An Old Fashioned Book Seller: An Interview with Harold Nestler
HN: No, not really. Even the Evangelical stuff, that was for sale, not for my personal collection. Although I did for a while collect Shaker material because of a relative who was involved with them. But then I sold that collection too. [Another long pause.] I guess there is one thing that I still collect: book dealer’s memoirs. I have a whole shelf of them downstairs that I’ll show you later. Actually, I guess I should tell you that I have my own memoir, called Where Did You Find That?: Adventures of An Antiquarian Bookman. I had 500 copies printed and have sold over 300 so far.
AT: Changing the subject for a second, what would you consider your subject strengths as a dealer?
HN: My strength is almost entirely New York State history, including the Revolutionary War and the Indians. Almost 40% of my business is New York State history. I should also mention that I put out a comprehensive bibliography of New York State history. It’s called Bibliography of the New York State Communities has been republished by Heritage Press. I accomplished it while still working as a milkman full time.
AT: Can we talk a bit more about how you learned the book business? We find that this is a subject of endless fascination for many of our readers.
HN: Sure. I really think that I picked up my skills as I went along. They were self-taught. I had no specific training to speak of. I simply went to a great many stores, and talked to a great many dealers and collectors.
AT: Another thing I’d like you to comment on, especially since you have been in the business for as long as you have, is the historic trend of book pricing. How did you decide how to price books, and what’s your perspective on how book pricing has changed over the years?
HN: Ahh, the area of pricing. In the beginning, I simply took a stab in the air and made up a price that I thought would bring me a profit. You see, back then, books could be bought so cheaply. I learned to price as I learned everything else, by experience.
Now it’s all different. Books are more expensive and scarcer as well, and there’s less good material around. It was a Golden Age. That Golden Age has passed.
You see, then I could head off to the City and come back with a full box of books. Now, it’s totally different. Recently, I went to three huge book shops in the City and found only one book in each place. One book that I wanted and could afford. That’s hardly worth my travel and lunch expenses. Right now, decent books are scarce and any decent books are just too expensive.
AT: Back in the old days, did you have many dealings with other book dealers?