Articles by our staff and guests on all aspects of the rare book world.

October 26, 2011

Complicated Lives: Association Copies as Artifactual Evidence

Tom Congalton

[Delivered at the Caxton Club, March 19, 2011]

When I was asked to give this talk, it was suggested that I have a title, and I found this one suitably grand:

Complicated Lives: Association Copies as Artifactual Evidence; or an examination of how association copies can reinforce and expand our knowledge of authors and their familiars, with a further look at the alchemical processes whereby booksellers and collectors attempt to transform ink into gold.

Well, as I hadn’t written it yet, I’m not sure that that this speech has anything to do with this title, but thank you in advance for indulging me. In...

December 30, 2009

On Becoming a Specialist Dealer

by Tom Congalton

[Delivered at the 2005 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar]

When I was invited to speak here at the seminar as the "specialist dealer" I asked several of my colleagues what I was supposed to speak about, and received some, truth-be-told, dubious advice. Things like "talk about yourself, and then take questions" or "you know, books."

I can't thank the faculty enough for this helpful advice.

This assignment did however, give me cause to ruminate about the nature of booksellers — how some become specialists, why others remain staunch generalists, how these transitions are made, and what it all means to a young...

December 6, 2009

Bookselling in Hard Times: "Will work for rare books"

by Tom Congalton
On September 22, 2009, the Grolier Club held a day-long conference entitled "Books in Hard Times." The text that follows is a speech delivered there by Tom Congalton, one of three rare book dealers invited to speak.

Priding myself, as I do, on a majestic ignorance of bookselling history, I regret that I am unlikely to be able to provide you today with much of an historic overview of bookselling in hard times, beyond my own very personal experiences and observations.

In early 1987, I cast my fate to the wind and declared myself a full-time bookseller, after many years as a....
June 4, 2006

The Past, Present, and Future of the Antiquarian Book Trade

by Tom Congalton
In February 2006, at the Los Angeles Book Fair, Tom was asked to join four other distinguished booksellers in a panel discussion on the antiquarian book trade. Below are his notes for the discussion.

1. In your experience how has the antiquarian book trade changed in the past twenty-five years for small, medium and large antiquarian book firms? In your response please take into account the economic conditions of the trade for these years.

First of all I must say that twenty-five years ago I could have never predicted where I'd be today, let alone where an entire industry would...
April 30, 2006

Another Perspective on Dust-Jackets

by Tom Congalton

I read Julian Rota's article "The Fate and State of Removable Dust-Jackets" reporting on the conference of the same name held at the University of London, with the sort of fascination and enthusiasm that I usually reserve for articles on sordid sex scandals involving Hollywood starlets. I very much regret that I did not have the opportunity to attend the symposium, at which I have little doubt I would have been an appreciative and attentive attendee.

While I found all of the subjects upon which Julian Rota reported worthy of attention (and it sounds like a broad and useful array of...

April 29, 2006

The Messiah Factor in Bookselling

by Tom Congalton
A version of this text was originally delivered as a speech before the Fellowship of American Bibliographic Societies (FABS) at the Rowfant Club. The text is also reprinted in Book Talk: Essays on Books, Booksellers, Collecting, and Special Collections, edited by Robert H. Jackson and Carol Z. Rothkopf, published by Oak Knoll Press, and available through Between the Covers.

My first real entry into the antiquarian book world, was in the early 1970's, standing on line for library sales, where treasures could be purchased for a quarter or less. It was during the tedious hours of waiting where I had my...
April 28, 2006

Literary Baseball Novels

by Tom Congalton

The prices of literary baseball novels have consistently been strong because of additional collecting pressure from outside the traditional pool of first edition collectors, most obviously from the vast group of baseball and sports memorabilia collectors who might not be averse to adding a few favorite novels to their hoard of baseball cards and "bobbing head" dolls of favorite players. Virtually any reasonably literate (mostly) American (mostly) male might be considered a candidate to collect one or more of the novels listed in the accompanying article.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, although only peripherally a novel about baseball, stands...

April 28, 2006

Memoirs of a Lazy ABAA President

by Tom Congalton

When I began my term as ABAA President in April 2000, despite much helpful advice from several of my predecessors, I was a little unsure of what to expect, and from a personal viewpoint concerned how the time devoted to the position was going to effect my own business. I knew from six previous years on the Board that too much devotion to ABAA business could have a real effect on one's own income. With most ABAA member firms being sole proprietorships, or small corporations, with at best, small staffs, could a small business stand the extended loss of its...

April 28, 2006

Flaws Not Noted

by Tom Congalton

Collating modern first editions has generally been considered a "no-brainer" in the trade. There are seldom maps, plates or binder's half-titles to be accounted for. Knowledge of the bibliographical structure of a book was superfluous to ones ability to sell it, and most first edition dealers were, and are, pleased not to have the knowledge. Little more than making sure all the pages and the dustwrapper are present and largely untampered with was in the past was considered precaution enough. But with the maturation of the field, and the correspondingly high prices that twentieth-century highspots now bring, new problems have...

April 27, 2006

A First Time Exhibitor at Olympia

by Tom Congalton

Between the Covers Rare Books exhibited for the first time in the U.K. at the 2004 Olympia London Book Fair. The jury is still out as to whether we will return any time soon. I had previously visited the fair in 2002 while serving as president of the ABAA, the American booksellers association, in part to participate in an informal meeting of national presidents convened by then ILAB president Kay Craddock. This served as a perfect excuse to shop the fair, the London dealers, and the several PBFA fairs being held in conjunction with the big fair.

At that time...