreciation for the wild rumpus.

NP: Do you have a catalogue coming up soon?  How does one get on your mailing list?  (Will you be exhibiting at any upcoming book fairs?)

AN: The St. Petersburg Antiquarian Book Fair this past March was the first fair I exhibited at, and while we don’t have any other fair appearances planned for this year (wrapping up a Masters program and baby #2 on the way) we hope to exhibit more in the future.  I hope to have our first print catalogue out before the end of this year.  We do issue an E-List periodically, and anyone interested in receiving communication from us can contact us directly at  For anyone interested in specific subject areas, we have a Topic Notifier they can use through our website.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Erin Barry-Dutro of Royal Books in Baltimore.

erinbarrydutro.JPGNP: What is your role at Royal?

EBD: Kevin calls me his shortstop. I was hired to do cataloging and book fair administration, but, as Royal Books has a pretty small crew, I also fill in for all the other positions as needed: running the front desk, shipping packages, and on special occasions helping out in the bindery.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

EBD: My dad tells a mostly-apocryphal story about me growing up in which, while driving across country together in an RV, my parents had to continually tell me to stop reading and look around. I was one of those kids. I later received my BFA in Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, where as a student I worked repairing books in their Library Preservation department. I moved to Baltimore and found similar work at Johns Hopkins, until a particularly lucky Craigslist ad brought me to Royal Books.

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

EBD: I was especially excited to have had the opportunity to handle Peter Harrington’s first edition copy of The Great Gatsby in an exceptional example of that iconic jacket, but there are lots of things from our own stock that I love as well. We had a copy of Rita Hayworth’s calling card from when she was married to Orson Welles, and we currently have a particularly gorgeous copy of the paperback true first of One Hundred Years Of SolitudeA Computer Perspective signed by Charles and Ray Eames, and a handful of really awesome concert posters.

NP: What do you personally collect?

EBD: My dirty little secret is that I like to collect crummy paperbacks, including books that I term very loosely “Magical Realist,” cheesy Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Young Adult fiction (which as a genre I think becomes increasingly exciting). I can’t help it, I think paperbacks look really good on a shelf together. I also collect vintage sewing patterns, earrings, blue and white china, feathers, and by default my own artwork.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

EBD: I like the freedom existent in the rare book world that encourages a bookseller to dig deeply, do research on things, and collect what you love. I like the moment when you sell something you’re excited about to somebody who’s at least as excited about it as you are. I like that it doesn’t often require dressing fancy. I like that it feels like a big global community.

NP: Do you want to open up your own shop someday?  (And if so what would you like to specialize in?)

EBD: Who knows? The appeal of my own bookshop is certainly a siren call, but I have yet a lot of things to do in this world, many of which (I know this is blasphemous) probably have nothing to do with books at all. Were I to do so, it would probably include artist’s books, limited editions, and modern fiction both for adults and otherwise.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

EBD: I think that in some respects it’s inevitable that the economy will shift and degrade further, however I don’t think that this should be considered wholly negative. I think that there will always be a place for books and other works on paper; human beings love to use their sense of touch. I also believe that multiples and works on paper are especially culturally relevant right now. What remains for booksellers (and honestly, everyone) to figure out is how to navigate this territory. How I feel we best do this is what rare bookselling seems to me to always have had as its essence: sharing enthusiasm and knowledge of beautiful things with others who feel similarly.

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

EBD: The slightly absurdist nature of this question seriously appeals to me, but as a result it’s the one I’ve had to think hardest about. The fattest? You’d have lots of space to move around. One with lots and lots of pictures? Also a good choice. I think probably a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or Calvino’s Italian Folktales, would work nicely to keep things exciting, though.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Andrea Tomberg, proprietor of Tomberg Rare Books in Greenwich, Connecticut:

andrea tomberg.jpg
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AT: My first job after graduating from the University of Michigan was in a New York literary agency.  Although I loved the idea of the job, I couldn’t get accustomed to sitting behind a desk all day.  After a year, I returned to school to study for my masters in education. I taught elementary school and also received my post-masters degree in literacy so I could focus on teaching reading and writing.   After my son was born, I “retired,” and focused on book collecting and studying the trade.  I frequented estate sales and volunteered as a “pricer” for my local library’s book sales, which allowed me to handle a wide variety of books in varying conditions.  

NP: When did you open Tomberg Rare Books and what do you specialize in?

AT: I established my business in August 2011 after attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar on scholarship.  I had been selling a variety of books that I picked up at sales and was in need of a more formal education in the trade and some camaraderie among fellow booksellers.  After a compact week full of knowledge, I returned home and established Tomberg Rare Books.  I have a particular interest in the mimeo revolution, the Beats, The New York School, poetry and the 20th century avant-garde.  I am also interested in the art and music scenes from the 70s, 80s, 90s, especially in New York.  My goal is to become more curatorial in nature with the idea of putting together specific collections to offer for sale.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

AT: I had the opportunity to buy a small archive of The Kitchen, an alternative artist space started in the early 1970’s.  With an assortment of fliers, photos, announcements and press releases relating to different artists and various mediums, I have a great opportunity for research in an area and time period that I am interested in. 

NP: How did you first big fair go?

AT: I had the opportunity to work for Bill Schaberg of Athena Books during this year’s New York ABAA fair. He is a true master of the trade.  I watched Bill connect with customers and colleagues with a rare grace.  His level of professionalism and expertise is something I hope to achieve one day.  The book fair was a truly unbelievable experience.  The range and variety of materials demonstrates how wonderfully diverse the book trade is - and that there is always room to find your niche.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AT: I have a small Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe collection but the majority of books in my personal library are books on books, bookseller memoirs and books on the history of bookselling.  I also have many reference materials, bibliographies and enjoy collecting other booksellers’ catalogues.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AT: What I love about the book trade is that it allows me to follow my own interests and curiosities in a professional way.  I continue to learn about the trade and best practices through my relationships with other dealers.  There is such a luxury and freedom in being able to follow my own path. There are no dull moments.  I have met so many generous and supportive dealers whom have selflessly offered advice, wisdom and knowledge.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

AT: The book trade has a very definite future.  As our idea of the book evolves with today’s technology, collecting habits will change with it.  New book dealers will have the opportunity to discover new areas of collecting and possibly different types of items that better represent the current culture. In studying the decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it is obvious what an important role ephemera has taken - punk rock flyers, zines, and artist catalogues became the main sources for primary information.

NP: Tell us about the contents of your first catalogue and how to obtain a copy:

AT: My first catalog is now available to download as a PDF from my website. Readers interested in obtaining a printed copy can email me at or call (203) 223-5412.  Some highlights include: Ted Berrigan’s Living with Chris, William Burrough”s Valentine’s Day Reading, a complete set of Locus Solus, a Bob Dylan artists’ book, John Sinclair’s 1974 Michigan Marijuana Initiative, a few signed Ed Sanders, FY: A magazine of the arts, some small press ephemera, and the uncorrected page proof of the first edition of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.  Also included are signed women’s poetry and artists’ magazines.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Zoe Mindell of The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company in Pennsylvania:

zoe mindell photo.JPGNP: What is your role at PRBM?

