An Old Fashioned Book Seller: An Interview with Harold Nestler
AT: What was the prime source of your material at this time?
HN: I started buying books and manuscripts from other dealers in the mid 1950s. I also bought from book fairs, though I had stopped buying as much from sidewalk sales and library sales by then.
AT: Can we talk some more about your catalogues? How did you know who to send them to? Where did your customer base come from?
HN: Well, for catalogues I started with the American Library Directory as my first mailing list base. Then I got a directory of national historical societies from the Association for State and Local History. I joined various library and local history organizations. And then I guess somehow individual collectors would hear of me and would come around from time to time.
AT: Did you keep in touch with this fellow who you describe as your first mentor?
HN: Yes, I did. His name was Ellis T. Boonstra, and sadly he passed away some time ago.
AT: So I guess that’s how your business started.
HN: Yes. And once I saw I was able to make a full time living at it [the book business] it must have been in the mid-70s. Till then I did it only part time. But now I’m 81 years old, and I’m gradually phasing my business out. For instance, I used to put out as many as 15 catalogues a year. Now it’s down to 2 catalogues a year. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still in business. I’ll be in business till the end.
AT: And you produced those 15 catalogues a year without any paid assistants?
HN: Nope, I never had staff. Just my wife Helen, who pulls orders, and my son Timothy, who transports orders to and from the Post Office. But the business is definitely not what it used to be. I’d say that my sales are down to one quarter of what they used to be each year.
AT: How steady was your business at its height?
HN: Business was very steady, steady enough to keep us going and to allow us to take trips, et cetera. We traveled a lot. We went to England three times. To Canada. Back then I was a climber and hiker and I climbed Mt. Washington a couple of times. But my vacations were pure vacations: I rarely looked at books when we were away.
AT: I know that a lot of dealers are also closet collectors. Is there anything that you collect?