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As countless collectors know, there are many different kinds of bindings in the book world. At times, the sheer number of binding styles and types can be almost overwhelming… is it leather, or some other kind of animal skin? Was type of cloth is that? Being able to decipher exactly what it is is just one of the many talents a bookseller or bibliophile must have in order to run their business.
One of the fantastic things about bookbinding is its permuting nature throughout time. Today, the verb “bookbinding” consists of many different kinds of work – often time restoration and book repairs, creating special housings for items of great significance or a fragile nature, and constructing unique forms of boards or wrappers for certain items. Today, we would like to shine some light on this last aspect of bookbinding… an artistic, one-of-a-kind specialty that many know as “Designer Bindings.” Designer Bookbinders use all kinds of book-arts (printing, paper making and decorating, hand-drawn illustrations, calligraphy, and hand-binding) to create a book as a work of art. These books and art pieces are widely collected and held in high-esteem, as no two are exactly alike – they are unique as they have been designed particularly for that one book.
One slightly problematic aspect of designer bindings is that there is not necessarily one true definition of a designer binding. Since the bindings can be done in a variety of ways using a significant variety of techniques, there cannot be a limiting definition to the art. However, one could argue that a definition would entail certain broad specifications, such as being hand-made and unique to other copies in some way. Designer bookbinders produce their own artistic books, and then do all the work themselves – the sewing, the paper placement, the boards, the arrangement of images and illustrations – all of these artistic interpretations are the designers’ own, though they often reflect (sometimes however abstractly) the content of the book itself.
Though there are not a great many bookbinders in the world, often those that pursue the craft professionally are quite talented. They are able to find jobs in libraries or other government institutions, private workshops or bookshops – though the great binders seem to work for themselves alone! Some of the most talented in this day and age are binders Susan Allix, Paul Delrue and Julie Stackpole. London designer Allix uses the book “as a creative medium,” the limited editions from her private press are made with “original prints, letterpress printing and hand binding to achieve a harmonious artwork.” Most of her limited edition runs come in at under 50 copies – all of which are entirely handmade. Paul Delrue lives and works in Ruthin, Wales where while working on many designer bindings each year, he also supports and mentors numerous binders in traditional book bindings techniques. Julie Stackpole is an American bookbinder who specializes in creative fine binding using “centuries-old traditional techniques, but with a design suited to each book, [she] creates a one-of-a-kind find binding that expresses the book’s subject, graphics, time period and illustrations, thus making it… a 4-D art form.” One of the more important book binders in history was a French man by the name of Leon Gruel who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Sarah Prideaux’s book “Bookbinders and their Craft”, the expert states that the Gruel bookbinding business has always been known to be the best “for initiative in artistic matters, as well as for irreproachable execution in the detail of its many-sided achievements.”
Many bookbinders make a point of stating how their works are made to reflect the content of the book they are binding. In their own style, of course (one that could be very abstract), but still there is the single factor in a myriad of definitions for designer binding that the binding must be stylistic, unique and, most-likely, reflective of the work itself. In any case, Designer Bindings are at one time a book, a work of art, and a unique collector’s item… all rolled into one! During the holiday season be on the lookout for our next Catalogue – offering many beautifully created Designer Bindings!
Many of us know so little about this very complicated man. For most of us, all we know is what was presented to us in the four-hour cinematic epic that hit the big screen in 1962, starring Peter O’Toole. The dashing, handsome, and driven character portrayed by O’Toole was larger than life, believing in the rights of the people of the land, with a mission that compelled others by its moral stance.
But was that the true Lawrence?
Some quick biographical info: Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales on August 16th in 1888, and as a young boy loved history and travel. As an Oxford student he took a trip to Syria for study, and walked over a thousand miles to study remote Crusader castles; upon graduation (with first-class honors) he decided to become an archaeologist.
