Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

The Old Booksellers of New York and other papers<br>By William Loring Andrews



He seems to have enjoyed the proximity of the quiet graveyard of St. Paul's Chapel. Perhaps he found it conducive to a quiet and reflective turn of mind; or was it, on the contrary, the noisy attractions of Scudder's American Museum that allured him? This popular place of amusement stood within a stone's throw of his premises, on the site of the old Herald Building. It contained specimens of natural history and cosmoramic views, to which the charms of music and sundry “extraneous exhibitions" were added to give variety to the entertainment. The dulcet strains of the brass band stationed upon the balcony in front of this building—but hidden behind the flaring posters which covered its front—on pleasant afternoons, must have penetrated to the inner recesses of Mr. Gowans's stores on Fulton and Nassau Streets. These "al fresco" instrumentalists were fair-weather performers only, for Fitz-Greene Halleck tells us, in his poem of "Fanny," that "music ceases when it rains in Scudder's balcony." Afterward, as Barnum's Museum, this building became the home of the Mermaid, the Woolly Horse and the Perpetual Motion, and the same melodious method of attracting the attention of the passer-by was successfully practiced.

Mr. Gowans's store at 115 Nassau Street extended through to Theatre Alley, a distance of over 100 feet. He occupied the store floor, basement and sub-cellar, which in time became crowded with books and pamphlets from floor to ceiling. His stock grew and never diminished. Books lay everywhere in seemingly dire confusion, piled upon tables and on the floor, like Pelion upon Ossian, until they finally toppled over, and the few narrow alleys which had originally been left between the rows became well-nigh impassable. There was no artificial light in the cellar, and the book-hunter must fain grope his way—if permitted—through the bewildering maze by the light of a small tin sperm-oil lamp. The freedom of Mr. Gowans's bookstore was not presented to every passer-by.

There was a certain attempt at arrangement and classification, but the owner of this vast store of printed matter could have had but an imperfect knowledge of what it contained; although I fancy that few of the real book rarities that came into his possession were overlooked, and I am quite sure they were seldom undervalued by him. His prices, when once fixed, were as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. They were marked in plain figures in the front of the book, and the cost price in cipher at the bottom of the twenty-fifth page.

I am told by Mr. E. W. Nash (Mr. Gowans's clerk for twenty years), that at the time of his employer's death the stock was estimated at 300,000 bound volumes, besides pamphlets innumerable. Eight tons weight of these were sold by his executors at four and one-quarter cents per pound. A few years earlier he could have realized ten cents per pound (including covers), and could he have smuggled them into the Southern Confederacy during the war he would have reaped a fortune.

Although a large proportion of this mass of books and pamphlets was of small interest or value to the bibliophile, still one possessed of sufficient energy and perseverance, and with abundant leisure to delve into these semi-subterranean stores, occasionally might return with a handful of treasure-trove. In a letter to the Journal of Commerce, dated January 15th, 1886, Dr. William C. Prime records a discovery which he made in the cover of a book which he had unearthed in this dusky depository: " It was a small quarto volume, containing two books bound in one, a work of Jerome Gebuiller on the origin and ancestry of Ferdinand, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, printed at Haganau in 1530, and an account of the siege of Vienna by the Turks, under Suleiman, in 1529, printed at Augsburg, 1530. The volume was bound in paper boards covered with calfskin. Inside one of these covers were found the following sheets, which had been pasted and pressed together to form the binder's board, a common practice with the 16th century binders:

First--A sheet printed in a large and beautiful black letter, four pages of Low Dutch poetry. Second.-Two sheets from a book, " Exposito Sacri Canonis," a small 16 mo. page, Roman type. Third.--Two sheets from a small (16 mo.) Book of Hours, black letter, late 15th or early 16th century. Fourth.--The last sheet of a black letter 12 mo. book, religious, in Dutch, having one full-page woodcut, the double eagle device of the printer and the colophon of Vosterman. Fifth.--Four pages or one sheet of a neatly printed missal in red and black. Sixth.--Two sheets of a black letter book in Low Dutch—prose and poetry-with colophon of Vosterman, no date or woodcut device. Seventh.--Two sheets from an edition of Despauterius's Latin Grammar, circa 1542. Eighth.—Some sheets of brown paper."

An enterprising firm of booksellers in this city placard their window in this enticing fashion: "25,000 books at our price, 50,000 at your price, 100,000 at any price." It was books in the last-named category of which Mr. Gowans was the most liberal purchaser. He, or his representative, was in constant attendance at the auction room. When the auctioneer could obtain no other bid, the lot would be knocked down at a nominal price to "Mr. Chase," Mr. Gowans's commercial pseudonym. Thus he bought extensively without making serious inroads into his capital.

At these auction sales Mr. Gowans appears to have been addicted to a practice of interrupting the auctioneer with questions concerning the book that was passing under the hammer. When the celebrated John Keese filled the "pulpit," Mr. Gowans always found his match. A work entitled "History of the Taters," was offered for sale.

"Is not that Tartars?" asked Mr. Gowans.
"No; their wives were the tartars," was the immediate reply. There are many amusing anecdotes still in circulation that illustrate the ready wit of this popular member of the book auction firm of Cooley, Keese & Co. People flocked to their evening sales as they would to a play, and the comedian Burton, it is said, regarded them as no contemptible rival to his theatre in Chambers Street.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Harriet Tubman Cabinet Card by H.S. Squyer, Auburn, NY, 1892. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Scarce <i>Events of the Tulsa Disaster,</i> First Edition, 1922. $4,000 to $6,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Unpublished CDV of Frederick Douglass by Benjamin F. Smith, 1864. $3,000 to $5,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> California Imprint of <i>President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation</i> Broadside, 1864. $10,000 to $15,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> John C.H. Grabill Cabinet Card of Buffalo Soldier Wearing Buffalo Coat, ca 1886. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking,</i> 2nd Cookbook Published by African American. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Frederick Douglass Walking Stick, 1888. $3,000 to $5,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Only Known Slave Narrative Published Independently in California, <i>Life and Adventures of James Williams.</i> $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Rare First Edition of History of Black Literature, Abbé Grégoire <i>De La Littérature des Nègres</i>. $2,500 to $3,000
    <center><b>Cowan’s Auctions<br>The Road West: The Steve Turner Collection of African Americana<br>February 20, 2020</b>
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> African American Soldier and Medal of Honor Winner Christian A. Fleetwood CDV, PLUS. $8,000 to $10,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries Pennant, 1910 Reno, Nevada. $2,000 to $4,000
    <br>Cowan’s, Feb. 20:</b> Joe Gans Photograph at 1906 Goldfield, Nevada Fight by Percy Dana. $600 to $800
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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