We are Craig Horle and Laurie Wolfe of Classic Books and Ephemera, which we run out of our home in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. When we began the business in 2001 we did not anticipate the store-in-the-home phenomenon common to so many booksellers. Our cozy house is now so crammed with our stock and shipping supplies that living there has become almost secondary. However we do have room for the obligatory “bookstore cat,” Greystoke. Having eclectic interests ourselves, we have not specialized to the extent that might make good business sense, but we focus mainly on 17th to mid-19th century books in French, German, and English; late 19th and early 20thcentury military prints and postcards; and manuscripts, deeds, maps, and paper ephemera of all periods.
Craig earned a B.A. and an M.A. in English and European history from Temple University in Philadelphia and a Ph.D. in English history from the University of Maryland. He taught for the University of Maryland overseas program in England in the mid-1970s for six years and worked as an archivist, first part time and later full time, at Friends House Library in London for seven years before returning to the states in October 1980, driven out of England in part by his distaste for Margaret Thatcher and in larger part by his loathing for the never-ending inclement weather. On his return to the states, he worked for almost three years as a retail manager for the philatelic firm of Earl P. L. Apfelbaum in Philadelphia (he had been a stamp collector since childhood, but seeing the business close-up led him to sell his collection, although he has recently returned to collecting). Craig returned to the world of academe first as associate editor on The Papers of William Penn Project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and later as co-founder and chief editor of the Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators Project, responsible for producing the series Lawmaking and Legislators. The Biographical Dictionary Project was located initially at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but since 1990 it has been at Temple University, where until recently Craig also taught European and English history as an adjunct professor.
Laurie earned a B.A. in English Literature from Earlham College in Indiana, an M.A. in American History from Temple University, an M.L.S. from Drexel University in Philadelphia, and a J.D. from Temple University School of Law. She has also (and perhaps most importantly!) attended four courses at the Rare Book School, two at the original location at Columbia University and two at the present location at the University of Virginia. Laurie worked as a rare book cataloguer at Bethel College in Kansas where the oppressive heat drove her slightly insane (which is sadly incompatible with Craig’s love of hot weather). She returned to Philadelphia to go to graduate school and later became a cataloger in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Then with M.A. in History in hand, she joined the Biographical Dictionary Project as an editor in 1994, working full time until she entered law school, and then continued to work on the project part time. She passed the bar (something Craig did infrequently in England, as he loves real ale) her first go-round, but her interest in non-patent intellectual property law did not result in any local employment possibilities. (Ironically, Philadelphia is a great location for patent law, which requires a science degree but not, alas, a library science degree.)
We have lived together in Lansdowne for about ten years, tying the knot in August 2006. We decided to become bookdealers because: 1. Craig’s father, a well-known military figure maker, left a substantial collection of militaria, both books and prints, as well as Craig’s Classics Illustrated collection of comic books (which formed the backbone of Craig’s early scholastic career and which his father had secretly kept for him lo those many years); 2. The Biographical Dictionary Project has always relied on grants, almost exclusively from government sources, and thus has the potential to end suddenly, which meant that we needed a backup plan; 3. Craig is nearing retirement (and experiencing project burnout after 22 years and four published volumes) and would like to become a full-time bookdealer, as would Laurie; 4. Working at home is very appealing, even if the two of us can no longer fit together in most of the jammed rooms and are in mortal danger from falling books and cardboard; 5. Laurie is a true, passionate bibliophile and loves the challenge of the business and, as a much younger woman (11 years Craig’s junior) needs to keep busy as Craig declines into his dotage; and 6. Both of us (but especially Laurie) are good with computers; so we decided to establish a partnership and sell on eBay, gradually easing our way into online retailing.
We have been members of IOBA from the very beginning of our partnership. We now sell on eBay, Biblio, IOBAbooks, and Choosebooks and will be looking at other sites in the future, as well as creating our own website. As all of you know, dealing in books and ephemera, while often fun, enlightening, and educational, is also frustrating and constantly changing as online opportunities evolve. EBay giveth and eBay taketh away, enabling outreach to a world-wide market but adding fee upon fee and showing very little understanding of the differences between older books and widgets; moreover the addition of live online bidding access to live book auctions (which used to be a great source of material for bookdealers willing to travel to those auctions) reduces the ability of dealers to buy quality books at reasonable prices, as we now compete with both dealers and collectors worldwide for the same stock. As soon as Craig retires, we plan to do shows and to travel to purchase books and ephemera from non-auction sources. Another increasing problem for bookdealers is the impact of the USPS shipping changes and the rising cost of oil on our international business, as very few of the books we sell are amenable to shipping in a Priority envelope and, in any event, we prefer shipping in boxes. Only the present weakness of the dollar works in our favor.
We are proud to belong to IOBA and, through the discussions and profiles, have been astonished at the remarkable diversity of its membership. Obviously, we hope that more buyers will learn of the association and will come to appreciate the professionalism, knowledge, and quality of the members.
Craig Horle and Laurie Wolfe operate Classic Books and Ephemera out of Lansdowne, PA and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IOBA Standard, Summer Edition 2007, Volume 8, No. 3.