Those plans were sidetracked with the start of The Great War, in which he was assigned to the British Army in Cairo. He did indeed assist in the Great Arab Revolt, let by Prince Feisal; and did indeed attack and take Aqaba. And he did indeed witness the decision that France should be “given” Syria during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, a bitter blow.
He retired from the military and wrote his war memoirs, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which has been called “novel traveling under the cover of autobiography,” capturing Lawrence’s highly personal version of the historical events described in the book. Almost reaching the status of a cult classic, Lawrence re-wrote the book three times – including once “blind” (from memory), after he lost the then-current version of the manuscript while changing trains. First published privately in 1926, it has become a classic and copies of the scarce “Subscriber’s Edition” can command up to $100,000.
So who was the “real” T.E. Lawrence? Archaeologist, soldier, politician, author? We may never fully know, but getting your hands on a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom would be a great place to begin to find out.
(N.B., above info from the Wiki and PBS web sites)
The term Artist Book is indeed a controversial one when it comes to defining what exactly falls into this strange space between a book and a work of art. All over the internet you will different definitions. They all skirt around the same ideas, the same subjects, but no one is exactly the same… a bit like artist books themselves!
No matter which definition you choose – that an art book distinguishes itself from other art forms because they are “usually intended to be portable… are mixed-media…combine many processes” (Angela Lorenz, an artist) or that it “refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right” (Printed Matter, Inc.) – we all refer to the same pieces. In our minds, a simple definition of “Artist Books” could refer to when a book becomes more art than book. Not, of course, in a way that a picture book is more art than “book”, but in the way that the book is less something to be handled and read, and more something to be admired – in the way that art on the wall is looked at and admired.
So what types of components automatically alert the reader (or in this case, looker-on) that what they are looking at is, in fact, part of the gap between art and book? Well, there are many different options (ones that, if I’m honest, even we don’t know about), but some of the most obvious ones we can mention here. As WalkerArt.org states, “While literature is often a point of departure, artists’ books often bear little resemblance to conventional volumes. Many are sculptural, multidimensional, or made of material other than paper—some have no pages at all.” And there they are spot on – artist books can be made of anything at all. In fact, we at Swan’s Fine Books have a couple with string running through them or even twigs bound into them. The bindings can be so unconventional that they can not have spines at all! Perhaps they are accordion bound, or housed inside a special case made solely to display the item. The use of cutwork is often used, allowing numerous illustrations to be viewed at once or perhaps to simply make opening the work a work of art in and of itself. In any case, the motivating force behind artist books is to allow creativity and freedom of expression to reign!
So why should one bother with such an item? It is neither book nor art, and can be a confusing thing to behold. Looking at one displayed one can wonder how to handle it, whether it is even meant to be handled (some are, some aren’t!). So why should we concern ourselves with such items? Well, it may confuse, but Artist Books are meant to be eye-opening items. They are meant to be enjoyed as both art AND book, and, in our opinion, only serves to highlight one of the things we love most about books in general – their creativity and the passion in a book for sharing both words and illustrations or artwork. Creativity & imagination are keywords in both worlds!
Current Artist Book creator Charles Hobson hits the nail on the head when he describes why he works with these types of creations: “Artists’ books are anatural meeting place for image and word. Because of this, I work with books, particularly accordion and other sculptural forms of books, which allow both an intimate viewing experience and a group viewing experience to take place.” Artist Books allow for a different experience (in participation & observation from the viewer) from regularly-bound books, and perhaps that is a great part of their charm!
We recently were fortunate to acquire a large collection of fine press books, and in talking with some of our customers about them, I realized how few people are aware of these lovely books living in our midst. Therefore, we’d like to take this opportunity in our newsletter to share a bit about the Fine Press movement with our followers.
The Fine Press movement began in the late 19th century, when a brave intellectual named William Morris decided to print books the way they had been before the advent of the printing press for mass publication. Everything (and we mean everything) by hand – type set by hand, woodblocks cut and paper cut by himself. His efforts eventually led to the opening of his “Kelmscott Press” in London – named after his country home in Oxfordshire. Over a century later, the Fine Press movement begun by Morris is still thriving and is a very collectible and desirable genre of book collecting.
