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, July 14, 2013

Lipchitz at the Library

Jacques Lipchitz sculpture in front of the Hastings on Hudson Public Library - photo 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Local" Sculptors: Lipchitz and Zazel

Lipchitz was born in Lithuania in the last decade of the 19th century.  He lived in Lithuania until he was 18 and then he moved to Paris to study art.
Paris was the center of exciting art and now-legendary artists at that time.  Lipchitz flourished.  Considered the first Cubist sculptor, he broke new ground and met with much success.
World War ll brought great danger to Lipchitz.  He escaped to America in 1941.
After the war, Lipchitz settled in America – in the lovely river town, Hastings on Hudson, New York.
riverrun bookshop settled in the same lovely river town 30 years later.  Lipchitz died in 1973, 5 years before riverrun, but the store’s original founder, Frank Scioscia, did live in Hastings on Hudson at the same time as Jacques Lipchitz did.  I don’t think they knew one another. No doubt, however, they both admired the same majestic palisades towering over the Hudson River and both liked the same comfortable streets in town.
By this time Lipchitz was spending months of each year working in his studio in Italy. I’ve heard a story – possibly true – that the village trustees mistook his long studio trips for a permanent move away from Hastings on Hudson.  The sculptor was a village treasure. The trustees tried to purchase one of his sculptures for the town to commemorate his long-time residence here.  According to the story, Lipchitz laughed, assured the trustees that he and his wife had no intention of moving, and GAVE a large sculpture to the village.
However it happened, Hastings on Hudson does have an impressive Lipchitz sculpture mounted in the prominent grassy space by the town library and courthouse.
The artist himself died in Italy and is buried in Jerusalem, but part of him presides over the village from the hill by the library.  You can see that sculpture on your walk to riverrun.  Or, in case you are too far to stroll over to riverrun, I will post a photo shortly.  As well as the little I know of Zazel.

A lengthy and fascinating article about Lipchitz, his art, his life, and his religion.  There is a sense  of immediacy in this article that makes the reader feel privy to inside knowledge:

Tate Gallery artist biography:

art directory biography:

searchable interview plus photos of work:


Thursday, July 4, 2013

John Hancock and the Declaration of Independence


John Hancock put the most famous signature to the Declaration of Independence even though he was not the most famous signer.  His signature made its way into riverrun en route to The University of Texas. 
The document was an appointment, of someone name Robbins, to military office.  Hancock signed in his capacity as governor of Massachusetts. With awe, I scanned the document.
The Hancock signature is large and bold.  He signed the Declaration of Independence as the president of the Continental Congress.  The confidence expressed in that signature lent additional authority the Declaration that we celebrate today.

But isn’t it interesting that we have selected that document, that event, to mark the beginning of our country?
Lots of revolutionary activity went on beforehand.  The Committees of Correspondence were established well before 1776.  The Boston Tea Party took place in 1773 and the First Continental Congress met in 1774.  Those key early battles at Lexington & Concord were fought in 1775 and so was the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga and valuable cannons and the Second Continental Congress sent “The Olive Branch Petition” to King George lll all before the Declaration of Independence was issued.

If I were writing the history books, I wouldn’t date the beginning of the USA to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  I would date it neither from the restive disturbances and outright battles of the early 1770s nor from any of the many battles of the Revolutionary War, not even the one at Yorktown in 1781 when General Cornwallis surrendered.
For myself, I select the 1787 summer of the Constitutional Convention as the birth of the United States of America.  My USA is 230 years old this summer.  Not everyone would agree, but I have my reasons. Nevertheless, I am perfectly happy to celebrate on this day that others have chosen.
Actually, I am impressed with my fellow Americans in selecting the publication of our Declaration of Independence as the most significant moment in the birth legend of our country. 

It is with the glory of oratory, not of battle, that we choose to date our beginning.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Helen Keller

Two incredibly talented women, Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan, somehow wove communication out of some other warp than sight; some other weft than hearing.

Keller was “trebly defective”: blind, deaf, and mute.  Sullivan also faced triple obstacles: partially blind, mistreated in childhood, and parentless young. How did they manage to overcome such formidable hardships?  It couldn’t have been done with only one incredibly talented person.  Both had to be remarkable.  Both were.

