Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2007 Issue

<i>Bookends</i>: A Play About Two Booksellers

Bookends

Bookends is being performed by the New Jersey Repertory Company.


By Michael Stillman

It's not often that booksellers become the subject of a theatrical play, and a musical no less, so the production of Bookends by the New Jersey Repertory Company deserves a mention. It is the story of Leona Rostenberg and Madeline Stern, lifelong friends, and almost as long partners. Ms. Rostenberg began her work in the book trade, as well as scholarly research, in the 1930s. In 1944, she and childhood friend Stern formed their bookselling partnership, and it lasted over 60 years, until her death at 96 in 2005. Ms. Stern, 95, survives.

What makes their story remarkable is they were women, conducting an important book business in a time when women did not do things of this sort. It seems odd today that this would have been an issue, but it was huge at the time. Women were supposed to keep house, or if more daring, perhaps be a schoolteacher or nurse. Running a business like Rostenberg and Stern in the heart of New York was beyond exceptional. The fact that they kept this business going until each was in her 90s just adds to the wonder of this story. They are worthy of the honor.

The writer of this play and lyrics to the songs is an individual people who grew up in the 1960s will remember, even if her name is less clear. Bookends was written by Katharine Houghton. If you don't recall the name, she was one of the four stars, along with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn (her aunt for whom she was named), and Sidney Poitier, all names you do recall, in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Ms. Houghton played Tracy and Hepburn's daughter, who brings home Poitier, her fiancée, who, to her parents' dismay, is a black man. The situation tests the liberal, tolerant values of her parents, in an era when such a relationship was shocking, even illegal in some states. Ms. Houghton slipped from the limelight after this film, preferring to devote her life to the stage and playwriting, rather than the greater fame of Hollywood.

The play received something less than an enthusiastic review from Newark Star-Ledger reviewer Peter Filichia. While acknowledging the accomplishments of Rostenberg, first female President of the ABAA, and Stern for developing the antiquarian book fair, he then claims, "...the best musicals involve Big Characters and Big Events. Buying and selling books can't compare to Joan's reclaiming Orleans for the French, or Anthony and Stanton's battles for women's rights." Here he is referring to Joan of Arc, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who are mentioned in the play. This comment, of course, simply displays Filichia's own misplaced sense of priorities. He then says that these women's struggle in what was then a man's world might have had some appeal to audiences in the 1960s, but is stale today. Pens Filichia, "The irony is, though, that this musical about antiquarian book sellers fails because it tries to sell its audience a book that feels antiquated." Perhaps, but what could be more tired a subject than New Jersey gangsters, but the Sopranos didn't seem to have much trouble finding success.

Bookends will be running through August 26 at the New Jersey Repertory Company theater in Long Branch, New Jersey. I'm sorry I live thousands of miles away, as I would have liked the chance to make my own judgment about this play on these two pioneering booksellers.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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].
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    <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>

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