July 23, 2016

Mostly clear

Medina’s Tess Kindig collects books, magazines of past

MEDINA — Tess Kindig scanned the shelves in her living room and smiled like a mother suddenly spotting one of her children in a crowd.

Light spilled in from the bay window as she gently picked up a turn-of-the-century photo album bound with a velvet spine, its green cover lavish with pink flowers. An oval-framed picture of a rosy-cheeked young girl clad in country-style dress, smiling as she feeds ducks in a pond, graces the front of the album, which is nestled in a music box base.

Tess Kindig, of Medina, sits beside shelves of some of the rare books and ephemera she has collected since she started her online business, Garrison House Books. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDY A. TOTTS)

Kindig patted the cover.

“This is one of my favorite finds,” she said, paging through the photographs, commenting on the sweetness of the faces, the charm of the period clothing. As a writer and published author, the books and ephemera such as posters and menus speak to the deep place in her heart that holds the love of story — and not necessarily the ones on the pages.

There’s nothing she likes better than the mysteries that surround the books and what she describes as the paper flotsam and jetsam of people’s lives she unearths at estate sales and auctions. Who owned the books? Why did someone keep the college sports program with notes scribbled in the margins, the menu from a restaurant that closed its doors decades ago?

Kindig started her business, Garrison House Books, in 1997 initially as an online commodity quality used book shop, one of the first wave of Internet booksellers. But her love of rare books and collectibles led her down the road less traveled by most people.

“These are books without ISBN numbers,” she said, replacing the photo album on the shelf and picking up an early issue of Ladies Home Journal.

“When I attended the John Knight auction, the house was full of wonderful books, and I found and bought some really nice ones,” Kindig said. “That was when I realized I never wanted to do commodity books. I wanted to understand collecting the books you can’t wave a wand over an ISBN number to get your information. There’s scholarship involved in antiquarian books, the search for what they are.”

Kindig will share her love of all things antiquarian when she participates in the 30th annual Akron Antiquarian Book Show April 6 and 7 at the John S. Knight Center, 77 E. Mill St., Akron. Sponsored by the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society, this year’s show will include ephemera, prompting a name change to the Akron Book and Paper Show, said Kindig, who serves as a society board member.

The show draws dealers and buyers from the area, surrounding states and as far away as Georgia.

“I like everything about this business — the repairs, the preservation, the way they (the books) look, the way they feel. Obviously as a business we need to make money, but it’s about more than money.”
Kindig is a matchmaker for book and buyer.

“I love it when I find someone who appreciates them. I like to find something truly wonderful and see it go to the perfect place,” she said, especially if the item has an emotional or personal connection.

“You’re retrieving memories for people,” she said, describing the reaction of a customer who bought a Carnegie Hall concert program. The original owner of the program had drawn a picture of the featured singer and described her appearance and performance with notes in the margin.

“The buyer turned out to be the singer’s daughter. She told me when she was 3 years old, her mother died, and this meant the world to her. It brought her a little closer to the mother she never got to know.”

She said although a strong nostalgia factor and market for rare volumes remain, booksellers need to keep pace with new collectors and figure out what they will be looking for, adding she has changed her perspective when buying stock.

“We will reach a point where the people who are collecting (rare books) now won’t be collecting. Some things will remain universal — a first edition “Alice in Wonderland” will still cross barriers — but now we need to look at pleasing the younger buyers.”

Recently, she said, a young buyer purchased a set of Varga Girl posters by Alberto Vargas for his wife, who was an artist.

Kindig gently replaced a volume on the shelf.

“I never thought I’d be an exhibitor at the show,” she said, adding the society invited her to join several years ago. “People share what they know, and they know so much. It’s astonishing. Most of the members have been doing this 30 or 40 years. It’s a lifelong process, and I wish I’d started this earlier. I started as a writer who sold books, now I’m a bookseller who writes.”

The show allows people to explore the past through books and to discover that you don’t have to be a millionaire to collect them, she said. Yes, some of the books are pricey, but “you can start with magazines like an 1895 Ladies Home Journal for $20 or menus from restaurants no longer in business and build from there.

“I never tell people to buy books as an investment to make money. I know it sounds hokey, but I’m interested in the preservation of this, providing things to people who care about them. If I know a book is going to the right person, it’s a pleasure.”

Contact Judy A. Totts at jatotts1701@gmail.com.