Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Andreas Brown - Gotham Book Mart

photo from the NY Times
April 24, 1975
credited to Larry Morris

     Frances Steloff founded the wonderful Gotham Book Mart in 1920.  Gotham was her life, but when she was 80 years old maybe it seemed prudent to let go a little.  She sold the store to Andy Brown in 1967.
    Steloff was picky about the conditions of the sale.  She approved of Andy Brown.  He was a knowledgeable book lover himself. He'd been one of her many enthusiastic customers.
     And Steloff didn't let go completely.  She attached certain stipulations to the sale.  1.) She could continue to live in her apartment upstairs for the rest of her life.  2.)  She would continue to manage the occult section of the store herself.  3.)  She was to be free to poke around in the sales floor as she wished.
     Steloff's tastes had the store for almost 50 years.  There were books and broadsides and magazines stored in the basement that had been there almost that whole time.  In spite of her continued involvement, Gotham's character changed a bit.  Andy Brown brought his own enthusiasms and extensive book knowledge to add to hers.  It made the store even better.
     Brown grew up in Texas and went to school in California.  After college he came to New York.  He bought books.  As a young man, he had already assembled a remarkable D.H. Lawrence collection.
     Brown knew younger authors and poets to add to the to the store.  In the same way that Steloff had promoted favorite authors, Brown published and promoted Edward Gorey.

     In 1967, the same year that Andy Brown bought the Gotham Book Mart from Frances Steloff, Christopher Stephens graduated from college and moved to NYC.  He took a job on 54th Street just blocks from Gotham.  Chris spent much of the free time he awarded himself (for the speedy work he did on 54th Street) at Gotham.  He knew the store well.  He got to know Brown and Steloff.  I met them too that year.
     I remember the first time I went to the Gotham.  I was meeting Chris there.  Even though NYC is laid out in a grid and you can't really get lost, I got lost.  When I arrived at the place where wise men shop, Chris was deeply immersed in books and didn't notice how late I was.
     I liked the smell of Gotham.  I liked the shelves and tables cobbled together, obviously added gradually to accommodate more and more books.  And of course I liked the books.  I was intimidated, though, by the intellectual intensity of the place.  Maybe because I was just a kid back then.  
     Over the next few years I got more comfortable with the Gotham.  And then I came to appreciate the inventory.  And then I came to really appreciate it.
     Gotham had a small but notable staff.  Phil Lyman had been in the store for a long time.  He knew the stock. he knew the authors. 
     In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, when I knew it, Gotham was quite a store.   Frances Steloff flitted around like a magical fairy godmother.  Even when you didn't see her, you felt her in the books.  Andy Brown was also a strong presence in the books and in the store. He brought a breadth and vision of these times' writers.

     Gotham Book Mart was a treasure house.

blog about book collecting - post about Gotham

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Frances Steloff - Gotham Book Mart

     In 1920 when she was 32, Frances Steloff opened Gotham Book and Art shop.  It was a risky adventure.  She didn't have much money.  Her first store was a small basement rental in the theater district.  She had a great love and awe of books, and she owned a couple of hundred volumes of literature, poetry, art and dance.  That was her initial stock.
      Steloff was clever and savvy and energetic.  She added the kind of books that theater goers would like.  She chatted up browsers.  The browsers bought.  She was starting to be a success.
      Later that first year Steloff took on David Moss as a business partner.  Frances Steloff liked the avante-garde, the experimental.  She didn't like censorship, but it was really Moss who pushed the banned books.  They bought them from Europe.  They defied the censors and offered them for sale in Gotham.  Both Steloff and Moss were prosecuted for selling obscenity but neither served jail time.  They were fined and warned.
     In 1923 Frances Steloff and David Moss married.  To celebrate they sailed off to Europe for an extended book buying jaunt.  They bought banned books and made fast friends of the authors.
     Back in NYC they moved to larger quarters on 47th Street, changed the name to Gotham Book Mart, and Moss designed the famous sign: Wise Men Fish Here.   What an incredibly great sign and slogan.
     The bookshop prospered.  The marriage didn't.  Steloff and Moss divorced in 1930.  Steloff resumed her role as sole force shaping the Gotham Book Mart.  She sold what she liked.   She stocked little magazines and art as well as books and broadsides.  She helped found the James Joyce Society which met in her store.  She befriended and aided authors and poets, dancers and artists.
     A partial list of Steloff's friends reads like the curriculum of some fascinating cross-disciplinary course:  ee cummings, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, Marianne Moore, Tennessee Williams, Alan Ginsberg, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Lawrence Durrell, Salvadore Dali, Joseph Campbell, Martha Graham.  And many more.  She lent money and published books and promoted creative artists.  Steloff's Gotham Book Mart was a luminous mecca.  Authors and artists met in her store.
     Frances Steloff bought the brownstone on 47th Street when her store made a 3rd move to 41 47th.  She lived in an apartment upstairs.  The building was crammed with books and resonated with creative adventure.
     Frances Steloff overcame a difficult childhood of poverty and disappointment.  Gotham made money.  She overcame the grade school ceiling to her education.  Gotham breathed thought and knowledge.
     She had legendary literary figures as her friends and fans.  She became  a legendary figure herself.  She created and developed and nurtured a truly great book store: Gotham Book Mart.  

Bookleggers and Smuthounds, by Jay A. Gertzman an interesting book - includes some passages about Steloff and Moss
Our Joyce, by Joseph Kelly - ditto

website with photos and anecdotes of Frances Steloff

Friday, May 29, 2009


photos by Christopher P. Stephens August 1979 NYC

During the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a weekly book dealers' poker game. It was usually at Christopher Stephens' place.
Pictured here are some of the regulars:
Harvey Tucker, Black Sun Books
Jim Cummins, James Cummins Rare Books
Lenny Fox, Leonard Fox Rare Book
Chris Stephens, Christopher P. Stephens Bookseller

The book dealer poker players had a rollicking good time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frank Scioscia in riverrun

1989 photo by Herb Levart (art book dealer)

Monday, May 25, 2009

July 1979

     This is Frank Scioscia's office at Harper & Row Publishers.  He spent the day showing his grandson around Harper's.  At the moment of this photo Michael is trying out Frank Scioscia's chair.     The chair feels just right.  So do the piles of books all around.   

The Scioscia Brothers

Frank Scioscia, founder of riverrun, comes from a big family. He's the 7th of 12 children; the 4th of 6 brothers. Their father loved books and newspapers.
Frank is pictured here with his 2 younger brothers, Donald and Carl in May of 1980. They're talking books.
Donald and Frank both worked at J.K. Gills Bookstore in Portland Oregon in the 1950s. By the 1980s, each had his own small bookstore: riverrun and Books and Things.

