AE Monthly

Articles - August - 2006 Issue

An Upstate New York Perspective

Tom.cullen

Tom Cullen, specialist in unusual Americana.


Early Tuesday morning we are off to the Old Editions Book Shop to see what a Buffalo rare book store has. It's early and also quiet. In this establishment you can buy both a cup of coffee and a book. On the second floor we meet Ted Manch who shows us Buffalo ephemera and explains that "better material is in other areas and accessible only under the supervision of the owner Ron Cossi" who isn't in. This, it turns out, is an open shop with only restricted access and we won't see the better material today. The place is nevertheless intriguing. Depending on who you speak to the inventory is 40,000 or 400,000 but there is no disagreement about what's online: 3,000 items or thereabouts. I speak with Ron by phone and learn he expects to have the full inventory on line in 5 years. Until then, if you want to see this material you have to come to Buffalo and have an appointment. The next time I'll make one. It's interesting.

Our afternoon appointment is with Tom Cullen, an ABAA specialist in manuscripts with a backdrop of very good books. He does business as the Rockland Bookman. Google Maps says it takes 59 minutes but we reach Orchard Park in 30. If the town name sounds familiar think NFL and the Buffalo Bills, Jack Kemp and Jim Kelly. Their stadium is nearby. We cruise N. Buffalo Ave and stop at Francie's Village Restaurant. No, they don't have Buffalo wings, the local delicacy, but they have great sandwiches, reasonable prices and come over to check that the food tastes good. For $10 here you get a generous lunch for two and a smile. On the way in we passed Custard Lite, a 50's rendition of the iconic ice cream shop and double back for a fix. Jenny wants a small cone and her wish is granted. I say I'll have a serious large and the teenage attendant responds with a full foot of ice cream. I graduated from Colgate in 1968 and experienced the ongoing question in class after class: Is God Dead? Today I see evidence of God and he issues ice cream cone challenges.

Tom is just around the corner. He's been selling books for much of his life although his bookselling was only ever a pinky among a fist of possibilities. He's a chemist by training and his family's business is banking so he's had choices. It's fair to say Tom is a dealer, not a collector as has been evidenced by his ability to acquire and sell inventory. His relationship to his material is mainly that he owned, not that he owns inventory. He has sold a great deal and today maintains a lean inventory- about 5,000 items with an emphasis on manuscripts where he years ago sought safety against the rising tide of internet book inventory. He brings a businessman's perspective to his book business, looking for unique and unusual material that he prices to sell. He issues 2 to 3 well written catalogues a year and sells about half his material quickly to an active mailing list of almost 600. He also does shows. Of all the people we visit this week he has the leanest inventory although the material is strong.

AE Monthly


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