088. 9 Reasons Why Rare Romance Books Matter, with Rebecca Romney (#7 will surprise you!)
Suspend your assumptions about rare books - Rebecca Romney shares how rare book collection can be for everyone, and is a critical component of preserving romance genre history. Work by marginalized people has frequently been considered unimportant or devalued in the rare book world - learn how Rebecca's work (part detective, part scholar, part marketer) is important not just for romance scholars, but for all of us, and how we all have a role to play.
Suspend your assumptions about rare books - Rebecca Romney shares how rare book collection can be for everyone, and is a critical component of preserving romance genre history. Work by marginalized people has frequently been considered unimportant or devalued in the rare book world - learn how Rebecca's work (part detective, part scholar, part marketer) is important not just for romance scholars, but for all of us, and how we all have a role to play.
Rebecca Romney is a rare books specialist who has been working on a catalogue surveying the history of popular romance since 2016, covering first editions of major works in the genre from the 18th century to the year 2000. She's also the co-founder of the rare book firm Type Punch Matrix, where the catalogue will be released.
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Guest: Rebecca Romney, Rare Book Dealer
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Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00]Hello, and welcome to episode 88 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes, the popular romance genre within the broader critical discussion of identity, culture, and love.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by Rebecca Romney and we'll be discussing dusty old romance novels. Actually scratch that. We'll be talking about how rare books are sexy and matter to the modern and future romance reader. Rebecca, thanks so much for being here with me today to share your knowledge.
Can you introduce yourself in your own words?
Rebecca Romney: Sure. Thank you for having me first. I am a specialist in rare books. I am a book dealer. I co-founded a rare book company that's based in Washington, DC. We're called Type Punch Matrix, but I am also an author. I wrote a book on books called Printer's Error, and I generally lecture on things like book history, rare books and book collecting.
I'm also the co-founder of a book-collecting prize for women under 30 years of age in the United States called the Honey and Wax Prize. We actually have the submissions open until June this year and this is actually our fifth year, so it's fifth anniversary. Very exciting.
Andrea Martucci: Wow. Do you know what the fifth anniversary gift is? Is it paper.
Rebecca Romney: Right! I know we're going to do a panel that brings our previous winners in actually, you know, our first winner was a collector of romance novels.
Andrea Martucci: Oh!
Rebecca Romney: So yes, Jess Kahan collected jazz age romance novels, jazz age and depression era. The thing about those 1920s and thirties books is they have these like glorious dust jackets, The art is so jazz age and you think of something like The Great Gatsby, but imagine that for popular romance. So good. And she would analyze how things like airplanes or prohibition and things like that were introduced into these novels. Because I mean, as you know, the thing about romance is like, it can be very socially relevant and nimble in a way that other genres struggle with. And so it's fascinating to read a jazz age novel where you're really in the middle of what people were thinking then.
Yeah, that was actually our first winner. And so we have been very romance friendly from the beginning.
Andrea Martucci: Cool. Yeah. And so you are not only interested in romance novels, you deal in all sorts of rare books. What are your specific goals as a rare book dealer and how do you think your goals align with or differ from most other rare book dealers or specialists?
Rebecca Romney: The thing people mostly associate with rare book dealing is like selling first editions of those big canonical books. They get the headlines because they tend to hit really big prices, like a Shakespeare folio selling for $6 million, that kind of thing. And I do deal on that type of material because often that is what keeps the lights on for me as a business. Like I can't afford to turn my back on them.
But in terms of where I'm personally most interested and motivated, like as an ideal for me, I use rare book selling as a way to provide the funding for my own [00:03:00] research. So I can kind of justify spending this time because if I've done it well, then I can sell that book afterwards to a collector or institution. And that kind of pays for my time. And so that allows me to function as a scholar, like somewhat independent of academia.
So I'm just someone who's not cut out for academia. For a number of reasons we'll get into it, but like, that's that was not meant for me. And on the one hand, it's a gamble in the way that it's not for academics, because if I fail, then I don't get paid. If I don't sell the book, then I don't actually get my return on my investment.
But what I'm doing as a rare book dealer, is, essentially I'm trading stability for fewer restrictions in terms of either larger workplace expectations or like what I can study and spend my time on.
And there are other dealers who are like this, there are sometimes called scholar book sellers. There are plenty of dealers who are not, and, you know, they'll just focus on the high spots and sort of big game hunting collecting.
In the end we all do tend to share a common goal, which is the preservation of primary source material for the longterm, like far beyond our own lifetimes.
So we want this material available for future generations to study. This is the thing about how history is written. If the material literally isn't there to study, then it can't be included in the narrative. And this is really relevant to the project that I'm working on right now, which is a catalog that surveys the history of popular romance in English, in the novel form, because that's something that has been left out of a lot of university library special collections. And this project is seeking to push the momentum that way and redress that imbalance.
Andrea Martucci: You've led very nicely into the call to action for this episode. Let's not bury the lede on this. Rebecca, you reached out to me at the urging of our mutual friend, Angela Toscano. And what we share in common is our deep appreciation for Hsu-Ming Teo, uh, among other things.
But you reached out and you were like, Hey, I'm working on this project. And I think that your listeners might be able to help with this slash be interested in it. What are you hoping that listeners might be able to help you with or be interested in learning more about after this conversation?
Rebecca Romney: So while people are listening to this, I would love for them to suspend their assumptions about rare books and book collecting for a little bit, because I think a lot of those assumptions can get in the way of some really exciting things that they could be part of.
So, there's on the one hand, the sort of institutional side. And let me break that down for you first, and then we'll talk about the collector side. In the institutional side and sort of writing of history side that I just described, the books that define our historical narratives are written by scholars who work with primary sources.
But how do they get access to these primary sources? Usually that is through university library special collections archives, but where do the universities get the primary sources? They get them either by purchase or donation from dealers, collectors or creators. So where do [00:06:00] collectors get their material? They will hunt them down and often they get the help of dealers.
So what that means is that collectors and book dealers are like a critical part of this chain that makes these texts accessible for study. And so if they aren't collecting or selling or saving this material, then it doesn't get sold or donated. And if it doesn't get sold or donated, that material will not be there for scholars to study. And if scholars can't access it to study it, then they can't put it in their books.
So there is a larger goal here that is, you know, if there's something that you really care about being a collector is putting your hat in the ring to be part of trying to change the narrative about that. This matters to me and I want it to remain on the record.
And so another thing about collecting is, you know, it tends to be misunderstood as the big purchases and things, but that's not really what it's about. So I would love to have people toy with a possibility in the back of their mind about whether they might have rare books hidden among their own shelves or whether they're actually a collector, but haven't maybe explicitly acknowledged that before. You may not have considered yourself one, but that's because maybe you were thinking that it's just the people who collect the Shakespeare folios, and it's not.
I'll give a really famous example in collecting history to illustrate this point of, you never know what is on your shelves that is actually important and valuable.
So in 1925, there's a writer and book collector named Vincent Sterrett who publishes an article in the Saturday Evening Post. And it's called, "Have you a Tamerlane in your attic?" And in that article Sterrett tells the story of this ultra rare book that's sought after by collectors, but which hardly anyone ever recognizes because of how it was issued.
So Tamerlane was the first book by Edgar Allen Poe, but the thing is it was published without his name and only lists that it's by "A Bostonian" on the title page. And none of Poe's most famous works are in it. So it pretty much always goes on recognized. And the other thing is that even though at the time, there were four known at the time of this article and one had recently sold for like $11,000 and even though it could sell for a lot of money, most people did not know that it existed. There's no reason why they would recognize it on their shelf as like, Oh, this is worth a lot of money.