ZM: Cataloguer, but at shops like ours everyone does a bit of everything -- invoicing, inventory, shelving, answering phones and email, cleaning, arranging gourmet cheese platters, and setting up party tents for summer soirees at the Arsenal.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

ZM: I grew up surrounded by enticing clutter: my mom’s textiles and books, my dad’s photographs and sheet music, antiques and tag sale stuff accumulated from weekend rummaging. When I was ten or eleven, I bought my first “old” book  -- one I easily remember because it was in French, and I couldn’t read it --  at a small shop in rural Vermont. But the real start of my career was in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College. I had decided to double major in Art History and Italian, and enrolled in an advanced literature survey spring semester of my first year. One bright Monday morning, our class met in the library for a presentation by Martin Antonetti, Smith’s Curator of Rare Books, on early editions of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. After class I asked Martin if he hired students, and worked as his assistant until graduation. During my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy, Martin needed eyes at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid to investigate a manuscript for his research, and suddenly I was on a plane to Spain.  More great opportunities followed, thanks again to Smith and Martin’s tutelage: a summer fellowship in Italy, an art history prize for research after college, and an internship in the Book Department at Christie’s London. I’m proud to say Smith College now has a Book Studies Concentration! When I came home from London, I worked part-time at Bloomsbury Auctions in New York, then landed a young cataloguer’s dream job with an antiquarian book dealer and moved from my rent-stabilized apartment on New York’s Lower East Side two hours south to Philadelphia.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

ZM: Last summer when I was planning a visit to Ireland, David Szewczyk suggested I call on someone he knew, the Keeper of Early Printed Books at Trinity College, Dublin. We spent two hours touring Trinity’s special collections, then sat at Dr. Charles Benson’s desk overlooking the bustling exhibition hall and talked. As our visit drew to a close, Dr. Benson disappeared behind a large case nearby and emerged holding a small stack of books for me to see, including a copy of Arrighi’s Coryciana (1524), the book that had been the very focal point of my research for Martin at Smith. And this copy was in a Grolier binding, with De Thou’s ownership signature. I’ll never forget that book. More recently, I catalogued a Kallierges Pindar (1515), the “editio romana” of Pindar’s epinician odes, a.k.a., “a very sexy book for very many reasons”. It was the first book printed in Greek at Rome, by a Greek expatriate at the palace press of the Pope’s banker.  Weeks later I was doing erotica (cataloguing), and stumbled onto Fanny Hill for the first time. That was a very sexy book for very different reasons.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ZM: Right now, everything affordable that appeals to me, including but not limited to booksellers’ catalogs, auction catalogs, exhibition catalogs, books on Italy and travels, books in Italian, old family photographs, romantic postcards, inscribed items, and other antiques that have some sign of a former life (vintage clothes, glassware...). Last summer I stopped by an outdoor flea market in Center City, Philadelphia, and spotted a Sotheby’s catalog with a familiar image on the cover: a poster on my apartment wall that my dad had picked up hitchhiking in France in 1970. An unremarkable volume in a dusty pile, that slim catalog suddenly meant everything to me and I bought it immediately. It was serendipity, like so much of the book business.

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?  If so, what would you like to specialize in?

ZM: Yes! But I’m very happy where I am right now. David Szewczyk and Cynthy Buffington are incredibly supportive, encouraging me to seek out books, book people, and educational opportunities. Thanks to their generosity, I have been attending a paleography workshop at the University of Pennsylvania; Philobiblon Club meetings; academic lectures; and will have completed three Rare Book School courses by the end of this year. Then, too, there’s learning about books and bookseller lore from David every day in the cataloguing office. We specialize in “Early books of Europe & the Americas” and “Other Rarities as Chance May Supply,” but my favorites to catalog and read are those that remind me of places and literature I’ve studied. Someday I’d like to specialize in books and manuscripts from the 15th-18th centuries that shed light on contemporary regional life, like cookbooks, day books, local histories, manuals, and small town presses. For now, I’m more than satisfied with the variety I see at PRB&M, and grateful to be working for a company that cares so much about books and “finding good homes” for them.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ZM: The ways in which we buy, sell, and read books are changing, but I’m not threatened by technology per se. Digital “books,” while useful and practical as data repositories, can’t compare with the sensual experience of reading as we’ve known it for centuries. It’s far less exciting to inherit a digital book, or see an image of an early ownership inscription, or cradle your Kindle fireside. And then there’s the matter of preservation. We have a responsibility to safeguard books like we do art. You wouldn’t just junk everything in the Louvre because you are able find images -- even very high quality images -- on the museum website, would you? As technology advances, I can only imagine and hope that books will become more valuable as vestiges of human experience, and pleasing tactile objects. That said, the future of the trade depends on collectors as much as booksellers, and our generation is already very much online. Our task now is to anticipate and prepare. Did I mention PRBM has a great website?

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Andrew Gaub of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books in Narberth, Pennsylvania:

NP: What is your role at Bruce McKittrick Rare Books?

AG: Like most small book businesses, I do a lot of everything: I catalog books, build the reference library, wrap packages, pay invoices, prepare for books fairs, visit clients, do research at local institutions, select beers to chill outside for a late night at the office... What I enjoy most is looking at books and buying books, and in that regard Bruce gives me considerable autonomy.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AG: After living in France for a year, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 2003 so my wife Lisa could begin her graduate work. I kept myself busy with a job at Borders, and there I met someone in the Master of Library Science program at Indiana University. He told me about his coursework and said that one of the M.L.S. tracks was rare books, which piqued my interest. I met with the director of the program Joel Silver, who told me that if I was serious about old books, I should study Latin and take all his courses; so I took all Joel’s courses and studied intensive Latin for four semesters. As I was closing in on my degree, I saw an Exlibris posting for a bookseller’s assistant in a firm outside of Philadelphia. I asked Joel if he knew anything the bookseller. He told me he knew Bruce McKittrick well and that if I wanted to continue to learn about old books, there was no one better to learn from in the trade. I applied in June, interviewed in July and began working with Bruce in August 2005.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

AG: That’s tough, so might I mention a few? I am very interested in fifteenth-century books, and we have handled a few unrecorded incunables. It’s exciting to do the typographic work and date the book and assign it to a press. My first purchase at auction was a German folio of a Boccaccio tale printed in Metz in 1500 with 96 half-page woodcuts, in its original calf-backed wooden board binding. I will never forget that book. A few years ago I bought a short treatise on making paper with common milkweed. In it the author promises to send seeds to those who write him. Our copy had the original seeds that the author sent to an amateur scientist. Very cool. I suppose one of the books I am most pleased to have bought and sold was William Turner’s The names of herbes (1548): the first modern botanical dictionary in English, John Evelyn’s copy in seventeenth-century calf. A true rarity, and a hell of a book.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AG: Books are very intimate objects and are always telling us something. I find it amazing to see the number of ways the same book can be interpreted and reinterpreted by different dealers, curators, collectors, scholars. I am humbled to be a part of that chain that in many cases is centuries old.

NP: What do you collect personally?

AG: I love to buy books by and about booksellers, but I wouldn’t call it a collection. As an undergrad I studied James Joyce extensively, even spending a month in Dublin at James Joyce Summer School in 2001. My university’s library was quite good on Joyce, so I had nearly all the books about him charged to me. I began buying these titles so I didn’t have to renew them or return them when recalled, and I still haven’t stopped buying them. My Joyce collection continues to grow and now includes, besides all the criticism, early editions of his works, comic books, movie posters and LPs.

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

AG: I don’t think so. This is my seventh year with the firm, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Bruce believes in books, and that is evident in the stock as well as in the reference library. It’s an inspiring work environment.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

AG: I’m a believer. One of the pleasures I have had in this business was lunch with great bookman Barney Rosenthal. He told me that when he started in the trade, all his seniors would lament about the good ol’ days (I think his father even told him that all the great books had already been sold). But then he said, “These are the good ol’ days”. I believe it. The enthusiasm and abilities of our young colleagues are inspiring. Great books are still available, if now more dear. Barney got it right: These are the good ol’ days.

Andrew will be at Booth D-8 during the 52nd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair. A catalog of the books he and Bruce will exhibit is available here.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Simon Beattie of Chesham, England.

SB reading.jpg
 NP: How did you get started in rare books?

SB: Although I had always wanted to do something with books, I became an antiquarian bookseller quite by accident.  I read German and Russian at Exeter University, graduating in 1997, after which I decided to stay on for another year and study for an MA in Lexicography.  As part of my course, I had a placement at Oxford University Press working on The Oxford Russian Dictionary, but come the summer of 1998, as there were no jobs going at OUP, I began to look for something else.  I didn’t look far.  There was a tiny advertisement in The Times: ‘leading antiquarian bookseller seeks good graduate to help catalogue books’.  I didn’t know what cataloguing meant, but I called the otherwise anonymous phone number (e-mail was still in its infancy) and got the address for my résumé: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 5-8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London.  I had an interview with Lord Parmoor, the then owner, and started work about a week later, all this being only about two weeks after leaving Exeter.
NP: When did you open Simon Beattie?  And what do you specialize in?

SB: At the beginning of 2010, and so far, so good.  I tell people European cultural history, which is a suitably broad category, but I suppose my real interest is cross-cultural material: translations of English and American literature, say, or things relating to musical performances abroad, anything which documents the spread of one culture into another.  What I really like to find is an original foreign literary work with links to the Anglophone world, or musical responses to events.  So I’ve had things like contemporary German poetry written following the execution of Charles I in 1649; a Russian song composed after the defeat of Napoleon in 1812; a German novel set among the Iroquois from 1799.  I don’t like to be bound by date, and am equally interested in the twentieth century as the sixteenth.  My goal is always to try to offer material which is interesting, perhaps curious, and hopefully something you’ve never seen before.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book you’ve handled?

