Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2007 Issue

The Passing of the Second Bookend: Madeleine Stern Dies at 95

Stern

Madeleine Stern (left) with longtime partner Leona Rostenberg.


By Michael Stillman

The other half of New York's most famous "bookends" passed away two weeks ago, bringing a close to an era and a story never to be repeated. Longtime bookseller Madeleine Stern, partner in Manhattan's Rostenberg and Stern Rare Books, died on Saturday, August 18, 2007 at the age of 95. Her partner, Leona Rostenberg, died in 2005 at 96. We don't know whether there is a connection between antiquarian books and long life, but we certainly hope so.

This bookselling story began in the 1930s, when Rostenberg and Stern were fellow students and friends at Columbia University. In 1939, Ms. Rostenberg, her studies never quite completed, took a job as an assistant to bookseller Herbert Reichner, an Austrian who had fled a Europe on the cusp of war. He was apparently a great educator, but hard taskmaster as well. In 1944, Ms. Rostenberg, aided by a loan from Ms. Stern, set out on her own. A year later, "Mady" Stern would join her in the business, beginning the partnership that would endure for another sixty years.

They spent the following decades selling books while tracking down antiquarian works for their stock on European and American trips. Neither ever became a major collector, but their love for the books that passed through their hands was evident. Perhaps it was the search, the sleuthing for books they loved most. They became known as the "Holmes and Watson" of bookselling. However, the detective work was not limited to finding hard copies of books. They also delved into research, and may well be best remembered for uncovering the unknown works of Louisa May Alcott. Alcott is known for her Little Women and more literary novels, but she also pseudonymously published sensationalist fare to help pay the bills. It was Rostenberg and Stern who discovered and revealed to the world the other half of Alcott's writings.

It's interesting to note that the partners were in business even before AB Bookman's Weekly, the major facilitator of dealer-to-dealer sales for half a century, began publishing in the late 1940s, and were still going strong when the internet forced that publication out of business. They prospered through the closing years of bookselling's first 500 years, to become participants in the dawn of what is undoubtedly the most dramatic change the trade has ever experienced, the internet era. Of course, these two pioneers were nearing age 90 by this time, so they mostly stuck to the old ways of doing business as the third millennium began.

Here are two more things for which Ms. Stern will be remembered. She and Ms. Rostenberg were both writers, and they collaborated on many books, both about their own careers, and the tracking down of Alcott's hidden treasures. In a PBS interview a few years back, Ms. Stern noted that booksellers become "ghosts" when they pass on, as little is written by or about them, "unless he wrote books." Ms. Stern will never be a "ghost." Secondly, they were pioneering feminists. Perhaps they were not the sort of feminists who demonstrate in the streets, but the type who simply go out and do what women were not supposed to do.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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