Joyful Love of Books Brought Career Change to Area Resident


(Monday, October 15, 2007 1:01 PM EDT)

Some people may think collecting rare books is out of their league because of potentially high costs, but Rick Stoutamyer, owner of Stoutamyer Fine Books, strives to make the collection process more accessible.

“It's still just a book,” Stoutamyer said in a recent interview. “People come [to my store] and they don't want to touch the books. I say, ‘Take it off the shelf.' I want to take away the fear factor.”

As a boy growing up in southern West Virginia, Stoutamyer wasn't always a part of the rare book world.

His love of books blossomed when he read Longfellow's “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and Poe's “The Raven” in junior high. But it wasn't until later in his life that he entered the rare-book scene.

Stoutamyer originally worked for the intelligence and defense industry, but started selling rare, out-of-print books in area book stores and antique shops in 1997.

In 2003, he went full-time, selling in local outlets and on the Internet. And soon, his new store in Middleburg will be fully open for business.

Over the approximately 10 years he's been involved, Stoutamyer said he has seen a great deal of change in the rare-book business, mostly as a result of the Internet.

With Web sites like Amazon, many more books are up for sale, including ones that people originally thought were a lot more rare than they really are, he said.

“The Internet has become a way to see if a book is really scarce or not, and we found out there aren't as many books that are scarce,” Stoutamyer said. “You began to see what books really were worth. The Internet has been a great equalizer.”

Another thing Stoutamyer has realized over the years is that he “literally cannot judge a book by its cover.”

Stoutamyer often acquires books to sell from other dealers or at auctions, but, a lot of times, people invite him to their homes to buy books from their personal collections.

He said sometimes it's the very modest homes that have the true gems, and it's the people you least expect to be the best customers. A young, somewhat scruffy David Blaine (the renowned street magician) was one such customer.

Stoutamyer's work is not limited to selling fine books. He also appraises books and collections and sends books off for restoration to a nearby bookbinder, Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding in Winchester.

Stoutamyer doesn't deny that certain books can get pretty pricey - take the first octavo hand-colored edition of “The Birds of America” by John James Audubon, which he sold for around $50,000 - but collectors can work within any price range they're comfortable with, he said.

For anyone interested in collecting rare or antiquarian books, the most important thing is to figure out what kind of books you want to collect, he said.

“Budget is a non-factor at that point,” Stoutamyer said. “You can find reprints, and we can cater to your budget.”

For more information on Stoutamyer Fine Books or to set up an appointment to visit the shop, call (540) 687-6766.

Rick Stoutamyer encouragaes patrons to fall in love with classic books. His passion has lead to a new shop that is set to open in Middleburg.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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