SB: I suppose it’s got to be the most popular book from my first catalogue (I had seven orders): the cover told you it was a little pocket French-German dictionary, but open it up and you found it to be a saboteur’s manual, produced by the French Resistance c.1943.  It was a fascinating document, and a great object.  What was even more amazing was that I then found three more copies of the book, textually identical but all with different covers, which showed just how sophisticated the Resistance’s book production was in wartime France.  You can read about the book on my blog.
What do you love about the book trade?

SB: I’ve always enjoyed the process of matching books to people, helping to improve collections, both private and institutional, and I’d like to think that people are always pleased with the books they buy from me.  The book trade itself is very international, which I like; traveling round Europe in search of books, visiting customers in America, it’s all very enjoyable.
NP: You are known for your innovative catalogue design.  What are your thoughts on catalogues in general and what is your design process?

SB: Right from the start I wanted to do printed catalogues.  I could have just sold books by e-mail, sending out PDF lists of what I have, but book collectors like a book, a physical object that they can carry around, read on the bus, write comments on, or mark by turning over the corner of a page.  Because it is so easy now (and, of course, much cheaper) to create one’s own catalogues, in Word or whatever with a few scans dropped in, that is what many booksellers do, but the final product often looks homemade, with widows and orphans left dangling all over the place.  As booksellers we really ought to know better, about what constitutes good book design.  Producing a catalogue which jars the eye really doesn’t reflect well on what a bookseller knows about books.
For my catalogues, I wanted to do something different, a fresh approach.  Booksellers’ catalogues haven’t really changed very much in the last 100 years.  But book design has.  Just look at some of the wonderful things produced for library exhibitions.  It’s true, my catalogues take a little more time to produce, but I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to what I’m doing, from collectors, librarians and fellow booksellers (and six design awards to date, from both sides of the Atlantic).  They’re commercially successful, too: each of my four catalogues so far has sold over 90%.

Cover shot.jpg


Spread 4.jpg

NP: On that note, your minimalist approach to book fair booth exhibition was praised at the California Book Fair.  Any particular philosophy on booth design?

SB: Book fairs are a great leveler.  Everyone is given the same things to work with (cases, book shelves etc.).  How, in a fair of 200 booths, do you try and stand out?  I have a small stock, so I only brought 35 books.  Exhibiting fewer books leads, I think, to a cleaner stand; it lets you display the books properly, and gives them all a chance to be seen by potential buyers.  I suppose I really saw the fair as a public relations exercise, somewhere to meet new customers, show them the kind of thing I get in, and catch up with existing ones.  You can’t measure the success or otherwise of a fair by how many books you sell.  A good fair is really about people, not books.
NP: What do you personally collect?

SB: Books about Exeter Cathedral, as I sang in the Cathedral Choir there.  Fortunately, there are a finite number of books about it!
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

SB: I think the trade looks pretty healthy.  Every year sees new booksellers setting up on their own and, as this series has already pointed out, young booksellers starting out with established members of the trade.  There will always be doom-mongers bemoaning the lack of buyers, but I think that, if you have the right material, you can sell it.
NP: Do you have a new catalogue in the works?
SB: The next printed catalogue, which I’m working on at the moment, will be out later in the year.  If anyone would like to receive it, just let me know!  My next fair will probably be California in February.  You can follow what I’m up to before then on both Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to my blog.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Josh Niesse, proprietor of Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia. Underground Books will be celebrating its one year anniversary this weekend.

Josh Niesse UB Storefront.JPG
NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JN: Funnily, I feel like I could almost answer that question “I’m still getting ready to start.”  My collection of rare, collectible, genuinely antiquarian books is paltry, certainly by most ABAA member standards.  I probably have less than 150 books in the $50-$500 range, and none above that.  Really I’m trying to build a bookstore right now that is a reflection of my own interests and that seems to fill a gap in my community, and the development of the rare book portion of that store will be ongoing.  Underground Books has, as I see it, three split identities: a general purpose used bookshop with broad appeal; a radical bookstore with an emphasis on outsider politics, bohemianism, art, psychology, philosophy, etc.; and a rare/out-of-print/antiquarian bookshop.  It’s a little schizophrenic from the perspective of bookstore-identity, but it’s what I enjoy and the response has been positive. 

Until I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, I’d been operating “in the wilderness”.  I had no idea there was a whole world of scouts using hand scanners, nor did I have a connection to the world of serious booksellers.  A couple months before I opened, a friend connected me to Ken Mallory an ABAA dealer in Atlanta. Ken told me about CABS, and I promptly applied for a scholarship. I was offered several of the scholarships I applied for and ended up taking the ABE Books scholarship and headed out to Colorado Springs to have my eyes peeled open to see how incredibly little I knew about what I had just decided to do with my life.  Now I’m about a year in to having the open shop and am continually learning what an incredible novice I still am.

NP: When did you open Underground Books?  What do you specialize in?

JN: I opened the store on March 20th, 2011, with a big grand opening celebration. So many people had helped contribute to getting the space ready; it really was a community effort.  As for a specialty, I’m still very much working this out.  The strongest sections of my store are the philosophy and psychology sections.  The University of West Georgia here has one of the oldest and largest humanistic psychology programs in the country, and it brings a delightful collection of weirdos and intellectuals to our small town rural area. Lots of these folks end up sticking around and making this area their permanent home, and it’s given the town a bohemian and hippie undercurrent that’s unique for a small town in rural west Georgia. So this makes philosophy and psychology a natural specialization because of access to both supply and demand for these kinds of books.  My varied personal interests drive dreams of all sorts of unusual specializations, but really I’ve been so preoccupied with the day-to-day of managing the open shop, I’ve barely scratched the surface of exploring specializations. I’m inspired by ABE Books’ “Weird Book Room” and hope to work a lot more with “weird” books.

NP: Did you start off selling online, then open the brick-and-mortar store later?  How do you like having an open shop?

JN: Yes, I started online, but I wouldn’t want to go back to just web-based again.  Even though the storefront is far from a cash cow, it really does fill a vital community niche, and is tremendously rewarding.  If I’m going to be fool enough to sell books, I might as well be able to share the space I’m in with others who appreciate them as much as I do!

NP: From my understanding, you are part of an intentional community. Could you tell us a bit about that and how it plays into your bookselling life?

JN: To avoid a long discussion of what an intentional community is for those that may not know, I’ll just direct people to the website  Our group basically has a huge 100 year old house a couple blocks from Carrollton’s downtown square where Underground Books and the Alley Cat are located.  It has the flavor of a student housing cooperative meeting an artist colony. We garden, have shared meals, perform private backyard “underground” theatre in our marble paved courtyard (including in-house adaptations of The Princess Bride and Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume), make many household related decisions cooperatively, etc. We also have a sister property that is a small permaculture, off-the-grid eco-farm. 

Part of intentional community is creating spaces where something different from the mainstream norm can take place safely. I see my bookstore as an extension of that.  It’s become a local cultural community center, with lectures, author events, documentary screenings, and so on. I also helped spearhead a local movement this past fall when our small town conservative mayor banned the Rocky Horror Show from being performed at the community theatre. This made national news in Time magazine and is up for a DC watchdog group’s best 10 censorship stories of 2011.  I think bookstores should be outspoken advocates for free thought and expression.  Being interested in building intentional community informs all of this.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

JN: I’ve developed a soft spot for scarce occult books and secret society ephemera since opening the store, because they are both beautiful and mysterious.  I sold a gorgeous, huge, 2 volume set of The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus by Arthur Edward Waite.  It was a 1909 New York edition pirated from the 1890 London first. Just a couple weeks ago, I got a true first of Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls that I also consider a treasure in my store collection.

NP: What do you personally collect?

I’m starting to collect Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, just because I’m a huge fan of their zany literary strand.  I also really like what I call “fascist kitsch” - old red scare pamphlets, early 1900’s women’s marriage guides, stuff that seems crazy to us now but was in the mainstream of political acceptability in its time.  I like these because they’re such reminders of how fragile our liberties are, how it’s really not that long ago that what seems now like extreme right wing domination and control over women, minorities, gays, etc. was the norm. 