Carl Scioscia had an executive position in the Harper & Row distribution warehouse in

Scranton, PA. Fran McCullough used to say it was a startling pleasure to see these two brothers at a sales conference, ironing out distribution problems together.

One of the older Scioscia brothers, Vance, didn't make a career of books. Vance didn't make a career of cattle ranching in the west either, which is what he'd always intended as a kid.

The oldest brother, John, did make a career in books. He opened a store in New Brunswick, NJ called Old York Bookstore.

Another brother, Gabriel, was a teacher and a union agitator. Decades ago Frank Scioscia and I spent about an hour with Gabriel, not in jail exactly but confined in different small interrogation rooms of a police station. We were all picked up because we were distributing Gabriel's pamphlets at a strip mall. The pamphlets advocated the formation of a teacher union. Apparently these policemen had no notion of the concept of free speech.

The Scioscia Brothers enjoyed one another's company. They played bocce, argued politics, and discussed books.

note: unremembered photographers - not LSS

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bob Wilson at Phoenix Bookshop

photo by Christopher P. Stephens - September 1979
Bob Wilson in his Phoenix Bookshop

     Bob Wilson was the proprietor of the Phoenix Bookshop in Greenwich Village.  His stock was almost entirely poetry.  Phoenix was probably the best store for poetry ever, anywhere.

Wilson knew the material.  He knew the books and he knew the poets.  He encouraged and supported poets.  He published poetry at the store.

Any walk-in customer was welcome to purchase books from the Phoenix bookshelves, but you had to pass various qualifying tests before you had a chance at the treasures tucked away in drawers and boxes.

     The Phoenix Bookshop was opened in the 1950s.  Bob Wilson took it over in 1962 and developed it into a renowned poetry community.  Poets and poetry enthusiasts frequented the store,  became friends with Wilson, and bought and sold books and manuscripts.

With such a remarkable stock, Bob Wilson issued interesting book catalogues.   He also collected books himself.  His collection of Gertrude Stein material was matchless.

Wilson ran the store and, through the store, pumped vigor and well-being into the poetry community until he had to close down Phoenix in 1988.

If the store itself does not rise again from the ashes, perhaps the spirit of the store will.

Bob Wilson wrote several books.  Seeing Shelley Plain: Memories of NY Legendary Phoenix Bookshop is published by Oak Knoll Press

The University of Delaware has Bob Wilson's James Purdy collection and includes a glowing paragraph of Wilson and Phoenix on their website. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

George Jellinek At Home

George Jellinek gave us all the gift of his "The Vocal Scene" program on WQXR (and others - it was syndicated on radio stations all over). The show was wonderful. He is wonderful.

Jellinek comes into riverrun from time to time to buy books and records. Since he retired from his show in 2004, he hasn't been adding much to his collections. In fact, now Chris visits him from time to time to time to buy books and records.

George Jellinek has a work study filled with books, records, CDs and photographs of opera stars he knows.

This is the computer where he writes. Just to the left of the computer, under the desk's glass top, is a photograph of his family - parents, sister, and self. He is the young man standing on the right.

This afternoon George and Hedy Jellinek welcomed both Chris and me into their home. I took pictures. They were quite gracious and it was fun.

Books by George Jellinek:
My Road to Radio and The Vocal Scene: Memoir of an Opera Commentator
History Through the Opera Glass: From the Rise of Caesar to the Fall of Napoleon
Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna

an intriguing list of articles by Jellinek for Fanfare magazine, (articles themselves available to members)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rare American Books

Almost 75 years ago a William Targ put together a list of what he calls "the scarcest and most valuable native books, books that should be worth anywhere from $50.00 to $25,000.00".  He tells us these books "represent the cream, the choicest of all American rarities."
     Mr. Targ includes helpful lessons for the novice book collector. He explains terms dealers use to describe books and encourages beginning book collectors and scouts to look in the trunks in their own attics for these treasures.
    The list is fascinating.  The first American rarity listed is Account Of The Treaty Held at Albany With The Indians Of The Six Nations.  It was published in Philadelphia in 1746.  Mr. Targ is reaching pretty far back.
     For some he gives contemporary details. He lists John Eliot's Bible in the Algonquin language and notes that a 1661 first edition of the Eliot New Testament sold for $825.00 in 1934.  This was one year before Targ's list came out.
     Bret Harte's 1873 edition in wrappers of Mliss: An Idyll Of Red Mountain sold for $950.00 in 1930.
     When I first met Chris Stephens, he was a big fan of Stephen Crane, and especially admired Red Badge of Courage. Targ lists it and gives information about how to tell the first state of the first edition.
     He includes 3 authors from his own century, Ernest Hemingway, H.L. Mencken, and Christopher Morley.
     Too bad he didn't look into his future-scope.  He could have advised his readers to carefully wrap up Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald  and put those books in the attic trunks they were emptying.  We'd love to find them now.
     And our future-scopes?  What relatively common books should we be tucking away in our attics to delight the book collectors of 75 years hence?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Big Friendship with Larry McMurtry

