Happy Birthday, Aphra Behn!

And if you’re just now asking yourself “Who in the world is Aphra Behn?” then this is surely the blog for you!

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When I was at University I took a course on the Renaissance/Restoration poets, and completely fell in love with Ms. Behn and John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. For those of you that don’t know, Restoration authors such as Aphra (sounds odd, but will use it anyway) and Rochester wrote in the time period of (roughly) 1660-1689. This was an interesting period of time, as Charles II had just been restored to the throne of England, and the focus in literature and poetry was on simplicity and the interesting mingling of human reasoning and natural passions. This gigantic shift from the Romantic form of literature seemed to happen almost overnight. And who was in the very throes of it? Why, Ms. Aphra Behn, of course!

Aphra Behn was born sometime in 1640, being baptized in December of that same year. Not much is known about Behn’s early life – which many believe she wanted, but being purposefully vague and misleading on such facts. Her biographer Janet Todd wrote that Behn “has a lethal combination of obscurity, secrecy and staginess which makes her an uneasy fit for any narrative, speculative or factual. She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks.” And certainly she was a mystery – she sometimes wrote under the pen name “Astrea” and though she was a well-known figure in the literary world, her life was a mystery to many. 

behn 1As a stout Stuart supporter, Behn became attached to the royal court after King Charles II came back into power in 1660. Now we get into the exciting (and more traceable) details of this woman’s life – in 1666 her connections to the crown landed her a job as a spy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and she arrived in the Netherlands in July of that year. However, her time there did not pan out as planned, as Charles II was extremely neglectful of payments – and Behn was forced to return to England after having to pawn some of her jewelry in order to live abroad. After her return to England, she began working as a playwright (though reportedly had written poetry prior to this job) for the King’s and Duke’s Companies in London. Her work as a scribe was popular, and her plays began to be seen on the stage in 1670  with The Forc’d Marriage and 1671 with The Amorous Prince. After her third play, The  Dutch Lover, was noted a flop, Behn traveled for three years before settling down once again to write – this time more comical works that proved infinitely more popular than her earlier works. The most popular and well-known of which is, of course, The Rover – premiering in 1677 and featuring a group of well-bred Englishmen’s amorous adventures in Naples at Carnival time. 

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Behn continued to write “ferociously”, as Todd notes. Over her (somewhat short) lifetime, Behn would write and stage 19 plays and translate/author other essays and poetry. She became one of the first “prolific, high-profile female dramatists in Britain” and was one of the most productive playwrights in Great Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden (Todd). She became friendly with the other playwrights and literary greats of the day, and moved in interesting circles for a woman of the times. As one of the first women to earn her living solely from writing, we women today have a great deal to thank her for!

behn4Publishing her famous novel Oroonoko just a year before her death in 1688, Behn truly wrote until her health completely deteriorated. Though she died at age 48 in relative poverty, Behn was buried in Westminster Abbey under her tombstone which reads, “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.” (Hilarious even in death…) Happy Birthday to this early feminist!

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Highlight on the 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Winner Ellen Saito and her business, Excelsa Scripta Rare Books!

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The 2018 Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship Award Winner Ellen Saito and Bibliography instructor Joel Silver this month at RBS.

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Welcome, Ellen! As the latest recipient of the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship to Joel Silver’s course at RBS, what were you most excited about, in terms of RBS? The class? Meeting more like-minded people?

Thrilled to secure the Tavistock scholarship, I was elated to attend this course as my first choice by far. For months, I was in a tizzy of anticipation of this course, ESSENTIAL to everyone in the rare book world. It was most exhilarating to meet Joel Silver, prominent librarian, kind and generous teacher and master storyteller, who shared his discerning knowledge of 350+ top rare book research sources, including their free websites and affordable reprints. Develop your inner librarian; you, too, can be privy to any topic related to rare books. Your lost invitation to a secret society for smart, down-to-earth and humorous adults has been found. You are most welcome to join this warm, embracing community. Applicants are sought. Scholarships and affordable housings abound. It is a bargain. Invest in yourself!

