I try to read as much as I can about antiquarian books and book collecting. I truly enjoy this type of reading, and I learn a lot about the antiquarian book market as well. One genre which I’m currently enjoying is that of the antiquarian bookseller’s memoir. I’ve been breathlessly reading about the “Golden Age” of book collecting and nostalgically reading about bookselling in the days before the internet, when the open shop was king and some cities even had “book rows” (streets filled with bookshops). Always one to live with one foot in the past, I wish I could have been a bookseller during an earlier time, apprenticed in some fine shop, to a knowledgeable bookman (or woman) and taking time to learn the finer points of the trade. To have been able to see and meet personally one’s colleagues rather than exchanging pleasantries via email! Well, I think I would have liked that time very much.
However, I’m also very much a person of the present, and while there is a lot to be admired and emulated in booksellers of the past, I think that I am at an advantage to be beginning my career in the age of internet bookselling. (Oh, yes, I know I am recklessly optimistic.) I won’t list all of the advantages here, because they’ve been enumerated elsewhere many times, and there are definitely some disadvantages to not having an open shop and being one of many faceless competitors on the internet. I’m just saying that I’m happy to be where I am. Oh my, I’ve just re-read my last sentence. That was terribly vague, and if I were still an English teacher, I’d put a big red line through it. It’s late tonight (Sunday) and I’m getting tired. I mean to say that I am happy to live in the time and place in which I live. Onward!
To know where we may be going, we have to know where we’ve been, and I think I have a lot to learn from my predecessors, particularly with regards to researching book finds and determining how and to whom you’re going to sell said finds. If, like me, you’d like to know how bookselling was done before it was changed by the internet, and if, like me, you want to know what parts of the old paradigm can be applied to the new, I suggest reading the following:
Everitt, Charles P. The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter. A Rare Bookman in Search of American History. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1951.
Gekoski, Rick. Tolkien’s Gown & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books. 2004. London: Constable.
(Ok, this one’s pretty current. Great stories, though.)
Lewis, Roy Harley. Antiquarian Books: An Insider’s Account. 1978. New York: Arco Publishing Company.
Magee, David. Infinite Riches: The Adventures of a Rare Book Dealer. New York. Paul S. Eriksson, Inc. 1973.
(I like this one because the author was a San Francisco bookman.)
Meador, Roy and Mondlin, Marvin. Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers. 2004.
Rosenbach, A.S.W. Books and Bidders. The Adventures of a Bibliophile. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1927.
Rostenberg, Leona and Stern, Madeleine. Old Books, Rare Friends. Doubleday. 1997
Rostenberg, Leona and Stern, Madeleine. Old & Rare, Forty Years in the Book Business. Allenheld and Schram. 1974.
Rostenberg, Leona and Stern, Madeleine. Between Boards: New Thoughts on Old Books. Allenheld and Schram. 1977.
N.B. The bibiliographical information I’ve listed above is not necessarily for a first edition. It’s for the edition I own or have borrowed from my library, which is in some cases a later printing.
There are many more than what I’ve listed here. And what I’ve listed here will already be familiar to those of you who are experienced booksellers or book collectors. Still, it’s always worth knowing what came before you. The past shapes you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. I find that, rightly or wrongly, I identify closely with those booksellers who came before me. And, I do not know of any memoirs of internet booksellers. Do you?
See you in the stacks!