Walter Goldwater was a veteran antiquarian book dealer who owned and operated the University Place Bookshop at various locations in New York City from 1932 until his death in 1985. During his career in the book business, Goldwater specialized in books relating to black studies, Africa, the Caribbean, chess, radical literature, and incunabula. These recollections were transcribed and edited from tape recordings Goldwater made on an unknown date, probably in the early 1980s. The unidentified interviewer functions more as a prompt and audience than an interviewer. This is not a strict transcription, as the recollections were edited for readability. The recordings were made available to the DLB Yearbook through the help and permission of Waiter Goldwaterís daughter, Dr. Linda Gochfield, and antiquarian book dealer Joseph Felcone of Princeton, New Jersey. Information about names of book dealers and the location of bookshops was provided by Marvin Mondlin of the Strand Book Store in New York City. His information is initialed M. M. within brackets. Names that remain unclear are also bracketed.
GOLDWATER: Iíve made a list, which I sometimes do when I canít sleep at night, of people who were in the book business when I started and who died. Each one of these, I think, had some interest. Iíve put them down quite at random; therefore, there is no order. Iíll say a few words about each. If I say more than a few words, it will go on forever.
Rabbi Heller, as we called him, was a man who was very literate and very interested in Judaica, and so on. He went into partnership on Fourth Avenue with a man named Mankoff who was interested only in D. H. Lawrence. The two of them thought they might make a go of it. This was in the middle 1930s. The shop was at 110 Fourth Avenue.
They thought they might get along very well, because they were both intellectuals. But Mr. Heller was not able to stand the way Mankoff did things. I remember that one day he came to me and said, "You know what that man said? He came in in the morning and he said to me, ĎLawrence has conquered death.í How can you work with a fellow like that?" The shop broke up. Mankoff went to work for Concord Book Shop, which was one of the shops on Forty-second Street which handled new books, mainly semierotica. Later on Heller went into business for himself a little further down Fourth Avenue at number 84 and was there for a number of years, then went to New Rochelle, where he was for a long time. He finally died. He was one of the more amusing people in the book business.
Peter Stammer was one of the oldest on Fourth Avenue and was famous for being anticustomer. He is the one about whom the stories are told, about how he said, "I will charge you five dollars for this," and, if the person demurred, he said, "If you come back, it will be ten dollars." And if the person demurred again, he simply tore up the pamphlet and threw it away. The general lot of these stories is apocryphal. Probably in each case, it happened once, or something like that.
INTERVIEWER: Is he the one who used to tear up presentation copies?
GOLDWATER: I donít believe he actually did. He much more likely pretended to. However, my experience with him, which was quite extensive, led me to believe that, although some people looking at him from the outside might think he was an affable old codger, actually he was a scoundrel from the very beginning. If he did anything like this, it was most unusual. He might even have three or more copies of the same item still available. However, this has never been established.
INTERVIEWER: Did he start on Fourth Avenue?
GOLDWATER: There was some question as to whether he did. He and Schulte were the earliest on Fourth Avenue, as far as we knew.
INTERVIEWER: It was a general bookshop?
GOLDWATER: Yes. All shops that I have anything to do with, unless I mention it, are general secondhand and out-of-print bookshops. And they made their living by people coming in from the street and buying books at a price which generally low, but which represented a very, very substarttial profit. The question of the rare book as a specialized business did not come in until much later, and I was partly responsible for that. I said yes, I have a general bookshop, but I specialize in Africa or the Negro, whereas most people on Fourth Avenue said, "We hare a general bookshop," and did not add anything. Later on, one would say that such and such a shop specialized in fiction, such and such a shop in Americana, and so on. But when I first started in this business, there was no such thing. Everybody was a general bookshop.
INTERVIEWER: Was Stammerís a big shop?
GOLDWATER: Stammerís was very, very big, from floor to ceiling, and cellar, and upstairs. It was absolutely tremendous. It was probably one of the largest stocks in the country.
INTERVIEWER: When did he die?
GOLDWATER: Probably in the mid forties or so. And then the shop was taken over by his son-in-law and by Noy Berenson, who was his employee. Noy was dishonest and was known throughout the trade for being dishonest. Since it was known, the probability is that Stammer knew it, because Stammer was not a person who was anybodyís fool. However, again, he may have figured it was worth the trouble and it was a small matter and that, considering the amount of books he had, and so on, and the amount of dishonesty, it probably was just a question of some books being sold without being paid for. Later on, after his death, Noy and the son-in-law became what we thought was partners but probably was not. It was probably that the son-in-law owned the shop that employed Noy.
INTERVIEWER: So, what finally happened to the shop?