So he publishes this article suggesting like, Oh, maybe you do have one of these in your attic. And somebody actually did. Somebody read that, it was an older woman, like a widow.
And she actually had this and sold it to a dealer. And today there are 12 known copies. They have sold for over $200,000 today. So
Andrea Martucci: Wow!
Rebecca Romney: Yeah. So my point here is not necessarily that like your library is filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of like undiscovered treasure. It's more that I'd like people to take a minute and think about their shelves differently.
Consider the books there not as a book lover, who's a reader, but as a book lover, who is a historian.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. That's a fantastic story. And I'm of course sitting here thinking about all of the Johanna Lindsay novels that I got when I was a teenager, they were [00:09:00] maybe 10 or 20 years old at that point.
And at some point I culled my bookshelves because I was like, Oh, I'm not really that interested in reading this particular story anymore. Oh, let me donate this. I have donated so many romance novels specifically that, if not rare, are certainly books that I would be interested in reading now, but would have a very hard time finding and. Do you know what I mean? Cause they're not digitized. They're not ebook available. They've probably been culled from library shelves. And then the more time that goes on, you know, just the harder and harder this is.
So basically who determines what has value and what is worth keeping and collecting versus what is ephemeral. And romance novels have traditionally been considered ephemeral. Even newspapers get kept on like microfiche somewhere. But for some reason there's this idea that romance novels, like yeah, sure, whatever, people consumed them and they have no value to anyone beyond the consumer in that moment. And because romance novels are devalued in that way, all of these people who have boxes of romance novels in their attics or in their closets or whatever, they're cleaning out and they're just like, Oh, these are not worth much. Oh, I looked on eBay and this doesn't sell for much. Let me just donate this or recycle it, whatever.
So the sort of popular conception of them as not having value then contributes to how frequently they are discarded until we get to the point where literally it's hard to either put your hands on a copy easily or ferret out where those books are, because as you said, people don't understand the value of them.
I wonder if you could speak a little bit about specifically in academia, in research spaces, in rare book collections, how this is functioning to make romance novels specifically harder to get hands on.
Rebecca Romney: A big parallel to what you just described, that's happening now already happened with dime novels as a category, right?
So in the late 19th century, you have these incredibly ephemeral, which is to say they weren't meant to survive, these publications that are, just in paper wrappers, they're not bound like a hardbound book and they are available at train stations and they're super cheap and truly you're meant to like read them and throw them away.
And because of that, a lot of dime novels don't survive anymore. And it took a while in the 20th century for that to be recognized as a problem. And then it was only in the late 20th century that collectors and institutions started redressing that issue and started collecting them because one thing that happened with dime novels, and this is really relevant to romance because a lot of dime novels are romance novels, is that these books then didn't get published in hardcover form. So the only way that they exist at all is in these ephemeral formats, that if they were not kept, if they're now lost, are truly lost.
So there is a real function here, a preservation in addition to, Oh, I love this particular author. Those two things go hand in hand. Your own personal [00:12:00] interests in what matters to you plus the sort of larger goal that we're all part of. And
so when it comes to, as you're saying, like the value of who gets to determine what is worth keeping, what's worth collecting, versus what we're going to filter out, because you have to filter, there's just too much material.
This is a really tricky question that I think you'll see, even though it's very complex, you can see why romance has typically been left out. So the rare book, trade functions as a marketplace, right? And as such the primary equation is a usual market one, like supply and demand.
So in other words, how many copies survive and how much do people want it?
And this means that individuals aren't always deciding what the price of a book should be. If there are five other copies online at $500, like I don't get to price it at a thousand dollars. could, but I'd be unlikely to sell it. Right. We need to eat too. Like I need to sell my books.
So I can't just decide that this is how I want the market to function.
Andrea Martucci: Just because five people have it up as $500, it doesn't mean anybody's willing to pay $500.
Rebecca Romney: Absolutely. So this is something really important in the appraisal wor k I do too, as a rare book specialist, which is the price someone asks is whatever they want. The price someone can get for it is an entirely different thing. Price as realized, is what we would say. So yes, that aspect of it, the sort of practicality of how things move is really relevant.
The supply side though, is the sort of objective fact, right? You can't easily, or at least not ethically like massage or manipulate that part very easily. But the demand side is entirely psychological.
So why does a Shakespeare folio sell for $6 million? It's because the people who are putting down that money think he's important enough to be worth it.
On the one hand, this creates a major problem in how prices have function for rare books, because historically the people who have been working with rare books have been primarily white men, at least in Western book collecting.
And they typically have more disposable income, right? And what this does is it makes it so that the books that are sought are the ones of most interest to wealthy white men. And those are the ones therefore that see the biggest prices because the demand has gone up. So it's not really a coincidence that the highest price books that you see in the rare book market and collecting correlate pretty closely to the books that are taught as canonical in like Ivy league universities for instance.
There are though plenty of other non-canonical works that are simply of interest to wealthy white men as a demographic, like say the James Bond books. And they see huge prices because of that demand. The first Bond book, Casino Royale, it can go for like $50,000 in the original dust jacket. And that's less an example of something that is hitting that price because it's canonical and more because there are a lot of people with money who want a copy.
But the interesting thing about being a dealer and working with the psychology of demand is that there can be ways to create [00:15:00] demand. So in the romance catalog that I'm building, like I've included a book called Edge of Twilight by Paula Christian.
This is a pulp paperback. It's an original lesbian romance published in this pulp paperback form, 1959. And you probably have a sense of this, but in case it's unfamiliar to some of the listeners, in the 1950s pulp paperbacks were the primary vehicle in the American publishing market for lesbian fiction. They were sort of ironically using the seedy reputation of the like sleeve lines from these pulps as cover for exploring genuine love stories between women.
And, in the 1950s and sixties it's before the establishment of independent presses that you see in like the 1970s, like the Naiad Press that really focus on publishing lesbian fiction. The problem with this era is that most of these books didn't have happy endings, so they would explore lesbian romances, but you didn't get the happy ending.
And generally it's Patricia Highsmith's book The Price of Salt, that's called the first lesbian novel with a happy ending. I hate that. I hate it, hate it. And here's why. One of the heroines loses custody of her child in the process specifically because of her orientation and as a divorced bi woman with two kids, that is like my worst nightmare.
So I can't consider that a happy ending, but the special thing about Paula Christian's novel is that it is unequivocally happy in its ending. Like there are no awful sacrifices that must be made for the women to be together in the end. And I bring this up because this is where the making demand part comes in.
Because before I bought a copy, read it, did the research, there was no listing of this book anywhere in the market that described its place is one of the earliest lesbian novels in the US to have an unambiguously happy ending. And so by placing it in its proper historical and literary context, which it hadn't been in before, I'm making an argument to shift the demand equation for this book.
Like people should want this book, it's important. And it's glorious!
Andrea Martucci: Yeah that's such an interesting story. And I think that the corollary to this, the popular conception, which I'll be honest, I play into sometimes and I regret doing this but also there's something undeniably groundbreaking about it, but like talking about The Flame and the Flower as the first romance novel, or like the first modern romance novel or romance novel of a particular type.
And when you think about how that myth is created, it was a huge best seller, so it's commonly understood, there's a lot of copies around. A lot of people have read it. People know about it. But then you think about exactly the story you just shared where Patricia Highsmith, she's a recognizable name to me, she wrote the Talented Mr. Ripley novels.
