Seven Questions for Rare Book Expert Rebecca Romney

The Bauman Rare Books manager and 'Pawn Stars' expert on sleuthing, Nevada collectibles and reaching a television audience

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

What’s a rare book dealer’s day typically like?

We research for collectors. We serve as personal curators for rare book collections. It’s much harder to find these books than to sell them. On top of that, we’re very picky about condition. It’s hard to find the perfect book. And it’s very hard to find first editions. We have people who work full time traveling and looking at collections. I’ll do a lot of that on the Web. If someone is interested in a specific book then we’ll track it down. It’s very nerdy sleuth-like. You’re always looking for the next clue.

What Nevada or Las Vegas books are collectible?

Books that deal with the Comstock Lode, mining certificates, things like that. A lot of Western exploration works that touch on Nevada can be important. One that’s really significant is John C. Fremont’s expedition. The map with the Fremont book is done by Charles Preuss, and it is the first map to have Las Vegas on it. What does very well [in Bauman’s Las Vegas store] are the James Bond books by Ian Fleming—Casino Royale, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice.

You interact with two disparate audiences: Upscale book buyers and Pawn Stars fans. How do you reach both groups?

[Some] collectors are more well-versed in details; you can talk bibliographic details with them. But my job is to make this complex subject accessible. If you want a first-edition book but you don’t know how collecting works, I’m there to talk to. I’m the expert who does all of that, so you don’t have to drop your life. Frankly, I would not have a job if this were easy. … Either way, I’m pretty much just teaching, and that’s why I like Pawn Stars: There are people who love books and feel intimidated, and I want people to feel like they can learn about rare books. I want people to be excited about them. They’re amazing, and I want to share them. If it’s intimidating, it’s going to be hard to share.

How do you have your rare book and read it, too?

You can actually read a lot of these books, but collecting books isn’t really about reading them. Collecting is about deciding you want to take part in this grand purpose of preserving historical artifacts. Collectors are responsible for shepherding this historical artifact on to the next generation. We have books from 1598 here, from the 1400s. These books are going to ideally—if they’re taken care of—be around generations longer than us.

You spoke out in a Facebook post a year ago against Internet trolls who were posting sexist comments. Has it improved?

I haven’t really seen it end. It doesn’t matter what you say, people are still going to do it. When it’s aggressive accusations and things about being a woman in the public sphere, it actually encourages me to stay active in the public sphere because I feel that’s an attempt to get me not to be contributing. It is particularly difficult for young professional women to make their way, and you have to be unafraid to stand up for yourself. You have to be unafraid to deal with trolls. You have to be confident in what you do. … It’s funny, I talk with [Pawn Stars boss] Rick Harrison and the other experts, and they’ll mention that they have trolls, too. Then I’ll show them an example of what I get anytime I post something, and their jaws will drop. They get things, but not with the same frequency and not with the same pointed nature. It’s been a difficult adjustment. … My way of combating has been always to bring it back to the books.

Do you have any plans to profit from your newfound fame—perhaps by writing a book or opening your own bookstore?

I don’t have any plans to leave Bauman, because the resources it has to find books are above and beyond what you’re going to find anywhere else. [Pawn Stars] was always done as advertising for my company. I was caught off guard by the personal attention. People say, “Oh, Rebecca, you’re so great!” “No, no, no, no, the books are great! I don’t know why we’re talking about me.” I’ve always diverted the attention. Writing a book [could] contribute to teaching people. It’d have to fit in with my long-term priorities, which are to help people create collections that mean a lot to them.

Got any book recommendations?

Books are incredibly personal. People will ask for recommendations, and my first question is, what kind of books do you like? I could have a favorite book, and it wouldn’t speak to you at all. Don’t be afraid to come in and talk to us or look at the books. Some of the books we have here, you’re not going to see outside a museum. There’s no admission. You don’t have to be a collector. For me, it’s all about talking with people who love books. That’s why my job is great.

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