GOLDWATER: Just a year ago he sold it out to an antiques place. He owns
the building. He had been running the shop in a very old-fashioned and tired
way for twenty years since Stammer died, or
the fifteen since Noy left him. Noy went to work first to The Seven Bookhunters and then, being found dishonest there, went to AMS, Abrahamís Magazine Service. Heís a very nice fellow, and weíve always been good friends. But I wouldnít want him to work for me, although at a certain point it looked as though I was going to have to employ him, because nobody else was going to. But, fortunately, I got out of that. In the case of his being fired from The Seven Bookhunters, it was a case of where Louis Scher, who just recently died, found out he was dishonest and made sure that he left, not at the end of the week, but at that very moment, giving him pay till the end of the week and a few more weeks, just to make sure he got out.
Next to Stammerís was one of the other two big shops on the avenue, run by Abe Geffen. This was as big as Stammerís but didnít have the space in the cellar and the upstairs. It was, however, also absolutely tremendous. Mr. Geffen was a little man who was also quite unpleasant and generally wasnít known around the avenue. People didnít go in there much. He had two employees, however, Sy Silverman and Milton Applebaum, who took over the shop after he died, very early in the 1940s, I believe that was, and kept it up for quite a while. I think that it must have been early in the forties because I think both the boys went to the army. I know that Sy did and, later on, Sy went into business for himself, became Humanities Press, Hillary House, and a great many other names, and is very successful now as a publisher as well as a bookseller. Milton Applebaum continued the shop on Fourth Avenue for as long as he could legally keep it open when the building was supposed to be torn down. He fought them tooth and nail for several years after it was supposed to go, but eventually had to leave and took a shop on Broadway, where he now is. He calls himself the Arcadia Bookshop. He and Sy were always, however, called the "Geffen boys." Nobody ever called them anything else except the Geffen boys."
On Fourth Avenue, just below here, between here and Schulteís, was a place which is now part of the Grace Church, which owns the whole thing and at that time also did but kept that as a shop, was Frank Bender, who specialized in art books. He was one of the few specialist shops. He also had a general shop, but he was interested in art books. Our old friend Leonard Sachs, that I mentioned previously was one of the first persons I met in the book business, was working for him. He thought Leonard Sachs was dishonest. We donít believe he was. Eventually, however, he did get rid of Leonard, and Leonard worked for a man on the opposite side of Fourth Avenue, whose name was [Schoenberg], I believe, but we always called him "Schoenpants" I donít know just why. He specialized in music, actually, and later on moved uptown and became a music shop. Bender moved uptown, also, and had an art shop until he died.
On Fourth Avenue also was a well-known little man named Max Breslow. I think he was rather nice. He had a large shop, and he was quite literate, was interested in little magazines, and he had the corner shop at Ninth Street in the Bible House, which was a very, very large, rambling building, taking up the whole block from Fourth to Third Avenue, and from Eighth to Ninth Street, that is Eighth Street being Astor Place there. It was a very, very large shop, and Leon Kramer had some of his stock there sometimes. Argosy had his main big shop in the building on Fourth Avenue, at number 45, and also a place upstairs, where I met John Kohn first, which was the loft or storage room that Argosy kept. Argosyís shop there at number 45 was tremendous, and, when he moved away to Fifty-ninth Street to become a big man, he offered me the chance of taking over the shop. But I preferred to be away from Fourth Avenue and didnít take it. It was then taken over by an old socialist labor man, who kept the place open mostly as a propaganda thing for his Socialist Labor party, although he kept the stock that Argosy had left. He made some sort of living by staying open till ten or eleven at night also. He died later on, and also his hanger-on, Max Sparber, who was a scout and whom I knew quite well, used to hang out there.