Rebecca Romney: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: She's a bigger author. And so it seems like there's a dynamic there where, because she is just more well-known that she is getting credit for doing something that she's first of all, maybe arguably not even doing the thing she's getting credit for, but then not [00:18:00] even the first for doing that thing, but it's just because of how hard it is to get your hands on the alternative and how few people know about the alternative, then this myth-making happens.
Edge of Twilight, I don't know how many copies existed, how many people read it. Who could say how much like cultural impact it had at the time, but if you're purely going from a, what existed at the time, study, you can't leave that out and truly be talking about what happened historically.
But without having access to that, researchers, if they can't find anything else, then what conclusion can they draw, but that what they have available is what was going on at the time. This reminds me so much of the conversation I had with Margo Hendricks about histories versus history.
Like we have this concept of this one history and it's fact and whatever and how that interplays with the archives and what gets erased from the archives. We can't always know everything that happened in the past because it simply doesn't exist in the archives or very limited information exists or it's heavily biased.
Rebecca Romney: I am in complete agreement with everything you're saying. Like, one of the things you have to be really careful about as rare book dealer is the use of the word first, because I am economically encouraged to use the word first, right?
If I can say something to the first X, Y, and Z, then I can justify a better price for it, or it might be easier to sell. It's like a good, easy sales pitch. But that is so dangerous when you are attempting to think accurately as a historian and you are especially taking it from something of what I consider a feminist angle, which is the reclamation of the work of people that has been overlooked or erased for any number of reasons.
Like it is not a compliment to say that Jane Austen was the first romance novelist, right? Because like, Jane Austen's a big deal, but like one of her favorite authors was Francis Burney who wrote romance novels. And she was modeling a lot of her earliest work on Burney, and that doesn't diminish Austen to acknowledge Burney.
Instead, we are talking about people don't appear out of nowhere. This is not a vacuum. And my interest is much more in the like, let's look on the ground at the context and what things were swirling around. And so I'll often try to say more things like earliest known rather than first, because in the end often you'll get proved wrong, if you say first, inevitably.
And one thing that I'll cautious other rare book dealers about like when we're doing cataloging exercises is a lot of reference books that they use to catalog material leaves out women's contributions, right? So they're saying, Oh, this is the first utopian novel written by a woman in 1890.
And I'm like well, except in 1822, there was this other novel. It just wasn't in the reference you cited because guess what, women tend to be left out of those types of references. And so it's constantly thinking critically about how you are approaching it when you are incentivized to try to make that big [00:21:00] statement of first.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And talking about these other sources that you can use in research to try to identify what texts are relevant in this sense? I'm thinking about also another recent conversation with Julie Moody-Freeman where she's talking about a cultural studies model of research, which is looking at political economy and production and the text itself and then audience reception.
And how much of her work is relying on being able to find like newspaper articles at the time or reviews at the time, or archival material about the publishing practices or author letters or this or that. And what is playing into this over time is we understand that because it is associated with women, romance novels are generally not considered worth speaking about, culturally relevant, they're not given equal or representative space in other sort of media, like, newspaper review columns, et cetera.
And also then the presses that are publishing these people, maybe their ephemera isn't considered important enough to keep, or the manuscripts, they closed down and somebody is like, what do we do with all these papers? And they're like, eh, they're just romance novels, throw them out.
And there's just so much context in there. But what she is describing in her research is exactly the value of the work you're doing. And I know that the collection you're creating, isn't just texts. It's also, is ephemera the appropriate term?
Rebecca Romney: Yes. You can say ephemera.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So author letters or like, you know, collections that private individuals have kept like, Oh, these are my fan letters. Or I have all my press clippings, that all of that is important for creating that context of what's going on.
But there's also the bias of these media sources that you have to sort through, right? Like you can never take anything at face value, like, Oh, in the 1850s nobody thought this work was good. Everybody thought it was trash because I read one newspaper review by a white man who said this book is garbage. Therefore I can draw the conclusion that popular sentiment at the time is, such and such.
Rebecca Romney: Absolutely. And the thing is that we all have biases, right? We all have certain things that we see more easily or less easily, according to our own identities and experience. And that's why it is critical that rare books across the board, institutionally, with dealers, and with collectors become as a group more diverse than it is right now, because we need the diversity of perspectives. And diversity in every single way. Like, I mentioned before, there are a lot of rare book dealers and rare book collectors who went to Ivy league schools. Like that in and of itself is going to create a certain way of thinking about things that you may have a very different perspective if you're someone who didn't go to college at all, went to community college, whatever. Those different life experiences, different backgrounds will [00:24:00] change how you view material.
And I've actually always felt that I have an advantage in the rare book trade by being a woman from this particular perspective, because about 85% of the rare book trade is male in decision-making roles.
And what that means is that when I'm at book fair and I'm looking at my colleagues' material, I will often find things to buy from them that they think that they have priced correctly. And I'm like that book is actually way more important than you think it is because you don't know about her work on this particular topic or whatever.
Like they will maybe underestimate a woman writer that I know really well. And so that creates an opportunity for me, but it also, to me speaks to a larger imperative of like, if we want to make that historical record reflect a little bit more of what it's actually like to live in any given period, then we can't just have all people who have the same perspectives and the same background and same education doing the collecting,
Andrea Martucci: Who was in the room, who's making decisions. I was thinking about this example that crossed my life the other day. My husband's playing a video game. It's like this zombie apocalypse type game. And the guy is searching for his wife and I'm just like sitting on the couch next to my husband doing my own thing. And he's got headphones on. I just glance up every now and then.
And the wife of the main character is blonde and very few people are true blondes, right? I go to the hairdresser and become a blonde and have dark brown hair. And the wife has like these very subtle, dark brown roots and blonde hair and I'm like, honey, how many days into the zombie apocalypse is this?
And he's like 855 days. And so we understand, I think that like most video games' creators are men and probably very few video game creators have an understanding of how anybody has blonde hair with dark roots.
Rebecca Romney: Right.
Andrea Martucci: You certainly have to be visiting a hairdresser or have access to things that you probably don't have access to in the zombie apocalypse. Her hair would be grown out. And it's just an example of like, I saw that immediately. It was so obvious to me. And yet there was a room full of people and either nobody said anything because they weren't empowered to say something or nobody cared or nobody noticed.
Rebecca Romney: I love that example. There's actually a name for this. I might just be citing a specific example, but there's something called like the ketchup problem. So the Ketchup problem, the idea is you say you have a plate of fries and you are suddenly out of Ketchup. Now ketchup is actually stored in different places in your kitchen, depending on where you are from geographically.
It is this bizarre thing where in some areas, I think in the South, you're actually much more likely to store Ketchup in the cupboard, whereas like we're I'm from in the West, we're much more likely to store ketchup in the fridge. Now, if you are suddenly [00:27:00] out of Ketchup, where do you look to find something to replace it?
If you go to the cupboard, you're actually probably going to grab vinegar. If you go to the fridge, you might grab mayonnaise and I'm from Idaho. The big thing there is fry sauce, which is a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup. And so you can see that it's not that either of those solutions is necessarily superior. Although I would argue fry sauce is the most superior sauce condiment. But that you come up with different solutions depending on that context. And that's a question of just geographical habit, things that you don't even realize that you do.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. There's so many examples of that and it speaks so well to exactly what you just said. So diversity in every way, right? Like, I think we often focus on visible forms of diversity, like racial diversity or gender presentation and all of these things. There's obviously lots of ways people identify and come at the world that are less visible including socioeconomic background. Like what schools did you go to? What region did you grow up in?
