Thomas Cary just paid $1,400 for Take Ivy, and it was only the second edition. It doesn’t bother him that it’s being reprinted. “I have clients—I sell to Tommy (Hilfiger?),” he assures us. Over the last decade he has spent up to a quarter million a year on rare and vintage books only to turn around and shrewdly supply them to the likes of Kate Spade, Tory Burch, J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. They are just a few of many tapping The Cary Collection for design inspiration and display; furnishing their retail stores stretching from the Hamptons to far east Asia. Though a queer client list for a book dealer, Cary’s aesthete taste has granted him access to this veritable Who’s Who of neo-prep designers.
“Just watch your step,” Cary warns us as we tight walk our way through the narrow hallway. Stacks of rare and vintage books scale the walls as high as eye level. At first glance, the 900 square foot Upper East Side apartment is a mad experiment in preppy hoarding, but upon further inspection we realize it is actually painstakingly merchandised. He converted his apartment into a showroom 10 years ago (available by appointment). Rare cocktail how-to books amusingly perch near antiquated Stork Club memorabilia, vintage needlepoint pillows of horses and terriers dot the WASPy interior—including one handmade by Brigid Berlin (one of Andy Warhol’s muses), while a vintage Gucci saddle rests on the back of a slipper chair; all showcased in intricate arrangements upon a scad of oriental rugs.
“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.”
He is a merchandising virtuoso having spent 30 years in the fashion industry. During his days at Paul Stuart (and Brooks Brothers prior), he would run down on his lunch hour combing antiquarian book shops then hop on a train, grab a slice and be back on the selling floor in 59 minutes. Such is the life of a rare and vintage book dealer. “As a teen I would skip school and fly into the city when my parents were away,” Cary says. “I was a real wheeler and dealer in high school,” dealing in stamps and uncirculated American coins. In 2001, a home equity loan enabled him to spearhead the acquisition of his unparalleled catalogue.
Since singularly creating a specialty niche market of selling to high-end global purveyors, Cary has expanded The Cary Collection to lamps, needlepoint and accoutrement from a bygone era when men were (mad) men. One of its most fascinating books is a 1948 Yale Skull & Bones yearbook underscoring a young George Herbert Walker Bush’s betrothal to the secret society. And this is not particularly exotic in relation to its 15,000 other books. The curated stock displayed in the showroom is only the tip of the iceberg. You can peruse the collection online at Abe Books or by appointment at 245 E. 72nd St New York, NY.