Helen Keller went on to live a generous life of helping others, especially children.  She campaigned for better treatment of people with physical disabilities.  This letter, which found its way into riverrun, is of another one of her areas of interest.

The civil war in Spain, just like any war anywhere, left children without family, without country.

The sentiment in the letter is well expressed.  It is the careful signature at the bottom, though, that is so very poignant and so very admirable.  

A 1930 newsreel with Keller and Sullivan demonstrating how Keller learned talking from Sullivan.  Fascinating.

very moving newsreel of Helen Keller speaking to disabled youngsters in Australia

American Foundation for the Blind includes a biography and photos of Helen Keller
AFB bio & photos of Ann Sullivan

Article about Basque child refugees in UK

Spanish Civil War: Refugees

autobiographies of Spanish child refugees in a Quaker Home in France

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Hollywood Ten

The House UnAmerican Activities Committee was, as a phenomenon, first cousin to an oxymoron.

How could the persecution of people for what they believe possibly be considered American? Wasn't there a Big Fuss over the U.S. Constitution? All those states refused to ratify without the assurance of a Bill of Rights to protect the individual from a frivolously malicious government.  A frivolously malicious government.

Nevertheless Senator Joseph McCarthy was able to take over the reins of the HUAC and tromp over much touted American freedoms.

The government printed pamphlets of all that tromping.  riverrun recently got whole boxes of the House UnAmerican Committee Proceedings.

The Hollywood Ten and Blacklisting are representative of the havoc wrecked across many industries in many regions of the country.
In 1947, members of the movie industry were brought before the committee as accused Communists.  The accusation in itself, at that time, carried the implication of treason or near-treason. Some people squirmed and cooperated with the committee.  The Hollywood Ten didn't.  They faced inquisition because anonymous "friendly witnesses" had suggested their names to the HUAC. As a group, The Ten refused to play the HUAC game. They were jailed for contempt of congress.

Who were they?


Alvah Bessie - 1904 - 1985 - went to Columbia University - worked in theater - wrote short stories, novels and screenplays - leftist political views - volunteered in the Spanish Civil War -theater and film critc -later wrote Inquisition in Eden about his bout with the HUAC -sentenced to 12 months prison and fined $1000.

website by his son, Dan Bessie about books etc.

Herbert Biberman - 1900 - 1971 - attended Yale and Univ PA - joined Theater Guild - stage manager and director - wrote and directed B movies for Warner Bros. - 1950 served 6 months in prison and blacklisted

YouTube excerpt of HUAC bullying and Biberman resisting:

Lester Cole - born 1904 NYC – high school dropout - actor - screenwriter - one of the founders of Writers' Guild - joined ACP in 1934 - wrote many screenplays, after blacklisted could only sell screenplays under other peoples' names - wrote autobiography Hollywood Red -paid $1000 fine and served 10 months in prison and then was blacklisted

Edward Dmytryk  - 1908 – 1999 – born in Canada, Ukrainian grandparents - served time in jail but lost his resolve.  He gave the HUAC names of alleged Communists to win release from the Hollywood Blacklist. He was an employable director again. Wrote Odd Man Out: A Memoir of The Hollywood Ten about that time and some books on directing including On Film Editing which advises that every scene should begin and end with continuing action.

somewhat pitiable attempts at justifying himself + film advice:
bio and more info on the times:

Ring Lardner, Jr  - 1915 – 2000n – wrote screen plays (also books) – fined and served a full year in prison for contempt of congress – even after he was released, he had to get non-blacklisted friends to front his screenplays for him – went on to do impressive work, eventualty under his own name again.

Very nice life timeline and filmography:

somewhat scrambled info:

John Howard Lawson - 1894 – 1977 – screen writer – helped organize The Screenwriters’ Guild – worked, then later volunteered for Red Cross in World War I – formally protested Sacco and Vanzetti trial.  – he was fined, imprisoned and blacklisted for his refusal to talk to HUAC – moved to Mexico after release from jail and wrote under pseudonym.

Site set up by Lawson’s son, Jeffrey, includes bio and much more:

Intro and transcript of part of Lawson’s hearing:

Albert Maltz  - 1908 – 1985 – a talented, well-educated, and successful and rich screenwriter, Maltz struggled with ideas and creativity – he was a sympathetic member of the Communist party but bridled under the party’s push to have writers be spokesmen for the party.  In his famous essay, Maltz says, “It has been my conclusion for some time that much of the left–wing artistic activity—both creative and critical—has been restricted, narrowed, tuned away from life, sometimes made sterile—because the atmosphere and thinking of the literary left–wing had been based upon a shallow approach…" "I have come to believe that the accepted understanding of art as a weapon is not a useful guide, but a straitjacket.”

