Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2016 Issue

Rarer than Many Rare Books: The Young Dealer

240433ed-9dff-4ba3-b700-a81a14a8a914

Dan Whitmore is a book dealer in southern California.  He is 35 and never experienced the halcyon days of bookselling two decades ago.  He was in high school then and would go on to Middlebury College for his undergraduate degree and then the University of Pennsylvania for a degree in law.  He then worked as a lawyer for a year before reaching two decisions:  1.  He didn’t want to spend his life in law and 2. He wanted instead to pursue his passion for collectible material in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera fields.  And so he started 7 years ago.

His gatekeeper to the book trade was Kevin Johnson of Royal Books in Baltimore who he describes as both mentor and friend.  Initially he came to books as a collector but in 2009 sold some books to/through Kevin.  In 2010, leaving the law behind he set off to join the fraternity of rare book sellers.  Goodbye business suits, hello road maps and sunglasses for the world of rare books he was entering is a world in transition.  Thousands of dealers were rapidly closing shops and shifting to the duplex model of shows and online listings.  In starting out he began in this new world, a world that David Lilburne recently described as “working harder to make less.”

If a bookseller reset his direction in life almost a decade ago his appreciation for books is longer held.  He speaks of being an avid reader by ten and of collecting baseball cards and seashells instinctively.  His first collectible book was a copy of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, a book he bought from a street vendor that he describes as “the book that bit me.”  From that moment he began to see the world as a history of the printed word and the world of old and rare books as its Byzantium.  He was hooked.

Today he speaks of the law as a career and bookselling as a life style but he also believes it has become his career.  It’s an unusual career path but he points out he is hardly the first.  “I think a couple dozen or so ABAA members are or have been lawyers.

Fast forward to 2016 he has now established his credentials.  He’s been an ABAA member since 2014 and in 2016 is doing all three association sponsored shows.

The Challenges?  Family first, then business.

He and his wife are expecting twins.  They already have two girls.  Their birth will be an exceptional moment and in the future an exceptional challenge.  When I asked about the income to cover all the anticipated expenses he said, “I gauge my career as a bookseller against what I would have made as a law partner.  It will be a challenge but I’m doing what I love and you can’t beat that.”

So what is he doing?

He’s using his working capital to buy individual items and collections.  Many collecting fields have seen their fortunes decline.  He mentions stamps, furniture and baseball cards and there are of course others.  And collectible books too are in transition, scarcity a factor but relevance and importance increasingly determining.

And this is what Dan excels at:  telling the story.  Understanding the what’s and why’s of a collection is an art and, an important one.  In the future the standards for carefully wrought collections will be higher because so much more will be known.   

Dan now focuses on exceptional material and on telling their untold stories.  He joined the field as it fell from grace.  He will live long enough to see it rise again.

So if old booksellers remember when things were better, Dan will look ahead and in time see blue skies.

 

Contact details:

Whitmore Rare Books

4 East Holly Street

Suite 217

Pasadena, California 91103

info@whitmorerarebooks.com

(626) 297-7700

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions