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.

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

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