the entire firm of H.P. Kraus, Inc. and especially to Hanni’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Ann Folter. Hanni, like her husband, will live on through the magnificent legacy she created at H.P. Kraus, Inc.] This article is the story of that legacy and of the firm’s current status as, still, one of the preeminent book dealing firms in history. We will go now to that history, albeit briefly, to be followed by a visit to the Kraus enterprise and an interview with Mrs. Mary Ann Folter, Director, and with Mr. Joshua Lipton, Kraus’s Bibliographer and ad-hoc IT networking maintainer.
To fully appreciate H.P. Kraus’s story it is a necessity to read his autobiography, A Rare Book Saga: The Autobiography of H.P. Kraus (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, ). This book is readily available on abe.com and I urge readers to investigate it. This article relies heavily on the book as background information and will be quoting from it at opportune moments. But for those of you who have not read the book, this author will, in a pedestrian and rough way, attempt to summarize some of the more salient points in this story, the whole of which is well worth reading.
H.P. Kraus was, as already stated, born in Austria in 1907. From an early age he exhibited a precocious mind and a love of collecting, which soon turned to a love of collecting books. When he was only a teenager he made his first truly antiquarian book acquisition (it was not truly a purchase because its owner wanted no money for “that old thing”)(Editor's note: this and all other citations, unless noted, from the Kraus autobiography, this from p. 16)). Being not only inquisitive but highly intelligent, young Kraus took the book – a 1595 Mercator Atlas) to Vienna’s National Library, where he persuaded the map curator to look at it and had, on the spot, his first lesson in book collation. This book was also the first one that Kraus sold – for one thousand shillings, just enough for a trip to Italy. At that point Kraus was bitten by the bug that stayed with him throughout his life: the condition that causes some people to gravitate with almost a sixth sense toward antiquarian books and blesses them with an ability to ascertain which books and manuscripts in a pile are valuable, and then doubly blesses them with the charm and smarts to acquire those books and manuscripts through almost any means necessary and the facility to be able to turn over almost any book or manuscript for a handsome profit.
So bitten, Kraus progressed through the cumbersome antiquarian Austrian guild system and finally set up shop as a book seller. (Amazingly, he did not go to university, though he was one of the most learned men of his time.) He had through toil and struggle established a modest but successful enough business when, as he describes it:
On March 12, 1938, when I was 30 years of age and had been for six years the proprietor of my own book business, Hitler’s armies marched into Austria uncontested and forced our Chancellor…to resign….For nearly five years this day had been expected. Jubilation reigned in Vienna’s streets when the news came. Crowds gathered, toasts were drunk, fires lighted, music played, there was singing and shouting and the smashing of glass. Less than 24 hours after the takeover, Jewish shops were already being looted. The mood was that of August 1914, except that we, the Jews, rather than the Serbs, were the enemy. (p.57).