Breslow employed one or two people, one of whom, Steve Seskin, had worked for Schulte. However, during the late 1930s Schulteís, which was a very successful shop, had a strike of its employees, and Steve was one of the movers in the movement. Three of the employees out of four joined the picket line and picketed for many, many weeks. But Mr. Pesky, who was then the owner of the shop, and his son Wilfred, and one employee who refused to go on strike kept the place going perfectly well. Nothing ever came of it, and the boys had to find jobs elsewhere. After Steve left Breslow, he went into business for himself downtown (Eureka Bookshop -M. M.], was unsuccessful, and later on was employed by Harry Gold, who I will mention later. But when he demanded part of Harry Goldís business, Harry Gold let him go, and he then went to work for Benny Bass at the Strand Bookstore, but he suddenly died at an early age (we would consider it an early age), three or four years ago of a
heart attack. He was probably in his early fifties. [Older, I believe. I worked with Seskin at Strand in mid 1960s. -- M. M.] Downtown there were two important and good bookshops. One of them was called Thoms and Eron at 89 Chambers Street, which was a very old shop, having started perhaps in the 1870s or 1880s, possibly later, but not too much later. The other shop on Anne Street was the shop established by Isaac Mendoza and later given over to his three sons. It still exists but is, in my opinion, quite moribund. The Thoms shop was the place that we would always go that Sugarman [Abe Sugarman, the uncle of Ethel Goldwater, Goldwaterís first wife; he was Goldwaterís first partner in the book business] first taught me about. "Always go to Thoms and Eron; they have very good volumes on their tables." It was a shop which was very big, with table after table of cheap books, ranging from ten cents up to thirty-five cents. There were always specials, so many for a dollar. There were always sections which were especially cheap, [Mayne] Reidís first editions were a dollar each. Besides that, Mr. Thoms was always ready to make a deal on any large quantity. I would go down there and listen to him and take his advice. I remember him judiciously saying, "If you donít buy, Walter, you canít sell." Iíve always remembered this great thing, and I guess we would have to say it was true enough. However, Mr. Thoms was not completely pure in the matter, because what he meant was, "If you donít buy these particular books that I am offering you, then you canít stay in business." That was not the case. Later on I found that, in spite of all his knowledge of the books, he had feet of clay, because Heinz [Heinz Maienthau, Goldwaterís second partner in the book business] and I had not been in business more than two or three years when Heinz found a sleeper in a Dauber and Pine catalogue, the Petit Plus, which was a large atlas, a nineteenth-century atlas of the world, and particularly of the Arctic regions, which Dauber and Pine had in their catalogue for about $25. Heinz ran over early in the morning and bought it and sold it to Frank Walters, I think, for $175. Later I mentioned the book to Thoms, and he looked it up in the Book Prices Current and found it at an auction price of $25 and said, "I guess thatís what itís worth." Of course, it isnít that I blame anybody for not knowing an individual book. It is simply that the question of looking up books and Book Prices Current from that moment to this has always seemed to me a matter which does not teach anybody much, unless he knows something about books in general. And, although it was sort of a well-known fact within the book business that the more bibliography you had the better bookseller you were, and, although it was also known that it was very important to have Book Prices Current from the beginning to the day that you were working, I have always found it a very unimportant part of my business, and I believe it should be an unimportant part of anybodyís business. There are many good booksellers who donít agree with me. But I believe that I can hold my point and indicate that, throughout our career, the importance of having Book Prices Current on hand did not make an important difference in a dozen cases. And, in some of those cases, it made a negative difference.
Thereís no other reason why you should want it, except how much you should pay for a book and how much you can sell it for. If you will look at such things as Uncle Tom's Cabin, you will find with the same five-year period a difference between $25 and $500, and you cannot tell anything about that, unless two things: you see the book and you had ex-
perience. Nothing else will do, and it will simply not do you any good to know such a thing. There are, of course, cases of a book coming up three times and ranging from a $100 to $125. Then you might have some idea, but cven that might not do.
What happened was that Thoms died, and the business came up for sale. By that time it was bought by Mr. [Benjamin] Rosenzweig, the auction [City Book Auction] man, who had decided to extend his tentacles throughout the city and to buy up every shop that was available. He also bought G. A. Baker and Company, which was Hartzof Ďs shop uptown; at the time Edward Lazare, Jack Kebabian, and a colleague owned the place since Hartzof died. Rosenzweig would simply go to these places, realize that he could get such and such an amount out of the auction, and keep the rest. So what he did with Thoms was simply that. He bought the place for a price which we would now consider extremely low, made an auction gallery out of it, sold week after week at auction, and then had a bookshop besides. In the case of C. A. Baker and Company, he knew that he could sell the sets at auction for a certain price and the first editions for a certain price, and then would sell out the rest for something else. He continued to do that, but he was so active. He was a very fat [and diabetic -- M. M.] but very hardworking man and simply died of a heart attack, right at the peak of his earning power [at fifty seven --M.M.].
INTERVIEWER: He had the auctions at the shops that he bought?
GOLDWATER: He had the auctions at the shop, but he also had auctions other places. He wanted them to be varied, depending on where he was. When he had a shop on Fourth Avenue, he had the auction shop on Fourth Avenue. But he did it at Thoms and then he did it at C. A. Baker. But he also had a place which was at Meadowville, just an auction house. He called it City Book Auction, and City Book Auction was the place at which I put up these incunables and had to buy them back or leave them and the place at which I had bought all those seventeenth-century things for fifty cents apiece. He was the person, also, who discovered that one of the important parts about having an auction was how many pieces you could get done with in a given period of time. So he simply had the catalogue, a very brief cataloguing of them. But then, instead of naming the piece each time, he simply named the number and looked in the audience to see if there was a bid. If there was, he recorded it. If there was not, he simply recorded what the mail order was and went on. This way, he was able sometimes to get through with a thousand pieces in one day, whereas the normal person wouldnít get through more than three hundred. Since he was getting paid by the piece by the people who put the things up, he always knew he was ahead. This idea was later on taken on by Swann, who became the only remaining medium-priced auction in the city, who charged so much for cataloguing and for extras that he simply made money whether or not he got any price on the book.