     I've never actually met Larry McMurtry.  He doesn't know who I am, but one time I think he might have glanced over my way.  In spite of this rather slim claim to friendship, I've had a life-long relationship with the man.
     Chris read McMurtry first.  He was instantly sold.  More accurately, Chris was instantly ready to purchase.  The Last Picture Show had been remaindered.   Book Sales Inc, a remainder house with a pleasantly low key operation, had all the available copies of The Last Picture Show.  Chris bought every one.  They were priced at a buck each.  Chris got 40% off for buying almost 200.   This was the late 1960s.  Chris paid more than a month's rent for those books.  It was his first big quantity purchase of a single title.  It was his first really big bet.
     For a few weeks I couldn't breathe well.  I wasn't temperamentally wired for that kind of gamble.  It worked out fine though.
     Chris listed the books at $7.50.  He offered them to Andy Brown of Gotham Book Mart at 40% off if he bought 5 copies outright.  "That's great," said Andy. "I'll take 10."  Chris sold 30 or 40 copies to Gotham that first year and many more copies through his Sixties catalogue.  The last copies sold at a premium several years later.
     I'd resumed normal breathing well before Chris' bet paid off.  I read The Last Picture Show myself.  I was instantly sold.  Or more accurately I was instantly ready to accept a high stakes purchase.
     I read McMurtry's earlier books, Horseman Pass By and Leaving Cheyenne.  McMurtry kept publishing and I kept reading him.  I loved his books.
     At this time, I was helping Chris in his book business, trying to master the mysterious vagaries of keeping house, getting a big kick out of our two young sons, and in slow-motion pursuit of an undergraduate degree at CCNY.  I took one art and one English course each semester.
     The time came for me to write a thesis paper for my advisor, Malcolm Bosse.  I followed my heart and chose Larry McMurtry.  I thought I had something to say.   This was sometime between publications of Moving On (1970) and All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers (1972).  I'd fancied I'd seen a pattern.  My thesis had one of those ridiculous titles that some 24 year olds think sound academically sophisticated.  Maybe it was: Tracing the Development of Larry McMurtry's  Increasing Understanding of the Complexity of the Female Make Up Through an Examination of Characters in His Books.
     Fortunately I never finished that paper.  I got derailed.  This is how.
     Peter Howard, proprietor of the renowned Serendipity Bookstore in Berkeley California, visited.  He'd come to NYC to  exhibit at a book fair.   There were other book dealers at our apartment that evening too.  Peter mentioned that he was going south to see Larry McMurtry after the show. 
     It turned out that besides being an author, Larry McMurtry was also a regular guy.  He was a book dealer with a store in Washington DC.
     I was overcome at the temerity of my thesis paper.  I changed topics to Dashiell Hammett.  At least he was dead.  Soon I stopped writing presumptuous papers.  I even stopped taking English courses.  I went a different direction.  My masters degree is in mathematics.
     I didn't stop reading though.  And McMurtry didn't stop writing.  I almost had a chance to meet him a couple of years later.
     Chris and I borrowed a car and drove with our sons to Washington DC.  McMurtry's bookstore, Booked Up, was one of our planned stops.  Chris called ahead.  I dropped him off and drove the boys to a park where they could romp and whoop.  After we'd picnicked, I drove back toward Georgetown to pick up Chris.
     I wasn't at my most beautiful to meet a literary hero.  I was travel worn.  My dress was stained with park bits, traces of children's games, and picnic lunch.
     I was almost to Booked Up and hadn't seen any good place to change clothes.    Maybe I should have pulled over to the side and changed in the car but that would have been virtually the same thing as changing clothes on the sidewalk.  Modesty forbade it.
     I was forced to follow the only course open to me under the circumstances.  I changed clothes in the moving car.  It wasn't easy.  Steer with one hand and unbutton with the other.  I was temporarily blind taking one dress off and putting another on.  I was driving crazily, the ordinary problems of driving while changing clothes was confounded by tricky roundabouts.  It was rush hour.  Inconsiderate drivers everywhere were honking at me.
     We reached Booked Up and got out of the car.  I made some minor outfit adjustments not possible from the driver's seat and we went into the bookstore.  Chris and Larry were in a side room, chatting comfortably.  I could see their legs through an open door but didn't go in.  The men came out talking.   I was flustered.  We left without my meeting McMurtry.

     Larry McMurtry continued to write good books.  He also continued to buy and sell books. He moved his book dealer operation back west and created a wonderful book town in Archer City, Texas.  He and Chris Stephens occasionally make book deals.
     His early books are still my favorites but I am an ardent fan of McMurtry's entire opus.

     I'm a much better driver now and a little more mature as well, but if I ever find myself with an opportunity to meet the author/regular guy, I'll still go to a great deal of trouble to be wearing a clean dress.

Booked Up in Archer City, TX

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

S & S and Ultramarine Publishing Company

Christopher Stephens started Ultramarine Publishing Company as a rescue operation to keep good books in print.
The precursor to Ultramarine was a short-lived book operation Chris started with Vine Smith. Chris and Vine were in their early 20s. They worked, and also played various high jinks, at Equitable Life Assurance Company on Avenue of the Americas in NYC. They were smart (too smart really) and energetic (too energetic really). They weren't that well suited to the insurance game. Chris was already leaning away from the steady paycheck of a wage earner, and toward the financial volatility a full time book dealer.
Chris talked Vine into investing in remainders with him. They started S & S Books.
"The big S, the first one, was for Stephens," says Chris. "The little S was for Smith."
Chris was enthusiastic. He immediately bought plenty of good books with their investment capital. Vine got nervous. He wanted out.
Chris started Ultramarine with the S & S Books inventory he bought from Vine.
But why did he call it Ultramarine Publishing Company?
"I named it for Malcolm Lowry's book, Ultramarine," Chris says.
Ultramarine was published in 1933 by Jonathan Cape Publisher in London.
"The book didn't sell well. Copies were stored in a London warehouse but like everything else in London, the warehouse was bombed during the war. The books burned.
"Then serious interest in Lowry developed later and Ultramarine became a legendary rarity. Always very hard to find."
So many books from Chris' Sixties catalogue were being remaindered. He saw Ultramarine as a way to save them. Save them from bombs and fire and book-grinding machines.
"Deserving books should stay in print," says Chris.

Ultramarine Publishing Company has 3, and almost 4, missions or projects. The first is keeping in print books that have actually been published and dropped by some other publisher. The second is publishing beautiful first editions of books that come out simultaneously with a trade edition from some other publisher. The Ultramarine first editions are very limited, signed by the author, and hand bound by Denis Gouey - fine binder. The third is producing inexpensive yet highly valuable author checklists and bibliographies for collectors.

Obviously this is where I should include a link to the company web page. Alas, it doesn't exist. Even if you google Ultramarine Publishing you get an assortment of listings, some us and some entirely different publishers with the same name.
Okay. Yes. I'll get right on this. I'll see what I can do about setting up an Ultramarine Publishing Company web page and trying to reconstruct a title list. It will be my summer project.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sixties Catalogue

     In 1973 Christopher Stephens published a catalogue of books for sale that became a classic. Three things made this catalogue brilliant:
            1.) the timing
            2.) a strictly disciplined focus
            3.) knowledgeable endorsement of the authors
The precept was a collection of books published by promising American authors whose careers had begun in the 1960s.

