He came into the shop and told us that he had seen thus and such mentioned or referred to in a reference book and asked if this or that book was or is on the market. Many potential clients come in like that, having read about a book in a reference book and wanting to know more about it, or wanting to own a copy, or even a particular copy.
MAF: We consider one of our chief roles here to expand our client’s knowledge. We conduct a lot of conversations with clients. We also encourage them to read auction catalogues, and we provide advice on upcoming auctions. We’ll tell people yes we’ve seen it, no we don’t advise buying it, or the reverse. That’s why we get our ten percent [dealer fee for providing advice on auctions.]
JL: Back to Mr. Kraus and his legacy for a moment, one thing that occurs to me that we haven’t yet mentioned is that Mr. Kraus had a kind of romantic passion for history. That passion informed his taste. There would be something about a manuscript that excited him. He didn’t necessarily know what it was. His experts – the people, the staff he surrounded himself with – would affirm or deny his instinct. But most of the time his instinct was right on the mark, even if he himself wasn’t exactly sure why.
AT: I’ve seen that skill in people before, although not often. That’s the sign of a true bookman, or bookwoman.
MAF: I’d like to get back to something that was just touched on: the people that my father surrounded himself with. We rely heavily on our staff here at Kraus, and we set high standards for them. Which I must say they continually meet. We have about four and a half full time bibliographers at present. When we’ve had a big collection, we sometimes bring in more people as needed. Our bibliographers are crack researchers and are all multilingual: they have to be able to handle the type of books we deal in. As for languages, Latin is a must; whatever else you bring to the tea party is fine.
AT: I have a question about the way in which you conduct business. In your father’s book he sometimes describes partnering with other dealers to raise the funds to buy a specific piece or collection. Do you ever do that today?
MAF: Not really. When we decide to buy, it’s usually our own decision, not a decision that we make with other dealers.
AT: Can we talk a bit about the current market for antiquarian books and manuscripts? Some people feel that the market is stable or even expanding; others feel that it’s been hit hard by this nationwide recession, for lack of a better word. What’s your opinion in general about the stability of the rare book buying and selling market?
JL: Well, it’s sort of like the art market. Prices vary with the times.