NY Times Obituary:

Accolades and bio information by an admiring family member:

Samuel Ornitz - 1890 – 1957 -  social worker for New York Prison Association and for Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – later a screenwriter – outspoken advocate of the Soviet Union – like the other 9, he was fined, imprisoned and blacklisted.  Later he lived in Mexico and wrote novels.

These novels were apparently more substantial and experimentally creative than generally acknowledged -- except here:


Robert Adrian Scott  - 1912 – 1973 – writer, later producer – especially film noir – after HUAC and blacklisting his second wife, Joan LaCour fronted for his screenplays.

Mini biography includes some interesting family relationships:

CIA testimony from congressional hearings:

Dalton Trumbo - 1905 – 1976 – lived in western USA – held various jobs during the depressed years – screenwriting starting in 1934 – in 1947 defied HUAC and was punished along with the rest of the Hollywood 10 - Blacklisted but was very active writing from Mexico City ad then southern California behind fronts and under assumed names -  a movie written under the assumed name, Robert Rich, won an Academy Award which presented a puzzle since award winner “Rich” seemed mysteriously non-existent.  The award ceremony was in 1957 – 3 years after Senator Joseph McCarthy had been censured by the Senate for his wild excesses.  Trumbo revealed himself behind the fake name.  Shortly afterwards he was credited for several other hits and the lengthy decade of Hollywood Blacklisting was effectively over.

San Francisco Chronicle – includes photographs:

American Masters biography:

American Communist Party

A lengthy and extremely interesting article, including several YouTube documentaries and extensive quotations both sympathetic to and horrified by McCarthyism

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Thank you, Anne Fadiman

   Anne Fadiman may be responsible for riverrun’s survival and we never thanked her properly.  In fact, though profoundly grateful, we never thanked her at all.
     The transition from riverrun owner Frank Scioscia, who always subsidized the bookstore quite heavily, to his son in law Chris Stephens, who did not have the luxury of outside funds, was fraught with peril.  At one very dark moment I was beginning to wonder if we could make it.
Then there was a miracle.  Someone told us that they’d read a zippy article about the store.  Several other customers came in telling us how they’d read of riverrun in a complimentary article by Anne Fadiman.  We didn’t know Anne Fadiman.  A stranger had discovered us!
     Someone brought us the article from the Library of Congress magazine, Civilization.  We loved it.  It isn’t really an essay about riverrun.  It is an essay about the love of books, the way books furnish an outward environment for the inward self, and about a husband who has the good sense to share one’s love of books.  Only incidentally does the essay mention a birthday surprise expedition to riverrun bookshop, the long browse there, and the 19-pound purchase carried back to New York City.  The way we read it though, it was an essay about riverrun.  It buoyed our spirit and strengthened our will and eased our way across the difficult transition.
     We taped that article to the front windows of riverrun and it continued to smile at us daily as we came into the store.
     Seasons passed.  The ink from the article transferred itself to the window glass.  The paper became brown and tattered but remained in place until the landlady had to replace the store windows.
     Gone with the discarded old windows!  Why hadn’t we made copies of the article when it was fresh and new and still readable?
     No matter.  Anne Fadiman’s collected essays from Civilization were published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in a wonderful book called Ex Libris.  The essay mentioning riverrun is the last in the book, “Secondhand Prose”.  Clever.
     My first copy of Ex Libris was given to Chris and me by a beaming customer.  Re-reading “Secondhand Prose” was such a pleasure that I read and reread every essay in the book, oblivious to all else.  I read them again today when I took this book out to scan for the blog.
    These essays are perfect.  I wanted more.  Luckily there are more.  I just ordered another couple of books by Anne Fadiman.  At Large and At Small and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  I have a treat coming in the mail.
     Not everyone knows about these jewels.  Why not? For one thing essays are hard to categorize.  I know of a case of mis-categorization.
     Our daughter Mary – quite a good bookwoman herself – was working at a bookstore in Memphis.  Mary was keeping a low profile for reasons of her own, but she couldn’t keep silent when she saw Ex Libris shelved in the foreign language section.  “This book isn’t written in a foreign language,” she told another worker.
    “It isn’t?”  He stared at the title, baffled.
     If I had been Mary, I’d have stood on a chair waving the book in the air and making noise.  “This book mentions my family’s bookstore,” I would have shouted.  “And it belongs in a high visibility spot so people can buy these superb essays!”