Chris had begun compiling names even before the decade was out. In 1969 he showed an early draft of the collection to the Accessions Librarian at the University of South Florida. The university bought the whole collection, getting a jump on young writers for their library.
Chris reassembled the books. He fine-tuned the collection. By the time the published catalogue came out, he had already sold the entire collection to a number of university libraries around the country.
Stephens was very picky about which authors to include. Most did not have the recognition they have today. Back in the early 1970s, other writers seemed like the new, most recent voices – authors like Saul Bellow (Dangling Man 1944), Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead 1948), J. D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye 1955), even Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises 1926).
The source of this catalogue’s big impact was the informed bet Stephens was making on these new authors. He stuck his neck out. These were substantial writers, had something to say, knew how to say it, and would continue to develop with time. Stephens predicted that these were the authors whose voices would speak in the future.
Some didn’t fulfill his promise, but remarkably, most did.
Later other book dealers put together similar collections. Some dealers weren’t as careful about the time parameters, putting in authors who’d published late in the 1950s or early in the 1970s. Most didn’t read all the books they listed. They did not insist on excellence in the authors and included some that Stephens had already dismissed as marginal.
Perhaps the difference between excellent and marginal is subjective. Chris Stephens didn’t think so.
That catalogue was active for almost all of the 1970s. Scouts carried back-order lists and Chris kept replenishing his supply of his Sixties Authors. They dominated our book shelves. Those were exciting times in the apartment. Always a good read only an arm’s length away. Those books were good company, even - when time was short and responsibilities long - just the spines.

Chris Stephens put a great deal of thoughtful time into his selection and assembled 154 dynamic writers who began their published career in the 1960s.

Authors in the Sixties Catalogue

This is the list of authors presented in the catalogue called "The Sixties" put out by Christopher P. Stephens, Bookseller, Inc

Aaron, Chester
Asher, Don
Baird, Thomas
Barthelme, Donald
Baumbach, Jonathan
Beagle, Peter S.
Bell, Charles
Berricault, Gina
Berry, Wendell
Blechman, Burt
Bradford, Richard
Brammer, William
Brautigan, Richard
Brodeur, Paul
Brower, Brock
Butler, William
Carpenter, Don
Chappell, Fred
Charyn, Jerome
Cohen, Marvin
Cole, Tom
Connell, Evan S. Jr.
Conroy, Frank
Coover, Robert
Corrington, John William
Crawford, Stanley
Crews, Harry
Cuomo, George
Curley, Thomas
Davis, L. J.
Dawkins, Cecil
Deaux, George
Delbanco, Nicholas
Dickey, James
Didion, Joan
Doctorow, E. L.
Douglas, Ellen
Elkin, Stanley
Ely, David
Epstein, Seymour
Exley, Frederick
Fair, Ronald
Faust, Irvin
Fine, Warren
Fox, William Price
Friedman, Bruce Jay
Friedman, Sanford
Fruchter, Norman
Gaines, Ernest
Gardner, John
Gass, William
Gerald, John Bart
Gloag, Julian
Gold, Ivan
Goldberg, Gerald Jay
Greenberg, Joanne
Grossman, Alfred
Haldeman, Charles
Harrington, William
Harris, Bertha
Harris, Marilyn (Mrs. Edgar V. Springer, Jr,)
Harrison, Jim
Hazzard, Shirley
Heller, Joseph
Herlihy, James Leo
Herrick, William
Hjortsberg, William
Hopkins, John
Jones, LeRoi
Kelley, William Melvin
Kesey, Ken
Kirkwood, James
Knowles, John
Kosinski, Jerzy
Lafore, Laurence
Lambert, Gavin
Langguth, A. J.
Larner, Jeremy
Leigh, James
Leonard, John
Linney, Romulus
Litwak, Leo
Lurie, Alison
McCarthy, Cormac
McConkey, James
McElroy, Joseph
McGuane, Thomas
McMurtry, Larry
Madden, David
Mano, D. Keith
Manville, W. H.
Manville, Bill
Marius, Richard
Markfield, Wallace
Markson, David
Marshall, Paule
Matthews, Harry
Matthews, Jack
Mayhall, Jane
Midwood, Barton
Mirsky, Mark
Momaday, Scott
Montgomery, Marion
Moynahan, Julian
Neugeboren, Jay
Newman, Charles
Nissenson, Hugh
Oates, Joyce Carol
Olsen, Paul
Olsen, Tillie
Ozick, Cynthia
Paley, Grace
Percy, Walker
Perutz, Kathertin
Piercy, Marge
Plath, Sylivia
Pollini, Francis
Portis, Charles
Price, Reynolds
Pynchon, Thomas
Rechy, John
Reed, Ishmael
Renek, Morris
Rogers, Thomas
Rogin, Gilbert
Rosen, Norma Stahl
Roth, Philip
Rovit, Earl
Rubin, Michael
Selby, Hubert, Jr.
Sheed, Wilfred
Shetzline, David
Simmons, Charles
Sontag, Susan
Speicher, John
Stegner, Wallace
Stern, Richard
Stewart, Edward
Stone, Robert
Suzenick, Ronald
Theroux, Paul
Updike, John
Wallant, Edgar Lewis
Weesner, Theodore
West, Paul
Williams, John A.
Wilson, Carter
Wilson, S. J.
Woiwode, Larry
Wright, Charles
Wurlitzer, Rudolph
Yates, Richard
Yount, John
Yurick, Sol

Friday, May 15, 2009

Larry Moskowitz -Book Dealer and Book Scout Extraordinaire

photos by Christopher P. Stephens - 1985  

     Larry Moskowitz is a book dealer in California.  He deliberately keeps his inventory small and is only interested in books that are in perfect condition.  He was like that as a book scout too.  Only first editions in perfect condition.
     Larry and Ralph Sipper had been partners in Joseph the Provider Books.  Ralph sold.  Larry bought. Each was gifted in his role.
     Larry combed through book stores and through other scouts' stashes of books.  He ferreted out first editions in perfect condition.
     We saw a lot of Larry when he still lived in New York.  He was a great scout and helped Chris Stephens fill even pretty obscure back orders from Chris' Sixties catalogue.  Larry had a very good memory, an especially superb visual memory.   If he'd seen a book, he could find it.
     Larry would regularly bring a couple of shopping bags to Chris.  They'd be hard-to-find copies of  1960s authors or Latin American authors in English translation, another category that kept generating back orders for Chris.   Larry traded the shopping bags for a couple of rare modern classics.
     At that time, in the 1970s and 80s, Chris' backorders were from university libraries.  They were buying Chris' recommendations for their English departments.  The libraries didn't require perfect copies.  The books were for reading.  They were going into circulation.
     Chris knew this.  Larry knew this.  It didn't matter.   Larry's shopping bags of titles from Chris' Sixties catalogue were filled with the best.  First editions in perfect condition.  The libraries didn't care, but Chris and Larry did.

