Henry Bemis's Bespoke Library Services

bespoke: Of goods, ordered to be made, as opposed to ready-made. Usage originated on London’s Savile Row. After customers chose a bolt of cloth from which they wanted to have a suit made, the fabric was said to “be spoken for.”

Who needs bespoke library services?


Businesses and professional firms with working libraries

Charitable organizations lacking staff to identify valuable donations


Estate Planning Professionals

Estate Sale Managers

History/Genealogy Collections

Insurance Agents

Retirement/Assisted Living Communities


Book collecting is an intimate activity. Rock star private librarian Kinsey Marable says, “Books are the soul of your house, mirroring your interests and tastes.” His Los Angeles counterpart, Michael Tuttle, has noted, “Once I know what people’s interests are, my antenna is up. I can see where clients might want to add to their collections, or swap books for better editions, sell something when necessary, or buy things that they might be interested in. I’m kind of a bespoke library business, where each person is treated differently because I know what they are about.”

Another private library celebrity (the term applies to him and his clients), Kurt Thometz, has written,

Book collecting can be a vice analogous to covetiveness. I wouldn’t say the acquisitive aspect of the habit is any worse than the universal urge to squirrel away, say, rusting automobiles, unrepaired appliances, salt and pepper shakers or any other nostalgic memento. It can also be an act of self-realization.  There is an art to it. One collects books and builds a library to create an intensified environment, a reflection of our perception of the world. In collecting, the bibliophile balances the centrifugal force of serendipity with the centripetal force of methodical reading in seeking his intellectual thrills. He as often doesn’t know what he’s looking for until he’s found it as he doesn’t want what he’s looking for once it’s found.  The charm of collecting books is you find out what you want to know. The book itself, once read, becomes more an accomplishment than a possession. To the bibliophile books solicit an emotional response analogous to religious faith and sexual attraction. To the bibliophiles herein assembled books are a practicality for the life of the mind.

Henry Bemis Books provides a wide array of book-related services to meet the particular needs of individuals and businesses. We photograph, archive, catalogue, cover, appraise, curate and buy and sell other people’s books. We provides different combinations of some or all of these services for our various clients. There’s almost no limit to the types of services Henry Bemis can provide. Here’s a sample:

Business & Consulting Services

Henry Bemis can assist design, performance and media professionals design your set, stage your model apartment, or create that perfect look for your photo shoot. We can assemble collections customized for specific characters and can incorporate a variety of subjects, including art, biography, reference, law, music, theater and classic literature. Working with you, we will design a set that is a perfect match for your look, time period, character or whatever your design needs are.
Cataloguing & Appraisals

Most people under-insure, opting for actual cash value rather than replacement cost. The latter can leave you short, especially when it comes to collectibles like books. Standard property loss policies simply assign a percentage of the value of the home to books, art and the like. Wiser heads opt for specialized additional coverage to cover collectibles; a good appraisal- regularly updated, is vital.

Serious collectors may also need cataloguing/valuation services in aid of estate/inheritance tax planning. Los Angeles-based private librarian Michael Tuttle, for example, was brought in for a two-year project to appraise and inventory the 8,000-volume personal library of author Gore Vidal, left in his estate to Harvard’s Holderman Library.

Henry Bemis can assist you in all aspects of setting up a personal or business library cataloguing system, from identifying suitable software to inputting and maintaining your book data. We can provide a database of all books in the library, in either paper or digital form. Listings are by author and title and include market value and images. Each book is categorized by subject and its location.

Collection Development

This can cover anything from starting a library from scratch, maintaining and focusing what you have, and building new holdings based on new interests. If you collect a series author (Tony Hillerman, Patrick O’Brien, Agatha Christie) and want to fill gaps or upgrade to better editions, Henry Bemis can help. Collectors have been known, for example, to ask for advice on building a library of all the books they haven’t had time to read, in anticipation of having time after retirement; or for help developing research collections on a time or topic. Oprah Winfrey, for example, includes editions of prominent African American authors, as well as first editions of all the books awarded the Pulitzer Prize, in her private library:

In amassing this complete set, Oprah has been aided by Kinsey Marable, an investment banker turned rare-book dealer, who specializes in building private libraries for individual clients (Donna Karan is one). Marable sent Oprah's first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird to the famously reclusive author, along with a request for her to autograph it. "It was a nerve-racking experience," says Marable, because the only address he had was a P.O. box number, and he "took the book to the post office not knowing whether we would ever see it again." Almost immediately, Lee returned the prized copy—signed.

Oprah has been working with Marable since 2003, his services a gift from the Hearst Corporation (which publishes this magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine, in partnership with Harpo). He and Oprah first got together on a Saturday afternoon to talk about her interests: literature, of course, but also architecture, fashion, and gardens. Since then, their relationship has evolved into a warm, informal one. They will sit on the floor, books spread out around them, or Oprah will call him with an idea for a title they should track down, always asking for his honest advice. She tells him, Marable says, "Do not be a yes-man—what do you really think?"

