However you define treasure or resource, the book falls in one arena for most of us.
If you’re like me, a good dog book is both a treasure and a resource. Add some age and the intrinsic value becomes immeasurably greater. While general-interest volumes appeal to many, vintage breed-specific counterparts (German shepherd for me) are especially coveted by collectors.
The smell, the feel, the incredible art: It doesn’t get any better than that.
Serious collectors are still buying these days, but the recession has taken a bite into highly respected dog-book companies such as Dog Treasures in Coatesville, Pa.; Dog Lovers Book Store in New York City; and Dogwise Publishing in Wenatchee.
Dogwise Publishing, which sells newer volumes at major dog shows nationwide (including the Seattle Kennel Club show March 13-14 at Qwest Field Event Center) has seen sales drop 20 percent, according to Larry Woodward, owner. The company produces how-to books and DVDs on health, training, breeding and exhibiting as well as selling recently produced reference and training volumes.
All have web sites; Dog Treasures, owned by Leonard Brook, showcases its products in East Coast antique and dog shows, and Dogwise, owned by the Woodward family, sells at major dog shows nationwide. Dog Lovers Bookshop is a web-site business only.
Dog Treasures, Brook claims, is the largest web site in the world for dog-related antiques. It has books, art, paper ephemera, photographs, objects and advertising. “Our goal is to cover the complete spectrum of canine collectibles, with an emphasis on condition and quality,” he says.
“From a profit standpoint, art brings in more than books, but since I took a good portion of the Fretwell (Francis Fretwell) collection on consignment last year, I have placed a major emphasis on books.”
The late Fretwell, of Moore, S.C., had what was believed to be the largest privately owned collection (15,000 volumes) of dog books in the world. Owner of Monfret Kennels, which bred champion Standard Poodles, Fretwell was former president and governor of the Poodle Club of American and the Italian Greyhound Club of America, plus serving as a delegate to the American Kennel Club for decades.
The books – first editions from the 1500s to the present – include the works of dozens of famed authors and cover virtually every breed recognized by the AKC through the 20th century. Offerings also focus on judging, grooming, exhibiting, breeding, animal behavior, training and children’s dog books.
Fretwell’s library was built by acquiring the collections of others and meeting dealers worldwide in his travels. In an April 2002 AKC Gazette story, he said, “There is no next prize, just something I haven’t heard about yet. But I won ‘t say I have everything I want.”
“While I have some terrific titles,” says Brook, “my timing wasn’t the best. The economy went sour just about the time the Fretwell collection was made available to me. Hopefully, things will turn around soon.”
A 20-year rare-book dealer, Brook has only done dog shows for five years. “My first dog show was at the Meadowlands (New Jersey) and it was fantastic. But it seems that I peaked that weekend and dog shows haven’t been as productive for me since.”
He transitioned to a web site several years ago with hundreds of titles purchased from garage sales, dealers, thrift shops, etc., and then added the coveted Fretwell volumes.
Some of his regular high-end customers have grabbed rare Fretwell collection titles when posted on the web site. The recession hasn’t impacted them to the degree it has the general public, Brook says.
Best breed-book sales have been Collie, Irish Wolfhound, Dachshund and Scottish Terrier, he said.
Brook doesn’t see a major difference in customer preferences of dog items in his travels. “The one thing that really stands out is my art sales at Atlanta antique shows. That market goes for vintage framed art from $150 to $1,200.”
Costs of items on the Dog Treasures web site range from $5 cigarette cards to a $5,000 painting. “We have something for every dog lover,” adds Brook. “For instance, we have a first-edition Terhune for $300 or a reprint for $30.”
Dog Lovers Bookshop, owned by New Yorkers Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz, opened in 1994 as a brick-and-mortar operation near the Empire State Building in Manhattan, but escalating rent and the internet drove them to an internet-only business in 1998.
“We still have a fantasy of reopening a book store,” says Rosenberg, “but I suspect that’s all it is, a fantasy. But why not have a dream? We never want to lose that special feel and smell of an old book. As the love of dogs bridges generations, so do books.”
Dog Lovers Bookshop offers used, out-of-print and antiquarian volumes from publishers worldwide, with special emphasis on university and small presses. The web site is A 1 for viewer friendliness, with content organized by breed, species and topic. Most of the stock is in English, but like Brook’s inventory, many titles are in foreign language.
Marcowitz adds, “We have a special affinity to fiction and art, and a passion for illustrated children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction.