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What is your general impression of RBS? Did things run smoothly, were people enjoying their classes and themselves? Etc.

6RBS provides you with the ultimate learning environment. The faculty is a who’s who of rare book experts, who unselfishly divulge their secrets, meant to be shared further with others. Students are free to select their favorite course(s) only, but once you experience this wonderful place, you will want to return soon and often. There is no competition, no cramming, no grades. This is learning at its best. Hint: get to know your peers; they will be delightful and VERY helpful to you. The RBS staff made hard work look easy; everything ran without a hitch. People enjoyed their chosen course, each a shortcut to expertise garnered over a lifetime. Casual, well-attended get-togethers formed naturally during breaks; people were very happy to be there. It felt like a week-long vacation from reality.

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How did you like the course? As you, but possibly not everyone, knows – Vic offers a scholarship to this amazing Bibliography class every year! We love to see booksellers taking the time and effort to cite their sources properly – one mark of great bookseller, in our opinion! How did you find it?

Joel Silver.

Joel Silver.

I learned of the RBS at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) and enjoyed the course immensely! You might expect Joel Silver, professor of librarianship, to have a vast and deep database of detailed and accurate knowledge of all things book-related in his laptop. Wrong. It is all committed to MEMORY. Well worth the time, effort and tuition, this course is an excellent introduction to the RBS: just take notes as you like, while Joel Silver instructs you and keeps you laughing with astonishing real-life stories. Explore the clear RBS website. The RBS staff is truly helpful, so call in or email any questions. The online application requires a personal statement and CV, then you write an essay for Joel Silver – that’s it. You are considered for all RBS scholarships. Outside scholarships are available.

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The beautiful gardens at Monticello - Thomas Jeffersons home, just a short drive from RBS.

The beautiful gardens at Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home, just a short drive from RBS.

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Did you hear about any courses that were of interest to you you’d like to pursue in the coming years?

I am most interested in twelve courses: Introduction to Bookbinding, Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography, Illustration to 1900, Printing to 1800, Introduction to Typography, Provenance, Forgery (detection), Collection Development, Indigenous Sovereignty, Book History 200-2000, Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts and English Handwriting 1500-1750. I am currently doing the reading for Printed Books to 1800.

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Tell us a bit about your business!

Excelsa Scripta Rare Books, where “excelsa scripta” is Latin for “sublime writing,” is an online boutique bookstore specializing in social justice as a source of inspiration, while reaching back over the centuries. Emphasis is placed on historically significant books about striving for social and economic equality in a safer, more civilized world with better protection of freedoms and rights. Subjects that are prioritized include, but are not limited to: Women’s History, Black History and topics addressing civil disobedience, disability, poverty, L.G.B.T.Q., Native Americans, racism and ethnic cleansing. First editions in original bindings prevail. Expect truth in advertising and attention to customer care. Eco-friendly packaging products make use of recycled, renewable and biodegradable materials to support sustainability.

Thank you, Ellen!

More information on the scholarship can be found here.

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The Views of Voltaire, Pt. II

Now where did we leave off? Ah yes, Voltaire’s influential experiences in Great Britain during his self-imposed exile in 1727…

This time in England was an extremely eye-opening experience for Voltaire. He spent much of his time with the literary giants of the day (Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and the like), and began expressing his first interests in science. In fact, Voltaire was most likely an attendee of Sir Isaac Newton’s funeral in 1727. He continued publishing throughout this time – essays, poems and letters on government, religion, literature and science. Upon his return to France, he was able to invest some capital wisely and became a wealthy, and more refined, citizen of his home country. However, his love for England is obvious throughout his work – he considered their government and practices more refined – he cared more for the constitutional monarchy of Britain rather than the absolute monarchy of France. He favored democracy and free speech, and was not religious, nor overtly political. His interest in politics lay in writing – and write he did.