Larry Moskowitz and Ralph Sipper grew up together.  They were school chums before they were book business partners.  Ralph wrote a book about Larry, Larry Moskowitz: Man of Espirit, published by Oak Knoll Press.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The cost of paper, printing and binding, PPB, is calculated for each book and comes to around $3.00. There are also warehousing and transportation costs directly associated with that book.
A publishing company cannot survive, let alone flourish, unless most of the books it produces contribute revenue toward editorial, advertising, royalty, and plant costs also. In accounting terms though, PPB is the cost of the book.
PPB is a somewhat artificial number. Still, publishers like to recover PPB on remainder copies of a book that they are letting go out of print. In the 1970s winning remainder bids were usually less than PPB. This was disappointing to the publisher but it was better to get something for the books rather than nothing.
In an extreme example of this, Ted Maass, then V.P. in charge of sales at Simon & Schuster, urged Chris Stephens to buy the remaining 1100 copies of Wolf by Jim Harrison for a penny a book. 1100 books for $110. Quite a deal. Ted knew that Chris was interested because Chris had already purchased 1000 copies of the same book at quite a bit more.
Chris was interested. He believed in Jim Harrison who is listed as one of the authors in Chris' famous Sixties Catalogue.
Limited space forced Chris to reluctantly decline the great deal. It didn't make sense for us. It did make sense for Maass to try though. A penny was a tiny fraction of PPB but it would cost a nickel each to have the books ground up. The sale would have made a 6 cent swing per book for Simon & Schuster.
Not everyone saw it that way though. Thomson E. Murray didn't. In the 1980s he was the manager of remainder sales at Doubleday.
Many authors have a clause in their contracts that allows them to purchase copies of their book at PPB when it becomes a remainder. Charles Newman had such a clause. Newman had been editor of the Tri Quarterly Review for many years. He also wrote alternative fiction. Dial, then an imprint of Doubleday, published Newman's novel, White Jazz.
White Jazz went out of print in the fall of 1985. Newman asked Stephens to buy the remaining copies and put the title back in print under Stephens' Ultramarine Publishing Company. Chris was happy to. Charlie offered to exercise his option to purchase at PPB. Chris said, "No. no. We'll handle this as if we don't know each other. I'll bid on White Jazz at the next remainder sale."
Chris bid 15 cents per copy. He was the only bidder. He should have won the bid and purchased the remainder at that price. But it didn't happen that way. Manager Murray was personally insulted by the low bid. He told Chris he would have those books ground up before he would let them go at 15 cents.
"That doesn't make sense," said Chris. "It will cost the company money to have them ground up."
Murray didn't care. He was incensed. He said he'd destroy them on principle.
Maybe he was playing chicken. Neither Stephens nor Newman cared to chance it. Chris bought the entire remainder at PPB. Which was much more than was sensible.
Doubleday was right in a way. Sales were slow. It didn't make financial sense to pay the warehousing and distribution expenses of keeping it in print.
But in the bigger picture Ultramarine was right. White Jazz is an interesting piece of experimental fiction by an important author. Still in print almost 25 years later, it has been available to the occasional - yet keenly interested - reader all that time. The title's in-print status has actually outlasted the author.

PPB is one measure of a book's cost but what's the measure of a book's value?

books by Charles Newman:
New Axis
The Promise Keeper
A Child's History of America
There Must Be More to Love Than Death
White Jazz
The Post-Modern Aura: the Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation

reviews of Jim Harrison's books from The New York Times
an interesting article about Jim Harrison

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Publishers went on warehouse rampages in the 1970s. They ground up books. There was a tax advantage to get rid of back stock.
Grinding wasn't the best method of getting rid of books. Selling was. Once the publisher decided to stop carrying a title in-print, the publisher offered the remaining quantity, the "remainders", for sale. Prospective buyers bid for them. Or didn't.
This was the decade of transition from small, often family-held publishing companies to large comglomerate-held publishing companies. The conglomerates got rid of some great titles. For tax reasons.
Christopher Stephens had just completed his legendary Sixties Catalogue, containing books by substantial and promising authors who began their careers in the 1960s. (This fascinating catalogue will be the subject of a future posting)
Many of Chris' favorite authors were being remaindered. They were going out of print. Good books gone. This distressed Chris. He started bidding on books by authors in his Sixties Catalogue, authors he believed in. Chris started his own publishing company, Ultramarine. When he bought the remainders, he put them back in print.
The books were delivered on skids to our apartment in Washington Heights. Chris built wider book shelves to accomodate boxes. We stored them and filled orders as they came in. At first it was like we had a little warehouse in our big apartment. Very shortly it was like we had a little living space in our big warehouse.
Toward the end of the decade, companies like Barnes & Noble did so well buying remainders and selling them in their stores that the remainder auction took off. Ultramarine could no longer afford to buy favorite authors to keep in print. We went in other directions.
That publishing transistion period was very interesting. The phenomenon of very cheap remainders was one of the most interesting aspects of that time.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers' Day

My mother read. As a child, I didn’t appreciate it but now one of my favorite childhood memories is of Mom trying to read in the daytime. She sat at the edge of a chair in the living room ineffectively fending off 4 demanding children. We were wailing or scrapping or knocking things over or clinging to her ankles or climbing on her shoulders. She held one arm out, shielding her book. She gave us a teeny-weeny bit of her attention. “Look, just wait. See here, I’m reading, look, just 2 more pages.”
Of course Mom usually read at night when we were asleep. I found this out in a way that was quite a shock. This is how it happened.
There was always a lengthy nighttime ritual. My mother rocked and sang the baby to sleep. Then she read picture books to my brothers and tucked them in to sleep with a few goodnight songs. When the little kids were finally down, I got to snuggle up next to my mother while she read to me from a chapter book.
My father had recently brought home the whole set of wonderful chapter books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mother and I loved them. The chapters often ended with a tantalizing bit of unfinished business. Each night, when I went to bed, I could hardly wait to hear more.
One night the unfinished business was a problem that made me anxious. To comfort me, my mother told me how it was resolved.
But how did she know?
It turned out that she’d read the whole book! In fact, she’d read most of the books. She was on the last one, These Happy Golden Years. She’d read on without me! I couldn’t believe it. I felt betrayed.
I’ve long since forgiven her. In fact, I’ve long since realized that it wasn’t betrayal at all and that I am a lucky person to have a mother who read.

My mother’s mother read too. Louisa Isabel Smith Hershey moved to the United States from Canada in 1929. She was a lively, outgoing person who made friends easily. She started a reading group. She chose a reading theme that would give her a kick-start in getting to know her adopted country. The theme was regional books. They read U. S. authors who brought a strong sense of place - local geography and local culture – into their stories. My grandmother and her new friends read about Louisa's new country.

