San Francisco

Meet The Lower Haight's Lee Reymore, A Collector Of Rare Books And Punk Ephemera

In a city where 250-square-foot apartments are considered rentable, it's hard to find anyone with the space to start a collection. But Lee Reymore hasn’t let the modest size of his Lower Haight apartment keep him from amassing a wealth of rare books, art and musical ephemera.

Not an inch of Reymore’s home goes unused: books are stacked floor-to-ceiling, art installations hang from doorways, and collector's items spill from boxes and file cabinets. The walls that don’t resemble the Library of Congress are still fully covered, with old posters and original art. 

A signed Keith Haring poster promoting safe sex. Haring, who was Reymore’s friend at the time, gave this poster to a waitress while they were out to dinner in New York. The waitress, ignorant of Haring’s fame, threw the poster away. Reymore later recovered it from the dumpster.

“I don’t think I’m a pack rat,” says Reymore, sitting on an antique loveseat in his cozy living room. “Ninety percent of my stuff is just inventory. The rest is personal.”

That “inventory” is at the heart of Reymore's business, Modlit Books. For years, Reymore has worked at auction houses and online book markets. He knows what buyers want, and when he sees a valuable but underpriced book, he snatches it up. 

One of Reymore's favorite pieces, Ed Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip." He once saw an identical copy on sale for $25,000.

Reymore’s passion for collecting started as a kid, when his dad got him into stamps. “I was a total nerd,” he says. “At age 13, I was already bidding at stamp auctions and exhibiting stamps at the county fair.”

An original Patty Hearst FBI "Wanted" poster. “They hung these in post offices when I was a kid. She used to be one of my role models."

The hobby quickly became a way of life. In his twenties, Reymore delved into the music scenes of San Diego and New York, holding on to posters, pins, flyers and other “punk shit” along the way. He developed a knack for thrifting, too. “It’s kinda in everything I do now," he says. “I know how to get things cheap.”

Band pins Reymore has collected over the years.

Twenty years ago, Reymore and his partner escaped to San Francisco from New York, where they resided in a crowded SRO that was quickly running out of room for Reymore’s stuff. SF promised cheaper rent and enough space for Reymore to continue curating his life. In the years since, he's collected more unique items, some of which were displayed in a 2012 show at Tenderloin vintage boutique Vacation. 

A signed copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. 

A signed copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. “I’ve sold a lot of books to Yoko, so I know her people.”

Now, the pair live among thousands of books— many of them autographed, and almost all of them first-edition. A large part of the collection is devoted to Reymore's favorite writer, Samuel Beckett; he's dedicated three rows of his crowded bookshelf to Beckett books that he will never sell.  “I want original editions because I like the idea of the way it looked on the bookshelf when it first came out,” said Reymore. “It’s puritanical, and it’s just special.”

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