Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jeffrey Thomas, Fine Bookseller, Remembered

From 1982 to 1985 I had the good fortune and privilege to work for Jeffrey Thomas. I met Jeffrey when we worked together at John Howell-Books, a leading fine and rare antiquarian book dealer in San Francisco (established 1912).

One day, Jeffrey surprised us all by leaving. He then started to accumulate the stock of merchandise he would need to set up his own small book business. He recruited me in February of 1982 to help him run it. He called me his "staff."

Like any new business, it was pretty slow at first. Unlike at Howell's, we were not on ground level and were not established, so we had few visitors. Jeffrey, a Yale grad and U.C. Berkeley Ph.D, loved writing book descriptions, issuing catalogs and acquiring interesting books, so he did that while I took care of producing the catalogs, planning the office layout (and moving us down the hall to new quarters at one point), setting up the computer system, paying bills, shipping the merchandise, and writing some simple book descriptions.

Jeffrey was born on November 27, 1938, which is why I am writing this today. We worked together at Jeffrey Thomas Fine & Rare Books for only three years, but when I left, the business was much more established. I recruited an excellent replacement for myself, who gave Jeffrey two decades of fine service, which only ended when Jeffrey died four years ago.

Every year after I left his employ, I would call Jeffrey on his birthday and we'd have a nice chat. What makes this remarkable, to me at least, is that we had little other contact, and he is the only person that I have ever called without fail on their birthday. It was just a way of keeping in touch.

Jeffrey was a gentleman, brilliant, funny, kind, and he added a lot to the antiquarian book business for many years. Like so many owner-centered businesses, Jeffrey Thomas Fine & Rare Books did not survive his passing.

Happy Birthday, Jeffrey. I miss you.


Matthew Wong said...

A very nice tribute, Steve. I think of JFT all of the time. He was a mentor, not just in the area of rare books, but character and living well. He taught me so much, but there was much he couldn't pass on, such as his wit and brilliance. Working for him, I was introduced to the beautiful world of rare books, as well as the community of those who cared about literature, history, science, travel, classical music and other academic topics. He was worldly, yet remarkably down to earth. Thank you for your blog post. We will remember him today, and tomorrow, too.

Julie Wong

Matthew Wong said...

Just found this post and picture. Hope you don't mind if I use the photo on FB.

Remembering the man...