Grandma's mother also read. Isabel Caldecott Smith had the same friendly and lively personality as Louisa. My great grandmother had a reputation for giving good advice. Or maybe the reputation was for a ready willingness to give it. In any case, an acquaintance asked my great-grandmother for advice on a gift for a friend.
“A book,” said Isabel promptly. “A book is a fine present indeed.”
“Nooo,” said the acquaintance. “My friend already has a book.”
This exchange is part of our family lore. The implication that ownership of a solitary book is fully sufficient has been oft repeated down the generations and always gives both teller and listener a chuckle.

Isabel’s mother read in four languages. English, French, German and Italian. She sang in those languages too. Emma Mary Arnold Caldecott was trained in classical academics and music by the finest tutors her father could procure. He had access too. Hezekiah Arnold ran a prestigious boys’ school in Montreal.

Emma Mary’s mother and Hezekiah’s wife, Mary Arnold, is said to be descended from William Pitt the Elder. Surely this alleged fact is ample evidence that Mary was also a reader. 
That’s what I think anyway. 

And her mother too. And her mother too.  I maintain that the whole maternal line going way back to women I know nothing of - all readers, even back when it was unusual for women to know how to read, even when it was unusual for anyone to know how to read.
It wasn’t just my maternal ancestors that were enthusiastic readers. My female progeny, the future mothers, are too. My daughters, Mary and Isabel, and my granddaughters, Andrea and Lia, all love reading books.  So does my niece Brajarani and her daughter, Holly, and my other granddaughter, Anaiis, and my young niece, Luisa.

Today’s not really their day, but the men and boys in the family also read. So do the in-laws. It is a great reading tribe.
From out of this tribe, of which I am so very fond, I select one person for a special message of the day. 
To my mother, Mary Louise Hershey Scioscia:

Thank you for reading to me. Thank you for reading to yourself. I’ll see you this afternoon, but I send you my love this morning along with the hope that your day is already quite splendid.

And to reading mothers everywhere - the ones who already have a book, yet somehow continue to acquire more – riverrun sends you very warm wishes for a Happy Mothers’ Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Saturday Afternoon

riverrun neighbors:

Gemma (standing)
Ralph (sitting forward)
Jaidyn (sitting behind)

riverrun north in background

     I sort of apologized for being a bit of a nut case with my camera.
     "Of course you're crazy," said Ralph, "living all that time with Chris Stephens."

Marsha and Dom looking through postcards.

Roger buying books.

Wyatt looking at some interesting objects.

Stanley sorting through postcards.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Scouts and Search Services

     In the olden days, before the prevalence of internet, it was not an easy business to match a book buyer, wanting a specific book, with a bookseller who had that book.  An entire world of intermediaries developed.

     Search services tracked down a book.  Often a bookstore operated its own search service.  It might be focused, but more often store search services were haphazard – run as an incidental operation to the main business of buying books and selling them out of the store.   Some very fine services were unaffiliated with any retail store.

     Dick Mohr ran one of the very best search services:  International Bookfinders.  He operated out of Southern California, but his physical location mattered little.  He used the mail.

     Mohr had been successful in advertising.  He brought a brisk can-do attitude to his search service.  In a business where searches usually dragged on for a long time, Mohr was famous for his quick turnaround.   He brought his briefcase to the post office each day, picked up his mail, responded, and mailed his response before he left the post office.

     How does a search service locate a book?

     Someone like Dick Mohr knew many book dealers and books scouts.  Dick and his wife, Martha, generated a weekly list of books they needed.  International Bookfinders sent the lists out to stores and scouts.

      Before the internet there was a broad network of book scouts.  They followed their hearts into used and antiquarian bookstores all over the country – all over the world.  Scouts also carried lists of  “wants”.  Various search services printed out lists of books they wanted and sent those lists to their favorite book scouts.  Lists of wants were also published in trade magazines like AB, The Antiquarian Bookman.

     Sometimes book scouts bought books on speculation.  They’d seen a title as a “want” frequently and figured it would come up again.  In this case, the book scout edged over into the realm of the book dealer.  He built a stock of books that he thought he could sell.

    When a scout found a book that a search service wanted for a customer, the scout would quote it to the search service.  The quote included 1.) title, publisher, and print date of the book, 2.)  condition of this copy,  3.)  price to the searcher.  Of course the quote also had to include the name and address of the scout.  Without that critical piece of information the search service wouldn’t know where to say “yes, please,” or where to send the check.

    Through wine-drenched evenings, many funny but rueful stories circulated on this theme.  They were stories of very scarce books, in superb condition, quoted at shockingly modest prices, by scouts who failed to include return address information.  Storytellers would pantomime the effort at deciphering postmarks and the always-unsuccessful nightmare of trying to trace the quote back to the quoter.

    On one such wine-drenched evening, Dick Mohr and a bunch of dealers and scouts were assembled around our table in the NYC apartment where Chris and I lived.  Another one of our friends was there.  This other fellow wasn’t in the book trade.  He was fascinated. He tried to make sense of it all.

     “So you’re saying,” he said to Mohr, “that someone comes to you wanting a book.  You advertise for it or tell your friends.  Someone finds it for you.  You buy it from them.  Then you add some little amount to the price you paid and pass it on it to your customer?”

     “Well, no,” said Mohr.  “It's more like I add some exorbitant amount to the price I paid and pass it on to my customer.” 

     It was a costly and time-consuming project to acquire a specific book back then.  Now the internet has created a miraculously fluid market with easy connections between the wanting and the finding of books.

     Dick Mohr operated International Bookfinders in the 1960s and 1970s.  He might have started a decade earlier.  He might have continued a decade or two beyond.

     I remember him clearly.  Close cropped hair, big glasses, strong wiry build, ready wit, limitless personal stores of harnessed energy.  I wish I had a photo of him to post.  The word picture will have to suffice. 


Dick's son, Mark, wrote a much more complete article on Mohr.  It includes plenty of pictures.   Mark Mohr's article is posted on Seven Roads.  

this article (Bibliofind and AB) details an example how the old way is merging with the new way

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


May 6, 2009

These four book dealers happened into riverrun today. They enjoyed talking with one another.
l to r

Wyatt Houston Day - sets up the yearly African Americana sale at Swann Galleries. He makes appraisals, and buys and sells African American material.

Mark Booker - is also interested in African American material, but likes to buy all sorts of things. He sells at flea markets in the area. "I could go to a flea market every day of the week," said Mark. "I must be crazy, but I like it."
Christopher P. Stephens - has had various book selling organizations since 1965. Chris has been the proprietor of riverrun for 15 years.