     I thank Fadiman for those superb essays.  They are a delight to read and to reread.  I also thank her for mentioning riverrun at a point in history when the bookshop might have winked out of existence.

    Thank you, Anne Fadiman, thank you!

Books by Anne Fadiman (all readily available)

Ex Libris
At Large and At Small
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Rereading: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (edited by Fadiman)

Bio from Yale:

article and interview from Atlantic online:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Isaac Asimov

photo by Chris Stephen at NY Book Fair in 1970s

   Isaac Asimov was a scientist and an historian.  He wrote what seems like millions of books (really just over a half thousand).  Most famously, he wrote science fiction but he also wrote an analytic critique of Shakespeare’s plays and he wrote mysteries and hard science and philosophical speculation about the future of humanity.  Through his heroic futuristic novels he opened up, not only the possibility but, the expectation of commonplace human space travel.
   As a young girl, I read Inside the Atom by Asimov and as a teenager I read his sci fi.  I believed it all.
   Asimov was part of an optimistic generation that had survived both the Great Depression and the second world war.  Asimov helped to popularize the miraculous march of science. He and others promised children more from harnessing the power of the atom and more from the space program than has yet been delivered.
   No matter.  He wrote so well that I still believe him.  I’m ready for the spaceports, when they’re built.  At that time I’ll rocket out to explore the great cosmos.  In the meantime I’ll settle into a comfy chair and read another interesting book by Isaac Asimov.

                                                 Isaac Asimov  1920 - 1992

A very appealing 1988 interview of Isaac Asimov by a young Polish
fan, Slawek Wojtowic

A good overall website for Asimov by Edward Seiler

youtube of Asimov extolling the present and future use of computers with libraries of knowledge available to peruse at one’s own speed and along the lines of one’s own interests.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the missing bit more

Even as a Little Kid, Chris Stephens was a Big Reader.  He was a library regular.  He had an inquisitive mind too, but overwhelmlngly his was an acquisitive mind.  He acquired knowledge.  He acquired information.  He wanted to know things.
     Young Chris read about animals and trees and Native American tribes.  He read history and etymology.  He read about countries where the stamps in his stamp collection originated.  He read about coins and about moths and butterflies.
     Much later, when I met him, he was still collecting butterflies.  He looked great leaping through meadows with his net held high above his head.  Like Vladimir Nabokov, Chris collected moths, butterflies and interesting words.
     Young Chris read mostly non-fiction, but he read some fiction too.  Cowboy fiction.  Science fiction.  Baseball stories.  Comic books.
     Chris acquired so darned much information that he seemed a perfect candidate for the Quiz Kids Radio Show.  In the “green room”, before the show started, the personable Quiz Kids host chatted with Chris, taking notes with which to later betray Chris.
     Young Chris was too short to reach the microphone so an assistant got a couple of telephone books to put on Chris’ chair.  I don’t think those 4-inch thick telephone books even exist nowadays.  Three other kids sat at the table.  They were able to speak into their microphones without the assistance of height boosters.
     The red light went on for live radio.  The host asked questions.  Three little geniuses were eager to answer.  Not Chris.  It wasn’t his style.
    When Chris sat on his hands, even for easy questions, the host took out his notes and asked the kids obscure questions about Native Americans and insects and tiny countries that issued lovely stamps.  The other kids scowled.  Only Chris knew these particular answers.  He didn’t raise his hand though.  Didn’t want to.
    But it was radio.  No one could see whose hand was up and whose hand was quite resolutely down.
     “Ah.  I see little Chris Stephens has his hand up”, lied the host smoothly.  Trapped on live radio by an entertainment professional, Chris was forced to answer questions. He didn’t like it though, and wouldn’t come back to the show.
     Chris went back to the hobbies he loved: collecting interesting things and reading lots of books.  Now, ten Little Chris lifetimes along, these are hobbies he continues to love.
     His disinterests have endured all this time too.  For instance, I’ve always thought that Chris and I would make a great vaudevillian-style comedy team.  His extremely dry humor cracks me up.  He would be the straight man, delivering very funny lines without breaking a smile. For contrast, I’d be only too happy to ham it up a bit.
     Alas.  Even after all this time to reconsider, Christopher Stephens still has no interest in show business.