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Over his life, Voltaire wrote over 20,000 letters and published over 2,000 books, essays, poems and pamphlets. He used his chosen platform to criticize and satirize and praise all in turn. He spent a good deal of the second half of his life living with his mistress Émilie du Châtelet, a wildly intelligent married woman with three children who spent her life reading, translating and writing natural science texts. She and Voltaire lived together openly with her husband for 16 years. After their affair ran its course, Voltaire spent his time living in Prussia, Switzerland, and eventually bought a large estate on the Franco-Swiss border in which he lived with his niece. In 1759 he published his work Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide, or Optimism), and its popularity at the time has remained until today – it being Voltaire’s most distinguished work. In 1964 he published a great philosophical work entitled the Dictionnaire philosophique, a “series of articles mainly on Christian history and dogmas” – in which he made his thoughts on religion apparent. His historical works [such as the History of Charles XII (1731), The Age of Louis XIV (1751), and his Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations (1756)] were some of the first to break the tradition of narrating solely military and political events and instead focused on society and customs throughout time – looking at great art and advances in science through the ages. As we have mentioned he was prolific at epic poetry, though his prose work (essays and letters) make up the bulk of his copious publications. He was friends with Benjamin Franklin, admired and criticized Shakespeare in turns, and lived to the age of 83 – an old age indeed for his time.

So what is it that makes Voltaire the household name he is today?

I’ll get back to you on that soon… I have over 2,000 publications to read before I let you know!

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Who is… Thomas Mann?

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Today is Thomas Mann’s birthday!

For those of you who did not know enough about this exceptional German author, why don’t you take a few minutes and read our quick facts below? We had more than an interesting time of it researching this man – we are sure you will find the facts as intriguing as we did!

1. Thomas Mann was the younger of two sons born to a bourgeois German family in 1875.

2. Thomas Mann and his mother and elder brother moved to Munich following the death of his father in 1891.

3. Thomas Mann began his studies (like so many talented writers we seem to know of) in training for a career in journalism.

4. Thomas Mann married at the age of 30 and his wife bore him 6 children.

5. Having emigrated to the United States with some of his most popular works behind him, he began teaching at Princeton in 1939.

Sounds like a pretty average Joe, right?

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WRONG.

Now get ready for the real facts. The facts that make this author someone to admire…

1. Thomas Mann’s elder brother was author Heinrich Mann, another notable German author known for his criticisms of fascist regimes. Three of Mann’s 6 children also grew up to be widely known and read writers.

2. Thomas Mann wrote his first novel in 1901 when he was only 26. His novel Buddenbrooks, based on his life growing up, would win him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929.

3. In 1912 Mann and his wife Katia moved to Switzerland and lived in a sanatorium (which was apparently a very inspiring place, as it helped fuel his work on Joseph and His Brothers.

Thomas Mann + Einstein / Foto 1938

4. In 1933 Mann’s eldest two children wrote to their parents from Munich, advising them that because of their beliefs and outspoken distaste for fascism and the like it would be a dangerous place for them to return to. Hence their emigration to the United States in 1939.

5. Due to his openly anti-Nazi beliefs, Mann was approached in 1939 to record anti-Hitler broadcasts, in the German tongue, to be broadcast furtively to the German people over the radio. His 8-minute recordings were widely received and well-known. In one of his most noted speeches giving hope to those living under the Nazi-regime, he made the famous claim, “The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.” Burn!

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Now, this blog isn’t to say that Mann was a perfect specimen. People criticized his speeches for certain reasons, and in the McCarthy era he was condemned for being associated with peace organizations that were being criticized for being “Communist fronts.” (Cause we all know the Red Scare was legit.) However, despite the problems people might find with him… we all must agree – pretty radical guy, no???

Happy Birthday, Thomas Mann!

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The Views of Voltaire, Pt I.

Voltaire is a household name. There is no doubt about it – I am sure (meaning I hope very, very strongly) that even the latest generation learn about Voltaire in school. Why else would we know that occasionally dropping his name makes you sound really smart?

