The death of William Dailey in an auto accident just before Christmas robbed the Los Angeles art and literary worlds of a singular figure, one admired for his erudition, appreciated for his bibliophilic endeavors and adored for his close and nurturing relationships with others of restless creative intellect. Dailey, 72, had been active as a rare book dealer and publisher for almost half a century but he was ever youthful in his enthusiasms and his adventurousness: embodying a young man’s energy and an old scholar’s wisdom.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Southern Indiana, Dailey apprenticed with the legendary Los Angeles book dealer Jake Zeitlin, developing his own lifelong interest in rare books. In 1976 Dailey, and then-wife Victoria, opened their first shop, dealing in a broad list of subjects including literature, medicine, early printing, typography, bibliography and alchemy.
The shop was a place to find very unusual publications – not least those they published and printed, including chapbooks by the likes of Jack Hirschman, Pablo Neruda, Dory Previn and Steve Martin, illustrated by such as William Blake, Wallace Berman and Don Bachardy. The Daileys employed the same high-quality, hand-crafted production in printing the quarterly journal Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, written by magician-scholar Ricky Jay.
In 2007, he closed the shop after 30 years, moving to online antiquarian sites and continuing to exhibit at the California Antiquarian Book Fair.
A multi-enthusiast, Dailey found a broad variety of subjects to collect, deal and study. These included mid-century dust jacket design, alchemy, psychoactive drug literature and the history of vegetarianism. He compiled one of the largest collections of the latter subject, comprising around a thousand books printed as far back as 1544.
Dailey donated that astounding collection to Indiana University.
In a similar expansive act, he acquired a noted mid-century house and spa located in Desert Hot Springs (the result, he claimed impishly, of a three-night poker game). This, of course, prompted him to collect rare books and ephemera about the Mojave desert, Salton Sea and Coachella Valley. Dailey spent the last dozen years between the so-called Hacienda Hot Springs; his West Hollywood-adjacent craftsman bungalow; and what he claimed was “just a cabin” – but in reality was another magnificent mid-century manse – in Snow Creek Canyon, across the highway from the Hacienda.
“Amor librorum nos unit” – “The love of books unites us” – was Dailey’s motto, and his love of books proved infectious. He will be remembered for his deep commitment to his field, to related areas of study, to his milieu and to books about art and the art of the book in general – a commitment born of appetite, and an appetite born of love. We at Fabrik extend condolences to Dailey’s family and to writer Nicole Panter, his close companion of the last several years.