Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2003 Issue

An Old Fashioned Book Seller: An Interview with Harold Nestler

Nestler2

Harold Nestler’s calling card


HN: How and why did I start being a book dealer? [Long pause.] Well, when I was a kid, I was born with a hernia and was not allowed to run around, play ball, et cetera. As a consequence I did a lot of reading. I got interested in the local area of Poughkeepsie, and started picking up books and pamphlets on the subject. Then my family moved to New Jersey, first to Patterson, then eventually here. I took all of my books and pamphlets with me when we moved.

At the same time, I then subscribed to The Rural New Yorker, an agricultural magazine, to stay in contact with New York State. I saw an ad from a fellow in Cape Cod who wanted old historical books. I wrote to him. He wasn’t interested, but he gave me the name of a man who would be interested. This guy came to the house. This was in 1952. He bought one book from me, for one dollar – a local history book of some sort. Then later on I went to his house to look at books, and I bought a book from him for one dollar. (No, not the same book!) So this fellow said: why don’t you follow me, maybe you can make some money. So I did. Together we went to library sales, house book sales – no bookstores at that time. I was then concentrating on buying Evangelical religious books, in keeping with my faith. I started to make up lists and I sent them out to bible schools, religious colleges, et cetera. I figure I made around three dollars a week on the average selling books at that time.

AT: Did you have a full time job at the time to back you up?

HN: Yes. At the time I was driving a milk truck, delivering milk house to house. This was a very difficult and demanding job. The book business was just a part time avocation. For fifteen years or so I drove that milk truck. Then one day, my daughter wanted to go to visit Houghton College, a Wesleyan Methodist college, as she was looking at universities. And my boss at the milk company wouldn’t let me off of my milk route for a day to take my daughter to visit this college – so I quit. Then I went and took the Postal exam, and soon I was delivering mail house to house. This was like a walking vacation compared to the milk route, which was really tiring.

Meanwhile, I was still buying and selling books on the side. This is from approximately 1952 to 1970. Finally, my daughter finished school, we paid off the mortgage on our house, and then sometime in the 70s I quit the Postal Service and went full time into book dealing.

AT: How did you advertise and build up your business in those early days, particularly when you were working at other jobs simultaneously?

HN: Cataloguing or creating catalogues was (and still is) my main form of advertising. Over time, I had slowed down on religious books and had moved mostly to American history and Americana. I also was an early advocate of local history, issuing catalogues about New England or Pennsylvania or the South West. But back then I dealt in almost anything: dog books, Communism, you name it. My lists were very eclectic, to say the least.

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.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions