MAF: I think I speak for both of us when I say that the current economy is certainly on a roller coaster. [All parties nod.]
JL: I think that with the antiquarian book market there are lots of forces involved, not just the economy. It used to be the fashionable thing to do to collect rare books, especially in New York. [Editor’s note: this point is certainly driven home in Kraus’s autobiography, in which he describes himself hobnobbing with the very crème-de-la-crème of New York society.] It’s become less so. Here at Kraus, we’ve lived through recessions before. Business gets slightly less robust, and then it picks up again when the economy does. It’s simply a cycle.
MAF: And thank god we’re certainly more than holding our heads above water right now. [She smiles, somewhat slyly, at JL as if alluding to a private reference or joke.]
As an indication of what the market is like, I think all you have to do is look at the recent book auctions in New York and London, which have been thin aside from Americana which continues to be popular at sales.
AT: You mention Americana. Can we explore for a moment for AE Monthly’s readers – most of whom are first and foremost Americana dealers and collectors – H.P. Kraus’s relationship to Americana?
MAF: Well as you know from the autobiography, when my father first came to this country he had in his pocket a Columbus letter. So in a way I guess you could say we’ve dealt in Americana from the very start of the firm. But it’s mostly European Americana: voyages, explorations, not anything after 1700 or so. And since we don’t have much Americana at the moment our Americana customers tend to be only a small part of our customer base.
JL: But we do still have some extraordinary Americana. [Aside to MAF: Perhaps I should show her some pieces? MAF nods and JL gets up and goes to a nearby bookshelf, grabbing seemingly random copies of two or three books.]
AT: Since Americana is but a part of your firm’s vast holdings, let’s talk about what your strengths and specialties are.
MAF: Our specialties most asked for by our customers are incunabula, illustrated books (which can of course include classics, sciences, histories, or much more), and classics, Greek and Roman material.
At this point JL returns to the table and spreads out three books in front of me. All are spectacularly fine examples of European Americana. The condition of all three is superb: they look of course appropriately old but for books their age they are immaculate copies, inside and out. They consist, in no particular order, of: a 1709 Massachusetts