Company History and Emphasis
Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts was established in 1978 on a ping pong table in a basement in Kalamazoo, Michigan. From the beginning, its founder was willing to sell a range of material (both because this approach made the work more educational than otherwise and because it gave him a good excuse for not being an expert in any particular specialty). Over the years, the business has gravitated toward historical artifacts that are physically attractive in some way—illuminated material, fine bindings, books printed on vellum, fore-edge paintings, beautiful typography and paper, impressive illustration. But the company still sells a wide range of things, from (scruffy) ninth century leaves to biblical material from all periods to Wing and STC imprints to modern privately printed books. While we are forgiving about condition when something is of considerable rarity, we always try to obtain the most attractive copies possible of whatever works we offer for sale. For the past 13 years, we have been fortunate to represent one of the country's most important collectors. This collaboration means that, apart from our own inventory, we have a continuing interest in building his collection of visually arresting books (items of unusual size, with beautiful bindings, and/or containing striking illustrations) and of other material that is extraordinarily odd or interesting, especially if (but not exclusively) relating to the history of medicine.
As we note above, single manuscript leaves comprise a portion of our inventory. Those leaves are acquired individually or as part of a fragment of a book only. WE DO NOT TAKE APART COMPLETE BOOKS IN ORDER TO SELL INDIVIDUAL LEAVES.
Phil Pirages (owner) grew up in the Midwest, earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, taught literature and writing to college and university students for a dozen years, and had a life-changing experience when he found a (17th century architectural) book at a garage sale in 1976. Beginning with no other books and less than no money, and after combining teaching with book dealing for eight years, he moved in 1984 to McMinnville, Oregon. Arriving at this location--the home of Linfield College, where the woman in his life (Ellen Summerfield, now his wife) was employed as Director of International Programs--he declared himself to be in business as a full-time bookseller. It soon became evident that few persons in the book world overheard the declaration, but because of the protracted and relentless kindness of strangers over the ensuing years, the business he established has found acceptance among those who seek visually attractive illuminated and printed material as well as books that are rare or unusual in some special way. Although no longer handling the day-to-day operation of the business, Phil continues to be involved with buying, appraising, final editing of catalogue copy, and especially the mentoring of a remarkably efficient, dedicated, and cordial staff. Even in his declining years, he remains actively involved in competitive sports outside the office, and you are cautioned not to wager against him at the bowling alley or at the ping-pong table.
Cokie Anderson (head cataloguer) received her MLIS from the University of Oklahoma, and worked as a law firm librarian and as director of the Electronic Publishing Center at Oklahoma State University before moving to McMinnville in 2008. Serendipity struck when she came across a job ad in the local newspaper seeking a person who could catalogue books and read Latin. Thrilled by the opportunity to use her esoteric skills--five years of Latin finally pays off!--she leapt at the opportunity to join the Pirages team as a cataloguer and researcher. She has finally found her true calling in the rare book trade. She enjoys gardening in the fertile Willamette Valley, where even the incompetent can have beautiful roses, and also appreciates the region's bounty of food and wine. As required by her library degree, she has four cats.
Tammy Opheim (office manager), the firm's only true Oregonian (born and raised, but without the webbed feet), comes to us from a short career as a stay-at-home mom. When she is not here in the office answering the phones, filling orders, and doing all the day-to-day administration tasks, you can find her herding cattle, camping, or spending time with her rancher-husband and two young princesses. Although new to rare books, she has enjoyed learning about all of the fascinating and truly amazing items that come through our shop.
Kaitlin Manning (bookseller / manuscript specialist) is originally an Oregonian from Portland but grew up in Bozeman, Montana. After her formative years, she hung up her cowgirl boots, sent ol’ Rusty out to pasture, and moved east to attend Vassar College, where she studied Art History and Theatre. After taking a few years post-graduation to pursue Shakespearean acting and indulge her passion for travel, Kait decided she had put her poor mother through quite enough, and went back to graduate school. She obtained her Master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute in London, where she studied Medieval Art and developed a keen interest in illuminated manuscripts and the history of the book. When she heard that the 2013 London Book Fair would have some illuminated material for sale (and out of a general curiosity to see just what a book fair was all about), Kait walked the floor at Olympia—and ended up being offered a job in the trade.
Jill Mann (bookseller / photographer) Jill moved to McMinnville in 2011 after a one-year stint in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Jill has a BA in Art History from the University of Chicago and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As with many an art major, she settled into an unrelated career, in this case, office administration. After working in various industries, Jill is thrilled finally to be putting her education to good use. When not at the office, Jill enjoys playing music, singing in her band and with the McMinnville Women’s Choir, and enjoying the natural beauty of Oregon with her family.