Fine Press Books were often published at Private Presses, like the Kelmscott Press mentioned above. According to the very often referenced ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter and Nicholas Barker, Private Press should only be applied to “a shop where the work was hand-set and hand-printed” and includes a printer who prints what he likes exactly how he likes it. The Fine Press movement contained books made with high-quality materials (such as handmade paper, traditional inks or even specially composed typefaces), and were, most often, bound by hand. As it was entirely designed by hand, painstaking concern was given to format, design, illustration and binding, many of which seemed to tend (at the beginning of the movement) toward the classical.
As mentioned earlier, the Kelmscott Press is one of the best known (if not the most well-known) of the Fine Presses throughout the history of the movement. However, as most “movements” go, the Kelmscott Press only sparked a trend followed by the masses. Soon, Fine Presses were opening up around the world. Some of the most renowned early presses include the Doves Press (founded in 1900 in Hammersmith, London by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson and most celebrated for the beautifully printed Doves Bible, a 5 volume set printed between 1902 and 1904), the Eragny Press (founded by Lucien Pissarro, son of the famous Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, and operated between 1895 and 1914), the Cresset Press, and the Shakespeare Head Press (founded by Arthur Henry Bullen, an expert on 16th and 17th century literature). A bit later on, Presses like the Gregynog Press (founded in 1922 by the two Davies sisters in Wales) were established and kept up the tradition of fine printing. California is a notorious place for the Fine Press movement, with illustrious printers like John Henry Nash (who went into business himself in 1916) and brothers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn keeping fine printing popular well into the later 1900s. These presses are just a few of the most acclaimed companies specializing in the Fine Press movement, but many others contributed to the popularity of the genre.
In the book world, some seem to be under the impression that Fine Printing is a thing of the past – that soon it will all be housed under the larger “antiquarian books” umbrella. We would argue the opposite. Fine Presses are still very much alive, as is evidenced by printers like Peter Koch of Editions Koch in Berkeley, the Janus Press (founded in San Diego in 1955 by Claire Van Vliet), the Sutton Hoo Press (founded in 1989 by C. Mikal Oness) and further substantiated by the immensely popular Codex Book Fair and Symposium held every other year in the Bay Area.
We are so immersed in the history of Fine Press and the beginnings of the movement – we’d like you to be too! Come visit Swan’s Fine Books to see some of our recent acquisitions of Fine Press items… we promise you you’ll fall in love, just like we did!
It has been 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was introduced to the world
An immediate success upon publication in November of 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, remain enduring favourites today.
Why do the Alice stories continue to fascinate, generation after generation? I think we can look to several factors that contribute to its timelessness.
We all loved fairy tales and myths as children, and many of us retain that love through adulthood; hence the popularity of the modern fantasy genre which is rooted in fairy tales and mythology. When Lewis Carroll was deciding whether to publish Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he was encouraged to so do by George MacDonald – a Scottish author and minister who wrote fairy tales himself, among many other works. Both MacDonald and Lewis Carroll had a deep effect on later authors such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeline L’Engle, all writers of fantasy.
In addition, some speculate that a reason many of us continue to read the Alice stories as adults is the logic that hides behind the seeming nonsense. Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in real life) was a mathematician and logician, and many believe he worked into the Alice book attacks on abstract mathematical concepts, as he was a proponent of the more established, and traditional, Euclidean math.
Finally, I believe the Alice stories are a wonderful example of the marriage of a delightful text with the perfect illustrations. The original Alice books were illustrated by John Tenniel, and his illustrations are so wedded to the text that, while many illustrators have turned their attention to Alice over many years (including one of my personal favourites, the great Arthur Rackham), the images many of us see in our minds are those of Tenniel.
