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Books on Books No.2

· Books on Books,Halifax,Personal Library,Book Dealers,Fine Book Collecting

This is the second in a series of Books on Books. If you are, or thinking about becoming a book collector or dealer, you must work from a foundation of knowledge. From my experience, the most knowledgeable people in the book world are very focused collectors. They tend to know more about their authors and subject of interest than even the most knowledgeable dealers. Always exceptions of course.

In the book world, the term “Books on Books” identifies that area of book speciality focused on books. Walk into a fine or rare bookstore and ask “Do you have any books on books?” and they will point you to the appropriate, sacred section. This excludes the multitude of used books stores that focus on paperbacks and recent hardcovers that are sold at a fraction of the published price. You do not have to say books about bibliography, book collecting, printing, etc.. And you signal that you are a serious book person. So, what does “Books on Books” cover?

Here is my cut on this:

  • Book collecting
  • Book selling
  • Publishing and publishers
  • Private presses
  • The history of printers and printing
  • Paper and Watermarks
  • Famous “book” people
  • Book binding
  • Illustration and engraving
  • Typography
  • Prices of books
  • Famous books, such as The Book of Kells
  • Libraries
  • Bookcases
  • Bookplates
  • Bibliography – a scholar’s interest in the book as an object
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Here is a photo of one of four bookcases in our personal library. All the books on the right half of the bookcase are books on books, covering all of the subjects listed above. And this is only about half of such books that we have in our home. The first book about books was acquired in 1974. The last was last month.

I felt comfortable moving from being a book collector to also becoming a book dealer, based upon the hundreds of books that I have read on the subject, and visiting countless book shops and chatting with book sellers over the past fifty years.

This series of musings will focus on the “Books on Books” that are in our library. This particular musing focuses on book dealers. On books that I read back in my early bookish days. I think now, looking back on it, that it was these particular books that influenced that familiar refrain “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And here I am – some 40 years later – A book dealer. It was also back in these early book collecting years that I started to write in pencil my thoughts about the book just finished. I end each overview of the books with my comment – brief then, a bit more long winded now.

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Rare Books and Royal Collectors: Memoirs of an Antiquarian Bookseller, by Maurice L. Ettinghausen; Simon and Shuster, New York, 1966.

This was likely the first book about a bookseller that I read. Ettinghausen (1883 – 1974) had stores in Paris and New York. What I remember most about this book was his photograph. He looked so elegant!

(read 1977 – v. good)

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Henry Stevens of Vermont: An American Book Dealer in London 1845-1886; by Wyman W. Parker; N. Israel, Amsterdam, 1963.

Stevens was born in Barnet, Vermont. He studied at Middlebury College, Vermont, in 1838–1839, graduated at Yale in 1843, and studied at Harvard Law School in 1843–1844. In 1845 he went to London, where he was employed during most of the remainder of his life as a collector of Americana for the British Museum and for various public and private American libraries.

He was purchasing agent for the Smithsonian Institution and for the Library of Congress, as well as for James Lenox, of New York, for whom he secured much of the valuable Americana in the Lenox library in that city, and for the John Carter Brown library, at Providence, Rhode Island.

(read 1980 – v. good)

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Rosenbach: a Biography; by Edwin Wolf, 2 nd and John F. Fleming; The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960.

Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach (1876 – 1952) was an American collector, scholar, and seller of rare books and manuscripts. In London, where he frequently attended the auctions at Sotheby's, he was known as "The Terror of the Auction Room" In Paris, he was called "Le Napoléon des Livres", which translates to "The Napoleon of Books." Many others referred to him as "Dr. R.", a "Robber Baron" and "the Greatest Bookdealer in the World".


From the blurb of this book – Rosenbach puffed everlastingly on a pipe or cigar, drank a bottle of whisky a day, and was the greatest antiquarian bookseller the world has seen. “The Doctor” as he was familiarly known to collector-friends and employees, for decades bought most of the important rare books and manuscripts sold at auction in England and America. Front-page articles heralded his achievements, and his name became synonymous with great books at great prices. It was not just that he paid more money for books than anyone had before, or that he sold more books for more money than anyone before, but that the buying and selling were the manifestations of a faith in the greatness of great books that he persuaded other men to share. The world knew him as the Napoleon of the auction room, the unbeatable bidder who paid £8,600 for a First Folio of Shakespeare in 1922 and £14,500 for another copy in 1933, who bought a Gutenberg bible for $106,000 and a bay Psalm Book for $151,000, who went up to $51,000 for a document signed by the elusive Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett, and who purchased for £15,400 the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland.

Note that the two authors of this book worked with The Doctor and became famous booksellers

I was enthralled reading about this bookman. The books he handled were famous as were the

clients he sold them to: Arthur Houghton, Henry Huntington, A. Edward Newton, Lessing J.

Rosenwald, and J. Pierpont Morgan.

Rosenbach was the best bookseller, and perhaps the greatest book person, ever.

(read 1978 – excellent)