“Digital is slowly taking over the book world. If I want a tree or print book with personality I must turn to an older volume. The good ones are becoming scarcer each year, so consequently now is the time to grab old dog books. The price of most is extremely low. “
Dog Lovers Bookshop lists approximately 5,000 volumes in its inventory, and selectively adds to that total year-round. Most come from estate sales, church bazaars and other New York area dealers.
Rosenberg says, “Old books are a form of comfort food, as much as for their intellectual and instructional value. They not only have character but exude history.”
Like Brook, Rosenberg and Marcowitz report requests for breed books ranges far and wide. “It’s whatever the caller owns now or as a child,” says Rosenberg. “The most common calls go something like this, adds Rosenberg, ‘When I was a kid I read a book that . . . ‘ Then the caller will describe the book and I’ll try to identify it. That book becomes his or her link to the past. That’s something you can’t find on an e-book.”
Marcowitz characterizes that special dog book as “a form of Valium” for the purchaser. “I doubt that books as we know them are going to disappear. We will just go through a period of adjustment with digital readers.
“As they become more scarce, tree books will become more precious. Every time there is a Hurricane Katrina, fire or flood we lose a few more old volumes. And because many people don’t know how to properly take care of a book, you lose even more. Many 20th-century volumes were printed on high-acid paper, which reduces their longevity. It’s the book world’s equivalent of global warming.”
The couple has received so many questions on caring for old books that they wrote “The Care and Feeding of Books” in 2002. The frontispiece is their late German Pointer.
Charlene Woodward launched Direct Book Service in 1986 as a special-order retailer in Seattle. When ordering dog books for clients, she saw a potential market niche. Her husband, Larry, joined the operation as the CEO in the late 1980s and the couple, searching for a smaller town and larger warehouse, moved to Wenatchee in 1992.
Larry’s brother, Bill, and his wife, Judy joined the firm in 1995 and have been road warriors 40-plus weekends a year at dog shows nationwide. Today the firm has 12 fulltime employees.
Recognizing that historically important books on dogs had been allowed to run out of print by other publishers, the Woodwards formed Dogwise Publishing in 2000. “Our focus is on creating humane, understandable and scientifically sound information for people who enrich their lives by working with, playing with and loving dogs,” the Woodwards say on their web site.
To augment that site, they have a 9,000-square-foot warehouse in Wenatchee open to the public Monday through Friday, where they store thousands of dog-oriented products, including new and used books.
Bill Woodward acknowledges the economy has affected the firm’s business the past two years. “We were traveling 45,000 miles a year and have cut it back to 35,000,” he says.
Larry Woodward points to other factors in the sales decline, namely competition from giant Amazon, the internet, dwindling entries and attendance at dog shows nationally and fewer major publishers willing to publish dog books.
Some of Dogwise’s inventory comes from those attending shows. “We often have people coming to our booth, saying they have dozens of dog books from a deceased family member and don’t know what to do with them,” explains Bill Woodward. “Because we have a tight schedule and aren’t in any one town too long, we encourage them to bring them to the show the next day and we’ll determine which books we’re interested in purchasing. When we have spare time, we comb book stores, too, looking to buy. “
Shows have enabled the Woodwards to build a strong nationwide customer base. “It’s a chance to meet dog owners one-on-one, find out their needs, have them sign a want-list and educate them about our web site. If we don’t have the specific title they’re looking for, there’s a good chance it will be in our Wenatchee warehouse,” says Bill Woodward.
“Occasionally,” adds Larry Woodward, “a customer will tell us about a good book we never heard of. If we give it a read and like it, we may carry it.”
From the first show at Puyallup more than 20 years ago when Charlene and Larry Woodward piled several dozen books into the back of a Toyota Camry to the truck-trailer combination today that travels cross-country with 3500 items, Dogwise has grown into a major player in the industry.
Publishing is a top priority for the company, emphasizes Larry Woodward. “We won’t take on a breed book, but with our solid group of respected authors, we can offer the dog-owning public plenty of new choices each year.” Dogwise has published approximately 50 titles the past decade; he would like to average four to eight new offerings annually.
“Audio books have never worked for us,” he says. “Now that DVDs are priced more reasonably and are somewhat easier for the author to produce, I see that becoming more popular. But the e-book may be the future of the industry, he believes. Amazon recently began selling Kindle versions of several Dogwise titles, and Woodward is enthused with the early sales figures.
“It’s an industry in transition,” concludes Larry Woodward. “But people will always own and love dogs and we’re challenged to stay ahead of the curve to answer their needs.”