Member Profile: Heather O’Donnell, Honey & Wax Rare Booksellers

Supporting the Need for More Women in the Rare Books Industry

BCL is home to creatives including illustrators, photographers, and even a rare books bookseller. Today we’re speaking to member, Heather O’Donnell, principal of Honey & Wax Booksellers. Honey & Wax Booksellers is a source for works of great literature, rare first printings, unique books, books with no downloadable versions and more, in New York City.

Heather was a self-described “bookish kid growing up.” Big on reading, Heather frequented used books stores often in her earlier years, and while attending college in NYC, she worked at the infamous Strand Bookstore, which gave her some experience in the world of books and book sorting.

While working at Bauman Rare Books in NYC for a few years, Heather spent a lot of time traveling, looking at rare book collections, and attending auctions and fairs. This was a good starting place for her to learn the ropes and find her bookselling preference.

After working at Bauman, Heather wanted to focus on materials that were of interest to her and decided she wanted to be a business owner. She took a “fast track” principal training program offered under former Mayor Bloomberg in 2011, which helped her learn how to put together a business plan. She then launched Honey & Wax in her apartment.

Impacting the Perception of the Antiquarian Bookseller Industry

Heather shares that rare book collecting is supported by other collectors and institutions. For instance, at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection is a transformative display of material that documents women at work throughout history. The collection showcases monuments of women’s history and arts, which came together because Lisa found items that other people and collectors thought of as trash and put together in a unique way.

According to Heather, it’s this type of rare book collecting that helps tell history through a different lens; people don’t tend to think of antique books in such a manner. She emphasizes that this work isn’t about having a library of mahogany, leather-bound books. As with many industries, Heather informs us that women sometimes underestimate their important role in the business. Honey & Wax works with a lot of female collectors, and though these women may have large collections of books, they hesitate to call themselves collectors. Heather wants women to embrace their collections and contributions. She sheds light on the fact that the rare bookselling industry tends to be perceived as dominated by white men, or as “elitist.”

As a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (in addition to being a member of other committees and boards), Heather wants to change the way people think about collecting, especially women. To further encourage women in the book collecting industry, Heather has set up the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize. This is an award of $1000 for an outstanding book collection conceived and built by a young woman.

Getting a Solid Foundation for the Business

Heather came up with the name Honey & Wax after coming across a 19th-century grammar book that had the line “Use book as bees use flowers” and she connected with that idea; that’s how she feels about reading. To Heather, the concept of reading includes cross-pollination and sharing ideas, and should be about activity and teamwork. Then, when thinking through how bees use flowers, they do so to make honey and wax!

When it came to the practicalities of running a business, Heather spent the first few years working out of her apartment, while having a less robust membership at BCL which allowed her to have her mail shipped to the space. She didn’t want to risk having rare, expensive books delivered to her home address. Eventually, she moved into an office here at our coworking space because she outgrew her apartment. Heather mentions that she had books everywhere at home and wanted a clear division between work and home. 7 years later, Heather is still here and has received all of her packages!