After Fifty Years in the Book Trade, a Swan Song (of Sorts, or Lots)

- by Rick Watson, Guest Writer


A few highlights from Rick Watson's upcoming sales

My introduction to rare books and manuscripts happened in 1964, when I was living in Palo Alto and working at Lanyon Gallery, on the periphery of the Stanford campus. A few blocks down from where we lived was the home/office of William P. Wreden where I first saw rare books and manuscript leaves, and was kindly guided through the maze by Carl Zamboni. The art gallery owner, Dr William Fielder, and his wife, Louise, gave me my first Old Masters print: a Hendrik Goltzius engraving of Christ before Caiaphas—as a Christmas present! I was hooked. A year later, living in San Francisco and working in the post office, I met Ray Lewis, and bought Odilon Redon prints from him, and Warren Howell, who was too grand to acknowledge my presence when I tried to buy the facsimile edition of The Book of Kells (he said later he knew I couldn’t afford it, but the USPS was paying well in those days). More importantly, San Francisco was full of great bookshops and booksellers from whom I starting collecting Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Wyndham Lewis, et al. I also began collecting small press poetry by writers I admired, like Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and later became friends with Duncan and his partner the painter Jess. 


Fast forward to London, where I started to collect Darwin books that I really couldn’t afford, while working in the original Hard Rock Café. John Chancellor was a neighbor in Kew Gardens and had a floor of his Georgian house full of bulging bookshelves devoted to natural history, horticulture, and Darwin and Darwiniana, where I would spend hours browsing but not buying. John soon ascertained I was not going to be a client, so he offered me a job, liberating me from bartending. He left me in charge of Kew Books while he expanded his business in Germany. We bought a lot from Quaritch and Dawsons at that time as John had some rich German clients for color-plate books (at this time neither firm did any business with Germany, and later at BQs Ted Dring expressed serious disapproval of my attending a German auction in Heidelberg). When John finally became exasperated with me (his charming reproach was ‘I am failing to make any money in Germany and you are here in Kew replenishing the coffers; it is offensive to my amour propre’), he fired me but also recommended me to Quaritch. Quaritch had recently been taken over by Milo Cripps (soon to become Lord Parmoor) and George Warburg, with backing from Simon Sainsbury. Those were great years, and I had great teachers: Nicholas Poole-Wilson, Howard Radcylffe, Arthur Freeman, and most of all Milo.


In 1987 after the success of the Robert de Belder sale a sense of depression set in, and I realized that it was time to strike out on my own. I had some money saved, we had our first house with a huge mortgage (18% interest rate then!), and a child on the way. Ladislaus von Hoffman, who was the major purchaser of the de Belder library, offered me a retainer for being an advisor for my first year, which really helped to get started. Even more, Nico Israel, who I had dealt with a lot while with Quaritch, and Jacques Vellekoop were very encouraging and supportive during my early independence, and I was able to sell some of their stock on commission. Diana Parikian, whom I already knew from Quaritch, became a great friend and companion on book hunting trips to Italy, always combined with time off for museum and church visits, and wonderful meals. She knew every bookdealer going in Italy, and all doors seemed open to her on our travels. Over lunch chez Carlo Alberto Chiesa and his charming wife Elena, Chiesa bemoaned, in doleful tones, the ‘tragedy’ of Nicholas Poole-Wilson violating the ‘tradition’ of incunable collecting, by instilling in clients a taste for copies in original and untouched condition. His lament was so well performed that Diana and I left both laughing and bemused as to whether he was serious or not.


Bookselling has been a sustaining profession and pleasure for many decades. I have made close friends who were also colleagues and clients. I met my friend Allard Schierenberg shortly after starting with John Chancellor, and Allard and I shared careers, sailing holidays in the North Sea with Jeanne and our children, and wild adventures in the marketplace together. There are so many other colleagues I would mention if I could do so, and I only ask their forgiveness for not acknowledging them here. But one last mentor has to be named, Barney Rosenthal, whose charm, erudition, and humor were beyond measure. Now, having turned 75, I want to devote my life to other things, and return my books, manuscripts, and prints to the marketplace that has sustained me, with the hopes that others will gain pleasure and profit from them. I should add that I intend these books to sell, and that reserves will be well below cost (except maybe one or two I’m not quite ready to totally relax my grip on!). Thank you all, and bonne chance!




Christie’s New York is honored to be selling property for Rick Watson in two auctions this month. Mr. Watson is renowned for his erudition, his kindness, and—above all—his exacting standards of condition. It is delightful and truly rare to encounter such a wealth of important scientific books, often in original bindings, which are such fresh and unpressed copies.


The first part (92 lots) of his scientific books and manuscripts is in an online auction closing on 27 January, with additional selections to be sold in June 2023 and perhaps beyond. Old Master Prints will sell on 24 January.


24 January 2023: Old Master Prints


13-27 January 2023: Scientific Books sold on behalf of the William P. Watson Family Trust, Part One  


Viewing times: 

21 Jan, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM 

22 Jan, 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM 

23 Jan, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM 

24 Jan, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM 

25 Jan, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM  


Enquiries: Andrew Darlington,, 212-636-2665 

Christie’s 20 Rockefeller Plaza  New York, NY 10020