Clips from old quiz kids shows (Chris’ single show is not included)

NY Times article about Vladimir Nabokov and his alternate identity as  lepidopterist extrodinaire

Sunday, March 31, 2013

CPS 70

Even as a Little Kid, Chris Stephens was a Big Reader.
(Obviously there quite a bit more to this post.  Where is it though?)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jed Levin Talks About Ira Levin

   “I knew him both as a father and as a writer,” Jed says.  “He involved us in his writing life.  Not when he was writing books - he needed time alone then.  But once he finished something, especially plays, he brought us into that part.”
   Jed and his two brothers saw one of Ira Levin’s plays repeatedly.
   “I have no idea how many times I saw Deathtrap.
    “My father went to the out-of-town tryouts and, in New York, he went to every performance with a new actor – not just new leads, but any new actor.  He wanted to be able to confer with the director as to directions for the new actor.  Also, he liked to go to Deathtrap.  And he liked to take us with him.
“We went out to dinner at Sardi’s before hand.  We went backstage afterwards.
   “It was so much fun to be in the back of the theater.  We weren’t watching the play as much as we were watching the audience.  My father didn’t have tickets, of course, no seats - we just sat on the steps. We were fascinated by audience reaction.   We’d wait on the edge of our steps in anticipation.  How hard would they laugh at the jokes?  How much would they jump at the scares?  We never really got tired of it.”
    Jed wondered if I knew the play.
    “It’s great,” he said.  “It’s two plays – kind of a play about a play – something like the little play within Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  It’s funny and it’s suspenseful at the same time. There are lots of good twists.  I can’t tell you the plot.  You have to see it.  Go to one of the frequent revivals.”
     Ira Levin’s sons didn’t spend all of their time on the steps.  Sometimes they spent the second act backstage with Marian Seldes in her dressing room.
     “Marian was the female lead for the duration of the show.  She never missed a performance.  She was so nice.  We loved hanging out with Marian in her dressing room."
     Hanging out with performers in their dressing rooms, dinner at Sardi’s, fussed over by staff and celebrities, aware of his father’s impact in the theater, movie and book business – this was all part of Jed’s and his brothers childhoods.
     Deathtrap is the work of his that involved us most.  That was about 1974.  I was in the 4th or 5th grade when it opened and it ran for a good chunk of time.  Death Trap was something that was always going on in the background of my childhood.”
     When Ira Levin and Jed’s mother, Gabrielle, divorced the boys still saw their father frequently.  He took an apartment nearby their Wilton, CT home.  (Wilton likely provided the inspiration for Ira Levin’s “Stepford Wives”.)
     “It was a small apartment.  We slept on a foldout sofa, I think. We ate on his desk.  It was a big desk and at dinner time he would just move the typewriter.”
     What about all his papers and notes and other things spread out all over the desk?  I wondered.
     “No, no.  He was a neat person.  Meticulous really.  There would just be a folder of notes and an orderly stack of papers.  Easy to move.”
     Jed told me about “Drat! The Cat!”, a musical Ira Levin wrote.
     “He wrote the play, the lyrics, and he actually wrote the music too. They didn’t use that music though.  They advised him work with a musician for the melodies.  His were good though.  Very good.  My father played some of his songs for us in the on the piano.  We liked it.
    “Elliott Gould was in Drat! The Cat!  He was married to Barbra Streisand.  She recorded one of my father’s songs – “He Touched Me” – maybe as a way to help promote the play Gould was in at the time.   The song was a big hit lasting a lot longer than the play ran.
     “Such a charming play.  Too bad it flopped.”
     It flopped?
     “The New York Times went on strike just as the musical opened.  It was a disaster. The review wasn’t printed.  Wasn’t read.  No one knew about it.  The play closed early.
     “It’s just a matter of time, though, before someone puts it on again.  I’m surprised it hasn’t already happened. It was such a good musical.”
    Some time afterwards, the music for He Touched Me was used as background to a perfume ad.  “It was funny,” said Jed, “to hear it come on the TV.  ‘There’s Dad’s song’ we’d say.”