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Just kidding! But honestly – let’s look at why Voltaire is such a well-known figure and what exactly his name stands for when used today. For example, one of my closest friends recently exclaimed to me that Voltaire was the god of those who had been bullied in school. His reasoning? “Voltaire could humiliate a king to his face, yet he was so clever that he always got away with it.”  High praise indeed! With a comment like that, how could you not find out everything you could about this prolific writer, eminent historian and witty philosopher?

Voltaire was not always Voltaire. He was born the youngest of five children to a French lawyer/treasury official and christened François-Marie Arouet in 1694. His family referred to him as “Zozo.” After finishing his education at the College Louis-le-Grand, Voltaire moved to Paris and pretended to work as a lawyer to appease his father while all the while spending his time writing. His young adulthood seems to be riddled with these instances – the boy playing the disreputable and difficult son and the father stepping in to “save the day.” After his father discovered his initial trickery, he sent him to study law once more, this time in Normandy. After his father was able to get him a job with the French ambassador to the Netherlands, Arouet began an affair with a French prostitute that resulted in immense scandal… once more subjecting him to his father’s rule and ending with his imminent return to France.

voltaire1Now, Voltaire’s early life does not necessarily reflect my friends insistence that Voltaire “always got away with it.” As a matter of fact… he totally didn’t. Voltaire spent almost a year imprisoned in the Bastille for accusing a member of the royal family of incest with his daughter in a satirical poem (I mean… what exactly did he expect?). Seven months after his release in 1718, however, his play Oedipus debuted at the Comédie-Française in Paris a spectacular success. Not only did it land Voltaire on the literary map (for something other than scandal), but it also marked the first time he used his pen name – Voltaire, an anagram of the Latin spelling of his surname, AROVET LI (though there are several schools of thought for how Voltaire settled on “Voltaire”). Despite the importance of this name today, what is not necessarily commonly known is that throughout his lifetime Voltaire wrote under 178 different pen names.

If you’re wondering if you’re not sure you read that correctly I’ll say it again…178 pen names! That is a LOT of names! Let’s talk about how prolific Voltaire really was… for as you will easily learn Voltaire is to this day one of the most prolific writers that ever lived. After the success of Oedipus, Voltaire released two plays in 1720 and 1724 respectively, entitled Artemire and Mariamne – both considered flops today (and at the time as well – only fragments of Artemire exist today). However, an epic poem he was denied permission to publish about King Henry IV of France was a great success after Voltaire went to great lengths (traveling all the way back up to the Netherlands) to have published secretively. Soon after, Voltaire spent two years in England in exile – after challenging nobleman Rohan-Chabot to a duel and being imprisoned prematurely once again in the Bastille, Voltaire himself came up with the idea of his exile instead…

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Continued soon with The Views of Voltaire, Pt. II!

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To Neverland… and Beyond!

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Would you imagine that the person who wrote this somewhat jarring quote above also once wrote,

“‘Wendy,’ Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, ‘Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.’”?

Well you might be surprised to find out that indeed it was the very same author. J.M. Barrie was a man of many talents (not least of which being so obviously a feminist before his time)!

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James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9th, 1860, the ninth of ten children born to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver in Kirriemuir, Scotland. James had a happy childhood until he was 6, when his elder brother died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. His mother was confined to her bedroom for months on end, ill with grief. Barrie tried to cheer her up by dressing in David’s clothes and walking around as him. Though by doing so he scared his mother out of her wits, their relationship was eventually strengthened by it. For the next couple years, before James was sent away to school, he and his mother shared a love of literature – reading aloud works like Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Walter Scott. 

