Photo taken by Sean Samuels: http://www.seansamuels.com/Photography

Photo taken by Sean Samuels:

Ok Fartheads. I know (as well as you all know) that metalheads are a really intelligent bunch. Pantera and Five Finger Death Punch fans aside, metal fans are some of the most open minded and intelligent people that I know. Most of us have sincere appreciations for many other styles of music, good food, and yes, we are even known to be able to read above an elementary school level.

If you’re like me, I always enjoy a great book and I also enjoy collecting crap. For this reason, the History Channel show Pawn Stars has been one of my favorite shows since its premier in 2009. With their cast of experts that usually come in to aid in offering up information, history and appraisals on everything from old cars to old beat up books, Pawn Stars has totally appealed to me and fascinated this long time fan of stuff. Among the cast of experts is Bauman Rare Books store manager Rebecca Romney. Rebecca is called in to appraise and offer up her knowledge on old books when the guys at the Pawn Shop aren’t sure what it is that they’re looking at.

I was lucky enough to meet Rebecca during my Christmas trip to Las Vegas and she was gracious enough to take me on a tour of Bauman Rare Books and answer some questions I had about book collecting. I was absolutely fascinated by our conversation and I thought it would be cool to do an interview with her for the site. So sit back, put on your reading classes, and sip some tea as we get to know Rebecca Romney.

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Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for taking the time out to talk with me today. I’d like to think that this is your FIRST interview with a heavy metal website.

It’s my pleasure and that is correct. This is a first [laughs].

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Heavy Metal fans get a bad rap sometimes as far as being meatheads or burnouts but we’re a pretty diverse, well-read bunch of people for the most part.

[laughs] I’m aware of that actually. Many of my friends are very much into heavy metal. One of my dearest friends from high school was very much into metal.

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Well a lot of my readers were very excited over the idea of me interviewing you and can’t wait to see what I would ask you. Don’t worry; it won’t be anything shocking I promise.

[laughs] Ok.

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So as a long time fan of Pawn Stars, I’ve been curious to ask you. Have you always been Rick Harrison’s “book expert,” or was this a relationship sparked up for the show?

Sort of both. We had interactions with Rick totally separate from the show. He knew of us and we knew of him and we’d have interactions here and there. We would run into each other at similar events. It’s kind of a small world in Las Vegas, so hard not to have that happen. That being said, we didn’t really get involved with the show until somewhat late in the game. That did come about because of our off and on interactions with Rick, but it came a lot later.

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How did you become a book expert and working for Bauman Rare Books? Is there a book expert degree you can earn in college? What’s your story?

[laughs] Yeah, I wish there were a book expert degree [laughs]. There are a lot of ways up this mountain. For instance, just to give you an idea, at Bauman Rare Books, my background is in Classical Studies, so essentially, Ancient Greece and Rome, and Linguistics and languages. We do have some English majors here. We have people with Library Science degrees, but we also have people with Political Science degrees. We have people with Philosophy degrees; History, of course, and we have aReverend on staff. We have a lawyer on staff. There are many ways to get where we are. We all just kind of ended up here. In the end what brought us all together was a love of literature and history.

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So why books?

I definitely grew up a reader. My entire family was a family of readers. My father loves science fiction and he had a huge collection of science fiction paperbacks. I used to borrow my older brother’s books. He was so particular because I was five years younger than him and I was not necessarily the best person to lend your books to [laughs]. Before he would let me borrow any of them, he was very specific and would give me really strict rules. I learned at a pretty young age about how to take care of them because I knew that I couldn’t read them unless I took care of them. I wouldn’t have access to them because he would take that away.

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Being that you work with some of the most rare and valuable books out there, are you yourself a collector of rare books?

I definitely have that impulse and there are particular areas that I like. There is someone that I do actively collect but I try to keep it under control. He’s a publisher named Thomas Mosher. In some ways it’s a very dangerous habit to get into [laughs]. If you’re around books like this you have to really control your lust for them. The nice thing about a job like this is that you feel like a collector while you are consulting with other collectors. That’s our ideal:we actually act as consultants for people building up their rare book library, so when I find a book and place a book in a great library, I kind of feel like I own it or collect it by proxy. I know it’s going to a good place, I’ve gotten to handle it, I got to essentially convince someone that this is a book that is appropriate for their collection. That actually is an effective diversion of the collecting impulse—which I definitely have.

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rebeccaromney02I can imagine that you could go broke in your position if you’re not careful.