And like region maybe is visible in how you speak or whatever, but thinking about like the education one receives at an Ivy league school versus my own education, which, I feel blessed in some ways that the education I received was at a school that was very pop culture friendly.
It was a communication school, so there's like a film program. So like, you know, very friendly, to sort of like popular forms of media. And I didn't get that - I mean, I had to read canonical texts and I was like blowing those classes off and that was okay.
Everybody receives these different educations and then that instills in them values about what's important? What is acceptable? A lot of people, in romance can describe that highbrow, lowbrow thing that people react to about romance. It is assumed that romance is low brow and there's a value judgment attached to that.
And you've described this in so many ways throughout our conversation, but even the study of popular culture is a fairly new phenomenon, right?
Rebecca Romney: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Because in academia, up until recently, like you literally couldn't talk about this stuff. It wasn't considered worth studying.
So the Pop Culture Association, which is based in Bowling Green did they, did it just get founded in the seventies?
Rebecca Romney: It's very late. I'm not sure when, but you're right. The entire field of pop culture, it's like a post-World war II thing, which is completely different than the movement say at the beginning of the century, around 1890s, 1910s, where you have the things like Harvard classics coming out that are like, here's the curriculum to be educated and it has Plato in it.
And it has, like this major novelist, like Richardson or whatever. And you can see that, we are gradually getting into the shift of recognizing a different type of history. As you were saying before, the histories versus capital H single history. And what Bowling Green is doing is a great example of that. And they are in fact, the major exception when it comes to romance.
Andrea Martucci: And of course podcast listeners are probably aware of Steve [00:30:00] Ammidown, who up until recently was the archivist at the Bowling Green Browne Pop Culture Library.
Rebecca Romney: Yes,
Andrea Martucci: And Steve was on the show. And at the time he was still there. But Steve was building a romance collection slash adding to the existing romance collection and doing work on that. I believe in your email, to me, you said that library is the only library that has a romance collection of any note?
I have to be careful saying only but maybe like well-publicized and well curated?
Rebecca Romney: So systematic is probably closer. Yes. It's shocking to hear this, but yes, there are only a few university libraries that care about romance in a really proactive way.
So Bowling Green is the best known. There are some universities that will have random individual collections. They will have , for example, a collection of medical romances that they were gifted by a single collector. And that's great. And that's important, but often that's not by intent. That is, because they had a donor.
There's also McDaniel College. They have the Nora Roberts American romance collection. This though is primarily focused on Rita award winners. And so it has a pretty defined scope, but McDaniel and Bowling Green are the really the only universities that I know who have been approaching building these romance collections in a conscious and systematic way.
And to me, this points to a glaring hole because, we're talking about this giant of contemporary publishing, it is one of the most sustained and popular genres in the history of the English novel. And yet there are more university libraries with collections of books about birds than there are collections centered on popular romance.
Andrea Martucci: It's shocking. And so McDaniel, that's where Pamela Regis the romance scholar is based. And so this seems part and parcel of sort of the issue of are academics studying popular romance supported in their institutions to study that thing specifically or exclusively.
Rebecca Romney: Yes. And so this actually harkens back to what I talked about in the beginning is that I am working in some ways with a lot less restrictions than scholars who are working within an academic sphere, because on the one hand they get a lot of things that I don't.
Like, independent scholar woes, like, it's really hard to get access to a lot of scholarship. For example, I'm sure you're aware of the type of problems that come up with this. There are certainly drawbacks, and I do also still have to sell books. Like I can't just continue to work on my project and never sell anything.
So I have my own versions of restrictions, but I also don't really have anyone to answer to in terms of what I can spend my time on. My time is determined by how well I do the thing. You know, if I do it well and I sell it, then I can keep doing it. If I don't do it well, or if you know, I have this gamble of like, I think that this is something that people will want and then they don't want it then. Yeah. I can't keep doing it. So my restrictions, I think are a much, again, the stability issue there, right? Like on the one hand, I have a lot more flexibility, but on the other hand, I'm dealing with a lot [00:33:00] more sort of risk reward situations, I think.
And in some ways, what I'm hoping to do is, by creating a collection like this, make it easier for people in academic environments to justify this research and to have opportunities to work on it and take students into it and build more interest in it.
Because again, you can't do it if it's not there.
Andrea Martucci: And you're providing, and you've spoken of this in various ways, you're not just providing a product, you're providing a service because my understanding is libraries are real big on completeness. I remember one time I had just graduated college. I was working at this literary magazine, so a serial publication and I call my town library and I'm like, Hey, I can give you a subscription to, you know, this literary magazine. And they're like, no, thanks. Unless you can give us everything from volume one up to this point. And I was like, Oh, okay. What? So libraries like this idea of having the whole package, right?
Like they don't just want a few novels here, a few novels there. And so building a collection is a really time intensive tasks because they have to do all the things you're doing. So if as you said, unless they're gifted a collection in its entirety there's a lot of work that goes into that.
So I wonder if you could speak kind of the nuts and bolts of how you do what you do and the skills involved. Because you sound like part detective, part researcher, and part marketer. And so there's the backend. How are you going to present all this stuff, but how do you find it in the first place? And like, literally, where do you put the books? Like what, put us like a day in the life. What does your job look like?
Rebecca Romney: I love that sort of distinction you made from like detective, researcher, and marketer, because that is a much sexier way to put what I define as the three main categories, which is buying, cataloging, and selling.
Andrea Martucci: I'm a marketer, Rebecca, so I gotta make it sexy.
Rebecca Romney: It's working for me. I take it. And it's funny you say storage. So like one of the things about booksellers, our unit of measurement is the banker's box, which is these particular sort of ephemeral cardboard boxes that have built-in handles to them. It's particular type. You might see them when you're moving or whatever.
And a banker's box is ideal because it is not so big that when you fill it with heavy books, you can't lift it. And also because it has the handles built in, you can, that's just a really easy way to move books from place to place.
So when I get a collection, I'll be like, Oh, it was 40 banker's boxes. It was 400 banker's boxes. And so for example, one thing that I have in this catalog is I have a consecutive run of the first 1500 titles in Harlequin presents.
Andrea Martucci: Wow.
Rebecca Romney: So it's 20 banker's boxes, (laughs) that's the unit of measurement.
And as you're saying, like, that is not an easy thing to put together and the best way to get something like that is to really have someone who's collecting at the time. And a lot of these came from a single collector.
But, as you're saying with the completeness issue, if you have that run of Harlequin presents from 1973 to 1995, what you [00:36:00] can see is how the design subtly changed over time. You can see when they started doing price increases, you can see when they moved from their original three authors they were focusing on to expanding to other authors.
And you can trace developments quite literally like visually, as you're looking at everything, and you start to make connections when you have that fuller context that you may not make when you're looking at any one of these individual books in isolation. And so the value of a collection, it becomes more than the sum of its parts, right?
And so in order to create such a thing, so I've been working on this catalog since 2016. So we're coming on like five years now, essentially, which is a long time. But a lot of that had to do with the limitations of finding the material.
And there are a number of different ways that I find it. I will go on house calls where people have a library and they are looking to sell material. We will buy whole collections outright. Some people will come to us because we have a reputation, we're a rare book dealer and they will offer us things.
But they're also auctions. I monitor auctions every week that are literally across the world. You can visit bookshops, book fairs. I do a fair amount of even online scouting and these are all different ways that you find material. And the thing is you do have to do a combination of them because some material may be incredibly difficult to find online, but it's fairly common in a secondhand bookshop. Romance is a good example of this.