Throughout his youth Barrie remained a voracious reader – and even formed a drama group with his friends during his teenage years. He left school wanting to become an author, and despite pressure from his family to join the religious order, he was able to attend university and study literature! After graduating the University of Edinburgh he worked for over a year as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal, and then returned home to his mother in Kirriemuir and began writing her childhood stories into a series eventually named “Thrums”. The editor of the St. James’s Gazette in London liked the series so much that he commissioned and published these stories. Though now not Barrie’s most popular work, these stories made him a well-known figure in the literary world and allowed him to begin writing plays – as he wanted.

barrie5Barrie wrote several successful plays (and a couple flukes), but his third script brought him into contact with a young actress of the day – Mary Ansell – who would later, in 1894, become Barrie’s wife. For their union Barrie gifted Mary a St. Bernard puppy – who would become the inspiration for “Nana” in later years. They settled in London but kept a country home in Farnham, Surrey. In 1897 Barrie became acquainted with a nearby family – the Llewelyn Davies family.  Barrie spent most of his free time with the family – and despite this relationship being depicted in movies and tv these days, it was a bit different than we see! Barrie met the family when the father Arthur was still alive, and was there for the five sons through the death of their father and eventually their mother, prematurely. Around this time Barrie unfortunately found his 10-year marriage falling apart. Amid rumors that their marriage was never consummated, Barrie’s wife took a lover twenty years her junior – Gilbert Cannan – an acquaintance of Barrie’s through theatrical politics. Barrie and Ansell’s marriage ended in divorce, though Barrie continued to support Mary throughout her subsequent marriage to Cannan and for the rest of her life. 

barrie2Inspired largely by the stories he told to the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie began to formulate a story of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, who flew around and had adventures. Not unlike Charles Dodgson’s Alice a century before, Barrie began to write his story into a play and once debuted in 1904, the play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was an immediate success. George Bernard Shaw said of the performance, “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children, but really a play for grown-up people” – a wonderful description of the meanings and metaphors found in Peter Pan. Though children may see the adventure story on the outside, the adults in the audience could see what was really at play (pun intended) – Barrie’s social commentary on the adult’s fear of time and growing old and losing their childish innocence and fun, to name just a few.

After Sylvia’s death in  1910, she named Barrie as co-guardian of the boys, along with her mother. Barrie remained close to the boys all their lives (though tragically two of the elder sons died young and Barrie seemed to suffer the trauma of losing a child). In 1911 Barrie wrote the novel Peter and Wendy as a follow up to the play, and in 1929 he donated all the proceeds from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London – which the hospital still holds to this day. 

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Barrie continued to write several plays until his death in 1937 – though to hear the names of them, you wouldn’t think to associate them with the author of Peter Pan! Titles like Pantaloon (1905), Half an Hour (1913), A Kiss for Cinderella (1916), Shakespeare’s Legacy (1916), Mary Rose (1920), Cricket (1926), and The Boy David (1936) are some of the few that stand out, but are among dozens. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 77 from pneumonia in a London nursing home.

To the author of (arguably) the most beloved children’s story of all time (that wasn’t really intended for children), we have one thing to say to you on your birthday…

we hope that second star to the right is everything you imagined for all of us! 

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Tavistock Books Welcomes Samm Fricke to the Team!

Tavistock Books welcomes its newest member into the fold – Ms. Samm Fricke! After over a decade of experience in new/used book business, Samm is beginning the next phase of her life in the antiquarian book business – a step we are happy to watch her take, right here at Tavistock Books!

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Where are you from? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Sonoma County, Ca.  I have worked in bookstores on the West Coast and East Coast for about 10 years.  I started this bookstore career endeavor after graduating high school when I concluded I did not want to go to college. My thought was why would I pay to learn and most likely go into debt when I can read what I want when I want and still make a living.  I don’t regret this decision.   Though most of these have been “new” bookstores, it was in Philadelphia where I finally started working at a general used bookstore as well as a public library, something I wanted to try for some time.

What is your favorite book and why? Do you have a favorite literary genre?

I have never been one to narrow things down to one favorite, whether a book, a record or a food.  I love the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, I do have the words ‘don’t panic’ tattooed on me.  Audre Lorde is a personal hero for me, Sister Outsider changed the way I think and move through the world; especially the essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.  To sum it up though: literary fiction, science fiction, essays/criticism, social politics and music genre/musician biographies.

