Chapter 565 Rostenberg and Stern on Bookseller Catalogues

I recently read Between Boards: New Thoughts on Old Books, by that legendary 20th century bookselling duo, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern. The book is full of wisdom, including an Antiquarian Bookseller’s Credo, for antiquarian booksellers and aspiring antiquarian booksellers. Rostenberg and Stern take turns telling stories of books acquired and sold, but they also do something more important: they let the reader know their thoughts about the qualities and qualifications truly essential to an antiquarian book dealer. Below are their thoughts on bookseller catalogues and collections. I need to keep these thoughts in mind right now

“There is never anything elusive about a dealer’s catalogue. If it is a good one, it will be its maker’s earthly representative and hopefully remembered. A catalogue is a dealer’s showcase. In it he displays his wares; parades his knowledge; offers his expertise. His first [and I would say subsequent] catalogue[s] is extremely significant. He has made his public debut before a critical group of connoisseurs. This, his first catalogue, occasionally becomes his hallmark, stamping him as a specialist in Western Americana, medieval arts and letters, or modern firsts.”


“A catalogue, as previously stated, is a dealer’s showcase, requiring much contemplation and an uninterrupted stretch of time. Preparing a catalogue for the press demands accuracy, patience, and concentration upon proofreading.”

“A collection equals more than the sum of its parts. This defiance of the laws of mathematics naturally exhilarates the collector and exalts the collection . . . Be that as it may, a collection of books is not simply a combination of any heterogeneous books but of books that in some one way are connected with each other.”

I’m keeping all of their advice in mind as I make some important decisions about Book Hunter’s Holiday Catalogue #2 this summer. First, I’m thinking carefully about the subject (I have two possible subjects from which to choose at the moment). Next, I need to think about the scope of that subject my catalogue will cover. Once I have these decisions made, I’ll know what other books I’ll need to acquire to round out the collections I’ve started.

I’m not going to reveal the possible subjects now. I’m just going to say that the thinking and acquisition process for Catalogue #2 have been under way for a while. Now it’s time to refine the concept and focus so I know what else I need to acquire to make it less “a combination of any heterogeneous books” and more a collection of “books that in some one way are connected with each other.”

See you in the stacks!

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Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Catalogues

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