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JN: There’s so much.  Though I tend to find it annoying the way the bookseller old timers gripe about the industry dying off, I must also admit that I’m kind of attracted to the way that situates me in a kind of Don Quixote story.  Amazon and e-books are the windmills.  When I was first telling people that I was opening a bookstore, someone asked me, “Why don’t you just open a Blockbuster video?”  Nonetheless, there’s a certain romance and charm to the seeming futility of it all.

I also just love booksellers. I made some friends for life at CABS.  It’s not like booksellers aren’t looking to make a living - they are - but there’s also a genuine spirit of generosity that seems to permeate the field. And they’re crazy! Every last one of them I’ve met; you have to be, at least a little.  And they know how to party. As a bartender I didn’t expect a bunch of book nerds at CABS to be able to out-drink me, but man, book people can go all night. There’s such an aesthetic quality to books, their smell, their feel in your hands, it makes sense that book people would be such epicureans, drink too much, love rich foods, talk into the wee hours - they’re my people!

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

JN: There’s this great quote I’ve seen floating around Facebook from the master of trashy B-movies, John Waters: “We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t (sleep with) them.”  I love that sentiment.  I think we might be missing a great moment here as the old guard booksellers gripe about the death of collecting.  Honestly, being nerdy and smart is cooler and more hip than it’s ever been.  And those people love real, tangible books as much as ever, it’s just that tastes are changing. I think bookseller specializations just haven’t caught up with these seemingly fickle shifts. I want to see more exploration of the weirdo iconoclast edge of the book trade. There’s so much out there still to explore -we just have to get creative!

NP: What do you have in store for your one year anniversary?

JN: I have a live musical act from local phenoms and folk-country-hippie-punk-chicks The Opposite of Hee-Haw, snacks and refreshments from local watering hole and music venue the Alley Cat, kids art activities from my neighbor Blue Heron Art Studio, and a big sidewalk sale to try to move some inventory as well. We’ll hang out in the sweet little charming space, chat, eat food, drink coffee, talk about books and life, and enjoy some good music.  Then we’ll head to the Alley Cat for the grown-up late-night part of the celebration!
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Ashley Wildes at Between the Covers Rare Books in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

ashley 1.jpg
NP: What is your role at Between the Covers?

AW: The fairest cog in the machine. My official title is cataloger, but I do a little of everything around here from blogging to packing books. It’s good to have a grasp on how the whole system operates, ya know, for future coups and diabolical plans.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AW: It’s a long tragic tale involving recession, auto parts delivery, and waitressing before answering a call from elder cataloger Matt Histand about an opening at Between the Covers. I honestly hadn’t a clue that people bought rare books on this scale before entering into the trade a little over a year ago. I went to school for creative writing and classical guitar which meant that for two years after college I was taking on any job I could find. Then one day I found myself interviewing at BTC. The past year has been nothing if not life changing.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

AW: Recently we’ve acquired punk rock flyers from some really awesome shows, Social D playing with Black Flag and X; an early Bags gig. After being a novelist my dream job was being a rock journalist a la Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous. The punk flyers were my first big archive and I have been enamored with the process ever since. Holding those felt almost as awesome as seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College.  

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AW: I love that I can dye my hair purple. I’ve never had another job where I feel like I’m constantly learning and in such a relaxed environment. For better or worse I can work while being completely myself, as unfortunate as that may be for the poor souls I work with. The community I’ve found myself surrounded by is also pretty rad. It’s the only business I’ve been involved with where people who are supposed to be competitors actually help and encourage one other. They genuinely want to see their colleagues succeed. I’ve been privileged to have made amazing friends in the trade outside of BTC including Jonathan Kearns of Adrian Harrington Rare Books and most recently, Teri Osborn of William Reese and Co.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AW: My last blog was actually about collecting and I mentioned the top three categories in my assortment of oddities: Princess Leia action figures, Clash vinyl first pressings, and Sylvia Plath first editions. So if any adoring fans want to send me gifts, those are safe bets.


I hear you play in a punk band called Dear Althea -- could you tell us about that?

AW: Sure. Ever since discovering Nirvana when I was 8 I’ve been infatuated with music and when guitarist Dean DiCampli and I hit it off after an open mic that I hosted we knew we had to form something. We’ve been a Lennon/McCartney punk rock song-writing team ever since. Tom even takes guitar lessons from me now, so overwhelmed was he after witnessing the awe that is Dear Althea in concert. We’ve even enlisted fellow bookseller Andrew Gaub’s wife Lisa to join as our bassist.


Do you want to open your own bookshop someday?

AW: No. I’m sure people expect some grandiose idea of a shop full of amazing finds and clientele, but I already work in my dream store. I can’t imagine it gets better than this. 


Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

AW: In the immortal words of The Doors, “The future’s unwritten and the end is always near.” I’m too new to all of this to speculate much about what might happen in the future. One observation is that maybe sellers need to start thinking a little beyond books and I’ve already seen that happening. Concept pieces, such as archives and ephemera, are fantastic. That’s not to say there isn’t something to be said for the traditional rare book, but other forms of paper shouldn’t be disregarded.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Kara McLaughlin, proprietor of Little Sages in Cooper City, Florida. Little Sages will be exhibiting at its first book fair this weekend at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

KM: I’ve always had stacks of the darn things like little skylines... with a babe in arms, I found and sold an early Ian Fleming and something just lit.  I read everything about bookselling I could get my hands on, then after an inspiring trip to my first ABAA fair I high-tailed it to CABS. Cliche but true - they (the books) found me.

NP: When did you open Little Sages? And what is the significance of the name?

KM: Little Sages shipped it’s first title out in 2007. As to the name, I’d had it in mind before books materialized. The sage, as a Jungian or literary archetype, a kind and wise figure, waxing philosophical, sometimes magical, and often stepping aside (whether by choice or force) within a plot, allowing the hero to develop and actualize. The emphasis here on the diminutive adjective - not quite there yet - only ‘Little’ Sages are we, but I like the idea of revealing and guiding a seeker to the tools he may use in his journey.  

NP: What do you specialize in?

KM: Quite a generalist, but might I be a serial specialist as well? As of this moment: Esoterica. Bold, fearless women. Men who loved them. Revelations, books that will not be quiet. Illustrated books, book arts and pamphlets/ephemera or as I like to call it: weird, skinny crap.

NP: Any particular benefit or challenge to share about selling books in Florida?

KM: Confession time! Jealous: of attics and forgotten barns; secret nooks and an extra century or two that homesteaders and humidity would begrudge me. Geographically challenged unless I start deep sea diving for /really/ old crusty things. Bright side: there’s grass underfoot year round.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

KM: Perhaps not as interesting to me as the book is the seeker of the book, or more optimistically the finder - my favorite tales all have the common theme of ‘book-in-arms-of-rightful-keeper’, like the young woman in a small town, awaiting the book signed by her Great Aunt, Princess Atalie. She’s likely never purchased a ‘collectible’ book before, and perhaps won’t again,  but this book belongs to her -  it’s a piece of her family legacy, soon to come home.

NP: What do you personally collect?

KM: Hmm... lots of  titles end up with a small, penciled ‘pl’ (for personal library) - but they are not collected, just set aside for reading and exploration. In total candor - not too long ago I was so excited to break century barriers, I would keep tucking away the early 1800’s,  just chomping at the bit to hit 1799 (which I did) and then in one fell swoop, straight back to 1544. I can’t get enough pre-1850 frontispieces, the evocative etchings as if done in oil.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

KM: I get to hunt, gather, research and play archivist/curator - then release it back into the wild. Books and their relatives totally activate and enamor me - but the icing on the cake is the trade itself - like a tribe of brilliant, curious, intellectuals - that’s who you want at your dinner party, I’m telling you.  They are some dynamic, wonderful humans.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

KM: What will change I think are the trophies themselves, as well as the way they are sought. Seekers of the book will surely continue to need a little nudge in the right direction - I’m happy to oblige.  

NP: Do you have a catalogue / e-list in the works?

