Tuttle Antiquarian Books Acquired by DeWolfe & Wood
For Tuttle's the sun rises in the east.
By Bruce McKinney
Tuttle's, the Rutland Vermont antiquarian bookseller, has sold their stock and good name to DeWolfe & Wood of Alfred, Maine. Tuttle's last day of business was June 9th, 2006. In making the acquisition Frank Wood expressed appreciation for the opportunity. Tuttle's was, for most of the 20th century the equal of Goodspeed's of Boston and in fact was the purchaser of Goodspeed's genealogy and local history inventory in 1991.
The road to closure was for the current owners a difficult one. Jon Mayo, who started at Tuttle's in 1957, teamed with Jennifer Shannon, herself a twenty year Tuttle veteran, four years ago to purchase the business from Charles Tuttle's widow, Reiko, and they continued the business in the same location in the hope it would prosper. But according to Mr. Mayo several trends worked against them. "The internet devastated our genealogy business which had, for decades, been our strength. There are now more sources of this information and more sellers of the printed materials and we simply became less essential." The ongoing decline of open bookshops has also been a factor, a trend widely discussed in the rare book business today. "In the last year we had days when not even a single customer came into the shop." Mr. Mayo describes Rutland as a place few visit from late fall to June. "The summers are glorious but the company needed sales everyday." So the firm became increasingly dependent on internet sales where the number of copies in all categories has continued to increase and prices have been falling. At its close only 15% of its stock was online.
The firm opened in 1832 and was under its founder George A. Tuttle first a printer and then a shop offering an array of materials that in time included used and rare books. The emphasis became Americana, local history and genealogy and Tuttle catalogues essential to libraries and collectors. Charles E. Tuttle, Sr. took over the business around 1910 and gave the firm a stronger antiquarian focus. It was the golden era of rare book collecting and by the late 1920's Tuttle's inventory numbered 150,000 items not including a huge assortment of pamphlets that was boxed and set aside for future generations to consider. These pamphlets, estimated to number more than 100,000 items and understood to have an emphasis on black history are the great unknown in this transaction and a reason for palpable excitement in Alfred.
The Tuttle's we know today was shaped by Charles E. Tuttle, Jr. whose life spanned most of the 20th century: 1915-1993. He served in WWII and was assigned to General MacArther's staff in Japan where he remained after his discharge to build a business that in time included publishing and four bookshops. In the 1980s these Japanese activities were phased out and Mr. Tuttle returned to Vermont to oversee the family firm's natural emphasis on genealogy and local history.
Tuttle Antiquarian Books Acquired by DeWolfe & Wood
Tuttle's next chapter will be written in Alfred, Maine.
Mr. Mayo will continue to be involved with books albeit on a smaller scale. "I am going to specialize in miniature books [less than 3" in any dimension, with few exceptions] and will be doing this as a hobby from my home, by mail, phone and internet. I may issue an occasional catalogue. It should be fun."
DeWolfe & Wood is no stranger to significant acquisitions of printed materials. They have a continuing inventory of several hundred thousand items from which they periodically categorize portions and offer them for sale. They operate a complex business that includes a traditional open shop, regularly issued catalogues, participation at regional and national trade shows, extensive online listings and a busy eBay presence. Frank Wood commented that a significant component of the Tuttle inventory will be sold in the shop, a sign that the material is particularly worthwhile. Since 1998, the firm has sold almost 22,000 lots on eBay, much of it ephemera and some of this newly acquired material will undoubtedly in time find its way to this venue.
The closing of a business of Tuttle's stature is no small loss to a field in which it has been a respected participant for more than one hundred fifty years. Perhaps the better way to see it is simply as a move. In Alfred, Maine the blood and sinew of this old business will be merged with an enterprise that emphasizes performance over tradition and has thus freed itself to be created by unfolding events. DeWolfe & Wood, although they sit in a sleepy Maine village, have been sitting on the forward edge of the internet revolution for a decade and every day entice buyers from around the world to acquire interesting material at competitive prices. The old book business may be disappearing but there is a new book business emerging and the Charles E. Tuttle Co. is now sure to be part of it.
Visitors to Alfred, Maine will soon find in the D & W shop Tuttle's annotated card catalogue that notes items, prices and purchasers of a bygone era. Perhaps on the last card of the final file will be one that reads like the deuce of clubs in the Outcasts of Poker Flat:
Across these shelves down through the decades
Passed the great literature of a nation,
The history of its people and the history of the world
Tuttle's, one of America's great booksellers of a now bygone era, will live on in imagination and memory to be remembered for their contributions to the world of print in its many forms.
Mr. Mayo's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. DeWolfe & Wood maintain a website with links to various aspects of their business: www.dwbooks.com.