OWLS HEAD — Michele LeGris, an Owls Head resident residing in an old cottage by the water, is an enthusiast of old books, which propelled her to an appreciation of paper marbling.
Since 2009, LeGris has been the proud owner of an Etsy store named Red Cottage.
LeGris’ inspiration to open an Etsy store to start sharing her passions with customers around the world stemmed from a love of marbled paper, which she makes herself.
“I started making marbled paper and I bought a bunch of old books because I loved the marbled paper for the covers,” LeGris said. “I also learned how to make books and then I learned out to make books from old covers that were being thrown away. Every time I put something I made in the shop it sold quickly which encouraged me even more. After a while, I also put the books I accumulated into the shop and they sold as well. I kept at it and people kept coming. Some marbled note cards I made were even sold in the Farnsworth Museum gift shop and featured on the Nate Berkus show.”
In addition to the marbled paper, her store boasts an abundance of antique and vintage books, book covers, art journaling supplies, and ephemera.
A quick skim of the first of 15 pages of Etsy listings in her online store yields book and book covers from the 1800s, a map of Kansas in 1879, receipts from the 1840s, a letter from 1932, and a 1915 cookbook from the Boston Cooking School.
Much of LeGris’ inventory is sourced through treasure hunting, an enjoyable endeavor of searching for fun vintage ephemera and interesting books.
“I usually find them in the Summer, although not this year since so many activities were cancelled,” said LeGris. “This year I am working my way through inventory I had been, luckily, accumulating when some small bookstores closed a couple of years ago.”
Through the Etsy store, LeGris has found customers in each of the 50 states, plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Switzerland, France, England, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and The Netherlands.
LeGris’ customer base constitutes two types of customers: people who buy books and people buying supplies for creative projects.
Touching on the motivation to sell moments of history through Etsy, LeGris noted a rewarding feeling of sharing “these lovely old things” with fellow enthusiasts and provide those items a new chance at life with people who will appreciate them, especially customers in areas where it is difficult to find ephemera or affordable antique books.
“[I]t's fun to work with creative people who are looking for unique old items,” LeGris commented, and recalled of learning people create clothing by sewing old book spines. LeGris listed the old, but too beautiful to discard, book spines that had fallen apart under the assumption they would be used for bookmarks.
Through selling on Etsy, LeGris discovered many of the designers of old beautiful book covers were women.
“There is a renewed effort to try to document this art form and remember the designers who were not adequately credited for their work,” LeGris said. “I enjoy researching [and] if I can figure who designed the cover decoration I always make a point to add that information into a book listing.”
Despite the pandemic, sales through Etsy have continued on the same steady rise LeGris, who runs the online store by herself, saw prior to the pandemic.
“There are millions and millions of people selling online, so initially I was dubious about anyone finding me,” LeGris said. “I thought it would be a very small thing. But, I worked hard and the shop grew every year. I'm very appreciative that one person in a small town in Maine can make Etsy work.”
Over the summer, LeGris was listed on the Black Owned Maine website which brought more customers to the online shop.
“I am very appreciative of that connection,” LeGris noted. “Mainers are great about supporting each other.”