Known as 'The Book Slinger,' he traded cocktail mixing for rare-book collecting
Longtime local bartender Thomas Posey, a/k/a The Book Slinger, has turned his love for rare cookbooks and cocktail books into a full-time pursuit.
American cocktail lore is heavy on half-stirred malarkey, but this one is true: In 1913, Theodore Roosevelt leveled a libel suit against a Michigan newspaper called the Iron Ore, which wouldn't stop calling the Rough Rider a sloppy drunk in print.
When Roosevelt, several years removed from the White House, took the stand, he was grilled about his alcohol consumption. He described himself as a light drinker, insisting he'd enjoyed a modest total of two mint juleps in the years after his presidency - including just "part of one" prepared by Tom Bullock, the St. Louis Country Club's renowned bartender.
The claim stuck in the craw of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which took Teddy to task in a column the next day. "To believe that a red-blooded man ... ever stopped with just a part of one" of Bullock's drinks, it read, "is to strain credulity too far. Are the Colonel's powers of self restraint altogether transcendent? Have we found the living superman at last?"
Everyone knew Bullock's cocktails were way too good for anyone to leave them unfinished. Had Roosevelt perjured himself? Nah. He won his suit, earning a public admission of wrongdoing by the accused and a symbolic settlement of 6 cents.
That anecdote, along with a flattering endorsement from loyal regular George Herbert Walker, opened Bullock's The Ideal Bartender, an instructional cocktail book he released in 1917.
Prohibition put a damper on Bullock's staying power as a writer, but he eventually was rediscovered. First editions of his manual sell for more than $4,000 - but first you have to find one.
The hunt for volumes overflowing with this type of detail is what makes Thomas Posey tick. A longtime bartender who's traded in bottles for bookends, the Point Breeze resident uses social media to fill a specific literary niche: If you're in the market for old, rare food-and-beverage books, "The Book Slinger" is your guy.
From booze to books
Posey began a restaurant career in his native Northeast Philly before moving downtown in 1999. In 2001, he was bartending at Pod when a friend asked if he'd be interested in part-time work at Center City's Bauman Rare Books.
The prominent multicity firm counts authors, celebrities, U.S. presidents, and foreign dignitaries among its clients. Natalie and David Bauman have made their name buying and selling precious historical artifacts - think leaves from an original Gutenberg Bible ($60,000) or Lewis and Clark's travel journals, complete with hand-drawn maps ($250,000). Posey, a history major at Temple, jumped at the opportunity, picking up shifts on days he wasn't mixing cocktails.
He juggled both jobs until 2014, when he went to work with the Baumans full-time. But that didn't mean shelving his intellectual investment in cooking and cocktail culture. Learning the ins and outs of the business gave him a particular set of skills he applies to the fertile world of collectible vintage food and drink texts.
As an inventory distribution specialist at Bauman, Posey acts as an intermediary between his employer and auction houses, private estates, and fellow book dealers. But tracking down books is just part of the job. He also has an eye well-trained to spot quality, including specimens that are phony or fudged - a fake author signature or cheap cheats like pulling pages from a younger book to stitch into a first edition.
"I learned what to look for, what books had value, and why they were important," Posey said.
Posey refines his recipe
Though Bauman's inventory focuses on multiple areas of interest - politics, religion, sports, arts - food and drink weren't a major focus until Posey assisted with the construction of a stand-alone culinary-theme catalog featuring first editions of cocktail godfather Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide (1862, $9,000) and legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf (1942, $750).
Posey came across a number of old books that fascinated him but that weren't the right fit for Bauman. So last year, he launched the Instagram account @the_book_slinger to market his personal stash, which he operates separately from his day job. (He also slings on eBay as posey76.)
Priced realistically for the everyday reader - his books top out around $400; Bauman selections regularly shoot into the thousands - Posey's collection is accessible but thoughtfully curated. He's proud of a 1893 copy of La Cuisine Francaise, a cookbook from the influential but mostly forgotten chef Francois Tanty. "He brought French food to us years before Julia Child did," Posey said. But Child is well-represented, too, as is her contemporary James Beard - Posey owns nearly all of that influential chef and author's books, some signed by the man himself. ("Good loafing," reads an inscription in a first edition of Beard on Bread.)
A first edition of Bottoms Up by the aptly named drinks writer Ted Saucier features gorgeous color illustrations of pinup girls sipping from dainty glasses. An orange-and-black pocket guide called Bartender's Guide to the Best Mixed Drinks doesn't look like much until you notice it's written in English and Japanese; published in 1953, the recipe book was designed for Japanese bartenders to serve Allied forces stationed in Japan after the war.
The Gun Club Cook Book from 1930, featuring recipes collected by the chef of a Princeton group that shot sporting clays, instructs readers in the now-esoteric art of preparing whale steaks and alligator tails. Posey's copy includes the original bill of sale, tucked into the front cover, showing the original buyer purchased it for $2.82 in January 1933.
For Posey, these culinary story lines, so rich in hidden heritage, pay off big in a way mere dollars and cents simply can't. "There are books I grab and I have in my hand and say, 'I've got to have it,' " he said. "I think someone is going to hear that story and say, 'I need that,' "
The Book Slinger stores his collection, fittingly, in his kitchen.
Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene since 2005. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish, or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @drewlazor.