Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

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



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."

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.

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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