KM: I do! As soon as I notch this ‘first fair thing’ onto my belt I’ll be settling in at home and honing the ‘first catalog’ skills.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jesse Rossa, proprietor of Triolet Rare Books in Glendale, California:

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

JR: My path through the book world has been circuitous. While in retrospect it seems inevitable that I’d wind up on my own as a dealer that was not always the plan. As a kid I was a reader but more importantly a book lover, fussing with the arrangement of the books on my shelf. In college I studied printmaking, and did a tutorial with Leonard Baskin, but he and I talked about crows and intaglio and anatomy, not books. It wasn’t until 1996, when I met the bookbinder David Bourbeau, that I became fully immersed in the rare books world. During my two-year apprenticeship with David I learned binding and preservation techniques, and absorbed everything I could about hand-made books, letterpress printing, book people and bookmaking. My experience at the bindery led me to pursue a career as a special collections librarian, and I went on to get an MLIS at UCLA. While in graduate school I worked at Heritage Book Shop, which gave me the chance to handle and sell some of the highest-end books on the market. After working in several libraries in Los Angeles, I landed a job in the Special Collections Department at the University of Delaware Library in 2004. In addition to acquisitions and reference, I curated exhibits, including one on Ezra Pound for which I wrote a catalogue. A long-distance relationship led me to return to Los Angeles in 2010, where I worked for a photo-book dealer for a year before going out on my own.

NP: When did you open Triolet?

JR: Triolet was set up in the summer of 2011. My focus is nineteenth and twentieth century literature, but I also deal in photography, film, fine press, and art books, and I am open to anything interesting that comes along.

NP: As someone who has worked on both sides of the rare book spectrum, (librarian and dealer), do you have any thoughts to share on the divide?

JR: In 2005 I was asked to be on a panel at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association pre-conference called “Going Over to the Dark Side,” which brought together current dealers with librarians who had worked in the trade. The joke was that each side thought the other was the “dark side.” There has long been suspicion on both sides. I think the most important thing is that the dealer and the librarian, once established as colleagues (because that’s what they are), can mutually benefit from their association. Once collecting areas are defined the dealer can provide what you could call curatorial outsourcing--helping librarians build on existing collections or develop new ones. I am very interested in bridging the divide. I’m at the point in my career where I want to cultivate relationships. I’m thrilled to scout for certain things and work on building collections. It’s not just about making a sale. Budget cuts have arisen in the past several years, of course, and the days of the 1950s and 1960s when Larry Powell and others were building huge and magnificent collections in American institutions are over. With smaller budgets, and so much material being held already, collecting interests will expand and diversify in creative and unexpected ways. And as more and more information is available digitally, primary source material will be all the more special, and libraries will continue to serve as repositories and destinations for the rare and unique.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

JR: I’m always most excited by whatever it is I just found, but a couple of recent acquisitions stand out. More and more I find myself gravitating towards what I would call literary ephemera. I have a copy of Vicente Huidobro’s “Moulin,” which was printed as a laid-in supplement to an invitation to an exhibition of his work in Paris in 1922. Huidobro was active in the Dada and Surrealist movements and the poem is a calligram, shaped like a windmill, with the text in normal lines on the verso. I love that something this fragile and ephemeral has survived. Along those lines I recently acquired a flier announcing the publication of City Lights magazine in 1952, which preceded the bookshop and publisher and even Ferlinghetti’s involvement. It’s a Beat incunable, as it were.

NP: What do you personally collect?

JR: I’ve been collecting twentieth-century poetry for a while, but as I’ve made a full transition to the trade I find that I don’t really feel the need to own anything forever anymore--it’s enough to enjoy it while I have it and move it along. As the artist/bookseller Ben Kinmont said, “sometimes a nicer sculpture is to be able to provide a living for your family.”

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

JR: I love the daily sense of possibility--what am I going to find today? Who might call with a question or request today? What’s in this dusty box of paper? I love the pursuit of knowledge and the fact that knowledge is cumulative in the trade--every new book or item I handle is now something I know about. I like the collegiality and friendship of dealers and librarians, the chance to handle amazing objects and share them with people who feel the same way, and to be able to do it all on my own terms, for the most part.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

JR: I think there will be always be a market for unique and beautiful items. In the library world there is often talk of special collections departments having more in common with museums than with the rest of the library, and the book trade reflects a similar focus. Modern publishing is being drastically transformed, and newspapers and scientific journals will certainly almost fully transition to digital or online presentations. But who wants to look at a photo book, or poetry, on a device? And that’s not to mention the untold number of books that already exist in the world. Book collecting has always appealed to a narrow segment of the population and will continue to do so; younger people who grew up in the Internet age who have that certain inclination will still be enthralled by beautifully crafted books. But the nature of the trade has certainly changed, and I like Brian Cassidy’s thoughts on the curatorial role of the dealer. It’s something I’m trying to do as well. And as for younger dealers, this series of interviews is proof positive of the continuance of the trade.

Are you currently producing a catalogue or an e-list?

JR: I put together an e-list for the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair, at which I exhibited in early February 2012. It can be viewed on my website here. I don’t have a printed catalogue currently in the works but eventually I’d like to do the occasional one. Plenty of my books remain unlisted and I encourage people to contact me at info [at] trioletrarebooks [dot] com if they’re looking for specific things.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brooke Palmieri, a young American working in London for Sokol Books.

brooke.jpgNP: What is your role at Sokol Books?

BP: The ends of the job are to catalogue our stock in pre-1640 English and Continental books, but the means are paved with e-mails, InDesign, VAT returns, auction catalogues, etc. etc. I do whatever is necessary to keep day to day business running. It’s great to learn how to run a business, and the added bonus is, I’m serving my time in Admin in order to play with the old books later on in the day.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

BP: I was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, and I had this idea that dealing with original materials would give me a better sense of why Literature is sometimes written with a capital “L”. So before the start of the year I went to the Rare Book Library and asked for a job. John Pollack gave me one, and I’ve been gratefully losing sleep at night and waking up in the morning for this stuff ever since. From day one, John told me that the cardinal rule was that if you saw a book that interested you, you should stop what you were doing and spend time with it. You don’t often find that kind of generosity with 400 year old books at age 19, and it’s an experience I value more as time goes on. So now I’m a little closer to unlocking the mystery behind that capital “L” for Literature, and when I go back home to Philly now, visiting the library is as essential as visiting my parents.

Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

BP: I try to keep a blog about the things that interest me most:  But I’m very impressionable and so it’s usually the book I’m cataloguing at the moment. There is a copy of one of Jean Bodin’s (many) works on witchcraft: Le Feau des Demons et Sorciers on my desk at the moment. It’s the latest of several books on witchcraft and magic we’ve acquired, including Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft, a book that argues with Bodin. The 16th century has always been a draw for me because the disciplinary boundaries are very supple.  Bodin draws together everything from folk songs to medical recipes, psychological studies, astronomy and theology to make his point about the evils of magic, and in this case, with serious legal consequences he a hand in determining. It’s just goes to prove that in the 16th Century, you’ve got to be a Jack-of-all-trades, an ambition of mine which I think resonates with anyone in the book trade. Plus if all else fails I can make some money moonlighting as a palm reader.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BP: I don’t think I am rigorous or wealthy enough to call it collecting so much as “giving stuff a home”.  In addition to the clutter of books on books and poetry, the latest things under my roof are: 1) in-house newsletters by a Bristol stationary company, E. S. A. Robinson, about type and design and marketing paper bags (printing paper bags with logos is apparently “their idea” and it made them a fortune), and 2) After reading a book Television Horror Movie Hosts I have been on the lookout for any ephemera related to the regional American phenomenon that often found news anchors and weatherman pretending to be vampires on TV at night, especially John Zacherle. Finally, I have been trying with minor success to keep up with the Occupy movement. It’s the most exciting and important thing to happen to politics, and aside from the vitality of its message and the dialogue it’s created, much of the forcefulness comes from striking design. When content and form are unified in such bold ways as that, it’s important to start paying attention as well as to start archiving.


What do you love / hate about the book trade?

BP: Love: the sprawling community of experts in very diverse & strange fields. Hate: that the community is so sprawling, I only see some of my top 100 favorite people in the world once a year!!

NP: As an American living in London, what do you notice about the difference between bookselling in Britain and bookselling in America?

BP: The book trade here has a very rich dynastic history. Maggs, Quaritch, Sotheran, Pickering & Chatto all originate in the 18th and 19th centuries, and all have killer reference libraries and the benefit of accumulated wisdom, which gives quite a magnetism to the city when combined with the British Library and the major auction houses. In America the trade really smacks of Manifest Destiny: I have met many booksellers striking their own path from very diverse backgrounds. We all have a story of how we stumbled upon the book trade, and it’s usually stumbling that does it, but the influence of London makes for very distinct common ground (& work experience) between booksellers here, as opposed to in the States.

