An Old Fashioned Book Seller: An Interview with Harold Nestler
HN: Yes. Of course. Nearly 90% of my purchases were from other dealers at one time, not through library sales or residential house calls.
AT: Why not houses?
HN: At this point I think they’ve all been tapped. People have brought their books to the City already. I just don’t find the quality of material I’m looking for in houses nowadays. In an area like this, I haven’t gotten anything decent from a house sale in some time.
AT: Back to dealers: Do you have any specific remembrances of any dealer-colleagues that you’d like to share?
HN: Well, I knew a lot of them. I knew Sam Dawber of Dawber & Pine and I went and visited him in New York a bit. I knew Harvey Brewer, an art dealer. He and I went into the City a lot. I knew Bob Paulson very well. He was at one time one of the officials of the New York chapter of the ABAA.
You see, in those days things were different. Of course there was competition, but there was also a kindred spirit. That’s what’s missing today, especially in the last three or four years in the antiquarian business. The interaction between dealers and collectors has in my opinion gone way down.
AT: To what do you attribute this?
HN: To the internet, of course. In my opinion, the internet has ruined the business, at least from an older dealer’s standpoint. I realize that the dealers had to go to it to survive. But that crucial element of human interaction is now missing. It has cut into the friendliness of the business.
I’ll give you an example: it used to be, you go in to the City, sit and talk with dealers about other dealers, customers, business, and what we had seen: a real book seller’s chat. Now, when you go to see them, they’re too busy looking at their computers – which I realize they have to do – to give you eye contact. That sense of camaraderie is gone.
Let me give you an example of that camaraderie. We would all get together and tell stories: me, Rocky Gardner, Bill Kaplan, Howard Mott, and Bill Kelleher. There was a famous story that Bill would tell. Years ago, during prohibition, a wealthy guy in the liquor business had specially made shelves put into his house with the purpose of storing these great big books on it. Well, once he bought the books – which were huge – he found that the books didn’t fit on the shelves. So what did he do? He literally sawed the books in half with an electric saw so that they would fit on the shelves, rather than redo the shelving. That’s the kind of story you don’t hear much of today, because dealers are talking less and less to each other. It’s the kind of chat you just don’t get the chance to tell anymore.
AT: We’ve already touched on this a bit, but I’d like to go back to it. What do you see when you look at the landscape of the book buying and book selling community today?