What drew you to rare books in the beginning? We know that this is not your first job in the book world, but it is your first job in the antiquarian book world! Tell us more about your book journey.

To be honest, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to antiquarian books specially, I was drawn to the book trade as a whole.  Being from the Bay Area I see technology exploding and the printed word is dying (though there are many people bring it back and preserving it now).  I started by getting a bookstore job instead of going to college but then that lead me to meet other book nerds, women who have been slinging books for 20 years, authors (local and well-kown) next thing I knew I was engulfed in a the multi-demensional world of books.  I told myself I wanted to dapple in a little bit everything regarding books and the printed word before I conclude what type of work I wanted to start on my own in the field.  So far I am moving right along.  I started with Copperfield’s in Sonoma County, then moved to Books, Inc. in Alameda for 8 years.  It was through Books, Inc. I met Michael Grant (childrens’ author of the GONE series) where I worked as his email assistant for a couple years. 

I moved to Brooklyn, NY in 2010 where I got a job at BookCourt in downtown Brooklyn, a family run literary bookshop.  After I came back from NY, I changed it up and worked as a secretary for a veterinarian (I also love animals!).  I needed to reassess, I needed to move onto something besides ‘new’ books. I then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I got a job with Curtis Kise at Neighborhood Books. He ran a general used book shop and he really taught me a lot in the year I worked with him. It was very different from the new book stores I had been working. As that was part-time I also (luckily!) got a job at a small community library- another side of books I wanted to explore.  Now I am back in the East Bay giving antiquarian books a try, so far it is not disappointing! 

What would you say is the neatest or most interesting bookstore/library that you have ever been inside of? What would you consider the most interesting book or item you’ve ever been exposed to in the antiquarian trade?

I have been visiting bookstores for years, in every city I have been in.  An independent bookstore is a work of art, it caters to a neighborhood, a specific genre or shows the personality of the owner/buyer.  Each one is unique, it’s difficult to pick one.  The big ones, The Strand and Powell’s are obviously amazing, but the smaller,  more intimate ones are very special to me i.e Modern Times (closed), Green Apple, Pegasus etc.   As for libraries, I use them regularly and visit them in each city.  They always strike me with their beauty, especially the older, main branches.  I actually have a favorite spot in the Oakland Public Library downtown, a hidden table in a corner by a window where I go to read or work.  The staircase at the Philadelphia Library (main branch) always makes me feel like royalty when walking it! 

As for the most interesting item or book I have seen in the antiquarian trade, I would have to say some art books and the local history books/items.  But honestly I have not been in the trade long enough to answer that question fully.

What are you most looking forward to with the position at Tavistock Books?  

There is so much I am looking forward to!  Cataloguing books will fill my desire and love for research, getting exposed to new titles that interest me that I otherwise would not have known existed and learning about book and paper production- I have a special interest in book making and repairing!

What do you think will be the toughest part of learning the antiquarian book business? And what do you think will be easy? 

The toughest part, based on what I have experienced in the past month with Tavistock Books, is learning all the different parts and materials of the books.  Pretty much just mastering the ABC for Book Collectors by John Cater.  Vic gave me this as required reading when I started and I just need to apply the terms and hold in my hands examples of them, which will come with time. The easiest is how to research titles, once I know all the resources I think it will be really fun and easy to gather information and pricing on titles.

Where do you eventually hope to take the position? Are you planning on using your knowledge of the book trade to open a business yourself one day, etc?

Like I mentioned earlier, I am trying out all the moving parts of the book business.  But I would like to open my own store some day, not sure much more beyond that. I am still in my learning stages, I think Tavistock Books is a great place to start in the antiquarian trade and I feel  honored that Vic gave me chance!

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Samm’s first foray into Tavistock Books was to recently assist Vic at the March Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair!

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