Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

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

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Old Booksellers of New York Part II

JOSEPH SABIN


When the bookseller and bibliographer, Joseph Sabin, succumbed to overwork, "Killed by a Dictionary" was suggested as his most fitting epitaph. He was a strong advocate of total abstinence, and in his younger days wrote and lectured upon the subject of temperance. He practiced what he preached—water pure and simple was his exclusive beverage, and he eschewed tobacco in all its forms; but in point of mental activity he failed to exercise a corresponding degree of moderation. To the cares of a considerable business in the importation and sale of books he added the labors of a publisher, the drudgery of compiling catalogues, and the arduous calling of a book auctioneer, and then took upon his broad shoulders a literary burden of indefinite proportions in his "Dictionary of Books Relating to America."

This indefatigable worker in the twin fields of bibliography and bibliopolism was born in 1821 in Branston, Northamptonshire, England, and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to Charles Richards, an Oxford bookseller and stationer. Two years after the completion of his seven years' apprenticeship he married, and in 1848 emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on July 3d. He established himself at first in Philadelphia, and purchased a farm of thirty acres at Chestnut Hill, which would have greatly enriched his heirs if they had retained possession of it until the present time.

In 1850 Mr. Sabin removed to New York, and was connected for a time with the well-known book auction firm of Cooley and Keese, where he was principally employed in preparing catalogues of the better class of books. In the panic year of 1857 he returned to Philadelphia and engaged in business as an importer of fine books. At the outbreak of the Civil War he lost many of his customers, and again sought to retrieve his fortunes in this city. He opened first a book auction-house, and then a bookshop in Canal Street. Again he returned to his farm and began work upon his “Dictionary of Books Relating to America from its Discovery to the Present Time." A year or two later found him once more in New York in the employ of the Riverside Press publishers, Hurd and Houghton. In 1864 he ventured into business on his own account, and purchased for $9,000 the stock and goodwill of Michael Noonan, a genial and popular Irishman who had built up quite a respectable business in second-hand and new books. From No. 84 Mr. Sabin removed to 64 Nassau Street, where he continued in business until his death. Nassau Street from John to Beekman was then the “Rialto" of the old book trade, and the place where book-hunters most did love to congregate.

Mr. Sabin's sales in the ten years from 1864-74 aggregated over $1,000,000, and during this period he supplied with some of their choicest treasures many of the public and private libraries then in course of formation; among them those of Almon W. Griswold and William Menzies, of New York, and Henry C. Murphy and T. W. Field, of Brooklyn. The two most prominent American collectors of the first half of this century, John Carter Brown, of Providence, and James Lenox, of New York, had nearly ceased their purchases when Mr. Sabin came to New York, and he supplied them with comparatively few books. Rare Americana were Mr. Sabin's specialty, and several of his customers were advantageously influenced by him in turning their attention in this direction. Many of the books which these fortunate individuals procured through him have become, so far as booksellers are concerned, simply fondly cherished memories. What book-hunter dreams nowadays of finding in a book-stall such nuggets as the first New York Directory, the first edition of Andre's "Cow Chase," Symmes's "Late Fight at Pigg-wacket," or a copy of Hariot's "Virginia," the rare English De Bry, which was sold to Mr. Kalbfleisch for $1,250, a long price in those days, but a short one in this year of grace 1895. Mr. Sabin published a facsimile of this excessively rare book.

Rarities in the way of English literature were by no means neglected by the bibliopole of 64 Nassau Street, although the present fierce demand for first editions of early English writers was still slumbering. The set of five Waltons sold in this city within a few months came, I believe, from Sabin's, and the first alone brought more than two and one-half times as much as was originally paid for the set. Several copies of the first folio Shakespeare passed through Mr. Sabin's hands, including that of Sir William Tite; and the early Chaucers, Miltons, Ben Jonsons, Spensers, and Drydens, now sought for with so much eagerness by book collectors, were far from being strangers to the shelves of his bookshop.

In those days there was on the part of book-buyers, both here and abroad, a tolerance of big books, which no longer prevails to the same extent. The "Musee Francois" and "Musee Royal," Robert's "Holy Land," Boydell's Shakespeare, Hogarth's works, and the whole long list of elephantine folios were staple articles in the secondhand bookshops. In "extra-illustrated" books the same preference for folios and large quartos was manifested, obviously because they permitted the insertion of large prints, and so widened the "extra illustrator's" field of selection. Bibliomania in this form may be said to have reached its culminating point during the period of which we write.

An English dame of those days greatly distinguished herself by "extra illustrating" the Old and New Testaments at a cost, we were informed, of over £10,000, not including the expense of the book-case, or book-room, whichever it was, that was found necessary to contain this monument of enthusiastic Grangerism.

The sale by the founder of the house at an early stage in its history of an "extra-illustrated" Shakespeare for $3,000 is one of the never-to-be-forgotten reminiscences of Joseph Sabin and Sons.