[laughs] Yes. That’s why I can’t do it. This is a hotel casino that we work in. It would be like me coming to work and then going down on my breaks and gambling. If you’re in this environment, you’ve got to have certain rules for yourself.

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Have you been approached at all about maybe having your own spin off show?

[laughs] A lot of people want to know the answer to that and essentially, the answer is that I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement for anything relating to behind the scenes of Pawn Stars stuff. The question I can answer that doesn’t fit into that non-disclosure is if that is something I would be interested in doing.

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Actually, that is a much better question. Is it something you would be interested in?

[laughs] Well, I’ve given it some thought and I think that it’s a very complex question. Some people are like, “Of course you should have your own show. Done and done. Why not?” On my end, #1, I am a book seller. That is my career. That’s who I am. I’m not necessarily excited about leaving that in any way. That’s a complexity to keep in mind. Another complexity to keep in mind is how a show about books would work. Also, if I were involved in something I’d very much want to be proud of the finished product. I think there are reality shows that are fun and that are worth doing, like Pawn Stars, but not all reality shows are like that and I don’t necessarily want to be a part of something that I’m not 100% really excited about.

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What is it that truly makes for a “valuable” rare book, and when trying to identify a book’s rareness, what are some details to look for?

Well, a rare book is a book that essentially is collected. What collectors want by and large is the first edition: the first time the book appeared in print. In the vast majority of cases, if the book you have isn’t a first edition, then it won’t be valuable or rare. There are exceptions to that, of course. I mean, collecting is always a little bit crazier than it needs to be. As far as things to look for, that’s a really tough question because every book is different. Every book has different circumstances of printing. Every process that creates that physical object is unique. In some cases, half way through the printing, this happened with the Huckleberry Finn first edition, the “L” in colonel broke on the page. That’s something you’re never going to reproduce. An accident like that is unique to the process that happened, so for every book you’re looking at a unique set of circumstances that creates a physical object—and those unique circumstances are what help you identify the book. Every book is different. There are some general principles you need to look for. For instance, if it’s a 20th century or 21st century book, it should have its dust jacket.

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I’ve seen you point that out on the show a few times.

For the first few decades after they became more common in the 20th century, collectors ignored them too, and gradually the consensus became, “We want this book to be as close to the original way it was first put on the bookshelf as possible.” And that means without the dust jacket it’s not complete as a collectible. There are plenty of people who were collecting in the 1950’s who were like, “I don’t care about a Gatsby in jacket” and now they’re kicking themselves [laughs].

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Is there any advice you have for any rare book hunters out there? Where are some of the best places to search for those rare treasures?

That’s really tough because one of the main ways we get our books is through connections to private collectors. We really don’t get our books from estate sales because that is a place where the books have been neglected. Someone passed on and the books haven’t been given attention. Not only is that going to affect the condition, but it also makes it a lot less likely that there is anything worthwhile. We usually go to people where we know what they have, that they’ve taken very good care of it, and have painstakingly built up a collection over decades. As with anything, you’re not going to have the opportunity to find a rare book if you’re not putting yourself in the position or giving yourself that opportunity.So the more you’re out in book shops searching, the more you go through estate sales, the more you do those things, the more likely that lady luck will smile upon you and you’ll find something.

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Bauman Rare Books sees a lot of books coming through its doors. What is the rarest and most valuable book you have seen in your time there?

Well, one that I have personally seen and personally sold was a copy of Newton’s Principia Mathmatica that was the book where he essentially laid out his laws of motion and gravity. It was published in a Latin edition in just a couple of hundred copies and privately printed by his friend Edmund Haley, whom you probably know from Haley’s Comet. That book is so cool and so rare. It goes for as much as $500,000.

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Wow. That can buy a lot of records. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a record that expensive!

[laughs] The thing is though, records may not get up there the same as books, but books don’t get up there the way that art does. When we are at an antiques show, we are often one of the least expensive things there compared to furniture and art.

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Are all rare books going to be hardcover, or are there some paperbacks that are considered rare and valuable?

Yes, there are, but again it comes down to the first edition thing. If a book first came out in a paperback, a soft cover format, and that’s the first time that book appeared, then that’s the one that people are going to want. Anexample of that isLolitaby Vladimir Nabokov. That was actually published by a press in Paris. No one else would touch it. Everyone in America and the UK was freaked out about publishing this book and the person who actually picked it up was a guy who was known for “dirty books.” He printed a lot of kind of smutty things but also printed William S. Burroughs, and some Beckett, so he also printed people who could not necessarily get printed because of publishers worrying about obscenity laws. This press did soft cover books, usually in a green wrapper.So the first time that Lolita ever came out, it was a two-volume soft cover, green wrapper sort of book. That’s the most desirable edition.