Oprah's collection has also grown to include scores of gorgeous coffee-table books, devoted to painters like Matisse and Mary Cassatt, photographer Cecil Beaton, and interior designer David Hicks. "There are a lot of fun books in there, which makes it a functioning library for everyday reading," says Marable. He's currently working to assemble an archive of fashion magazines going back to 1940. No matter the age or the value, however, nothing here is too precious to flip through. Oprah opens a bound volume of vintage magazines at random, and suddenly she's immersed in elongated black-and-white drawings of Christian Dior's New Look, willowy models with tiny waists and full, flowing skirts, ushering in post-war concepts of femininity. She points to an article entitled "Ideas to watch in 1949" and—marveling at this back-in-time glimpse at how people saw the future—says, "I just think that's fabulous."

We can suggest books to acquire, investigate the authenticity of works, locate rare or out-of-print volumes, and assist in understanding the fair value of books.


Personal libraries are for sharing, by their owners, to whom they chose. The contents- and value- of personal collections is just that- personal. In a 2013 interview, Biltmore Estate Special Collections Manager Suzanne Durham explained:

Biltmore Estate is not a public institution and it is not even a private non-profit. It is a family-owned business. Ultimately, the book collection makes up a part of the family's assets along with the art, furniture and other collections. So it is not a library in the sense that the public can use it, or that it is even used by the family or staff. The books are museum objects. Therefore, if you see where I'm going with this, there would be little point in publicizing the book collection since the average guest does not get to handle it or even see it up close. In addition, since books are a lot easier to steal than a wingback chair, and there is a theft history, we do not want to flaunt the collections. We do answer specific queries if someone wants to know if a certain title is in the collection, or if a certain author is represented.

Henry Bemis Books does not disclose such information without permission, and- even then- only in aid of demonstrating the firm’s services.

Gifts and Occasions

Why not give a loved on a collection of birthday books, one for each year? Or an interesting book every month for three or six months, or a year? Your favorite newly-minted Ph.D might enjoy a gift book to celebrate that mastery of a field. A wedding gift- a starter library of 75 books, maybe- is a thoughtful and truly unique commemoration. You can choose the titles, or the happy couple can set up a registry list with Henry Bemis.

Library Set-up & Support: Homes, Offices, Hotels, Vessels...

Henry Bemis can assemble collections to meet your specifications, in size and content. Discounts can be arranged for larger projects, as can periodic and annual updates.


We can assist collectors on organizing their books by almost any measure: subject, size, author, color (“In the Hamptons, a wall of white books on a few favored topics is a popular order, cheerfully fulfilled” by New York’s Strand Books; New York private librarian Kurt Thometz recalls “the interior decorator’s request for 53 feet of books bound in forest green. Books Do Make A Room”), even coordinated bindings.

Coordinated bindings? Watch this fascinating CBS News piece on Thatcher Wine, of Boulder, Colorado’s Juniper Books:
Henry Bemis can also assist with placement of other types of art and collectibles in a home library setting to create an overall look unique to the location and owners’ taste.

We can also organize libraries according to the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classification systems.


Books, like humans, age. We can assist collectors with steps to preserve the condition- and value of their bound treasures. 50-65% of a hardcover book’s value, for example, is in the presence- and condition- of its dust jacket. A first edition of The Great Gatsby, for example, sold in a 2013 auction for $194,000- with the dust jacket. The same book, without the jacket, is worth, maybe, two to three percent of that.

We can also assist with arranging conservation, restoration and rebinding of decayed and damaged works, and make suggestions for improving the storage and environmental conditions in which books are kept.


Sometimes it’s a good idea to cull some books, if only to make room for new ones. We can assist with identifying and disposing of books no longer earning their keep, and to purchase good condition, quality hardcover and paperback books, including scholarly and academic books. Books that have “resale value” include recent perennial bestsellers, classic hardcovers, and recently popular works, among other works.

We do not accept textbooks, journals, or magazines, as these works are frequently updated and quickly become out-of-date. All books and items must be physically evaluated to accurately assess their resale value. Henry Bemis Books does not quote prices over the phone.

Henry Bemis Books is happy receive unwanted books and arrange for the disposition of those deemed outside the scope of HBB’s interests. We are willing to discuss consignment sales as well.

We can also assist heirs and estate sale managers in evaluating book collections for appropriate pricing and sale, including referrals to regional and national auction houses.

Wish lists

We are happy to keep wish lists for birthdays, holidays, or just for books you want us to keep an eye out for, and to source and acquire them for you.

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