NP: Any expatriate American bookseller stories to share? 

BP: Rule Number One: Your Visa is Precious. Thanksgiving Day 2010: I’m all grown up & on the Eurostar to Paris to pick up a book we’d acquired. Having done an MA at Oxford the year before, I was traveling on the (now defunct) Tier 1 Post-Study Visa. It was otherwise a great day wandering around Pere Lachaise, the Gustav Moreau museum, Christmas shopping, and picking up the book. What could feel like more of an arrival into the glamorous world of antique bookdealing than this? Imagine my shock-horror later, when I was detained & interviewed for 4 hours at the Gare du Nord. In official terms I was ‘refused re-entry into the UK’, a serious catch-all term for many kinds of transgressions, some criminal, although in my case it was a bureaucratic mix-up.
Did I mention the book was a second edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? So I was stuck in Paris with a hundred thousand dollar book in my bag. Two things kept me from total meltdown that night: collating the book (I will never forget: *4 a-y8 z10 A-E8 F4) and trying to figure out the plot of a French-dubbed episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman with special guest star Johnny Cash. It was very dramatic. By the end of the weekend my partner had rescued me (actually maybe that’s what kept me from meltdown) and was headed back to London to deliver the book to Sokol. I was headed back to Philly to sort though piles of paper to send to the Border Agency. It took three months and lots of legal advice to fix things. Who would have thought the pursuit of one of the beauties of early Italian printing would have taught me so much about immigration law?

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday?

BP: Yes, but the gestation period for my ambition in that area has years to go, so there’s no knowing when or where it’ll happen. I have a lot of ideas, one is pairing artists’ books and fine press with older books. Mother books and daughter books. I am frequently struck by contemporary works that make me think: cite your sources! So that’s what I’ll do: I’ll take issues in intellectual history and render them visual.  I’ll be very heavy-handed and persnickity in the way I curate, using the order of the books to add new context and value to each of the individual titles across many time periods. Marc Jacobs does it with handbags and fashion books, I’ll do it with new books and old books. That’ll be Brooke’s Books. Or whatever I’ll call it. Community is important, so there will also be very many worthwhile parties, as often as possible.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

BP: The quality and quantity of other young booksellers you’ve interviewed on this blog answers this question much better than I.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Rob Fleck of Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Delaware. Rob’s father, Bob, founded Oak Knoll Books in 1976.

NP: Considering your father owns Oak Knoll, you must’ve grown up around old and rare books.  Did you develop an interest in rare books early in life?  Or did you come to it later?

RF: I actually wasn’t a big reader when I was a child. However, my interest for antiquarian books came with the subject matter. My grandfather was a war veteran from World War II (navigator on a B-24 based out of southern Italy) and I was lucky enough to have my grandparents move from Chicago to New Castle, DE when I was born. I was always around them as they only lived two blocks down the street. Anyway, because of him and his experience in WWII, I became fascinated with the history of the war. I started to read personal memoirs, historical accounts, and interviews which helped me build my (extremely small) library of books concerning WWII. I even have all 18 missions of my grandfather’s navigation logs, including a few training missions, which caused me to visit a few flea markets to see if any WWII memorabilia was for sale. Even though the official date of the war was from 1939 - 1945, not many books survived from that time period, making it that much more exciting!

NP: On a related note, did you always plan to go to work at Oak Knoll or did you consider other options / fields first?

RF: Well, I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Psychology because I was interested in the way people formed relationships and how those relationships affect them throughout life (my favorite psychologist to study was Erik Erikson). I always viewed myself as a ‘people-person’, so why not make a profession of it?


What do you personally collect?  And did you start collecting at a young age?

RF: Going back to my Grandfather, I love collecting WWII memorabilia. However, I am definitely interested in 17th and 18th century art, particularly portraits. I also enjoy Howard Pyle and John Schoonover, however who doesn’t like those talented Delaware artists?

NP: Favorite book (or etc) you’ve handled?

We had a lovely copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer in pig-skin and boards. I always found Kelmscott titles to be beautiful not just because of the extravagant woodcuts, but wanting to make the book more than just a reading object affected the book trade entirely. However, if you were to ask my father, I feel that he may say his page of the Gutenberg Bible that he had over 20 years ago would be pretty high up there as well.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

RF: For me the one thing that I love more about the book trade more than anything else is simple: the people. Going to book fairs is one of my favorite tasks to do for Oak Knoll. Many members of the ABAA/ILAB are extremely caring, nice, interesting individuals that all share the same interests. Very few of them don’t go out of their way to help you if you have a problem. Not to mention the countless amazing stories about bookselling and book collecting that are told around a shared bottle of wine.

NP: Do you plan to take over Oak Knoll Books one day, or to start your own venture?

RF: Absolutely! I feel that Oak Knoll will always have a place in antiquarian bookselling because of the subject matter in which we deal in. However, I have always been an avid home chef, and while some booksellers think that antiquarian books and food don’t mix very well, I think that it would create the ultimate ‘comfort food’ to have an antiquarian book store and a restaurant in the same establishment. However, this could just be some crazy idea from a young bookseller!

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

RF: It will get tougher, that’s for sure. I can see many of our bibliography titles migrating to free online databases, but many of our books aren’t necessarily about the content, it’s about the collectability. However, we have very good customers of ours whose collecting interests are strictly bibliography. Other subjects including bookbinding, printing, and typography, are collectible on their own. Books like these could have illustrations of bookbinding and printing tools, or big bold woodblock lettering that gives them that sex appeal.

NP: Tell us about your new catalogue, your involvement with it, and how to obtain a copy:

RF: Our newest general catalogue 298 actually came out in late January, 2012. We had some large (and very exciting) collections that came in during 2011 that we had to split up into multiple catalogues. Our newest special catalogue, #18, features a lovely collection of private press material that we got from a retired, but still practicing, lawyer from Washington, D.C. However, catalogue 299 will be completely designed by myself, typography and all, as I am somewhat familiar with typesetting programs such as Adobe InDesign. You can actually write an email to us at requesting a physical copy of a catalogue, or you may visit the catalogue section of our website.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brad and Jen Johnson, proprietors of The Bookshop in Covina, California.

NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

BJ: At the tender age of fifteen ­ before I knew any better ­ I answered an ad for an “apprentice bookseller” in my high school bulletin. This past December, I celebrated my 19th years in the trade. Jen, a former newspaper reporter and public relations executive, dove in headfirst when we purchased the shop. She was recently accepted as an Associate Member of the ABAA.

NP: When did you take over The Book Shop?

BJ: We purchased The Book Shop in October 2006 from Brad¹s mentor Roger Gozdecki, who now operates Anthology Rare Books in Pasadena, California.

NP: What roles do each of you play within the company?

BJ: We make an excellent team, and collaborate in many aspects of the business. Jen manages the finances and public relations, while I am responsible for the lion¹s share of the buying and cataloguing books.

NP: Tell us about your shop in Covina:

Established in 1981, The Book Shop is located in the heart of downtown Covina, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Our shop is open six days a week and houses an inventory of some 30,000 titles, ranging from the general second-hand to the truly antiquarian.

NP: Have you found it challenging to maintain a brick-and-mortar store in the age of online bookselling?

BJ: Like any small business, it can be challenging. However, we have found that as bookstores are closing around us, The Book Shop has become more of a destination for those who hunger for the opportunity to browse the stacks and let serendipity lead the way.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

BJ: First and foremost, the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge. We also love the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of placing a book in the right hands.

NP: Favorite book (or etc) you’ve handled?

BJ: A few years ago, we acquired an early 17th century English law text with a chained binding complete with the iron chain. More recently, we handled a great Edgar Allan Poe collection that included the February 1845 issue of The American Review containing the first appearance of The Raven.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BJ: We have a small collection of books either personally inscribed to us or handed down through generations. Brad tends toward ancient history and European noir, while Jen likes quirky books, such as “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods” (1910), a fantasy field guide to the mythical creatures of North America.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

BJ: Early in my bookselling career, I spent countless hours combing the pages of AB Bookman¹s Weekly. Now my days are web based. The trade is constantly evolving, but much remains the same. As booksellers, we are locating materials and constructing narratives around them that reflect their significance and scarcity. I feel as though my generations of booksellers are telling original and dynamic narratives that are inspiring new collectors while also respecting the traditions of the trade. As such, I am
bullish on the future of the trade.