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Ok, so Rebecca, you can’t interview with a metal blog without talking about a little bit of rebeccaromney03heavy metal here. Are you a fan at all?

Some [laughs]. Well, let’s see. I mean, I guess it depends on what era you’re talking about. I’m a child of the 90’s and while it might not really be heavy metal, I’m a true fan of Tool. My boyfriend in high school’s two favorite bands were Tool and Dave Matthews Band. I kept one and jettisoned the other [laughs].

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{laughs] That’s awesome! I did give you an Iron Maiden mix CD. What were your thoughts on it?

Well, first of all, I was surprised because I guess it was more tame than I expected it to be. What I mean by that is that these guys were pioneers in a lot of ways, and they have a real lyric basis, whereas a lot of later stuff is harder. Growing up and being more exposed to that kind of stuff, and then having to retroactively look at heavy metal from the ‘80s was a very interesting experience because I was judging it based on what grew out of it, not the source itself. I was very surprised at the lyric quality of it. I knew there was a lot of emphasis on really beautiful guitar craft work. I can appreciate that because I play guitar and it was really nice to listen to that. I really like guitar solos. I also found that there was a lot more refinement there than you would be lead to believe if you just hear about it, rather than actually hear it.

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I remember doing a British literature presentation on Iron Maiden and my teacher was like, “Absolutely not! You cannot talk about them.” Then I did a presentation on their song “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and she goes, “Can you bring me some of their stuff to listen to?”

[laughs] I wasn’t inclined to be prejudiced towards It before I heard it because I also like Led Zeppelin and stuff like that, but again, because I’m a child of the 90’s, one of my favorite bands ever is Smashing Pumpkins.So it’s not like I have a problem with music that’s edgy or whatever you want to call it.So I wasn’t inclined to be prejudiced, it was more that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to it.

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I’m glad you enjoyed the mix Rebecca. Maybe I’ll make you a Part II sometime.

[laughs] That would be great!

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As a collector of memorabilia, one of my Holy Grails is a collection of Kiss dolls still in the box. What is your Holy Grail, something you have always wanted?

{laughs] One of the things that would be the Holy Grail for me would probably be the Kelmscott Chaucer. In the late-19th century, William Morris created a version of Chaucer at his Kelmscott Press and it’s often called a pocket cathedral. It is sort of the beginning of the private press movement,a reaction to the mass production of the Industrial Age. It is a jewel of a book. It’s gorgeous and amazing and not only one of the landmarks of printing, but also the private press movement. Another one is the Newton Principia Mathmatica.I’d love to have that one and I’d buy that in a second if I had the money [laughs].

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So if you could have dinner with any author alive or dead, who would it be and what would you discuss?

That is so hard. Alive or dead? [laughs]

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Yes. And you can only pick one because there’s not enough food to go around.

[laughs] One of the obvious answers to that would be Shakespeare, but one of the reasons I would choose him is because there are so many mysteries about Shakespeare’s life. There’s so much that’s undocumented and so much that we don’t know what happened with him. You can count on one hand and a finger [six total] the number Shakespeare signatures that we have, for example. As far as a personal connection though, someone I would like to just hang out with, my easy answerwould be Herman Melville. Love, Love, Love Melville. He can be very funny and at the same time philosophical. He can write adventure stories and then he kind of mixes in serious metaphor and morality. He’s very versatile and I think he’s got a mind with many depths to plumb.

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Wow. Sounds like you have a crush.

[laughs] The problem with Melville too is that he was one of the early literary heartthrobs, and women just kind of swooned about the idea of him [laughs]. If you’ve seen pictures of him, he’s actually a pretty good looking guy [laughs]. He’s got the whole 19th-century facial hair thing going on, but otherwise… [laughs].

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Who do you feel is the unsung hero of the literary world and why?