There are a number of books that, as we're talking about, what they don't value, they don't necessarily put it online because they're like, I'm not going to sell it this way. Like it's not worth the effort. It's a $4 book to me. And so I'm not going to take all the time to create the listing and have to deal with all of that. Like just let someone come into the bookshop and buy it. And so those types of considerations really matter. You have to have a multi-pronged approach.
And then once I have the material, it's research. I am attempting, in my catalog description, then to distill all of that research, essentially into like a main summary sentence. And then perhaps about two paragraphs. Maybe three, if it's big and important.
But my cataloging, I would say generally follows an iceberg principle. So readers will see the top 10% of all the research that I've done. And then there's 90% below the surface that's supporting that small part that's visible and that's how the entire catalog functions. And the idea too, about having that research buttressing just the end point of what you see is that hopefully it helps the people who are looking at the catalog to make similar connections and understand why I place things next to each other, did things the way I did, even though I'm not necessarily explicitly stating it.
And then the last part is the selling part, which is the only thing that keeps me in business.
Like I love everything else, but unless I'm selling books then I am not going to be able to, you know, have a roof over my head. But I love this part because I love the relationships that I've built in rare books. That was fundamentally for me, the thing that made me fall in love with being a rare book [00:39:00] dealer is because I love helping an institution find a book that someone wants to use for research or for teaching.
And I love working with a collector who has super niche tastes and I can kind of be a matchmaker for them. I'll find something perfect for them and I'll let them know this thing exists. And they're like, Oh! Right, like those moments, those connections over books are really satisfying to me.
And so in terms of what that all means in practice is that I joke that a good rare book dealer requires being both introvert and extrovert. You have to be able to switch between the two, right? Because you need to be able to spend these really long hours by yourself, poring over your books and doing research, but then you're going to have a hard time staying in business if you hate interacting with people because you need to develop a client list to sell your books.
And so it is, as you say, it's multiple hats that you have to wear at any given time.
Andrea Martucci: On the matchmaker front, I know you alluded to this earlier, not everyone you're working with is either a large institution with resources or an individual who has a ton of money that they're working to build in one of the vast libraries in their home.
Can you describe the relationships you're building, like the variety of people who are buying your books and what that range looks like? From the like highest dollar to the lowest dollar type transaction?
Rebecca Romney: So, you know, the high end is the thing that I think a lot of people see, you can do like million dollar invoices for books that are like making headlines and that you see at big auctions and that make a big splash. That's part of the business.
But then you can go to the other end of the spectrum in terms of just prices and a lot of that material is, in my opinion, equally as interesting. It's just that the market functions in such a way that it isn't commanding the same prices. I don't see either as inherently more interesting because to me, you can have a really interesting person who has a lot of money, but they have like a really weird interest.
And then the same thing goes for, you know, people buying 50 books or $25 books. Like to me, it's about the person, it's about their interests. And the price, it's not that it's incidental, but that is not what drives the relationships.
And so I spend a lot of time trying to encourage people to think about the ways that they may already be collectors because they never saw themselves as those high rollers.
Because as I've said, I want to have the rare book world become more diverse. I want more backgrounds, more experiences, more opinions, more perspectives. And the only way that's going to happen is that if people who initially don't see themselves as fitting into the rare book world, are essentially invited and given the chance to see that it's not like that in practice.
I feel like acting like book collecting is just about $6 million Shakespeare books is like acting like romance is just about Fabio covers. Like it's in there. Fine, but it is so much more rich and interesting than that. And [00:42:00] just assuming that because that's the most visible point thinking that is representative of the entire thing is just misleading.
That's one thing that I try to do in the catalog, the way I chose everything was in part to emphasize the heterogeneity because romance is so often written off as all the same. And obviously it's not. And so when you put all these books next to each other and you see their differences, like you can really clock, this is incredibly rich and diverse tradition.
My preference is if I am going to be spending at least 40 hours of any given week at my job, I want it to be something that I find engaging. Like that's kind of a fundamental way that I have chosen to handle my career and I want to do the research. That is what makes me happy.
And so what I try to do as a dealer, as a sort of value added of, this is a book that maybe you didn't even realize that you wanted. And now after reading my description, you're like, that is fascinating. I want to go read that or I want a copy of that. Like that oftentimes is my goal
Andrea Martucci: So here's an example of where you did that with me. Okay, so there's this book Idalia by Ouida.
Rebecca Romney: Yes, Ouida. (pronounced "Weed-uh")
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay. So this is a book from 1867, and this is how you described it. " Epic romance. That features one of famous, morally Renegade heroines who funds revolutions, rescues the hero, and inherits her own kingdom." I mean, I'm like, please, I want to read that. I want it injected into me. That sounds amazing.
Rebecca Romney: What's not to like about that. Yeah. Ouida is a really complicated figure, partially because she rejected some of the later new women developments. She was something of a snob sometimes, but she was a hugely popular writer who was associated with the Victorian novel that a lot of people, again, don't really know anymore.
And then when you actually read her work, you're like, wow, there's a lot going on here. I didn't even know this was a thing.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I don't love reading work that is less accessible to the modern reader, let's say. Obviously ways of writing, ways of speaking, have changed over time, even in English.
And that's just like, not the kind of reader I am. So I have a feeling that like, if I got this book myself, I would probably find it hard to parse through the text to get to that story that you pulled out. So first of all, though, I think it's incredibly important that this work is saved so that somebody can study it so that they can explain it to me.
Cause it sounds fascinating, but I'm just not the kind of reader who would have the patience to sit with the texts long enough to get there. So can you describe the process, you're doing the research and you're kind of like getting the idea that a particular text is meaningful in some way, and then you get your hands on it.
You read it obviously, can you kind of like walk through the process of reading it and how much time you spend with it and how much other research and analysis you're doing?
[00:45:00] Rebecca Romney: Yes. So the interesting thing about this catalog, that's somewhat of a deviation from my normal way of doing things is that I typically don't consider it a requirement to read a book all the way through in order to catalog it because like life is too short. I cannot read all the books that I sell. It's not going to happen.
Andrea Martucci: You did not read those 1500 Harlequins?
Rebecca Romney: Exactly, like that wasn't going to happen. I made sure to read a representative sampling. I read number one, I read number 50. I made sure that I had a sense. But a lot of these earlier works. I really did have to read them before I could include them in the catalog because I am using parameters for how I'm defining the romance novel. And it includes a happy ending for example.
And also the relationship does have to be central. Falling in love has to be a major plot point. And the way that standard has come into being in sort of our modern publishing world was a gradual development. It wasn't always like this. You could, in the 19th century, publish a novel, that was a romance, but it may not have a happy ending.
And so genre romance today, like those are must haves. And so when I am retroactively saying that I am trying to work within those boundaries in order to find the literary ancestry, as it were, I actually do have to read and double-check that it has a happy ending, even if it was marketed at the time as a romance.
And Pamela Regis actually talks about this with her studies of American romances in the essay she has in the Routledge Companion to Popular Romance, the same problem where something can be marketed that way, sold that way, readers could see it that way, but today we expect a happy ending. So you still have to go and double-check, and there were books I did leave out for that reason.
Andrea Martucci: And part of that is genre conventions, which I was actually talking to Tasha and Katrina about this the other day, about how genre conventions have calcified to a certain point, maybe like in the period, since the seventies, things have become a bit more set in stone and prescriptive, let's say in terms of what we will consider romance.
