How did you start working in the rare book trade and what were your first encounters?
In college I wondered if I might fashion an interest in old books into some kind of career. I inquired with a rare book dealer and he hired me on the spot. For four years I cataloged inventory, sold books to foot traffic, and prepared offers for anyone selling material. I then went to library school in search of geographic mobility, which set off a 10-year employment tour of several universities. When my wife accepted a job near Boston in 2018, I leapt at the chance to return to my trade roots and go into business for myself.
What do you specialize in and please describe your business a little to us?
I focus on pre-1830 European material, and principally non-English. I love the hand-press period and I love languages. So this slice of the book trade seemed to offer the greatest opportunity to add value to material through research. I most enjoy working with the popular and ephemeral, those fleeting printed vestiges of everyday life. I can't resist compelling evidence of use, nor anything that smacks of the alteration or repacking of early print. The more unusual, the better. I work primarily with American institutional libraries, which invariably influences my descriptions. I aim to provide a little research-based context and interpretation, just enough to allow anyone, with a moment's notice, to put my unfamiliar material before an audience and have something to say. I know what it's like to be responsible for collections I haven't had time to investigate.
What do you do if you are not pre-occupied with rare books?
It's summer, so I've been slicing a lot of melon and watering lots of plants. Our old house keeps us busy with its own needs, and our three cats with theirs. I'm also a strong believer in hobbies. I've loved spending time in the mountains since I was kid and it still defines most of my vacations -- alpine skiing, climbing, backpacking. I've gotten into woodworking these last few years, and recently started dabbling in bonsai. If I can keep my little jade alive for a year, I'll permit myself to get another tree. Fingers crossed!
Patrick Olson Rare Books
74 Wentworth Avenue