Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2005 Issue

Dawson's Book Shop: Celebrating their 100th Year

Michael Dawson, the third generation


By Bruce McKinney

"The world changes and we change with it." This statement encompasses the history, experience and perspective of Michael Dawson, proprietor and third generation of the Dawson family that has interleaved their lives with the printed word for five score years and this month celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the firm. It is a rare accomplishment for a business of any kind to last so long and particularly unusual for a book seller to so endure because books and printed material are a very unique passion and such passion is not often sustained from generation to generation.

The firm's founder was Ernest Dawson. Mr. Dawson's family had emigrated from England in the decade before he was born [1881] and the accents at the dinner table when he was young must have been an interesting combination of English and native born Texan. In any event the family moved on to California in 1885 where Mr. Dawson would, in the 1890s begin to find work in bookstores. In 1905, the now 24 year old opened his first bookstore at 713 South Broadway in Los Angeles. Within two years, what had been primarily an inventory of new books began the tectonic shift to used and collectible material. And with this change came the beginning of Dawson's as a rare book cataloguer and catalogue issuer. Number one was issued in the waning days of 1907, and is included, in fully searchable form, with this story. In 1908, the firm moved to 518 South Hill Street and would remain there for 15 years.

The 1920s would prove to be a heyday for the firm but Mr. Dawson would take the long way to get there. In 1912 he sold the business to pursue a career as a utopian socialist, then bought back the firm in 1917 and for the rest of his life sought utopia in the pursuit, ownership and sale of rare and collectible printed material. In 1922 he decamped to new quarters at 627 South Grand Avenue carrying with him a growing inventory and client list. There the firm would remain for thirty years. In those decades Ernest and his wife Sadie Alena Roberts raised a family. Their sons, the future bookmen Muir and Glen, began to help in the business in the 1930s. The now senior Mr. Dawson would live into the fall of 1947 and see his two sons, now back from war, firmly taking charge of the firm as it entered the post-war era.

Rare Book Monthly

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    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: BARBARA KRUGER PICTURE/READINGS. [Self-Published], 1978 First edition. CA$800 – 1,200.
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