Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2005 Issue

Passing of an Era: Mary Ann Malkin of AB Bookman's at 92

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A copy of AB Bookman's Weekly from the Malkin era.


By Michael Stillman

It was surely the passing of an other area in the rare book trade when Mary Ann Malkin died on August 1 at the age of 92. During the third quarter of the 20th century, Mrs. Malkin was on the pulse of the book trade perhaps as much as any other person alive. For the past three decades, she has lived a bit more quietly, a collector of books on dance.

For two decades, Mary Ann Malkin and her husband, Sol., ran AB Bookman's Weekly. It was the most important publication in the rare book trade. In the 1940s, Mrs. Malkin worked for R.R. Bowker, publisher of Publisher's Weekly. That magazine had a column known as the Antiquarian Bookman. A separate publication based on this column, known as Antiquarian Bookman, was spun off from Publisher's Weekly in 1948. Sol. Malkin was its editor. Five years later, Bowker sold the magazine to the Malkins.

For the next two decades, Sol. and Mary Ann Malkin owned and ran AB Bookman's Weekly. It was the hub of the bookselling universe. If you had rare, antiquarian, or other books to sell, this is where you advertised them. To a large extent, it was the only place to promote them. It was filled with books for sale. A collector might find books of interest there, but more likely it would be a fellow bookseller, looking for items for his or her collectors, who would be perusing the listings in AB Bookman's Weekly. You could also find wanted to buy ads along with the for sale listings lining the pages. The importance of this magazine to the book trade during this era cannot be overstated. It was the marketplace.

Time and personal circumstances change. In 1972, the Malkins chose to sell their publication. They moved on and so did AB Bookman's. Sol. Malkin died in 1986, but Mary Ann carried on as a collector. She built a collection of dance books which can now be found at Penn State University. She co-wrote a book about her collection which was published in 2003. Her collection is her legacy as Mrs. Malkin had no immediate survivors.

AB Bookman's Weekly survived for 27 years after the Malkins sold the business, though ultimately, Mrs. Malkin lived longer than the publication. Technology would turn the bookselling world upside down in the 1990s. A new resource, known today as the "internet," was just coming into existence. It would quickly connect the entire world with limitless quantities of information. For the book world, it started with online databases. These were limited access databases, where members, such as libraries or booksellers, could post items being offered for sale or titles wanted to buy. Only members could see the listings. Early on there was BookQuest, then Interloc. A few years later came the even bigger development, the listing sites. These were databases of books for sale that could be accessed by anyone, including and especially collectors. Abebooks quickly became the largest of these, followed by Alibris, the public successor to the once private access Interloc. The number of books posted for sale online quickly grew to the millions.

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