Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History Of the Antiquarian Book Trade Hardcover – Dec 1 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Between 1890 and the 1960s, a bustling trade in used and rare books flourished in New York City along Fourth Avenue, between Union Square and Astor Place. Although the stores that once prospered on this little stretch of street have long since closed, the memories of the halcyon days of the bookselling trade in the city still live in the minds of former customers and store employees. Drawing on interviews and on seminal articles published in the early- and mid-20th century, Mondlin (estate buyer at the Strand) and book collector Meador vividly re-create the passion, wonder and adventure of the book trade as it developed along Book Row. The authors paint portraits of the booksellers who established the Row and who secured its reputation among book lovers. There is George D. Smith, the shrewd but gentlemanly book collector who helped Henry E. Huntington build his own library. Called by many "the greatest American bookdealer," Smith provided an example of the persistence and keen insight into the value of books that became the hallmark of the stores on Book Row. The authors also chronicle other dealers such as Eleanor Lowenstein, whose Corner Book Shop specialized in cookbooks; David Kirschenbaum, who developed a stellar collection of Walt Whitman that formed the foundation of the Library of Congress's collection; and Harry Gold, whose Aberdeen Book Company was the first among the antiquarian stores on Book Row to feature paperbacks, in the 1920s. The authors also reminisce about favorite stores, such as Albert F. Goldsmith's At the Sign of the Sparrow, which specialized in theater memorabilia and which very likely provided the setting for mystery writer Carolyn Wells's Murder in the Bookshop. Mondlin and Meador's affectionate paean to the denizens and dealers of Book Row brings to life the glory days of one of New York City's greatest bygone treasures.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
For about 100 years, secondhand bookstores clustered on Fourth Avenue in New York City between Union Square and Astor Place. Their names read like an incantation: Samuel Weiser, Dauber & Pine, Biblio & Tannen, the Abbey, the Raven, the Corner. They are mostly gone now, save the Strand, whose mighty 16 miles of books are still funky despite a whole new audience online. Mondlin, who is estate buyer for the Strand, and Meador, a collector, have produced a sprawling and remarkably engaging omnium gatherum of names, personalities, and store lore. Some of the people they profile loved books; some of them loved the hunt; some of them mostly loved the mise-en-scene. Each chapter begins with an apt quote, and there are lists, acknowledgments, reminiscences, and photographs (the last not available in galleys). For anyone interested in the antiquarian book world, this will be a very special volume. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Most of what is talked about in this book went on long before my time as an avid reader,but I can still appreciate what a thrill it must have been to be a regular visitor to this place.
I think that the real value in reading this book is to see how greatly the whole experience of buying and selling of books,be they new,used,rare,expensive,cheap,or whatever;has changed so much and so quickly.About 25 or so years ago,when I seriously searched out books for my collection ,I visited literally hundreds of bookstores,particularly the Used & Rare ,and encountered a wide array of stores and sellers,and what a thrill to find a store that I had never been in;and find a new "treasure".Even when not finding anything,the bookseller and the store was still an experience.
However;what I used to call "going book sailing" is nothing what it used to be and many of the stores I used to haunt are "gone with the wind".I guess for the same reasons as with Book Row. The rents kept rising,buildings were demolished for highrises and condos,the Booksellers became old and didn't change with the rapidly changing world of books,the newer sellers who entered the trade have become a totally different breed,the Internet has changed everything and made an unbelievably amount of books and information about books available to any Book Lover,regardless of where he lives or what means are at his disposal.So,one by one the conventional bookstores have just withered and faded away.The price of gas has also made it expensive to run around the country to various bookstores.
The publishers are still churning out massive numbers of new titles ,reissues and books at such a rate that there are books everywhere,and at prices that vary all over the map;both for new and used books. For instance,many charities and university alumni groups have seen where they can obtain unlimited amounts of donations of books of every type and along with them lots of volunteers to sort,price and sell them to raise funds.These sales attract huge crowds,who make excellent finds. The curious thing is that a lot of the small time dealers are there scooping up books to sell on the Internet,at obviously much higher prices,and have become the buyers competitor rather than friend.In this book, the authors allude to the fact that many of the booksellers couldn't or wouldn't change and learn to buy and sell ,or otherwise,merchandise their books to retain their customers. The charities and others,changed the whole game,and greatly to the benefit of the buyers.If that wasn't a great enough deathnell;the Internet makes virtually any book one wants ,readily available at whatever,cost,rarity ,condition,etc. the buyer desires.No longer is it a matter of 'take what I got, at my price,or Good Luck".So,this book sure shows what the book world used to be;and what a wonderful world it was;but all that is a thing of the past.
Of all the great quotes you'll find in this book,and there are many;I think the quote that is most apropos is by someone who is not even a bookseller,book buyer or any kind of a Bibliophile ,and is found on page 365.
"Considering the long-ago past and eras that are gone with the wind on wings of time will seem a waste to those who dismiss ancient history as "weary,stale,flat and unprofitable." Baseball manager Sparky Anderson pointed out the futility of living in the past: "There's no future in it." A New York book dealer,quoted by the "New York Times" (May 31,1981),...and that was over 25 years ago...doubted the existence of serious interest among contemporary booksellers in the vanished shops of Fourth Avenue,which were no longer revalent to the needs and problems of modern bookstores: Those who remember them don't want to be reminded,and those who don't,won't care.It's like talking about a five-cent sandwich.No one knows what you are talking about."
Bibliophiles should give a big clap and thanks,to Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador for bringing Book Row to those who have to be resolved with,"oh well,it was before my time,and so was the 25-cent bleacher seat and the 5-cent soda".
The problem is, each of the things I liked about it work against it as well. Its narrow scope is problematic, at least within the framework Meador and Mondlin use, with many of the chapters seeming a lot like the ones before them with the names changed and a lot of factual repetition. And the nostalgia can get a little overbearing, with a pretty strong Neo-Luddite bias toward internet book dealers ("Those who had the books and the know-how might buy and sell books on the Net, but we'd like to hear Peter Stammer's, Sam Dauber's, and Jack Biblo's views of them as secondhand book dealers"). You could also say that as estate book buyer for the Strand Meador's neutrality might come into question, and you wouldn't be disproved with chapter titles like "The Strand Lives On" and almost a third of the glossy pictures devoted to the Bass family that runs the Strand.
In sum I'd say this is a book for book-industry specialists (especially the older ones who might recognize more of the names the authors drop without much historical grounding) and book buffs with enough interest to sift through 400 pages that could have easily been 200. I fall more into the latter than the former, but even then would recommend Chapters One, Two, Five, Nine, Eleven, Fourteen, Fifteen, the Appendix (a cool little pre-Book Row history of books in NYC), and the foreword by legendary book collector Madeleine B. Stern.
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