“I sell books about antiques.” “You sell antique books? I have an old school book that was my grandmother’s.” “No, I sell books ABOUT antiques, not necessarily antique books.” And so a typical conversation with a stranger ends—the same conversation for thirty-one years!
Fortunately, the collector, the antique dealer and the book lover recognize what I sell, and their enthusiasm for my specialty has been my profession since 1977. My father, Walt Johnson, started promoting his COLLECTORS’ EXTRAVAGANZA® Antiques Shows in 1969 (that’s Dad in the photo!) and in the mid-1970s expanded his shows to cities outside our home base of Des Moines. Those shows needed a reference bookseller, and on February 25, 1977 in Denver, with three boxes of books I bought (using some left-over money from my college savings account) I became our show’s book dealer. I bought those titles just on a feeling they would be good sellers, and I actually sold out during that antique show, something I would never again do!
“The Library” served its owner well for nearly twenty-five years, but as the business changed, so did I, and Nancy Johnson, Bookseller replaced “The Library.” With my home now in Denver and warehouse in Strasburg, Colorado (30 miles east of Denver) my shows now stretch from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. That three box inventory has also changed—the inventory is now some 75,000 books, at least 90% of which are on antiques, collecting, decorative arts and fine art. We still promote antiques shows as well, and our Denver Show is held at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, so I have a growing inventory of aviation titles and material, including some ephemera, pertaining to the American West.
I have never operated a bricks-and-mortar store, as the nature of my specialty has always mandated that the bookseller take the books to the collector (at antiques shows and book fairs) instead of the other way around. I drive to all my shows and fairs, sometimes with a cargo trailer in tow, and although I still set up a large display, I can only bring a portion of my inventory to the event. Selling online allows me to better serve my existing show customers and to find new customers who would never see my books in person.
Since that first day of selling in February, 1977, I have always considered myself a professional. I belong to the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) and IOBA, which I joined because of IOBA members I met at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book & Paper Fair. I liked the concept of IOBA because it allowed me to be me, with more emphasis on the way I conducted business than the square footage of a walk-in facility. I participate in the member’s discuss lists and have learned a great deal from other members. And I have just applied to list through IOBAbooks. In addition to the shows in which I exhibit, I sell on my own web-site, nancyjohnsonbookseller.com, and on AbeBooks.com.
My Mom, Frances Goodman Johnson, was always an enthusiastic volunteer in my business. When she passed away in 1997, we established a private foundation in her name. The Foundation is supported by our family businesses and very generous contributions from friends. “Mom” works in the area of literacy and reading programs, as well as working with the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women to provide small scholarships and financial aid to young women of need.
My Dad is 81 years young, a World War II and Korean War veteran who is also a retired police officer. I am fortunate to have two wonderful families in my life in Colorado. The young lady pictured with me, Brandy Hoffstaetter (age 6) is learning how we write an online listing at her home in Greeley! Dawn Warren (age 11), in Strasburg, along with her mother, Laurie, is very helpful in locating books to be shipped to our great online customers. These girls love books, and that is music to my ears!
Nancy Johnson operates Nancy Johnson, Bookseller out of Denver, CO and can be reached at http://www.nancyjohnsonbookseller.com.
IOBA Standard, Summer Edition 2007, Volume 8, No. 3.