Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2012 Issue

Stephen J. Gertz: Booktryst – Blog Extraordinaire

Stephen gertz - booktryst blogger  mug

Stephen J. Gertz of Booktryst.

What kind of a person would start a book blog, write it daily for over two years, build it to the point where it had accumulated a million hits (1,500 to 2,000 unique visitors a day, 40,000-50,000 hits a month) and only then begin to think that ……. well, maybe I have something here?

Talk about labor of love….meet Stephen J. Gertz, the founder and owner of Booktryst, an antiquarian blog with a populist touch.

“Tryst,” you remember, is defined as a lover’s secret meeting, and at Booktryst the reader finds that rare combo of affection, knowledge and the engaging voice of a story teller.

Hello, this guy can write.

He writes easily, well and with a solid grasp of the niceties of the antiquarian trade mashed up with a lively pop sensibility. What makes his site different from others is the content changes frequently, so it is seldom the same two days in a row.

At 61 Gertz is not exactly as stranger to the Southern California book scene. He started in the 80s as a collector, book scout, and then a part-time dealer. Later, faced with an urgent need for money, he sold his collection of erotica and drug related material to William J. Dailey and went on to work for Dailey in other capacities. Presently, his day job is executive director for David Brass Rare Books in Calabasas, CA (about 30 miles outside of LA).

Along the way he’s written for a variety of other blogs, other dealers and other media both popular and antiquarian such as Huffington Post and Fine Books & Collections Magazine and obscure as in “below the radar.”

Gertz had a prior incarnation as a big league television story editor, so it is not surprising that he can write. What is surprising is he can write so well, so much, and so nicely; merging a light touch with a firm grasp of a subject that is often considered arcane.

He has a dealer’s eye for what has (or will have) value, a cataloger’s feel for the important particulars, and a writer’s gift for making it pop -- day after day, week after week.

“I guess you could say we have a deep bench,” he commented, referring to Booktryst’s already impressive archive. He calls them “the gifts that keeps on giving,” because readers regularly turn up for many of his earlier stories, some more so than others.

Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Dostoevsky & Peter Howard

Two that have been popular are the reading habits of Marilyn Monroe and a piece about Jack Kerouac’s annotated copy of Dostoevsky. (See links at the end)

In August of 2010 he grabbed the book world’s attention with a festschrift for Peter Howard, the legendary Berkeley owner of Serendipity Books, titled “Wake for the Still Alive.” The multi-part remembrance and tribute to Howard (who was then dying of cancer) ran on-line. Gertz also brought out 200 copies in a limited edition keepsake. It created, shall we say, a buzz.

The keepsake is long gone, but it’s not too late to read his series about Howard, a contemporary dealer who many admired (and secretly longed to imitate -- with brilliant taste, enormous knowledge, vast inventory, and a bookkeeping system he kept mainly in his head). Of course there were others who regarded Howard as a stinker and a crank, and their voices pop up here and there in counterpoint.

Gertz shows Howard in all his dimensions as seen through the eyes of those who knew him. This is a must-read for anyone who calls him/herself a dealer. (Link at the end)

Along with the three articles just mentioned there are 378 Booktryst entries for 2010, 267 for 2011 and 163 so far for 2012; all produced by Gertz and a handful of colleagues.  

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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