Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

Ken Leach: De-accessioned at 80

Leach

Ken Leach: A bookman.


By Bruce McKinney

Word was received the other day that a voice in the rare book business has been silenced. The agent of this crime was time itself. The clock simply ran out. For Ken Leach, whose perch was the uncertain climes of Vermont, he apparently decided to leave before the snows arrive; this the famous place where winter fits Emily Dickinson's description, "At birth, death but steps aside a little." The same is true of Vermont winter.

Mr. Leach came by his bookselling honestly. He first sold root beer and then sought something that if not as sweet, was at least as satisfying. At 40 he discovered both success and satisfaction in unearthing buried treasure in New England backwaters and in time, the purchase of two collections made his career. In the 1980's he had years in which he catalogued and sold $100,000 of material. In speaking with me in 2004, there was still a bit of awe in the memory; that he could have done so well purchasing something he enjoyed so much.

Once freed of root beer he became a detective, seeking not culprits but the printed word in obscure places. In his prime, with his wife Elaine, nothing was more satisfying than a trip to Oinonen's or another auction on a Saturday night to test his wits. Steve Finer, of Finer Books, remembers him as "fierce in the auction rooms. He knew what he wanted and why he wanted it. He was single minded, determined." In the book business, with its patina of friendliness, such an approach made enemies.

In 1990 he was sponsored for membership in the American Antiquarian Society by Roger Stoddard, curator of rare books at Harvard, Justin Schiller, an important dealer and Michael Zinman, then and now an important collector. For Mr. Leach, a self-made man whose formal education ended at 9th grade, this must have been deeply satisfying. A month later he changed his will to leave his estate to AAS. Over the years he had sold and continued to sell the society individual items and collections at nominal prices. In his later years he was consistently generous with his gifts, and most recently increased them. His paramount goal was an enduring relationship.

In passing from the scene he passes not away. He stayed around to see his wife through to the end of her life and then seems to have simply relinquished his hold. The AAS inherits his 17 room home which is now mostly empty, the last of his books dispersed at Baltimore Book Auction in 2005 and 6. It is much too early to contemplate if his home will be an AAS retreat or simply sold to permit the society to do what Mr. Leach would do himself, use the money to buy material.

In 2004, many of his catalogues were, with his permission and advice, added to the AED (Americana Exchange Database). This insures that future random searchers will come across material he catalogued and be prompted to click upon the source link where his story will be fresh even as the days pass away.

Mr. Leach was an outsider of sorts. The Antiquarian Bookseller's Association of America [ABAA] of his era was dominated in New England by George Goodspeed, himself a prickly character, and Ken was never offered membership. When later he was welcomed in Worcester by the American Antiquarian Society, he found a home, one he was proud to be associated with. In my discussions with him in 2004 he said he never looked back. But he'll forgive us if we do and remember a piece of New England flint, sharpened to a fine edge, that has now passed on to a place where 80 year olds are young again, the auction rooms are full, and the leads to interesting collections are neatly written on notes stuffed into his wallet; he is in the car and on his way. Heaven was once, and perhaps will again be, the next great find.

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>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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