Gil Mott - is a book dealer in Connecticut. He has a large internet business specializing in history, philosophy and music. He is always on the lookout for unusual finds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

December 1963 - Scioscia's living room in Manhattan Beach, California

left to right:
Theron Palmer - sales rep Dial Delacorte
Mary Scioscia
Violet Palmer
Ted Maass - sales rep Macmillan

Monday, May 4, 2009

Steve and Chris Converse About Movies

     At first it looked like Stefan Kanfer and Christopher Stephens were going get lost in talking baseball.  "I always thought that Joe Torre was a clubhouse coach more than a field coach," said Steve.  Chris agreed.  Neither thinks Joe Girardi wields the same authority as Torre.
     Interesting, but then the conversation swung around to movies.   Even more interesting.
     Both men like dialogue.  They have movie dialogue at their finger tips too.  They played off each other, delivering dramatic turning points and classic bits from The Maltese Falcon, Third Man, Cincinnati Kid, My Favorite Wife, Casablanca.  It was great entertainment.
     The men spoke admiringly of Barbara Stanwyck's chilling performance in Double Indemnity and her marvelously lively performance in Ball of Fire.  In both of these movies Stanwyck walks down a staircase to great effect.
     Kanfer is working on a book now about Humphrey Bogart.  He's developed a superb impersonation.  Kanfer can talk like Bogart, rolling his words around like pebbles in his mouth.
     Right there in riverrun, he did Bogart as the terrifyingly wacko Queeg in Caine Mutiny, as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, Rick Blaine in Casablanca, Linus Larabee in Sabrina, Charlie Allnut in African Queen, Fred Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
     "That's a great movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre," said Steve.  Chris disagreed.  "Too ugly," said Chris.
     They shared enthusiasm for the others though.  They agreed that Fred Astaire outstripped Gene Kelly as a dancer and a personality.  Kelly was all ego.  Steve told a story about Gene Kelly's first wife, Betsy Blair.  She thought something must be the matter with her.  The marriage didn't seem to be working.  Of course not, said Blair's psychiatrist.  There just isn't enough room in your marriage for you.   Kelly takes up all the space, all the oxygen. 
     Chris and I had watched The Man in the White Suit the night before.
     "It was an interesting idea at the time," said Steve.  "He's done some good films.  I had lunch with Alec Guiness.  I asked him his favorite movie out of all he'd done.  Without a moment's hesitation Guinness says, 'Bridge Over The River Kwai'.  'Really,' I said to him.  'I thought some of those earlier black and whites were better.'  'Ah,' said Guinness, 'but Kwai was the first movie I had a piece of.' "
     Chris laughed out loud.  Both of them did.  I didn't get it.
     "It's all about the money," explained Steve.  "It's just money for these guys.  It isn't the art."
     "So The Bridge Over The River Kwai was the first movie where Alec Guinness shared in the profit," Chris explained further.
     Chris and Steve both love the Marx Brothers' movies.  They reenacted favorite parts.
      "Louisa doesn't like them," Chris told Steve.
      "No, that's right," said Steve.  "Women don't like them."
      "Why not?" I asked him.  I hadn't realized it was a gender thing.
      "Because the Marx brothers are mean to women," said Steve.  "Especially Groucho."  Steve went on to relate a couple of relevant anecdotes from his book on Groucho.
      Steve has a rich repertoire of movie anecdotes from his years as at Time and his deep research for his biographies of actors. 
     I could have listened to them talk forever.  All of us, May included, love movies and watch an astonishing number of them - especially astonishing considering our reading habits.

My March 19 posting has a complete list of Stefan Kanfer's books and some websites.  Here are just his movie books:
         (executive decision: I'm not counting Stardust Lost or The Voodoo... in this category)
Cartooning:  Serious Business
Groucho Marx: Groucho: 
Lucille Ball: Ball of Fire
Marlon Brando: Somebody

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More Conversation With Marsha Cohen - Editor, Writer

In 1970 Marsha Cohen sought adventure. She took a freighter from Brooklyn to the Netherlands. There were only 12 passengers on board.

I was impressed. How did she select the country? Did she already know Dutch? Marsha laughed.

“No,” she said. “In fact, I may not have realized they even spoke a different language there.

“I followed a cousin of mine who’d gone to the Netherlands to escape being drafted and going to Vietnam. It was after all 1970. Through the cousin I met my husband, Dom.”

Dominique Boer was working a Dutch publishing company, Elsevier. Of course Marsha wanted to stay in the Netherlands. She even learned Dutch.

She was in love. “To stay, I needed a job,” says Marsha. “Dom told me that Elsevier had a scientific division where they published journals in English, things like Brain Research. I applied there and started working as a freelancer That was perfect for my non-existent immigration status.

“About a year and a half later we came to the states and married. After 6 months in New York, we returned to The Netherlands. We settled in Haarlem, we had children and I continued doing free-lance work. Dom had a new job as editor in chief of a popular science magazine at Holland’s largest magazine publisher VNU.

“VNU wanted to break into the U.S. market with a scientific magazine for young people. There wasn’t anything like that at the time.

“So back we came to the States to develop the magazine. We called it Science Illustrated and pitched it at 9-14 year olds. They gave him a retainer to set up an office and find employees. Dom hired good people who knew both publishing and science. “People like me. I did picture researching at NASA and places like that and I loved it,” says Marsha.

Unfortunately financial difficulties forced the publisher to terminate the Science Illustrated project just as it was ready to launch. ”It was awful.” In 1980 they gave Dom The Golden Handshake. That’s Dutch for The Golden Parachute.

Dom could have gone back to Holland and continued working at VNU but instead he and Marsha stayed in the US and started their own company: The Tappan Group. What did the Tappan Group do, I wondered.

“Anything,” said Marsha. “Anything someone would pay us to do. We got our first work from the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in the U.S.A. We were to promote Dutch companies in America.

“We started a magazine called HollandUSA. Holland is loaded with international companies and we profiled them in the magazine to promote them in this country. Companies like KLM, Phillips, Shell, the financial company Nationale Nederlanden , ABNAmro bank. Once we wrote about a little Dutch company that manufactured high-end, well-made, beautifully designed clothing for children. Bloomingdale’s noticed Oilily. They placed an order, and the company took off.”

The focus of Holland USA. broadened to include promoting America to the Dutch. Dom interviewed state governors. Each promoted his state as an ideal place for Dutch companies to invest and prosper. Tennessee, for instance, sent a delegation to Holland to lure KLM to TN. They succeeded and Memphis became a KLM gateway city. It still is.