NP: Tell us about your new collective catalogue and how to get a copy:

BJ: Our friends in the trade are like family to us, and we really look forward to every opportunity to come together and share our experiences, knowledge, and passion for what we do. It is in that spirit that The Collective came together.

As I recall, the idea was formed during a conversation I had with my brother Josh Mann of B&B Rare Books in New York during the 2011 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. The concept was to feature a small selection of books representative of each firms¹ inventory, while also generating excitement for the California book fairs this February. It was a lot fun working collaboratively and thanks to Jen¹s design skills, the final product looks fantastic.

You can obtain a copy of the collective by emailing and let him know if you would like to be mailed a hard copy or would like a PDF.

(Photo Credit: Teri Osborn)
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brian Cassidy, proprietor of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller in Silver Spring, Maryland:

Fine Books 006.JPG
 NP: How did you get started in rare books?

BC: Like a surprising number of rare book dealers, I started out as a poet. I earned an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1996. After graduating, I planned on teaching and writing. But as teaching positions were often part-time, I began supplementing my income by working in bookstores, the longest (almost five years) at Denver’s Tattered Cover. And it was while at the Tattered Cover that I began some amateur book scouting around Denver and Boulder in order to support my book buying habit. I became reasonably proficient at being able to trade books I could find cheaply for more expensive books I actually wanted. After my daughter was born, the idea of that scouting project writ large began to percolate in my mind.

NP: How did you transition from poetry to bookselling?

BC: I’ve had this conversation with other poet-booksellers, that poetry -- the serious writing and study of it -- is in many ways an excellent preparation for being a book dealer. In my case, I utilized my background in specializing to some extent in poetry and little magazines. But there is also something of the poetic mindset that I think is well-suited for bookselling. The creativity, the curiosity, the focus and attention I learned as a poet have all served me well as a dealer.

NP: When did you open Brian Cassidy, Bookseller?

BC: I established my business in May 2004, and worked out of my house while I stayed at home with my then three-year-old daughter. I sold mostly the books I accumulated while working in bookstores, along with a handful of better finds from my scouting days, and a few gems from my personal collection. It was largely a part-time venture until 2006 when I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Seminar and finally admitted to myself that this -- and not so much poetry or teaching -- was what I wanted to do with my life. Later that year, after a move to the west coast, I bought an existing bookshop in Monterey, CA and went full-time. I was accepted into the ABAA in 2008. In late 2009, my wife, a Naval officer, was transferred to a new job and I closed my shop and moved to the Washington D.C. area where I’ve worked since. I recently took office space in downtown Silver Spring, MD where I welcome visitors by chance and appointment.

NP: What do you specialize in?

BC: I like to say “the intrinsically interesting, unusual, and unique,” which is broad and vague enough to cover almost anything that strikes my fancy. I embrace the curatorial school of bookselling, meaning I see part of my job as sorting through the many books I could handle to find the ones I want to handle. Typically these are books or ephemera about which I feel I have something unique to say or some spin particular to me. Or they are merely items I think are wicked cool or that appeal or speak to me in some way. Which is not to say my own tastes don’t tend to coalesce around a few natural areas of focus - poetry, the mimeo revolution, the Beats, The New York School, the 20th century avant garde - or that I don’t buy and sell more ordinary books that find their way to me. However, I do attempt to maintain a healthy skepticism around the entire idea of “specialization.” I like to think that if I find something interesting, no matter what its particular genre or content, I can make it interesting to someone else as well.

For example, I am currently fascinated with what I term “folk, vernacular, and outsider books.” These are unique, typically handmade books - things like scrapbooks, albums, diaries, manuscripts and the like - that to my mind are the rough biblio-equivalent of folk and outsider art or vernacular photography. But these are often items that defy traditional categories of specialization. In large part that is what draws me to them.

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) you’ve handled?

I’ve been fortunate enough to handle some really fantastic Beat items. A few years ago I sold one of Jack Kerouac’s personal copies of Ann Charters’ bibliography of his work. It had Kerouac’s hand corrections throughout, as well as those of Ann and Sam Charters. It was something I scouted up (meaning it had little in the way of provenance) and took almost a year of research before I could authenticate it. It’s my favorite not only because of what it was intrinsically, but also because the entire process of researching and verifying its authenticity was both exhilarating and frustrating.

I also was very fond of a collection of original photographs and collages made by William S. Burroughs during the period he was writing NAKED LUNCH that Ken Lopez and I handled together. More recently, I sold two notebooks that belonged to Peter Orlovsky, one of which dated to the beginning of his relationship with Allen Ginsberg during the period Ginsberg was writing HOWL.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BC: I try to keep my own collecting minimal, practical, and as much as possible inexpensive. Otherwise the temptation to hold back material that flows through the business can be too great. To that end, like many booksellers, I collect books on books. Most of these are reference materials, bibliographies and the like. But I also like books on the history of bookselling, and have a special fondness for bookseller memoirs.

My largest personal collection by far, however, is books with compelling or revealing owner alterations. These can be anything from marginalia and inscriptions (non-authorial, non-association) to more outward changes. For example, I have a book that was in the Jonestown Flood. I look for books that physically tell a story about how they were used (or abused) by ordinary people.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

BC: That someone pushing 40 (I’m 39) could for the purposes of this interview be considered “young.”

But to take your question more seriously, I love that the business affords me the chance to constantly learn new things and how it allows me to follow and capitalize on my own interests and obsessions.

NP: Any thoughts to share on young collectors and the future of the book trade?

BC: When I hear older dealers lament the demise of the book, or how younger people don’t read etc., I honestly feel like we’re living in different worlds. People are interacting with the written word more now than at any time in human history - texts, email, blogs, the internet, ebooks, Kindles, etc. - and this can only bode well for the future of the book and collecting. Yes, the book and our concept of it is changing. And yes, collecting habits and interests will evolve with it. But the idea that people will stop collecting is nonsense. They’ll just collect different things. It will be up to new generations of dealers to recognize these emerging collecting areas as well as to take them up and promote them further - even to take the lead and make the argument for neglected corners of our cultural heritage.

Because at our core, book dealers have always been purveyors, not of books per se, but of culture. For a very long time, the book was the primary repository of that culture. As the infrastructure of our cultural ecosystem diversifies, however, so must what the book dealer handles. This will continue to mean everything from The King James Bible and the Kelmscott Chaucer to Hemingway and Stephen King. But it will also mean punk rock flyers and old computer manuals, zines and amateur photographs, home movies and video tapes, and maybe someday even Atari cartridges. Or Kindles. Or the archive of original HTML files to a seminal blog like Boing Boing. I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing “first editions” of landmark video games at bookfairs, for example.

NP: Tell us about your upcoming catalogue and how to obtain a copy:

BC: My sixth catalogue should be going to press shortly after you read this and be available by the second week of February. Some highlights include: a rare complete set of invitations to Andy Warhol’s first retrospective (from the estate of the exhibit’s curator), several good Beat associations, an original poster from Patti Smith’s first reading/performance, a complete set of original and striking silk-screens posters from the debut of John Cage’s HPSCHD, and a fascinating archive of notebooks and original art from a British trainspotter. Also poetry, the mimeo revolution, modern literature, the counterculture, and assorted other odds and ends. Readers interested in obtaining a copy and/or in being notified when it is available online can either email me at or join the mailing list by filling out the online form on my website.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with our youngest entry yet: twenty-two year old Ashley Loga of Lorne Bair Rare Books in Winchester, Virginia:

NP: What is your role at Lorne Bair Rare Books?

AL: Basically Lorne is Obi-Wan Kenobi and I’m his padawan.  I do a little bit of everything, from cataloging books to processing orders.  Lorne is having fun teaching me everything he knows.  Considering I just entered into this business a few months ago, I still have much to learn but I’m loving every minute of it. 

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

AL: All throughout high school, the only thing I ever wanted to do was own a bookstore.  After graduating from college this past spring, I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, hoping to learn something about running an open shop.  I went to the seminar knowing almost nothing about the antiquarian book trade nor what an antiquarian book truly was.  At the seminar, my world was flipped upside down.  Everything about the antiquarian book trade sounded amazing and exciting to me.  I like to imagine one of those comic strip moments with a little light bulb clicking on above my head.  My dreams of owning a used bookstore and café were quickly replaced by the antiquarian book trade.  After being wrapped up in a whirlwind of an auction for a dinner with the faculty of the seminar, an auction I wasn’t even planning on bidding in, Lorne offered me a job.  I jumped at the chance, moving from Jackson, Mississippi to Winchester, Virginia without a second thought.

NP: Favorite book you’ve handled?

AL: The most interesting book I have ever handled is a hand written journal from the early 1900’s. It was written by a young man traveling from Dayton, OH to San Francisco.  Not only is the writing enjoyable but he also included hand drawn maps, a sketch of a train’s side door sleeper and detailed budget and expense lists.  It is fascinating for me to be able to connect to someone through reading their own personal thoughts and experiences.  To me, the most interesting books are the ones with ownership history, ones which allow you to glean something about the previous owners.  Being able to share a connection with someone through a book is my favorite thing about this trade.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AL: I love the sense of community and partnership within the trade.  I find it charming and welcoming.  Being a veracious learner, I also love how I am always learning something new about each book and its contents through research and cataloging. 

NP: What do you personally collect?

AL: Personally, I have a slight fetish for antique trunks and boxes but in regards to my book collection there is no overall theme or genre linking them all.  I usually just pick up books that interest me or nice copies of my favorite books. 

NP: Do you want to open your own shop someday? (And if so, what would you like to specialize in?)

AL: For now, I’m just learning everything I can about the trade. I haven’t given much thought to owning my own shop someday but I do know I will be in the book trade for life.  It is definitely the career for me.  As for specialization, I’m currently learning everything I can about prison and prostitution literature. 

NP: I believe you are the youngest bookseller we’ve interviewed to date.  Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade from your vantage point?

AL: Being only 22, I am perhaps one of the youngest ones currently in the trade.  Personally, I am tired of this defeatist attitude.  I frequently come across people bemoaning the death of the business on the list-serves.  This frustrates me greatly.   Having a defeatist attitude only hinders the business and does not help it grow at all.  Everyone says that people my age do not collect but this is untrue.  I know quite a few people under the age of 30 who collect books and take pride in their collections.  I think this view partially comes from a disconnect with the older age group and the younger age group.  And partially from the fact that people my age do not have the funds to buy books on the higher end of prices.  Book fair advertisements need to not only target the older crowd through newspaper advertisements but also find new ways to target people in their 20s and 30s.  The customers’ desires are merely shifting: the business is not dying.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with David Eilenberger, our first southern bookseller, and the proprietor of Eilenberger Rare Books in Durham, North Carolina.

davideilenberger.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

DE: I was tending bar during the late 1990’s, near the end of my ill-fated graduate school career in European history. Doug O’Dell of Chapel Hill Rare Books was one of my regulars. Knowing of my interest in history and writing, he hired me as a cataloger. It was a wonderful experience. The shop was a treasure trove of manuscripts, photographs, maps, and ephemera as well as rare books, and I was quickly hooked. Doug was a shrewd businessman, but saw our mission as one of scholarship as well as profit. As a result, I had free reign to research the historical context of our most important items, sometimes above and beyond what might have been strictly necessary to sell the materials. For me, the work was not just a job, but a continuation of my education. And, I hope, this intellectual curiosity made for some interesting catalogs and helped sell a few books.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Dan Whitmore, proprietor of Whitmore Rare Books in Pasadena, California:

danny.jpg NP: How did you get started in rare books?

DW: I am a reader. I loved reading literature from an early age and realized during college, that I didn’t have the time to read all the books that I wanted to. As a result, I focused on the classics, although from several different genres: Russian, Victorian, Modern, Children’s, etc. While attending law school in Philadelphia, I stumbled upon a first edition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and I was hooked. My pursuit of modern firsts quickly outgrew the shops in Philadelphia and I had to venture further afield. I found Royal Books in Baltimore and was very impressed. The owner, Kevin Johnson, took the time to guide me in collecting and, later, would act as a mentor for me when I launched my own company.

NP: When did you open Whitmore Rare Books?

DW: My transition from collector into dealer was relatively rapid. I sold my first book in April of 2009 and then proceeded to sell on consignment for the remainder of the year. With much encouragement and support from my lovely wife, I gave notice about six months from my first book sale and was ready to sell under our own banner in early 2010.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Jonathan Smalter, proprietor of Yesterday’s Muse, in Webster, New York.  Jonathan just released his first catalogue, which is available to download here.jonathan-smalter.jpgNP: How did you get started as a bookseller?

JS: I began working in a used bookstore when I was 17, but I think my love of books started much earlier than that. The first memory I have is of my grandmother teaching me to properly turn the pages of a book. My first book-related job was all data entry, and I had a chance to handle a lot of interesting books. I was hooked.

NP: When did you open Yesterday’s Muse?

JS: Yesterday’s Muse has been in operation since 2002, when I literally began selling books out of my closet during college. I’ve been making a living doing this full-time since college, and opened a brick-and-mortar shop towards the end of 2008.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Matthew and Adrienne Raptis of Raptis Rare Books in Brattleboro, Vermont. They recently released their first catalogue, which we reviewed last week on the blog.

NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

AR: Matthew started collecting books when he was a young child. He was very interested in history, particularly the American Civil War, and started with a small collection of antiquarian books. His collection grew over the years to encompass many other fields, from literature to photography. The business in rare books was a natural development from his passions.

I came into the business by virtue of being married to Matthew, so it was less of a direct journey. My degrees are in the sciences, but I have always loved books and read voraciously. A funny thing is that I used to pretend when I was a child that I was a bookseller. We actually came across a photo this past year after we returned from the San Francisco book fair that shows me with my books fanned out in a very similar way to how our books our displayed when we are at a fair. It must have been destiny because I love this business and being surrounded by such amazing pieces of history.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Zhenya Dzhavgova, proprietor of ZH Books in Fremont, California:

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

ZD: My entering the rare books business was a bit accidental. Where I am from people do not generally buy and collect antiquarian books--not because they do not love books, but because they do not have the means to enjoy books as objects of art. Seven years ago, when I came to the US, I was absolutely astonished to find out how easy it is to purchase literary items and build a collection. I have been fascinated with books from a very early age and I have always loved to read, so I had amassed quite a library, including many reference and foreign language books, when I  stumbled upon some very interesting and uncommon books and ephemera at an estate sale. I decided to try to sell them and ZH BOOKS was born.

NP: Where are you from originally and what brought you to the States?

ZD: I am originally from Bulgaria and I came to the US seven years ago. There were many reasons as to why I decided to emigrate. Incidentally, when I was on my way to the airport to get on a plane to San Francisco, I saw a graffiti scrawl on a building, which summed up my reasoning for leaving nicely: “I love my land, but I do not much like the country.” In other words, I loved the people and the beauty of Bulgaria and I missed my family and friends, but there were no opportunities for young people there and life was very hard. I have built a new life for me here in the US, but I will always go back to visit and I will always be Bulgarian at heart.
Our series profiling young antiquarian booksellers continues today with Kent Tschanz of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City:

NP: What is your role within Ken Sanders Rare Books?

KT: I usually tell people I am the left hand. I buy books, price books, catalog books, produce catalogs, house-calls, institutional quotes, pack for fairs, and anything else that Ken would like.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

KT: I spent a good deal of time in bookstores in my late teens and early twenties, and one day I turned in an application at Sam Weller’s. I started by shelving the new arrivals and just stuck around for almost ten years, By the time I left I was doing some of the buying, helping with catalogs and manning the desk in the rare book room. I made a decision that I wanted to work for a smaller, more specialized shop. I knew Ken and I asked him for a job, and now six years later....
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner, the young proprietors of B&B Rare Books in New York City:

NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

SS: It was quite accidental! Josh and I met in college and moved to NYC after we graduated. I was starting a graduate school program and Josh was looking for work, and we were searching for our way to pay our rent and make extra money. We found antiquarian books for sale at a street sale one day, and it just clicked. Josh’s father was a book collector, so he had a basic knowledge of the collectible market, and we quickly learned about the value of first editions. We started purchasing books at estate sales in Queens and Long Island, and worked to sell them and meet customers online.
NP: When did you open B&B?

SS: We started selling books in 2003, but officially incorporated our business in 2005.

NP: What does B&B specialize in?

SS: 19th and 20th century English and American literature.
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.
Auction Guide