     What did Jed get from his father, Ira?
     “I really treasure his influence on me.
     “I value those interests of his that he passed on to me.  Movies – he loved movies.  The original King Kong was his favorite.  He was pretty clear about that.  That’s one of my favorites too.   I have his same general taste in books.  We both like Dracula and Sherlock Holmes and Poe.  Certain things I read make me think of him.
     “I remember him best when I am reading something we both liked.”

YouTube snippet from Deathtrap 2010 movie – British version

YouTube excerpt from 1982 Death Trap with Christopher Reeve


about the Roman Polanski movie, Rosemary’s Baby, based on Ira Levin’s novel

Guide to Drat! The Cat!

Ira Levin bio

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ira Levin plays board games

Ira Levin’s son, Jed Levin, took this photo of his father playing monopoly.  Jed and his brothers played monopoly and scrabble with their father frequently.  I was surprised.
Their father is the guy who wrote Rosemary’s Baby and the Boys from Brazil and Stepford Wives and A Kiss Before Dying - as well as plenty of other scary things.  Isn’t it hard to imagine him enjoying an ordinary, pleasant board game with his sons?
“People were surprised sometimes,” says Jed Levin.  “especially if they didn’t know him, or if they only knew about some of his work.  He was a mild, nice man.  He was our father.  I didn’t think of him as a horror writer.  For one thing, he wrote in plenty of other genres too.  He wrote comedy and even a musical.  He was a writer, not a certain kind of writer.”
Jed and his brothers spent Wednesdays and alternate weekends with their father after his parents divorced.  Sometimes the four of them would spend the weekend with Ira’s parents, who lived in a comfortable house outside the city.  The photo was taken at Ira Levin’s parents’ house.  Jed’s grandmother was a good cook.  His grandfather was an amateur painter (although Jed doesn’t think his grandfather painted the young woman gazing at Ira from out of a painting behind him).
This monopoly evening must have taken place in 1973 because Ira Levin is wearing a shirt with “Veronica’s Room” printed across the chest.
The play, Veronica’s Room, is one of his scary ones.
“Someone in the cast must have had tee shirts printed up,” Jed said.
Tee shirts announcing his father’s work, and chats with cast members in their dressing rooms, and opening parties at Sardi’s were part of Jed’s childhood.  He and his brothers were involved in all sorts of other aspects of Ira Levin's many plays, and books, and movies from books, and television productions.
Jed’s got good stories.  And they’re coming soon.

One of Jed’s brothers set up this very complete website

Veronica’s Room

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"bibliomaniacal friends"

What an utterly satisfactory phrase.  I wish I’d thought of it.  The phrase appears early in The History of the Society of Iconophiles, published in 1930.
These friends of William Loring Andrews encouraged him in his mission to counter the growing reliance on photography, and help save the masterful art of engraving.  The men, the Iconophiles, contracted with the finest engravers of the time to make images of the city they loved.  New York City.
Hurray for these men.
And a special hurray to riverrun’s treasured bibliomaniacal friends.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time Machine NYC

    A small group of men, book and print-loving members of the Grolier Club, launched a far reaching project.  They undertook to publish engravings of key monuments and people in New York City.  It was a graphical time machine that preserved the city as it was at the turn of the century.  Not that recent turn, but the one before that.  The images give us glimpses of New York City around 1900.
    The men commissioned the best engravers of the time.  They selected subjects that were part of the NYC scene at the time or part of the legendary history of New York City.  Those buildings and people were iconic to the city.  The men called themselves Iconophiles.
    The Society of Iconophiles was limited to 10 members.  Pretty exclusive.  The first formal meeting was in January 1895 and they continued meeting and publishing prints of NYC for 24 years.  Exactly 101 engravings were made before each copper plate was cancelled.
    It’s fascinating to look at old New York from the turn of that century.

