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Meet Dan Whitmore of Whitmore Rare Books in Pasadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Whitmore.

Dan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I founded Whitmore Rare Books in 2010, after a short stint in big law and a lifetime of voracious reading. I’ve been a collector for as long as I can remember: first rocks, sticks, bugs; then baseball cards and arrowheads; and finally, books! I was walking up Walnut St. in Philadelphia (while attending Penn Law School) when I saw a few dirty books and tapes spread out on a blanket for sale on the sidewalk. I picked up a copy of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” for a couple bucks and walked home. After looking at the copyright page and noticing a capital “A,” I discovered that I’d unintentionally purchased a first edition (no dust jacket). The delicate way that I read that book so as not to damage it seems comical to me now (given that it’s only worth a few dollars more than I paid for it), but at the time, I was extremely proud to own a first edition of a Hemingway book. That book started my collection.

In time, I purchased a fine old glass-front book case to house my books and sought out first editions of literature in ever expanding circles from Philadelphia. One of those browsing trips found me in Kevin Johnson’s shop, Royal Books, in Baltimore. Kevin became a mentor for me first as I collected and later as I transitioned to full-time dealer.

That transition wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be, but neither was it as hard. It takes years to build up your reputation in this field, and, there are no short-cuts. As a dealer, you trade upon your knowledge, experience and reputation. But, when you are following a passion, and doing what you love, it’s hard to call each day “work.” Over time we have established our shop as an important international player in literary first editions.

Has it been a smooth road?
There have been some fairly dramatic changes to the rare book trade over the last 20 years. With the expansion of the internet, prices on certain books fell and other books skyrocketed, as access to information leveled the playing-field in a highly specialized market. That said, our business was born in the internet era so those changes while significant haven’t impacted us directly.

I launched our business at the beginning of 2010, when the Dow was at roughly 10,500 and we were stuck in one of the worst recessions in recent memory. This was a calculated move, figuring that if we could make it during a recession, business should pick up during the recovery. That was only partially correct. What I hadn’t considered or anticipated was that buying new inventory was easy in 2010 and 2011, and that buying good books would get harder and much more competitive as the general market came back.

Our business is only as successful as the inventory that we can find. The difference between a good year or a bad year can be as simple as finding (and selling) one great book. So that’s our major challenge and has been since the beginning, finding great inventory.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We sell high-end antiquarian books and collectible first editions. Our main focus is in literature, although we interpret that broadly to include more than just fiction. If you think of the major authors from the past six or seven centuries, chances are that we handle their books: Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Cervantes, Swift, Defoe, Goethe, Bronte, Austen, Dickens, Dumas, Melville, Hawthorne, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, Rowling, etc. We have incunabula (books printed in the 15th century) and we have signed Harry Potter books printed a few years ago. Age does not determine value for a book, it must be something sought by collectors.

What I’m proud of as a company and what sets us apart from others is our inventory. We have built a very serious collection of first edition books with a constant and unwavering eye to quality. In general, I won’t buy a book because I think it’s worth more than I paid for it. I’ll only buy a book if it’s something to feel proud of: the best condition copy on the market, a copy with a wonderful authorial inscription or association, the only copy to surface in a decade. Those are the books that build our reputation and those are the books that attract the top international collectors to our shop.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles has a rich tradition of fine books and booksellers going back many decades with such noteworthy shops as Dawsons, Jake Zeitlin, and Heritage. And now, Pasadena is the bi-annual location of the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, sponsored by the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America (the “ABAA”). We have our massive public collections: the Huntington, UCLA, and the Getty. That said, there are a few places that have older traditions and more robust trade than we do in Los Angeles: New York, London and Paris to name a few. Connecting with collectors in other parts of the country and in the world continues to be an important aspect of our business.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 4 E Holly St.
    Suite 217, Pasadena, CA 91103
  • Website: www.WhitmoreRareBooks.com
  • Phone: (626) 297-7700
  • Email: info@WhitmoreRareBooks.com

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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