So in this, the 150th year of publication, pick up a copy of Alice and re-read her wonderful Adventures, and smile at her madcap adventures; after all, we all need to fall down a rabbit hole occasionally.
Or, how I stumbled across an almost-forgotten author. Recently at an auction, we purchased a box ofbooks – there were one or two titles that were familiar, so we took a chance and bid $50 for the box, desperately hoping we weren’t overpaying.
Brought the box back to the shop and started rooting through with a mixture of anticipation and dread (oh my goodness, is that a first edition Steinbeck? Drat, no…. Uh oh, what is this piece of junk – is that mold I see?). An exercise that is often disappointing but always interesting.
Then I spotted it, hiding away at the bottom of the box, its rather drab covers seeming to say “oh, please, no need to worry about me….just let me continue to rest here in my quiet little corner”. But I knew a Civil War-era binding when I saw one, and plucked the hesitant little creature out into the daylight.
Hmmm……Wayside Flowers, by Carrie Carlton….published in Milwaukee in 1862. Well, there was some Wow factor – so it’s actually early Civil War. Published by Strickland and Co., “Booksellers and Stationers” – a fairly common arrangement in those days.
I then peer inside – OK, it’s poetry. The text pages are some of the cleanest I’ve seen forbooks of this era, with no foxing. Of course, it’s mid-19th century poetry – so I like it – but will anyone else? In other words, is this booksaleable?
And, who is this Carrie Carlton, anyway?
She’s not in the BAL. A search on Abe only turns up one title by her, Inglenook, a Story for Children. And that piqued my interest – so I go into bloodhound mode, and start searching for traces of her online.
Meet Carrie Carlton, a pretty, black-eyed woman, sweet and confiding, full of good humor… and clever with the pen. When her husband died, leaving her with three children to support, she was necessarily forced to yoke her talents together to draw her in her humble cart along the rough way. The five dollars a week she received from the Mercury News barely sufficed to stand between her and extreme want; but when extra writing came in to add to the amount she forgot the necessaries of life and indulged in the luxuries. Other kinds of employment she sought, but at writing only was she a success, as she lacked the business instinct.
Personally Carrie Carlton always made friends, as she was possessed of a loveable, grateful disposition. Her “Wayside Flowers” is a collection of promising verse, issued in 1862.
The one book I’d found online by Carrie, Inglenook, is a bright story of early California life for children; and it was her last work. Her many privations were finally too much for her delicate constitution, and in 1868 she succumbed. Friends laid her away tenderly, and remembering the brightness of her mind amid all her trials, they erected a stone to her memory in the Masonic Cemetery of San Francisco, and placed upon it this inscription: “Topsy Turvy”, May 1, 1868. CALLED HOME. Aged 32 years.
(The above story on Carrie Carlton is reprinted from The Story of the Files: A Review of Californian Writers and Literature, by Ella Sterling Cummins, San Francisco, World’s Fair Commission of California, 1893.)
Through this story I feel as though I’ve met, over a span of 150 years, a young woman I would have liked to have met and known, one whose voice – still, small, and quiet though it is – can still be heard today.
A used bookstore is likely the only place this could have happened. Here we collect together the works by those who have gone before us, who have lived, breathed, and walked this earth, many of whom have, through trials and challenges, gained wisdom and insights it would be foolish for us to ignore.
Some became household names. Others, like our Ms. Carlton, were known in their day but are now known only by a few, if any.
But their words, their stories, live on in theirbooks. And in a hidden nook of our shop, a volume such as Wayside Flowers will arrive on wings of serendipity, and if you spend some time with us searching into those nooks, you too could unexpectedly meet someone from the past whose voice will touch your heart.
eReader vs. the”real book”
Science is starting to weigh in with surprising results
Every day we have visitors come into the shop asking us some version of “will books survive”? There is a wide-spread urban legend running around that “books are dead” and many people think “everyone reads books online today”. Or even “no one wants books any more”.
I beg to differ.
Yes, I love books. Yes, I’m a bookseller. But I still beg to differ.
I have long felt that, as human beings, we are a tactile race. Sensory input is a how we import information, it’s how we process, how we learn. Who doesn’t remember the smell of bread baking, the sound of Mozart (or Taylor Swift), the touch of a kitten’s fur, the taste of a fine cabernet, or the incredible beauty of a sunset?
Very importantly, it seems, it’s also how we remember. A 2014 study found that reading in print helps with comprehension. It seems that “our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page. The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page.” (Quotes from the article.) Apparently eReaders do not duplicate this experience, and thus our comprehension and retention is poorer via the eReaders.
Does that mean we should all ditch our Kindles or iPads or Nooks? Not at all. As someone who used to travel to earn her living, I get the usefulness of an eReader. It’s convenient, it’s easy, it’s fast to download.
But perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time to make some wise choices about our vehicle for reading, as well as our reading material.
Besides – arrange some classic authors on your shelf and invite your friends over, and they are bound to be impressed (wow, you’ve read Proust!). Not so easy to show off with an eReader, is it?
For the complete article referred to above, see: http://mic.com/articles/99408/science-has-great-news-for-people-who-read-actual-books
Jim laughingly read the fortune from the newly-cracked cookie. “Good books are friends who are always ready to talk to us.”
We’d just grabbed a quick bite at the new Chinese place around the corner, having locked up the store after our first evening discussion group. Jim (formerly known as James M. Dourgarian, ABAA), had shared with the group the story of his journey into the world of book-collecting, and from there into the world of book-selling. He’d developed a passion for John Steinbeck’s works in high school, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We took a quick journey through Steinbeck’s works, discussing along the way the major influencers on him and answering the questions posed in our invitation. (There was one trick question – Steinbeck ATTENDED Stanford, but never graduated – he left early to pursue his writing career.) The Q&A session at the end was lively and brought up interesting facets about Steinbeck – that his works have not only been banned, but have even been burned. That the FBI and the IRS kept files on him, and watched him for years hoping for a misstep. That, although fully sympathetic to the oppressed, he was not, in fact, a communist but a patriot who eventually was “allowed” to be a war correspondent during WWII.
Jim succeeded in not only teaching us all about John Steinbeck, but made him more human in the telling.
Regarding collecting, his words of advice, learned from years of being a collector, were: “Buy the best copy you can afford. Condition is critical, books I bought for $250 years ago (which was a lot of money at the time) are worth ten times that today. BUT – don’t buy books as an investment. Buy books because you LOVE them, because they sing to you – because they are your friends when you return home at night and look at them sitting in the bookshelves”.
Which brings us back to that fortune-cookie…
Why do we buy books? The pretty jacket or binding? The famous author? The catchy opening line? The internal need to answer questions, either simple or life-changing? A way to pass time? Because it’s signed? Because they fill up those empty shelves, and really, what ELSE would we put there?
My personal opinion (which may be worth only the paper this is printed on) is that, as human beings, most of our decisions are complex and based on a multiplicity of factors, some of which we may not even be consciously aware of. I believe there are likely to be as many reasons to buy books as there are books.
We all need to answer the question for ourselves. It has been fascinating to talk with the various people that have visited our shop: we’ve had doctors, musicians, artists, moms and dads, students, bankers. While the singular motivation is different for all, the common element seems to be the thrill of discovery: either a new fact or writing about a well-loved author or subject, or a brand new, totally heretofore unknown work that knocks one’s socks off!
Dave Kellett so aptly phrased as “Nothing can do what a book can do. (It) lifts you out of your life…to a whole new world, (to a) whole new perspective. A book is like a dream you’re borrowing from a friend.”
