C. B. Richardson, bookseller and publisher of the Historical Magazine, Pollard's "History of the Rebellion," and a number of Southern books, occupied with the old-established firm of book auctioneers, Bangs, Merwin and Company, a building at No. 594 Broadway, near Houston Street. Mr. Richardson suffered a partial loss of his stock in a conflagration on the 19th of September 1864, which at the same time destroyed many rare volumes, the property of Thomas Aspinwall, U. S. Consul to London, the collector of many of the choice books of the late S. L. M. Barlow.
Astor Place was for some time and until quite recently a bookselling and publishing centre. Here were established John Wiley and Son, whose business consisted largely of the importation of books bought to order in Europe. Mr. Lenox obtained through their agency his beautiful copy of the Mazarin Bible, the finest of the only two copies of this monument of typography that have ever been brought to this country.
The figure of "Old Cronin" bending beneath the weight of the ponderous folios and quartos, which were his principal stock in trade, has been for many years a familiar spectacle in the downtown streets of New York. I am told that he still lives and plies his trade, although he has become quite blind. Another original character incidentally and spasmodically engaged in the old book business was "Jimmy" Lawlor, who kept an uninviting little shop at the lower end of University Place. For a time he enjoyed a virtual monopoly of a fruitful source of book supply. He would purchase by the cubic foot the contents of old garrets, and bought many of his books by the pound, together with the household pots, kettles and pans. The valuable books that occasionally turned up in these job lots cost him next to nothing, and were cheap to his customers if he charged a profit of one thousand per cent. Acquisitions from this source required careful collation on the part of the buyer; still it was surprising how much knowledge of books Mr. Lawlor picked up in the course of his business career.
Other dealers in second-hand books in New York thirty to sixty years ago were M'Elrath and Bangs, Calvan Blanchard, Samuel Rayner, Charles B. Norton, and John Doyle, whose signboard modestly declared his place of business in Nassau Street to be "the moral centre of the intellectual world."
The old bookshops of the metropolis before the Civil War were for the most part small and unpretentious; but good books and rare ones were constantly to be found in them by alert, persevering and intelligent collectors, and in those days it did not, as it unfortunately does now, require the bank account of a millionaire to ride the hobby of book collecting or indulge in the kindred pursuit of the gentle art of angling.
Indulgence in fond recollections of bygone days is considered an infallible sign of approaching senility, and we are assured that the present days are a vast improvement upon any that have preceded them. Doubtless they are-with exceptions-for the book-hunter with a slender purse beyond all question has seen his best days in this or any other land. Alike from the Quay Voltaire, Piccadilly and Nassau Street,
"------the fabled treasure flees,
Grown rarer with the fleeting years,
In rich men's shelves they take their ease."
....ALDINE'S BODONIS ELZEVIRS.
Nevertheless, according to Edmund Gosse, there is a pleasure still attendant upon the collector in his poverty—a happiness he shares with gentle Elia (whom for his bibliomania we love the more), namely, "the exquisite pleasure of buying what he knows he can't afford."
When the first of these sketches appeared I was confronted with this query from an old and respected member of the bookselling fraternity: "What is the use of writing about these men? They were simply dealers, and bought and sold books as so much merchandise for profit, and that was all there was to it." Not quite all, my good friend. An old bookshop is a mental tonic to one who merely whiles away an idle hour therein. I am loath to believe that one can pass his entire life among books, even in the way of sordid trade, without imbibing—it may be in only a superficial manner —a modicum of the wit, wisdom and philosophy they contain, and thereby becoming a less commonplace fraction of the mass of humanity. But this may be only a bibliomaniac's fancy, liable to be shattered by the first passing breath of common-sense criticism.