News & Politics

Why Did Rebecca Romney Move to DC?

The “Pawn Stars” star now runs one of the area’s most intriguing businesses.

Brian Cassidy and Rebecca Romney at their Silver Spring business. Photograph By Evy Mages

Rebecca Romney is one of the country’s best-known rare-book dealers, a position she unexpectedly attained as a regular on the what’s-my-stuff-worth TV series Pawn Stars. Fans have followed her career as it took her from Las Vegas to Philadelphia to Brooklyn. But in December, a new spinoff show, Pawn Stars Do America, aired an episode set in Washington, and it featured a visit to a local business run by none other than Rebecca Romney—news that likely surprised many DC viewers. When did that happen?

Called Type Punch Matrix, Romney’s book business is in Silver Spring, not far from where she now lives. The place isn’t exactly Barnes & Noble: To shop there, you need to first make an appointment, then take the elevator up to the company’s third-floor office. You’ll be admitted to a bright space full of treasures, which Romney and her business partner, Brian Cassidy, are eager to show off. They might pull out a $15,000 copy of Robinson Crusoe or an ultra-rare typescript of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that could grace your coffee table for a mere $375,000.

But TPM pointedly avoids the stuffy rare-book-dealer stereotypes: Affordable items abound, including genre novels and pop-culture books. (Samuel R. Delany’s first sci-fi effort is going for just $15.) The owners often appreciate the cool factor over the sticker price. “It is a common misconception that rare books mean ‘expensive,’ mean ‘only in museums’ and ‘touch with white gloves,’ ” says Romney, whose own collecting interests include feminist sci-fi and Gothic romance novels. “This isn’t a rarefied environment. This is for everyone.”

Romney started appearing on Pawn Stars in 2011, back when she was managing the Las Vegas outpost of Bauman Rare Books. Bauman then relocated her to Philadelphia, and she later went to work for a different company. But by 2018 she was ready to launch her own business, and she chose Washington simply because she had relatives here. (No, not Mitt—Romney is her ex-husband’s last name, and while he is distantly related to the senator, Rebecca never met him.)

Meanwhile, Cassidy already had a book business in Silver Spring. They decided to team up, with the goal of opening a storefront gallery in Penn Quarter, and TPM launched in the summer of 2019. The downtown shop ended up falling through, however; instead, they moved into the Silver Spring space. They’re currently scouting potential locations for a DC retail outlet, though no specific plans are in place.

If TPM does end up opening a downtown storefront, there won’t be much else like it in the area; DC is a great bookstore town, but you can’t walk into many of them and purchase, say, a collection of more than 200 books once owned by Amy Winehouse (asking price: $135,000). And a strong local market for this stuff exists, Romney and Cassidy believe. In the right spot, their shop would attract not just the city’s highly educated residents but also visiting diplomats, curious tourists, bored convention-goers, and anyone else who loves books not just as texts but as objects. “Washington, DC, is a great place for this because so many people come here for so many different reasons—most of which do overlap in some way with understanding the importance of history,” says Romney. “And we sell these books as historical artifacts.”

A few of Type Punch Matrix’s offerings.

On Pawn Stars, Romney authenticates and prices books that people hope to sell. (“I joke that I am the destroyer of dreams,” she says with a laugh.) Because of this minor fame, she’s constantly hit up for thoughts on what some dusty volume is worth. Romney isn’t able to give that sort of casual opinion due to various ethical, legal, and practical restrictions, but TPM does buy items that come in from the public, even if most of what’s offered isn’t of interest. “While that does mean saying no to an enormous amount of material,” Cassidy explains, “it always feels worth it to us. We say no to 100 books to find one we’re thrilled about.”

At this point, I should admit I’d come armed with a rare volume of my own that I wanted to get their opinion on, a prerelease review copy of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. This was bad form, I now knew, but I was still hoping to get a small taste of the Pawn Stars experience, so I somewhat sheepishly handed it over to Romney. Would she laugh me out of the store? Actually, she seemed pleasantly surprised. “I think that the way that we can say this is that we would sell this,” she told me. Cassidy, who does most of the buying for TPM, concurred: “If you emailed us about it, we would probably make you an offer. I haven’t looked up the current price for this. But my guess is that this is [worth in the] hundreds, not thousands.”

I wasn’t actually looking to sell my book, however, so I returned it to my bag and thanked them for humoring me. Romney and Cassidy then led me back through the rows of curiosity-piquing items—past their collection of counterculture cookbooks, past the racy “pulp & sleaze” paperbacks, past the shelves containing a Sherlock Holmes trove that they acquired, surprisingly, from Revenge of the Nerds actor Curtis Armstrong. It’s the kind of place where you could lose months—years!—of your life digging through all the fascinating arcana. As I departed, I asked how they managed to do any work. “Every day,” Romney said, “is an exercise in self-control.”

This article appears in the February 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.