Over the River and Through the Woods
By Bruce McKinney
What with the internet having apparently killed off the old and rare book retail beast you could be surprised to find that retail locations remain for collectors one of the best avenues of book buying. They haven't disappeared. They have simply more and more settled on the outskirts of towns and cities, often finding pride-of-place in country homes so it's simply more difficult to find them. During a mid-month sojourn I left the static fall of San Francisco [perpetual 55 degrees] for the honest-to-goodness fall [30 to 60 degrees] of New England, starting from New York and driving up to Maine before returning to Massachusetts for the 3 day Boston Book Fair and the 1 day Boston Books, Paper and Ephemera Show. Along the way I visited three outposts of antiquarian bookselling.
In New York I visited the Argosy Bookshop on 59th Street. It's a page out of Joseph Mitchell's New York portraits, a place in keeping with city in the early 20th century. On the main floor paintings ring the retail space, books occupying all shelves and images and ephemera filling waist high bins. Today I'm heading for the map department on the second floor to see Laura Ten Eyck. She, with Leah Kasell, organize the map department which includes more than 100,000 antiquarian maps, atlases and map reference books. The shop, which opened in 1925, is increasing its internet presence. That said, only 1% of the map inventory is online. To see the rest you have to visit.
I have been here before. In the 1960's Argosy and Carnegie were favorite destinations. They felt like libraries where all the books were for sale. Even twenty years ago you could still find at Argosy new sets of the Collected Catalogues of Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach that was published in 1968. Not so long ago Eberstadt, Harper, Seven Gables, Dushenes, Schribner and Mott, to name only some, made New York City America's antiquarian capital. Today, while the trade moves upstairs and out-of-town, Argosy is one the few occupying prime ground level real estate.
For collectors lucky enough to know about the shop its a gem.
A few days later I'm on my way to Maine to see Joyce and Jack Hanrahan in Wells. They'll be exhibiting at the end of the week at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair that is sponsored by the ABAA. They are long-time members and have been issuing catalogs and doing shows for almost five decades. From the 1970's into the 1980's they also had two open shops. These days, now in their mid 70s, they are part of the trend that increasingly sees antiquarian booksellers working from home. They have invited me to view first hand what it's like. My wife Jenny and I make the trip.