Walking Tour Of New York’s Antiquarian Book Sellers Part II: Manhattan’s Upper East Side
By Abby Tallmer
Welcome to Part Two of our “Walking Tour of New York City’s Rare and Antiquarian Book Sellers.” This section focuses on such book sellers located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This article is the second in a series in which we at Æ Monthly have compiled, for the use of visiting and resident bibliophiles, a list of interesting and notable used, rare, and antiquarian book shops and book sellers throughout Manhattan. Because the borough is so vast, we have chosen to divide this series into geographic districts. This second article covers the area roughly known as the Upper East Side of Manhattan, home to many chic shops and expensive pieces of real estate.
To recap a bit from last month’s “Walking Tour” article (on Midtown Manhattan book sellers): Let’s face it: New York City has always been a booklover’s kind of town. From its founding, New York, and specifically Manhattan, has served as a center of cultural literacy and as a haven for writers and artists of all sorts.
In addition to the many notable literary, artistic, and political figures who sprung from New York, the city has long been known for the many writers, artists, and other historical figures and radical figures who sought haven there. In this sort of rich, diverse cultural environment – which has spanned centuries and has included all sorts of interwoven yet separate literary, artistic, and intellectual communities – it is natural that New York has long had a tradition of housing great bookstores and book sellers.
Especially prominent in its history is the city’s link to great rare and antiquarian bookstore and book sellers. New York, specifically Manhattan, has since the 1900s acted as host to a growing number of used, rare, and antiquarian book dealers and prominent book auction houses. According to both this author’s observations and also according to this author’s perusal of a handy and fascinating little booklet called The Bookman’s Guide To New York (Worksman’s Bookshop, 50 East 13th Street, N.Y.C., 1939, 32 pp.), the geographical divisions of these book stores and auction houses have evolved radically over the years. Interestingly, according to The Bookman’s Guide To New York, in 1939 nearly all “Old & Rare Bookshops” in Manhattan were located in Midtown. Of the list of 28 bookshops in this area listed by the Bookman’s Guide, none to this author’s knowledge remain in their original setting: some have relocated and the vast majority are closed and have become figures of booklore history. The Bookman’s Guide also lists a separate section called “Americana,” presumably dealing with bookshops that deal in that category. Only 5 bookshops in this category are listed, again all in Midtown Manhattan; and again, of these 5, I believe that all have closed and have become part of our rich bookselling history.
Then again, life in Manhattan as life anywhere is a circle. New and eminent bookstores have popped up to replace the great shops of yore, and no one can say that there is not a plethora of used, rare, and antiquarian bookshops still operating within the confines of Manhattan.