But some of that is cultural because I was recently reading. I did not get all the way through, I must admit yet, but I was reading Eva Illouz's Consuming the Romantic Utopia, and she's talking about the period from the Victorian era into like the 1920s, actually almost the jazz age, I guess, that you were talking about earlier and how there was this shift in terms of expectations for romance and relationships and marriage and how much of that is being shaped by pop culture, but also the political economy, like literally, how is the world changing at this time? Cities are growing. Youth are getting cars and going out to movie theaters and having dances instead of having these like country dances or like church, community type oriented activities.
I find that fascinating, this idea of like in 1867, what is considered a happy ending? In 1867, what does romance look like? And does [00:48:00] it look exactly the way we would define it today, particularly in the context of how the popular romance genre has, I'm going to keep saying the word calcified.
Rebecca Romney: It works. (laughs) well, here's the thing, this kind of gets a little bit to what you were saying before about, as a reader, you're not really interested in reading things that don't provide you with a reading experience that you want, that are offensive or any number of reasons. Like that's not how you want to spend your time.
And the thing that I think about with a lot of this is the very important distinction between a reader and historian, right? Like when I am cataloging these books, I am trying to place them in their historical context. I'm thinking very much like a cultural historian and there is a value judgment in whether or not I am including them at all. That is a value judgment. You leave things out, that's a choice. You put things in that's a choice. And that does shape people's perceptions.
But that is to me, a very different equation than a modern reader being like, yeah, I'm not going to read that. Like that is not for me. Life is too short, and I think that I'd like to make a distinction between different types of book lovers for this reason.
Like I am a book lover who is a reader and I am a book lover, who's a collector and those are related types of bibliophiles, but they are actually two distinct categories. A reader cares about the texts. And it's about the reading experience. The book lover who's a collector is looking at the book as a historical artifact and that's the point. And so it's just a question of emphasis.
Andrea Martucci: In terms of the project goal you've already touched on some of the uses for this collection and even talking about being able to see that run of 1500 Harlequin presents, about being able to see how the covers are changing, see how the authors are changing. And so the value is in the completeness of kind of being able to see that evolution over time. And then of course, somebody studying this would put that in the context of what else was being published at the time and all these other things.
But in terms of the immediate goal of this project, you're creating this collection and you hope to sell it -
Rebecca Romney: yes
Andrea Martucci: -and I believe you said, hopefully in its entirety.
Rebecca Romney: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: To one institution probably.
Rebecca Romney: Yes. So the goal is it's actually kind of unorthodox in that way, because generally even in a catalog, you sell item by item. But my goal is to sell this as a single collection, because my fundamental goal is to provide the foundation for a university library, special collections to create a research and teaching collection of popular romance, because as we said, very few university libraries have this, and I believe that there is a need for it.
And this would be it's meant to be sort a jumpstart. And the thing is I have tried also to be very careful about avoiding any ideas of canonicity in this. And it's hard to do that just by the structure of the catalog. It's structured [00:51:00] as 100 lots surveying the history of romance from the 18th century to the year 2000.
And that inherently seems very canonizing, but I have to create boundaries in some form, so that I'm stating my boundaries. But the thing is because I have to find these books and I don't get to like manufacture my product, what that means is that like Francis Burney's Evelina would absolutely be in this catalog if I could find a first edition, but I haven't been able to find a first edition in the five years I've been building this.
So even if I wanted to do something canonical, which I do not, but if I did, then I couldn't because these things in many cases are just not obtainable in the market. So the idea instead is to create a foundation that can be built upon further. I'm trying to choose material that can be representative of larger trends and developments.
And I'm also hoping that individual lots will serve as sort of models for different ways of collecting. You can collect medical romances, or you can collect the particular Gothic romances that were coming out in like the sixties and the seventies, or you can collect every romance that was set in Michigan, for example. There was so many different ways to approach collecting that it's just a question more of your creativity than it is anything else. And a lot of the lots are meant to model different ways that you can collect. So it's meant to be a starting point rather than an end point. And for example, if I wanted to replicate this collection exactly again, I would not be able to, because I'm limited by the scarcity of the material.
And so that's another reason why canonicity is not even a question. It's much more of let's at least take the first step and then we can take the next step from there.
Andrea Martucci: And so whoever ends up taking possession of this collection, those lucky dogs, we've already talked all about a lot of the ways that this can benefit academics, historians, et cetera.
What about people who are maybe not going to physically go to a library archive to do research. Are there potential benefits with digitization of materials?
Rebecca Romney: What you're doing as a collector is you are making sure the material is preserved, that it can be digitized in the first place. There are a lot of popular novels in romance were first published in some kind of ephemeral form, like dime novels. They're serialized in the weekend paper, that type of thing.
And book publishers, they would keep up with those ephemeral publications and they would choose the ones that they liked for publication in book form. But here's the thing - the majority of that ephemeral material, when you're talking late 19th century, early 20th century is now lost.
So if a romance novel was printed in a cheap serial, but never deemed worthy of book publication, we literally may never even know that it existed, right? Because it hasn't been preserved. And it's important to keep in mind too, that there were far more books published serially than in that sort of hardcover book form.
And so in many cases, preserving the original form is the only way that [00:54:00] people will have access to it now.
So digitization is the obvious example, but a project that I like as an example is the Schomburg Library of 19th Century Black Women Writers. And this was edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. And it's a series of books that was re-issued beginning in the 1980s. And these books were like super rare novels by Black women that would otherwise not have been widely available for people to read or to study.
And today these books, you know, in first edition, some of them can be really expensive, but a number of them also were never published in book form. They're only available in periodical form and even a professional like me, I can not get ahold of a copy like they're unobtainable. And this project, what it did is it reissued these in a hardcover format that was relatively more accessible so that anyone could have a library of 19th century Black women writers in the 1980s and 1990s.
And that's had a huge effect on what people were able to study. And the same thing applies with these romance novels we're talking about now, is that something that seems inaccessible, which is this like highfalutin book collecting, is in fact, what will make these texts accessible for future generations and in different formats.
Andrea Martucci: We're living in a digital age where there are a lot of romance novels coming out now that are digital first, digital only.
And I think we have this sense as lay people that if it's available digitally, first of all, it's always available and we don't have to worry about preserving it because surely, there's just copy after copy somewhere and we'll never lose it.
But I'm curious, as we look forward to the future, unless somebody is able to find a hard drive somewhere that hasn't degraded over time, because that's a thing that happens, there are probably lots of self-published books or even, there are publishers doing ebook only books, that can similarly be lost to time and maybe even more easily than things that were at least physically available at one point in time.
Rebecca Romney: So this is a huge consideration, in my opinion. Like we are dealing with this moment where digital publishing and especially the rich variety you get in independent and self publishing in romance today, that is going to be very important to be preserved. And yet we're not really thinking about that because we're thinking in the moment, we're thinking as contemporary readers and using it now. But as you're saying, like this is going to date me, but like I have mix tapes that I created that like, I will have to buy technology in order to turn them into a technology that makes them accessible.
And the thing about paper, I'm not going to play this like paper's better than digital. I don't believe that I believe each has its own strengths and weaknesses. And if you accept what those restrictions and benefits are for each, then you can use them each accordingly.
But one thing about print and paper is that you don't have to do any real special access for that. You don't have to go out and buy a DVD player to [00:57:00] play DVD that you've kept from 10 years ago that now you can't normally watch because everything you do is streaming. And that type of change in technology is another reason why digitization can be very expensive is because we're constantly looking for ways to update the files that we already have, or to create files that will be longer lasting.
And these types of considerations, I think, have been really off the radar of contemporary ebook publishing because they're not thinking about that so much. Just as I am, they're thinking about staying in business now, selling books now. But it's important to keep in mind too, that when you do preserve this, it can lead to new ways that the books can be put in an accessible form later.
