Two Generations in the Book Trade - Looking back with the dealer’s daughter

- by Susan Netzorg Halas

Pete at an Asia studies meeting.

Enter Susan – the dealer’s daughter

I was the original Daddy’s girl, so I naturally fell in love with the buy side at an early age. I went along with him on many of his foraging expeditions which were more or less continuous until the day he died. We were never happier than crawling around the lowest dustiest shelves of some of the grimiest warehouse basements of the most decayed Goodwill sites within a hundred mile radius of Detroit. Neither one of us ever met a box of old paper that didn’t contain a priceless (or soon-to-be-priceless) treasure.


My preference for my dad’s side of the business did not deter my mother from insisting I learn how to type … the better to type her invoices, her mimeograph stencils…her Cellar Arrivals, which was a by-subscription list to paying clients giving an early heads up as to what was “current and choice” on their shelves. 


She also was of the firm opinion that children should learn how to pack books, even if that meant they spent long hours in a drafty basement working on a couple of boards slung across a washtub in a place that smelled strongly of garlic because the early packing rooms co-existed side by side with shelves of her home made pickles.


Sayonara Detroit, Aloha Berkeley

The truth was I couldn’t wait to get out of Detroit. I came of age in the 1960s and by the time I was 25 I’d held a whole series of classic training jobs. In college I worked at the Archives of American Art. Later I was a curator at the Herron Museum in Indianapolis.


My favorite beginner job was at the Rare Books Room at the University of California in Berkeley where our stacks were in common with the Bancroft Library. My only duty there was to watch the readers and make sure they did not bring a pen into the room. The rest of the time was mine with full access to two brilliant collections.


We had everything and often in manuscript. I read endlessly. In addition to ‘rare’ books we had Western Americana and Fine Press books and other smaller unique collections. We were also the repository for all the X-rated material which was kept in our stacks for “safety” from prying young eyes. In the farthest back corner was an antique magician’s trunk filled with tricks and apparatus.


I have never again been near anything nearly that fine. Spending time with the really good things gave me an enduring frame of reference and helped me measure, understand and value some of the interesting but lesser goods that later came my way.