The publications of Mr. Sabin, aside from the Dictionary, were a monthly magazine called the Bibliopolist: A Literary Register and Repository of Notes and Queries, etc., begun in 1869, and continued until April, 1877; "A Bibliography of Bibliography; or, a Handy Book about Books which Relate to Books"; and a series of American reprints, ten of which were issued in quarto size and seven in octavo; large and small papers were made of each. It was the day of privately printed books and "large papers" (not necessarily large books because they were large papers), books which have been aptly described as "mere rivulets of text in a meadow of margin." A reprint, in three volumes, of Garden's "Anecdotes of the Revolution" published in three sizes—ordinary paper, large paper, and what Mr. Sabin dubbed "blanket folio "—capped the climax in these typographical absurdities, and brought them into merited disfavor. They, however, reappeared later disguised under the name of Editions de luxe.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Sir Isaac Newton, <i>Opticks,</i> first edition, first issue, London, 1704. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Johannes Jacobus Canis, <i>De modo studendi in utroque iure,</i> first edition, Padua, 1476. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Pope Clemens V, <i>Constitutiones,</i> Nuremberg, 1482. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Panormitanus de Tudeschis, <i>Lectura super V libris Decretalium,</i> Basel, 1480-81. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Michael Faraday, <i>Experimental Researches in Electricity,</i> complete set, first editions, London, 1832-56. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> William Gilbert, <i>Tractatus sive physiologia nova de magnete,</i> Sedini, 1628. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> John Bulwer, <i>Philocophus,</i> first edition of the first book in English on the deaf, London, 1648. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> James Cook, complete set, 9 volumes, London, 1773-84. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Bertrand, <i>Opus de Tholosano[rum] Gestis ab Urbe Condita,</i> with the earliest known view of the city of Toulouse, 1515. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> RATZER, Bernard. <i>Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767.</i> London: Jefferys and Faden, “Jan.y” 12, 1776. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. COCKERELL, Sydney C. <i>Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897 [issued 1898]. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [GOLDEN COCKEREL PRESS]. KEATS, John. <i>Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems.</i> Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1928. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center> <b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [GRANT, Ulysses S.— GRANT, Julia, First Lady]. Carved Applewood and 18-karat Gold Jewelry Suite, Browne & Spaulding, Jewelers, New York City, 1865. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [LINCOLN ASSASSINATION]. GARDNER, Alexander. <i>Incidents of the War |Sic Semper Sicariis</i> [caption title]. Washington, D. C.: Philip & Solomons, 1865. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> A COMPLETE COLLECTION of 115 titles published in R. R. Donnelley's Lakeside Classics series. Chicago, 1903-2017. COMPLETE RUN OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING CONTINUOUS SERIES OF BOOKS IN THE WORLD. $5,000 to $7,000
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> GLEIZES, Albert. METZINGER, Jean. <i>Du Cubisme.</i> Paris, 1947. LIMITED EDITION, number 19 of 20 copies on papier d'Auvergne. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [THE LITTLE REVIEW]. ANDERSON, Margaret, ed. POUND, Ezra, ed. HEAP, Jane, ed. <i>The Little Review.</i> Vol. I, No. 1 through Vol. XII, No. 2. 1914-1929. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [MOUNTENEY, Leonard, binder]. LOUŸS, Pierre. <i>Songs of Bilitis.</i> Chicago: Argus Books, 1931. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 6:</b> [HANCOCK, John]. Partly-printed U.S. Loan-Office Transfer Certificate issued on behalf of Hancock. Sgn’d on recto by William Imlay, as Commissioner of Loans of Connecticut. 28 February 1793. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DE CORDOBA, JACOB. <i>Map of the State of Texas.</i> New York, 1866. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Autograph bookseller's receipt for Dr. John Dickinson, Signed ("B. Arnold"), February 1767. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 4 Typed Letters Signed ("A Einstein") to Cleveland E. Dodge offering early reports on the meetings of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D. Typed Letter Signed ("Dwight D. Eisenhower") to General Henri Giraud written from a secret bunker in Gibraltar on the eve of Operation Torch, November 4 [but 6], 1942. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> Early Broadside Printing of the GADSDEN PURCHASE, Puebla, August 16, 1854. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ALLEN, ETHAN. Autograph Letter Signed to Crevecouer during the Constitutional Debates in Congress, 2 pp, August 29, 1787. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> DARWIN, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> London John Murray, 1859. FIRST EDITION. THE VERY FINE MELLON-GARDEN COPY. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ECKERT, J. P, H. H. GOLDSTINE, and J. G. BRAINERD. <i>Description of the ENIAC and comments on electronic digital computing machines.</i> N.p., 1945. FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED BY GOLDSTINE. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> EUCLID. <i>Elementa geometriae.</i> Translated from the Arabic by Adelard of Bath. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> [HAMILTON, Alexander, James MADISON and John JAY]. <i>The Federalist: A Collection of Essays…</i> New York: John and Andrew M'Lean, 1788. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Dialogo...Dove ne i congressi di quattro giornate si discorre sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano.</i> Florence, 1632. FIRST EDITION. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922. FIRST EDITION, ONE OF 100 COPIES SIGNED BY JOYCE. $120,000 to $180,000
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> KEYNES, John Maynard. <i>The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money.</i> London: Macmillan, 1936. FIRST EDITION. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> NEWTON, Isaac, Sir. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.</i> London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society, 1687. FIRST EDITION. $150,000 to $250,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> ROWLING, J. K. <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.</i> London: Bloomsbury, 1997. FIRST EDITION, SIGNED BY ROWLING. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Nov. 5:</b> SMITH, Adam. <i>An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.</i> London: for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776. FIRST EDITION. $70,000 to $90,000

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