Andrea Martucci: So again, looking ahead to the future we've already started talking about some of the ramifications of the digital age of publishing. But another thing that makes you rare in the rare book world is that you're fairly young.
Rebecca Romney: You are young in the rare book trade, if you're under 50. There is the sense that I think I'm really invested in thinking about what the rare book trade and what rare book collecting is going to look like in 20 years, because I'm still going to be dealing in 20 years.
And, you know, a lot of my colleagues and even dear friends, they're planning to retire by then. And so I think we've had very different perspectives and I'm really interested in building now that type of world that I want to see in 20 years. And a big part of that is actively encouraging, inviting collectors, who are focusing on things that I want to see more of. And that I think there were a book world needs to see more of, and this collection itself ties into that. That's why I describe it in some ways as an attempt to model, because I would love for people to see it and be like, Oh I want to do that collection. Or I want to do a collection. That's like that, or that makes me think of this thing.
I've talked about how this isn't a thing that can be accomplished by a single person or a single way of thinking. And so the goal is to get as many people as possible who have different personalities, different backgrounds, all contributing to this larger shared goal.
Andrea Martucci: There are books in your collection. That are 30 to 40 years old, obviously many that are even older than that, but you conceivably could be doing this 50 years from now, or, I mean, certainly 30, 40 years from now. Is rare book speculation of thing. Are you buying books that are coming out now and like putting them in a cellar so that you have like the complete collection of whatever 40 years from now?
Rebecca Romney: Okay. So I generally don't do this, at least not in that type of long-term. I generally don't do it because again, like I need to eat now, so I'm not really going to store up for later, so I prefer to buy things that I can sell. This catalog is an example of an exception. Like I started this in 2016 and I have been investing money in, that has just been sitting in these books that I haven't been able to get a return on while I have been building this collection with the idea that once it is done, I will have a payoff for that.
But I will say that there are plenty of collectors who enjoy that [01:00:00] type of a game, which is that they like to pit their own tastes against the market of, "I think this book is really great and really important. So I'm going to buy it now. And I bet in 10 years that it's going to be worth a lot more." I don't personally play that game as a dealer. I don't like to look at rare books as investments, because I feel like, listen, these are commodities. I get it. But as you can see, I'm much more interested in them as historical objects than as investment vehicles.
So that's not really how I play the game, but I do know that there have been plenty of collectors who like the idea of seeing whether they're proved right. That's, when I talk about like, what's important to you, what do you think people should be paying attention to? If there's something that you think is like really big and important and everyone else is 10 years behind you, like you can buy that material now and you're kind of betting on yourself.
So the romance catalog is in some ways that. Like in 2016, no one in the rare book trade was really talking about romance. And I think that's starting to change so we will see
Andrea Martucci: And you might as well, let other people take up space in their house and spend the money to buy things and then just go find it later.
Rebecca Romney: Listen, I mean, this is another reason why you need many people to be part of this work. Like, especially when we're thinking the institutional environment like institutions are chronically under resourced, right? In terms of how much they can afford to put funding into things, the amount of staff that they can have as they're like this chronic problem of the back catalog, because you cannot get the funding to hire enough people to catalog it all.
And that's why collectors mattered here too, because this material still needs to be preserved and you are sort of supplementing where there are limitations in institutions, right? Where, you're doing this as your hobby and you don't have to only do this on time that you're being paid or whatever.
And institutions rely really heavily on that with the collections that are donated to them, because you said, you know, value added, all the time that's being put into researching these and cataloging these, that is a huge amount of time that you are saving the institution and therefore resources you can be saving the institution.
Andrea Martucci: And something that's just occurring to me too, though, is that if we think about particular age of romance publishing anyways, that started in the seventies, if you think about how old, like, so the youngest reader in the seventies, let's say 20-something year old, that was 50 years ago.
Those people are maybe downsizing their homes at this point. Perhaps people are going through their estates. It strikes me that - it's always a critical time, but maybe if listeners to this podcast are in that situation of downsizing themselves or helping somebody downsize, or as I said, going through somebody estate that , this is an important thing to have in the back of people's minds. To not automatically say, Oh, let me give these to a library book sale. And then the library book sale is overburdened and they end up recycling everything. Which is fine. They have too much material, they're not archivists. They're just like, what's going to sell it a book sale and we only have so much room.
Can you please remind [01:03:00] people, like what is this final call to action to people? I know you said you're looking for a few final things, but how do people know if they're finding something that might be of value to you personally, or to another rare book dealer?
What should they do if they think that they have something somebody might be interested in?
Rebecca Romney: So the basic call to action that I can summarize at this point is quite simply look carefully at your shelves before you throw things away. Just stop and consider for a moment. Could there be something here that someone would value for one reason or another?
And one thing that is good about the internet is that you can do a quick Google search and get an idea of, okay as we said, a dealer is offering $500 for this, that doesn't mean they'll get $500, but if they are offering that, maybe this book would be of interest to someone.
And the other thing that tends to be a quick way to check is first printing. So we're talking about that era, the seventies, for example, like The Flame and the Flower, here's the thing about The Flame and the Flower. It went through like 70 printings in the first year. It went through so many printings because it just exploded. And what that means is that when you're searching for copies on the secondhand market, as I have been for years now, they're all later printings. That first printing is like impossible to find.
It's impossible to identify because even if it was a decent print run, and it was a decent print room, statistically, it is in that tiny minority compared to books that were even published in the first year.
And even just pulling a book like that off the shelf and checking whether it's a first printing. In many of these books from that era from about 1974, they will often say either first printing or they will have what's called a number line, which is a series of numbers on the copyright page that goes down to whatever printing it is.
So if it goes down to one, it's the first printing, if it goes down to two, it's a second printing, et cetera. So they can actually be fairly easy to check in romance as a genre, as opposed to a lot of other types of collecting. So even just going to your shelves and double-checking that. So Flame and the Flower was one example.
Andrea Martucci: I'm going back to my shelf right now to go check how old - I'll update you afterwards.
Rebecca Romney: Okay. So like, I'll give you a few other examples of things. Like right now I am pretty much done with the catalog and I just have to deal with again, the sort of behind the scenes, invisible labor to make it complete, but there are a few that I still want badly enough that I would switch out things in the 11th hour.
One is surprisingly, The Sheik, EM Hull, is an incredibly difficult book to find in the first edition, because there are a bunch of people online who think they have first editions and have described them as first editions and they are not. So that has been very frustrating.
Another example actually going earlier. So The Sheik is pre-World War II, romance history, and other example is The Rosary by Florence Barclay. Now this was 1909. It was a blockbuster romance. Its basic conceit is it's a contemporary romance, and it has a heroine who is quote unquote plain, and it has a disabled hero. And it was [01:06:00] an international bestseller, was a huge deal, but because it was such a big deal, really only early printings are find-able and it's super hard to find the first printing.
So I have an early printing in the catalog and not the first, but even moving much later Entwined Destinies by Rosalind Wells is a great example of a book that I still don't have that I should have. It's often summarized as the first known, and again, I'm saying known there instead of first, category romance by a Black woman with Black characters, and this was published by Vivian Stephens at Dell.
This book is find-able, but I made the mistake of passing up earlier copies, hoping for one in fantastic condition. And now I don't have one in the catalog at all. And I really messed that one up (laughs ruefully) because I would love to still fit it in.
And then for me, my holy grail book that I just, I want very badly, but I have not been able to find is Pembroke Park by Michelle Martin.
