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.
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
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.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
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.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
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."
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Christopher Stephens started Ultramarine Publishing Company as a rescue operation to keep good books in print.
Monday, May 18, 2009
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 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.
Beagle, Peter S.
Connell, Evan S. Jr.
Corrington, John William
Davis, L. J.
Doctorow, E. L.
Fox, William Price
Friedman, Bruce Jay
Gerald, John Bart
Goldberg, Gerald Jay
Harris, Marilyn (Mrs. Edgar V. Springer, Jr,)
Herlihy, James Leo
Kelley, William Melvin
Langguth, A. J.
Mano, D. Keith
Manville, W. H.
Oates, Joyce Carol
Rosen, Norma Stahl
Selby, Hubert, Jr.
Wallant, Edgar Lewis
Williams, John A.
Wilson, S. J.
Friday, May 15, 2009
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.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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
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.”
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.
“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.
From out of this tribe, of which I am so very fond, I select one person for a special message of the day.
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
Thursday, May 7, 2009
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.
this article (Bibliofind and AB) details an example how the old way is merging with the new way
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
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.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
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.
“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
Q: What secret could be in this lovely oak box?