Lillian Cole: a bookseller weathers changes and challenges
- by Bruce E. McKinney
By age 60 many dealers have lost a step and are on their second wind. Lillian Cole was already 60 in 1985 when she stumbled into bookselling, driven by her love of books. Now, aged 92 and 32 years into her second career, she continues. “It’s not now the way it was of course,” for she entered the trade before its transformation by the Internet.
In time, she chose to specialize in books relating to jewelry, gems and gemology.
Coming into the book trade, although an experienced reader, she had to learn the trade and all the how-to’s: how to find, purchase, describe and sell books. Her administrative assistant position at UCLA gave her both leeway and opportunity to begin to be active and low key in the field. A week’s attendance at Jake Chernofsky’s Rare Book Seminar at the University of Denver in 1985 then helped her develop the knowledge and skills needed. Added was the advantage and privilege of working every Saturday with rare book dealer Harry Levinson, a friend and mentor.
In 1985 the great post-war bull market in rare and collectible books was beginning to settle. As she entered the field, Harry Levinson advised her that book prices were still climbing at a 10% to 15% annual rate. What few suspected however, was at that stage in the post WW2 collecting/retail cycle, bookselling would soon begin to transform into an online marketplace.
But she was, in 1985, fresh-taught in the conventions of traditional bookselling and would employ that approach for much of the next three decades and get to know many of the luminaries in her specialty. And as booksellers worth their salt issued catalogues, so would she. Hers were annual affairs, each of them reaffirming her belief that close textual analysis and deep description would attract collectors to her carefully selected holdings.
Looking back she credits her father’s passion for books as the germinating spark for her love of books and reading. Her brief, and very readable dealer memoir that is here attached, tells this story.
During her career, she never applied to the ABAA or IOBA and allows today that doing so might have been a good idea. But in our conversations about her career it’s clear that she is, and seems to have always been, an independent optimist, both signal traits of the iconoclast in the book field.
So now settle back to read her story. She is still a fresh blossom at 92, and a living reminder of why this field attracts the best and brightest. She is of them and her story well worth reading. Here it is: click here.
Here is her contact information. She would love to hear from you.
Twelfth Street Booksellers
Used, Out-of-Print and Rare Books
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tel: (310) 453-7816