By Mike Stillman
An era in the world of book collecting comes to an end this fall as the library and inventory of booksellers H.P. Kraus of New York go under the hammer in three separate auctions. Part 1 will occur over four days in October at Sotheby’s New York, and the items will come from the extensive reference library owned by the firm. Later auctions will cover the inventory. Sotheby’s estimates the value of the collection to be between $9-$12 million.
The reference library, described by Sotheby’s as “without doubt the largest and most complete reference library of books on the subject of bibliography ever put together by a book dealer,” will be sold over four days from October 28-October 31, 2003. Inventory will be sold on December 4th and 5th, while a third sale will feature inventory from Kraus’ subsidiary, Helmut Schumann, of Zurich, Switzerland.
The seeming oddity of the reference material auction taking longer than that of the inventory is explained by the incredibly large reference library held by H.P. Kraus. Several floors of their location were dedicated to reference works, significantly more space than used to hold inventory. In its many years in business, Kraus was noted for the thoroughness of its bibliographical descriptions, which demanded such a thorough collection of resources.
The Kraus bibliography collection includes just about every type of bibliography imaginable. Literature, travel and exploration, science and medicine, natural history, arts and music are among the subjects covered. For Americana, they held both standard bibliographies such as Sabin, as well as those for European Americana.
Americana was not the primary focus of H.P. Kraus as they tended to specialize in even older materials. Incunabula, illustrated books, classics, Greek and Roman material were among their specialties. However, they did do a notable business in the earlier European Americana, much of which predates the Pilgrims’ landing.
Among other reference materials held in the Kraus library are biographical dictionaries, reference guides to book history, ancient encyclopedias, private library catalogues and bookseller catalogues. There is also a collection of auction catalogues, dating back four centuries, including some from the firm now conducting this auction.
The firm of H.P. Kraus had been a fixture in New York since the first half of the twentieth century. Founder Hans Kraus arrived in New York late in 1939. Kraus was already an experienced book dealer, having opened a shop in Austria in 1932. However, when the Nazis overtook his homeland, his shop was seized, and after a time in concentration camps, Kraus was able to get out, first to Sweden and then to America.