    On my way to and from work, I can see 5 buildings that are considered iconic today.  They aren’t included in any of the series because they were built too late for the Iconophiles to recognize their future icon status:
1.) main building of the NY Public Library with those calm and stately lions guarding the entrance – opened in 1911
2.)  the entirely magnificent Grand Central Terminal – 1913
3.)  Chrysler Building with the falcon-like gargoyle faces thrust outward, looking in all directions – 1928
4.) Empire State Building – construction started in 1929
5.) the United Nations Headquarters Building – green glass on the East River and undergoing extensive remodeling at this very moment – first completed in 1952

    What was iconic at the turn of the century?
    The Academy of Design was one of the architectural treasures then.  The building was constructed in the 1860s.  The architect, W.B. Wright, was inspired by the design of Italian palaces.  That building on 23rd Street and 4th Avenue was palatial.  It was a sumptuous home for the academy.
     The National Academy of Design predated the Venetian palace building.  It was organized by rebel group of artists who had withdrawn from the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1816, and formed their own New York Drawing Association.  They wanted an organization free of the domination of “business men” and political figures.  Their idea was to have a place to study art and exchange ideas and social pleasantries with other artists. The New York Drawing Association became the National Academy of Design.  Guess who the first president was.  Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and one of the rebel artist leaders!
The building housing National Academy of Design was a landmark in New York.  At the end of the 19th century it was sold to the Metropolitan Insurance Co., but it is captured forever as the National Academy of Design in the Society of Iconophiles’ graphic time machine.

relevant links:
The New York Historical Society has an almost complete collection of prints published during the period 1895 – 1929.  Information about the society, about the collection, as well as a list of engraving titles is available:

An excerpt from The Line of Beauty: The Society of the Iconophiles and New York City 1894 – 1939 written by Douglas Tallack and published by Oak Knoll Press:

Scanned journals from 1889 describing National Academy of Design, its antecedents, and the building:

Current website for today’s National Academy of Design:

Jstor scans old stuff that we still want to see, and more:

Blog Art Now and Then has a post that includes some info about the National Academy of Design:

Modern architectural look at renovating the academy:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

bibliophile's Cambridge, UK

Cambridge is populated by readers.
Driving through the soothing English countryside you might not think about books for hours on end, but once you enter the city limits you know at once that you’ve entered a region of enthusiastic literacy.
Reading and thinking.  You feel it billow past in the breeze stirred up by well-read bicyclists swooshing past.  You smell it in those old pubs with well-read conversationalists downing a pint at the next table over.  You see it as students and professors, tourists and merchants turn pages at every corner.
This special populace is served by a plentiful supply of bookstores.  The best is Blackwells (subject of a future post) but even aside from Blackwells, Cambridge is rich in bookstores.  It is a bibliophile’s paradise.
One of the bookstores, Waterstones, featured the poster above with marvelously apt sentiment: Words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop. Ironically.

good links:
**  Bookstore Guide: an amateur guide to book shopping throughout Europe:
An incredibly ambitious and intriguing project to review bookshops throughout Europe.  The section on Cambridge was a bit light, but one can spend quite a pleasant afternoon exploring European cities through the guide’s bookstore reviews.  The bookstore couple also visited NYC but, alas, they did not realize that riverrun is just a half hour train ride from midtown.

 An annotated list of used and antiquarian bookshops in Cambridge

Cambridge University Press Bookshop:
A store/showroom stocked with those fascinating books published by Cambridge University Press / the place itself has a long literary history

A nicely laid out store and an efficient website for new books

well stocked north side of the street

I took this shot in 1994.  It looks a lot better full.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

one riverrun stands alone

Frank Scioscia signed the lease for riverrun bookstore in 1978.  He loved the wooden floors and tin roof and, most importantly, the long open space for books. Shelves went up.  Books poured in.
A few years later the store was filled beyond reasonable capacity.
A storefront across the street became available, and Scioscia grabbed it.  We all joked about naming it “overrun”.
When Scioscia’s son-in-law, Chris Stephens, took over in 1994 he loaded books from his own book operations into both buildings and set up his desk on the south side.
For more than 30 years these 2 stores together were riverrun.  Customers would run back and forth across Washington Ave, gathering armloads of good books.
Now, the original store, the one on the north side of the street, is empty.  riverrun on the south side of the street carries on, like a lone twin.
It was incredibly hard to give up the north side but in the spring of 2012 we had to.  The landlord’s insurance company would not renew unless the structure supporting the floor was reinforced.  To reinforce the floor, the store had to be empty.  All those shelves.  All those books.
Now one could roller skate through the ghost-sections of philosophy  and cinema and fiction.  If one knew how to roller skate.
For books though, for really wonderful books, come to riverrun on the south side of the street.  12 Washington Avenue.