What is your idea of perfect happiness in life? For me, the ultimate joie de vivre would be to be surrounded at all times by great books – and get paid for it. A state of perfect joy in books – joie de livre.
But who gets to do that? Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner, that’s who.
Newlyweds, Manhattanites, Francophiles and rare book experts Josh and Sunday dropped in to visit us this week on their way from the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair to the 47th International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena.
Sunday and Josh met in college and moved to New York City together to pursue what they thought were their chosen careers in psychology and medical research. But destiny had other ideas for them. They caught the book-collecting bug when they happened upon a seasoned copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Soon after, they purchased a first edition of Animal Farm for $40 and subsequently sold it for $4,000. Sunday says that the same book would probably go for around $8,000 today, noting that books are a way to invest in collectibles at a more attractive price point than fine art.
After following their muse to spend several months in France, they returned and took the leap of faith to open B & B Rare Books, Ltd. in downtown Manhattan. The CE happened upon them in his quest for “Modern Firsts”, which is book-collecting shorthand for the first editions of great 20th century writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and their ilk.
He was charmed by Josh and Sunday’s knowledge and enthusiasm, and also by their third business partner – their dog, Marlowe. I think Marlowe may have sealed many a B & B book deal, at least where the CE is concerned.
Like Alice in her adventures, Josh and Sunday’s business grew and grew, and last year they opened their lovely new gallery on East 20th Street. We happened to be in town for their opening celebration.
Book-sellers are, of course, also book-lovers, and Sunday and Josh answered quickly when I inquired as to their favorite authors while we had breakfast at the beach before they headed to Pasadena. “Oscar Wilde”, said Josh, without hesitation. “Virginia Woolf” said Sunday, adding that for her, the ultimate book capture would be a copy of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway with a dust jacket. In the world of book-collecting, dust jackets matter, as do an array of other “points” that determine the rating of a book’s condition. An overview of what to look for when assessing a book can be found here.
In addition to Modern Firsts, Josh and Sunday’s love of Victorian literature has led them to broaden their specialities to include British Literature and 19th century literature. One of their favorite acquisitions was a Shakespeare folio that had survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and actually still smelled of smoke.
Josh and Sunday lead a vanguard of a new generation of rare book sellers who are bringing their trade out from dusty shelves and into a century dominated by social media and e-books. If you are wondering if there’s a place for something as old-fashioned as an actual book in that milieu, you have only to hold a first edition in your hands and you will understand. I happily download many books on my Kindle, but others just have to be read in their original form. I just placed an order for copies of Middlemarch and Vanity Fair, for instance, and it seems to me that it would be almost criminal to read Jane Austen or the Bronte’s in anything but a hardbound cover.
Whatever book stirs your heart, it’s out there waiting for you. Josh and Sunday can help you find it, and your own joie de livre. Tell them the Chicken Emperor sent you.