It is the first lesbian Regency romance. (Andrea: ooh) Yes, 1989. Most lesbian romance of the 20th century is contemporary rather than historical and Pembroke Park, it's a major landmark in the field as one of the historicals. It's the first Regency. Again, what's not to like there.
So those are things that I personally am still looking for that I would really like to include. If you have romance that again, see at home, you have a first printing and you don't see a lot of copies online. You think it may be important, you should definitely feel comfortable letting me know about it.
But to expand this to a wider field, if you have books on your shelves that you think might be worth some money in terms of you want to sell it and maybe a rare book dealer would be interested in it, I would encourage people to look up the Antiquarian Book Sellers Association of America, which is abaa.org.
This is the trade organization for rare book dealers. So if you contact someone who's part of this trade organization, like my company is a member for this organization. We follow a code of ethics. We're not allowed to give you low ball offers on your books. We have to describe things correctly, all of that.
And so you can go to abaa.org and you can search booksellers by specialty. So if you have a Bible or if you have a book in German or you have a mystery novel, you can find people who have those specialties and you can say, I have this book. I think it might be worth something, I have no idea. Would you be interested in considering buying it? So that is to me a sort of shortcut way to double-check once you've looked on your shelves and you think there may be something there worth pursuing.
But the main thing is just to have that thought in the first place. I got a look at these and before I donate them, before I throw them in the trash, before I recycle them, whatever I should just double-check, there's not something here that someone might be interested in down the road.
Andrea Martucci: A lot of authors listen to this podcast as well. If somebody is an author, are there any things that they should keep in mind as things that they might keep for future scholars who might be interested in studying their work?
Rebecca Romney: Oh my gosh. Yes, please. Please keep your archive in some form. [01:09:00] Today, a lot of authors, their archives is a digital archive and special collections are adapting to this.
UT Austin, in fact, the Ransom Center is famous for having a lot of important author archives that are part digital, but then, Beverly Cleary's archive is very famously at Yale. These types of materials are very important to scholars.
And I would encourage any author - there's some authors who may feel like, Oh yes, my archive will be important. So of course I'll keep it. But I think a lot of authors are actually going to be like, who really cares about me? I would discourage people from making that judgment themselves. Just save it. And, don't discount yourself. You just never know, just save it.
Andrea Martucci: I know that the Shelf Love collection is going to be really important as well. So I will just say that I am beginning my own archive for future researchers. But all joking aside I know Steve Ammidown was involved in this project, there is an archive project, a digital archive project going on now that Steve Ammidown invited me to take part in, where they are archiving digital content around romance.
And I will say that as a Podcaster one thing that I think is important is creating transcripts. And I have been doing that every episode since like, Oh God, maybe in the thirties episode 30 or 40 or something. And I do intend on going back and doing the early ones as well. But even just thinking about digital content, like as a podcaster, my primary deliverable is an audio file.
And similar to eBooks compared to print books, having a transcript, it's much easier to keep a transcript, than keep an audio file up to date. And so, I'm really like, I want to read a paper before I die about somebody who used my transcripts to talk about like what readers thought about romance at the time that the Podcast came out. That is my dying wish sorry, bucket list.
Rebecca Romney: So you were speaking my language absolutely. So for example, the catalog that I'm creating is, it's a single collection that will hopefully only go to a single library and it will be sold. It will be done.
But what I'm planning to do is I will have a free version of the catalog available, like in PDF format, on my website, but then I'm actually also going to print a limited run of hardcover copies with the idea that this is something that people can use to reference.
And the suggestion here is not that this would be an authority so much as it is again, providing the model, providing a context, providing a first step that, I will continue to build on, but I hope many people build with me.
And the intent here is just keeping in mind the future historical records.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So Rebecca, thank you so much for being here with me today. And I think that Shelf Love's listeners are going to find all of this fascinating. How can people find you and stay up to date with you and your work?
Rebecca Romney: So if you want to find me as a rare book dealer, you can find the website of my [01:12:00] firm, which is Type Punch Matrix, T Y P E, P U N C H, M A T R I X. Typepunchmatrix.com. We're also on social media that way. And then me personally, I am mostly on Twitter and Instagram, @RebeccaRomney, @Rebecca.Romney on Instagram.
And I am always happy to talk romance in those particular venues. But yeah, if you want to see the rare book stuff, you want to go to typepunchmatrix.com.
Andrea Martucci: Everybody should go find Rebecca online and Rebecca, thanks so much for being here.
Rebecca Romney: Thank you for having me.
Andrea Martucci: Thanks for listening to episode 88 of Shelf Love and thank you to Rebecca Romney for joining me a transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on Shelflovepodcast.Com.
Back in January, 2021, I took a month long hiatus from releasing new episodes to take a little bit of a break. And then I just started releasing episodes again and some friends of the pod told me that apparently I never said I came back from hiatus. I obviously don't know the conventions of hiatuses cause I've just kind of thought like, well, when I come back, I'm done, but whatever I was officially back from February to now at the beginning of May.
However, the reason I'm speaking of this now is because I am going to go on another hiatus.
You've probably heard me speak about the research I've been doing on people who started reading romance because of watching Bridgerton and a little bit about how it's also about stereotypes about romance readers.
I'm about one month out from presenting on this at the Popular Culture Association Conference and I need to buckle down and compile it into something coherent. I shared three different surveys and altogether got 605 responses. I also conducted seven one-on-one interviews with readers who had never read romance before, but decided to read the Bridgerton novels.
I have so much great data, it is truly an embarrassment of riches. So part of the challenge right now is figuring out what I can share in 15 minutes. After I present my 15 minutes at PCA, I will also share a version of that presentation on the Podcast. I have recordings of my interviews with the seven new readers of romance. So obviously I will be sharing, probably parts of that.
So after I present at PCA, I will share a version of that presentation on the podcast, and will also be sharing different aspects of the research over time as well.
Now sometimes when I don't release content, I get kind of itchy. So I might get creative and release some shorter stuff in the meantime, but I likely won't be releasing full quote unquote, regular episodes again until early July 2021.
I recently recorded conversations that are waiting in the wings so here's what you can look forward to when I return for real.
The Joyless Hags Book Club reconvened to discuss Seducing My Guardian by Katee Robert Morgan and Isabeau from Whoa!mance also returned to [01:15:00] have a super light conversation about problematizing, fetishization, and commoditization in romance, through a Marxist lens. And my school chum, Diana Filar and I just wrapped up a discussion about white European immigrants in America, the American dream, names and naming, and white privilege. Diana is finishing up a PhD in literature with a focus on immigration literature, so she had all sorts of knowledge to share on the topic. Plus, we talked about being Polish American with potato farming ancestors.
So there is lots to look forward to, and of course, lots of other great conversations in the Shelf Love archive to listen to if you haven't listened already.
Based on this episode, one that you might want to check out is a really early episode, episode 13, with Steve Ammidown, who was mentioned in this episode. He spoke about his work as a pop culture archivist at the Bowling Green State University Browne Pop Culture Library. And we also discussed The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa K. Adams.
I also mentioned that Dr. Angela Toscano played matchmaker to help Rebecca and I get in touch and you can hear Angela on two episodes of Shelf, Love number 73 and 74, in which she breaks down the structure of romance using Northrop Frye's The Secular Scripture.
Rebecca and I are also both big fans of Dr. Hsu-Ming Teo, who is a cultural historian, and she visited Shelf Love in episode 58 to discuss East Asian American diaspora romance. And Hsu-Ming also shared more about her research, which explore Orientalism in romance as well as insight into how love means different things in different cultures and time periods.
Thanks for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I'd love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L Harrison.
That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.