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.

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.