I can think of one right off the top of my head, and that’s Willa Cather. I recently went to an event around Willa Cather so I’ve been revisiting her books again.I’ve always liked Cather. She has this odd place where people kind of recognize that she’s important, but she pales in comparison in most people’s minds to her contemporary male writers like Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, and I think that’s a shame. I think her writing and specific portions of her writing are as good as any portions that you’re going to find in, say, Grapes of Wrath. I think part of that has to do with the gender bias and another part of that has to do with the fact that she was not on the cusp of the new morality and the new technology. She was more straddling the line with James between modernity and the 19th Century, whereas some of her contemporaries like Hemingway and such really sprang forward into modernity. Her work is so beautiful and so American. The best example of that is, and if anyone has any question about Cather’s skill, is to read the “Outland” portion of The Professor’s House. After you read that there’s no way that you can sanely argueher prose cannot compare to the other greats of her time.

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This is so cool to hear. I know nothing about Cather and now I want to read this to see what it’s about. I’m always pulling for the underdog.

[laughs] Yeah, Cather doesn’t get as much attention as she deserves.

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You are pretty much a celebrity now because of the show but I’m sure fans forget that you actually have a “job” doing what you do. I’m sure people come in and bug you while you’re working so if you could say to your fans, please don’t do [this], what would you say to them?

[laughs] Well, the one thing I would ask you not to do is to bring your books with you to be appraised [laughs]. This happens all the time where they walk in with their books and they’ve traveled across the country and they want to show me their books. One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t do official appraisals. What we do for Rick is a favor and one of the reasons we can do that is that we have no commercial interest in that book. Also, furtive staring and whispering is awkward for everyone. Just come up and say hi, introduce yourself. I’m a normal person and you can talk to me like one!

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I saw that you even have a fan page on Facebook dedicated to you (it’s called Rebecca Romney is So Friggin Hot). How do you feel about that?

[laughs] Oh yes. I know about that. I find it amusing and exasperating [laughs]. The main reason I find it exasperating quite frankly is because it’s grammatically incorrect [laughs]. There should be an apostrophe after “friggin.” It’s a little disturbing to me that my fans can’t create a fan page that’s grammatically correct. One thing I can tell you about it that I think you’ll probably get a kick out of is that the people at the Pawn Shop are aware of this page. They think it’s hilarious and they needle me about it [laughs]. It is funny and it’s nothing to get riled up about really. It just is what it is [laughs]. Some people have been like, “You should get that page taken down. It’s a bad representation of you.” It’s not representing me. I’m representing me and that’s a fan page and they’re very clear about that. What’s the problem? [laughs]

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You’ve been keeping a blog lately (Aldine by Rebecca Romney). It’s really interesting and I’ve really enjoyed reading your little tidbits of knowledge and information about rare books. Is it very time consuming to keep up with?

Not at all. Because my life revolves so much around books, I don’t really have to take a lot of time to come up with material. I don’t take very long to write those posts for my Facebook page and my blog. They’re just meant to be fun things, little tidbits that I run across here and there hopefully giving people a chance to take a second look at books.

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Thank you so much for doing this Rebecca! This was a really interesting interview and I can’t wait to share it with my readers.

I will warn you. If it’s too embarrassing I will not post it on my Facebook page. If it’s not too embarrassing, I will [laughs].

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Well, I will transcribe this verbatim and edit it so being that it’s your interview, I’m going to try really hard to make sure my grammar and punctuation is as good as it can be. I’m not making any promises though.

[laughs] Thanks and it was fun talking to you again Don.

The Brainfart & Rebecca Romney

The Brainfart & Rebecca Romney

About The Author

The Brainfart

Don (aka. The Brainfart) has been a heavy metal fan since hearing it for the first time in 1983. Don is also repsonsible for all of the typos, shitty grammar, and kick ass content on this site. Don likes cheap beer, whiskey, Coca Cola Icees, going to shows, and hanging with his kick ass wife, two cats (Drusilla & Coltrane) and dog (Cassie). He originally wanted to name his dog Shandi but his wife said, "No fucking way."

JDawg says:

Nice interview. Rebecca is so friggin’ hot!

Gary says:

I have watched seasons 1-5 on dvd of pawnstars and Rebecca is not on them. Why? I know I’ve seen her 5 or 6 times from watching it on tv.

Love the interview ..didn’t know she like’s metal..and she plays guitar …awesome …like this woman ….hot…..

Jondalar says:

Fun interview. Rebecca’s one of my favorite “experts” on the show. I read her blog on facebook and have learned some very interesting things.

Jenna says:

Great interview, Don! :)

romel says:

i’m a big fan of rebecca, from the philippines. When i watch pawnstars i always wait for her to show up. Very Smart and very Pretty! – Romel