Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

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



For eight months Mr. Gowans lived in the same house with Edgar Allen Poe. He tells us that he "saw much of and often had an opportunity to converse with him," and he testifies that he never saw him in the least affected by liquor or knew him to descend to any known vice, while he was one of the most courteous, gentlemanly and intelligent companions he had ever met with. His wife he describes as of matchless beauty and loveliness, and of a temper and disposition of surpassing sweetness, and he quotes these fond lines of Poe addressed to her:
"But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we,
Of many far wiser than we;
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."

In a note covering more than two pages of his catalogue, Mr. Gowans claims to have been instrumental in giving the New York Herald its start in life. Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, the renowned pill-maker, made Mr. Gowans an agent for the sale of his pills, and wishing to give them as wide an advertisement as possible, consulted him as to the best paper for his purpose. Mr. Gowans suggested the New York Herald, which had lately begun its career. Dr. Brandreth went to Mr. Bennett, made terms with him for advertising, and for a long time paid him a considerable sum weekly for the use of his columns.

Mr. Gowans frequently met Fitz-Greene Halleck, who was then keeping accounts in the private real estate office of John Jacob Astor, and only occasionally indulging his poetic vein, because, as he is reported to have said, being under the necessity of earning a livelihood, he could not afford to incur the adverse criticism aroused thereby. He had already more reputation as a poet than was good for him in the esteem of men engaged in business pursuits. The old New England theory that a genius must necessarily be deficient in common sense, and nigh worthless as a business man, is not yet entirely abandoned in this commercial community. Mr. Gowans covers more than two pages with reminiscences of the poet; but they contain little that is new of interest in relation to one of the most graceful writers of verse that ever made our city his adopted home.

Another well-known character who frequented the old book shop was that indefatigable collector of books and "auld nick-nackets, Rusty aim caps and jinglin' jackets," John Allan. He haunted it daily. After the sale of Mr. Allan's effects in May, 1864, Mr. Gowans published a price list of the articles sold, with the names of the purchasers. From his introduction to this pamphlet we abstract the following paragraphs:

"I had the happiness, as well as the good fortune, to have been intimately acquainted with him (John Allan) for over twenty-five years. During that time, and long before, it was his steady, constant and persistent aim to be adding to his unique collection by all means within his reach. On many of these occasions, after having secured a new accession, he would come tripping into my store, with a foot as noiseless as that of Grimalkin, and spirits as buoyant and joyful as a youth let loose from school.

* * * * * * *
"It would be out of place to enumerate the principal articles, with a history of their peculiarities, for that would take a volume much larger than the catalogue itself. I will, however, mention the four which he prided himself most in possessing, namely, the folio containing the three hundred portraits of and views relating to Mary Queen of Scots; George Withers's Book of Emblems; Elliott's Indian version of the Bible, and the Kilmarnock edition of the works of Robert Burns.

* * * * * * *
"Inasmuch as no collection like that of Mr. Allan's for intrinsic value and unparalleled rarity has heretofore been offered for public competition in America, it will form an epoch in the history of the sale of literary, artistic and antiquarian property in the United States, and will in some measure test the popular taste for collecting such heir-looms."

The test proved eminently satisfactory. The sale was an unqualified success, and one that could not be repeated today. Our book collectors have become too knowing and fastidious, and Mr. Allan's books were not, as a rule, in superlative condition.

In an irregular fashion Mr. Gowans's catalogues are thus interspersed with notes of a more or less interesting character. They are not, however, so voluminous as at a first glance appears, as the same notes are made to do service over and over again.

Urbanity of manner was not one of Mr. Gowans's prominent characteristics, but he could be genial and communicative when in the humor, and with those who had won his esteem and confidence. He seems to have entertained no feeling of rivalry toward his brother bibliopoles. In one of his notes he refers most pleasantly and in highly complimentary terms to his neighboring bookseller, Joseph Sabin, of whose knowledge of books he justly entertained a high opinion.

Mr. Gowans issued in all twenty-eight catalogues, the first in 1842, and the last in 1870, the year of his death. The later ones were carefully compiled and neatly printed on good paper at the press of Joel Munsell, the well-known Albany printer, in his day one of the leading typographers of the country. In 1833 Mr. Gowans added to his other "literary business” that of publisher, his first venture being “Phaedo; or the Immortality of the Soul," by Plato, translated from the Greek by Charles L. Stanford. His second book was "The Phoenix," a collection of old and rare fragments, viz.: "Morals of Confucius," "Oracles of Zoroaster," etc. In addition to the foregoing he published, at various periods from 1833 down to 1870, about thirty-five volumes, including five historical reprints, which were issued under the title of "Gowans's Bibliotheca Americana."

Mr. Gowans married, when in middle life, a Miss Bradley of New York with whom he lived happily for ten years. She died leaving no children. His own death came suddenly. He was stricken with apoplexy while walking in the streets on Thanksgiving eve, 1870, and died at his home, No. 13 Second Street, on the following Sunday. He was buried beside his wife in Woodlawn Cemetery, where at the time of her death he had purchased a plot.

The auction sale of the mass of printed matter which had accumulated at 115 Nassau Street began January 30, 1871. The catalogue was in sixteen parts, containing 2,476 pages. The sale netted about thirty-three thousand dollars. The pecuniary result to his heirs, a brother and his children living in Kentucky, would have been still more gratifying if more books and pamphlets had been added to the eight tons which were sold for paper stock. Many of the lots brought less than the cost of cataloguing them. The expenses connected with the sale are said to have amounted to over $15,000, or to thirty per cent, of the total sum paid by the book-buying public for this huge accumulation of paper and printer's ink.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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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