So, here is a toast to great masters such as John Steinbeck, to all that he has given to the world and by extension all he has given to each one of us. And at the same time, it’s a toast to you all who have visited the shop, for your excitement, your curiosity, and your spirit of adventure.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)
I’m pleased to announce that the first month at Swan’s Fine Books has gone exceedingly well. Not in terms of sheer dollars (although as we all know, the rent must be paid) but rather in the truly important ways – in the delight on the faces of customers when they walk in the door, in watching them take a book from the shelf and sink into a chair, losing themselves in the tale, in having countless visitors saying “THANK YOU for opening! We needed a bookstore here in Walnut Creek!” And from a purely selfish perspective, in the happiness I’m feeling every morning upon awakening, knowing I have a day in front of me filled with all manner of book-related delights. I have come home.
And what delightful companions I have! A few days past, three young people came in and browsed – perhaps 19 or 20 years old. They searched through the entire store, the young man clearly deeply pondering several potential purchases. He eventually made his decision, and brought up to the desk a 2-volume set of Proust and Ulysses. I was so very impressed – given the fact that I have yet to even attempt Joyce – and told him so. If ANYONE says that young people are no longer interested in reading – please tell them that is an urban myth, and not at all true.
Speaking of Ulysses, if I may digress for a moment….just this morning I found this fascinating article by Nigel Beale on how the book arrived in the United States:
The first copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses to enter the U.S. came via Windsor, Ontario. The books were printed in Paris and mailed by Ernest Hemingway to a friend in Windsor who worked for the Curtis Publishing in Detroit.
The friend, a reporter named Barney Braverman whom Hemingway had met during his days either in Toronto or Chicago (found references citing both), commuted from Detroit to Windsor each day on the ferry. Braverman apparently lived on Chatham Street in a house kitty-corner to the back of what is today The Windsor Star building. Once the smuggling plan was devised, 40 copies of the novel, published by Sylvia Beach owner of the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, were sent over from Paris…” For the entire article, see: http://literarytourist.com/2013/06/first-copies-of-joyces-ulysses-smuggled-into-u-s-via-windsor-ontario/?goback=%2Egde_108740_member_246524232
How devious we book-lovers can be when need dictates. And kudos to Ernest for his part in bringing Joyce to the U.S.!
I also have been fortunate to meet, via the internet, new friends both here in U.S. and abroad. This past week I sold a T.S. Eliot (signed) book to a professor from the University of Kansas. Come to find out, he’s recently published a book on Alexander Pope – which, being a HUGE fan of Pope’s, I turned around and promptly purchased. And just this morning I sold a first edition Sylvia Plath to a fellow bookseller in London. The internet, reviled as it sometimes is (and in certain circumstances deservedly so) has enabled me to connect with those literally around the globe, which never would have been possible prior to George Stibitz, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Each day has been different, each day has been filled with the joy of working with books, the joy of being surrounded by others who also love books. Many of the days have also had some challenges, but we’re tackling those as they come and hopefully with a smile.
And so, friends far and wide – let’s raise our collective glasses and offer a resounding cheer for bookstores, booksellers, and the joy they each bring to their communities!
Fans far and wide, please accept my deepest, most sincere, heart-felt apologies. I had the very BEST of intentions of writing my final pre-opening post one week before Swan’s Fine Books opened its doors, and clearly fell down on the job. Let the side down, old chap, and all of that.
We are now one week AFTER the opening, and in an effort to make amends, am offering this post regarding the store opening, thanks to my many wonderful mentors, and some stray thoughts…
First, allow me to bring you all up to speed. The four thousand books alluded to in my last post turned out to be 5,000 books – yikes! But what lovely books they are! I was fortunate enough to meet a friend who was ready to downsize his considerable library; that library is now living in Swan’s Fine Books, and I’m eternally grateful to have it. My personal favorite? The full set (12 hefty volumes) of the “Thousand Nights and a Night” – yes, the Arabian Nights. Translated by Sir R.F. Burton, printed in 1896, bound in three-quarter leather, TEG, gilt lettering on spine bright, marbled end-papers. Overall a VG set, and the first illustrated edition. Egads!! Thoughts of sneaking this marvelous set out of the store in the dead of night home into my personal library race through my head….and then I remind myself, no, you are a book SELLER, not a book COLLECTOR. Am I the only bookseller who struggles with this? Is there an ABAA-sponsored 12-step program I can sign up for?