“We also did work for the Dutch government, starting with the Dutch IRS. That was key because it eventually took us back to Holland. We moved to the Hague because although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the Hague is the seat of the government. All the government offices are there.” The Tappan Group worked for a bunch of the Dutch Ministries – it still does -- and via via Marsha landed up working for a group specialized in dredging. Dredging?.

Yep. Dredging. Because of The Netherlands’ location and history, the country has developed extensive maritime expertise. Many Dutch companies specialize in water management issues like dredging, land reclamation, dyke construction, urban water management. Just ask the folks in New Orleans who they turn to for advice.

When Marsha was asked to do an international English language dredging magazine, she of course said Yes. Magazine publishing was not a problem. But content was another thing.

Marsha started studying these water related issues. Her knowledge of US/Netherlands business ties, her background in science and her ability to communicate clearly in English and in Dutch combined to bring her to the unexpectedly fascinating world of water management. Now her specialty is dredging. Most of her writing, editing, and research, and publishing now have to do with dredging.

Who would have guessed? Marsha herself wouldn’t have.

A Conversation With Marsha Cohen - publishing production

    “I had just graduated from college as an English major.  My mother wanted me to teach, that's what women did, so obviously I wanted to go into publishing.”

     Marsha Cohen did go into publishing.  Viking urged her to take a temporary job in production until something in the editorial department became available.

     “If you had told me back then, when I was 21 or 22 years old, that what I learned in a publishing production department would be amongst the most valuable lessons I ever learned, I would have laughed in your face.  It was though.  It isn’t enough for something to be well written.  You really need to know what’s involved in putting a book together.  You need to understand about price estimation, paper suppliers, printers, delivery scheduling.  You need to know the limits and the possibilities of production.

     “My boss was an older guy.  Of course at 22 everyone seems older.  He was probably only in his late 40s.He didn’t think girls could do the math needed for cost estimates.  Anti-feminism was really the norm in the late 1970s and early 80s.  We forget how prevalent male chauvinism was, even in modern times.  He was so senior in the company that he had 6 weeks annual vacation.  He took it all at once, leaving me “alone” and giving me an opportunity I’d never have had if he were at work.

     “At that time, Viking was James Joyce’s U.S. publisher.  They’d handed Ulysses off to Random House which could better afford the coming litigation costs, but Viking published Joyce’s other books.

     “When my boss was off on his long vacation, a new Joyce manuscript came to light.  Giacomo Joyce.  It was Joyce’s diaries from when he lived in Italy.  There were intense secret meetings about this book.  Viking wanted to publish it quickly to establish copyright.  My boss would have been at those meetings, but since he was away I got to go.  I made the first executive decision of my short career.

     “Precautions were being made to protect the secrecy of the project.  It had already been arranged that the printer would work with special speed to get the book right out.  Now executives worried that wasn’t enough.  They decided to tell the printers that the job was top secret and ask them to demand that their workers keep mum about what they were printing.  Prevent leaks.  This didn’t make sense to me.  I spoke up. ‘These are just ordinary guys, going into work.  They aren’t paying attention to what’s on the pages they’re printing.’  I don’t know how I had the nerve to speak up so forthrightly to all these big shots at the secret meeting.  I was surprised I opened my mouth, but I told them not to alert workers to a secret that they would otherwise not notice.

     “ ‘Hmm,’ said the men at the meeting.  My point carried.  I was even more surprised that someone was listening.”


     Marsha Cohen stayed in the production department at Viking for 1 ½ years.  When she left, she didn’t yet realize how much she had learned and it was later still before she understood how valuable those lessons were.

     Marsha took a job a Van Nostrand on 41st Street across from the public library.  Van Nostrand was a scientific publisher.  It had a small trade department that published books about sports and children’s books, especially children’s books about science.  Marsha worked in that trade department.

     “I had such an amazing boss at Van Nostrand, Dorothy Briley.  She’d worked at Abington Press in Tennessee.  She knew so much about publishing and she was very generous with her knowledge.  I learned a lot from Dorothy Briley, she was a wonderful female role model, and I liked her tremendously.”

     Van Nostrand published some children’s books on space travel.  I read some of them myself as a child.  Those books promised that I could go to a space port when I grew up and take a rocket trip to the moon or even Mars.  I remember that promise well.  Marsha remembered it too.  Like me, Marsha Cohen was disappointed that the thrilling promise was not kept. 

     In spite of the fun working at Van Nostrand, Marsha was restless.  She wanted something new.  “I didn’t go to the moon,” says Marsha.  “But I did go to Europe.”

     So ended Marsha Cohen’s first adventure in publishing.  Others were just ahead.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Other Good Stuff in Book Houses

Q: What secret could be in this lovely oak box?

A:  There's boxwood sawdust is in the bottom compartment. 

    The top compartment has a jewelry cleaning brush and a bar of jewelry cleaning soap.
    You suds up the jewelry, give a brisk brushing, then lay it in the boxwood sawdust until it's dry.

     This box came out of a house with good books.  I like to imagine that a woman with beautiful jewelry sat in a window seat in her library and read to her heart's content.


Friday, May 1, 2009


     One of the greatest pleasures of having a bookshop is the way customers infect one with the enthusiasm of their interests.  Andre Bernard came into riverrun tomorrow.  (I don't want to explain why this tense construction makes sense).  Andre has many interests.  For one thing, he's intrigued by bookplates.
     Before I could catch his enthusiasm my childhood antibodies had to be overcome.  My father despised bookplates.  Someone once gave me some very appealing ones for my own library. I couldn't use them.  As far as my father was concerned I might as well have scrawled out my name in crayon on the endpapers (a crime I did commit against the new Garth Williams illustrated edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder books.)
     Chris showed A.B. a teeny tiny bookplate mounted in a miniature book.
     Chris told him the bookplate story of Samuel Loveman.
     Loveman was the executor of Hart Crane's estate.  Crane had a nice library and he'd pasted his bookplate in each volume.  Loveman sold the books from the library little by little.  He charged a premium because they had belonged to Crane, as the plates attested.  Eventually Loveman ran out of Crane's books.
     He still had the metal block from which the paper bookplates were printed.  "What's the harm?" he thought to himself.   He printed up bookplates whenever he ran out, and continued putting them on books that he sold at a premium because they "were part of Hart Crane's library".
     Hart Crane had died in 1932.  Books published long afterwards inexplicably seemed part of his library.
     Chris bought everything from Samuel Loveman in the mid 1970s, including the ill-used printer block for bookplates.  

     Andre spent the afternoon with books and book plates.  He found some good ones.  His quiet satisfaction made an impression on me.  By the time he left I'd caught the bug.