I digress. With but two weeks to go and five thousand books to shelf, there were moments I thought we’d never make it. But to make a long story short and cut to the chase – we did. With much help from Jeff (whom you know) and one of my wonderful mentors, Jim D., the shelving all got done and even most of the sections were alphabetized before opening day! I won’t lie, there are still sections that need some fine-tuning – but we at least felt comfortable opening the store.
The credit card terminal arrived – and it worked! The bags and tissue I’d ordered were all here, the desk purchased from Craig’s list fit the space as though it had been custom-made, the display cases were even more gorgeous than I’d thought they would be. Wine was purchased, and the night before opening day rolled around.
At 10:00 that morning, May 1, Swan’s Fine Books officially opened its doors. We waited with baited breath – now that we’ve built it, would anyone come?
Well, come they did. Day 1 was a resounding success; friends, family, “real customers” all flocked the shop, and they all loved it! Hooray!!
I’m pleased to report that, while sales have not been stellar, they have been steady. Thus far (1 week into this adventure), there have been sales each and every day. More importantly, we’ve had lots of folks in saying “I’ll be back with my ____ (fill in the blank – husband/wife/aunt/friends)”. I’m working far harder than ever before (coming from one who is not known to be a slacker), and loving each and every moment.
This dream could not have become a reality without my mentors, whom I’m mentioned briefly in passing. I withhold their last names here as I’ve not gotten their permission to give them, but they deserve recognition and more thanks than I can ever give. There is Jim D., a foremost expert on Steinbeck and ABAA member, who, after asking me if I was crazy upon learning I wanted to open a bookstore, gave freely and willingly hours and hours and hours of advice and guidance. Not to mention leading me to some fabulous collections to purchase. There is Steve B., an expert on Jack London and current bookstore owner (also an ABAA member), who again gave hours and hours and hours of advice. There are Jackie and Harvey S., both booksellers (of different stores at different times), who again gave unstintingly of advice gleaned over many, many years of book scouting and book selling.
Now that my doors are open, do I have any advice for those considering such a bold move? Since I have at this point neither the experience nor wisdom to presume to offer “advice”, I will only offer some passing thoughts:
• Find a good mentor, listen, take notes, listen some more. Take his/her advice to heart, they have experience and knowledge it will take you years to learn. Be grateful.
• To reiterate some advice we gleaned from this very site when we started planning, take on as big of a space as you possibly can. We had originally planned to lease a 600-sf store, decided on a 1200-sf store, and I could easily use twice that space. Everyone who walks in your door will have a unique interest, and without enough inventory, they will not find anything even close to what they want.
• Again, to reiterate advice from this very site, signage, signage, signage. Swan’s Fine Books is not directly on the main street, we are around the side of the building. So in addition to the large monument sign, we have two sandwich boards and a banner – four signs total, and we still are missing a way to capture attention from across the street. Am considering one of those air-filled gorillas one sees in used car lots. (Just kidding.)
• Allow yourself more than 4 weeks to get your store set up. We did it – but just barely, and 6 weeks (or even 8) would have been far better. To paint, install shelving, move in the books, categorize (let’s not even talk about pricing), and get your operations for purchases set up – it all takes time.
• Budget more than you think you should for advertising. I’m just beginning this, and haven’t yet decided where exactly to put my advertising dollars. But I realize that, no matter how lovely my store may appear and how tempting my books may be, if people don’t know I’m here, they can’t come visit and buy.
Many thanks to Bruce at bookshopblog.com for allowing me to post my experiences this past month – and many thanks to all of the well-wishers who have read these posts and reached out with their support; you’ve kept me going through the challenging times!
Happy bookselling, all!