Isaac Mendoza had three sons, each one of them stupider than the one before, but the first one, Aaron, not too stupid. They kept the thing going. They specialized in Americana, particularly New Yorkiana, but had a general bookshop which was quite good.
It was a very good shop. We used to go down there, but these things were a little bit more expensive than they were at Thoms, but they werenít too expensive anyway. And they were always very friendly. I actually never knew Isaac; I only knew the three sons.
I was always able to buy. They knew something about books. They knew first editions, and they knew Americana very well. They cared about some things and didnít care about others.
To get back to Fourth Avenue, the Green Bookshop was started by Harry Carp in the thirties. He first was on [number 11] Astor Place and then came over to number 108 or 110 Fourth Avenue. After he died of cancer five or six years ago, Mrs. [Ruth ó M. M.] Carp continued the shop and still is there. He specialized to some extent in fiction, particularly translations of fiction. He never knew anything about books, and she doesnít, either.
There was a book scout called Stanley Grant who used to go around buying and selling first editions. He was not very interesting and was not very honest. And then there was another Grant named Charlie Grant who was both a very good book scout and very honest and was very well known. They both died at a fairly early age.
I think I mentioned before what a scout was. A scout generally is a person who buys from one bookshop and sells to another bookshop. A scout is always a bookseller without a shop and usually goes from one bookshop to another. But sometimes he goes from a bookshop to a library, sometimes has a private clientele, and once in a while buys a book from a private person and sells to a private person. In general, however, the definition of a scout is that
of a runner in England, which is a person who buys from one bookshop and sells to another bookshop.
Alfred Goldsmith is one of the people who is best known in the world as a bookseller. He had a tiny shop on Lexington Avenue and called it The Sign of the Sparrow, between Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth streets, in the basement. It was considered the locale for Christopher Morleyís book The Haunted Bookshop, which is a terrible book, and was frequented by Christopher Morley, Carolyn Wells, and a few other of the other semi-intelligentsia of the period. He wrote a bibliography of Walt Whitman and another of Lewis Carroll. These were both people in whom he was mainly interested, and he was supposed to be an expert in both these subjects. I am willing to accept this as so. Although there were considerable errors in both the bibliographies, still they were the best thing up to the time.
He was personally a very nice person. He was the person I think I mentioned before who hated Heinz and who always referred to Heinz as "that horrible creature." He never referred to him as anything else except "that horrible creature" and beseeched me never to send Heinz up to him with books to sell but always, if I had them, to come to bring them myself. His wife was an Englishwoman who was Cerberus sitting at the door, hating everybody who came in and trying to keep them for fear they might bother her husband. I think she made the exception in the case of such people as Carolyn Wells, but she did not make the exception in my case or the case of any other book scout who went there. Most of us knew that, at some price or another, Goldsmith would buy a book. How in the world he could do it, since it didnít seem to us as though he ever sold anything and he certainly was very cheap in price, we never could understand. But he always would buy a book at some price or other. If we were broke during those early thirties, we would go to Goldsmith and be able to get fifty cents or a dollar, because he would buy. He was famous for having his great books in the back room. That was where the first editions of Leaves of Grass, Alice in Wonderland, and so on were all supposed to be. After he died, the back room became open, and it was discovered that there was no such great thing in the back room after all. The material turned up in auction at Swannís, went for nothing, and there were no good Carrolls at all, and the Walt Whitmans were of a medium sort, such as Goodbye, My Fancy; the third or fourth or fifth edition of Leaves of Grass; After All, Not to Create Only, another medium-priced thing. They were perfectly good and not too common, but they didnít amount to anything. November Boughs he would have four or five copies of, and so on. It was all right and, if they came up at auction nowadays, they would bring something. But at that time, they brought nothing at all. Even I, who was not at all a specialist, was able to buy a few lots. They sometimes put as many as four or five things in one lot, which went for a few dollars. She, later on, got a job at NYU and was there for many years. But I donít know what happened to her; she is probably dead by now. I remember Goldsmith and his illness. Goldsmith never sat down; he always stood behind his little counter and made cute remarks to people who came in, usually the kind of things where youíd have to say, "When you say that smile." He always did smile, so nobody took it quite to heart. In fact, even Heinz, knowing that he referred to him always as "that horrible creature -- and in fact when he went in there, he would say, "Oh, hereís that horrible creature again" -- even Heinz could never really believe that he really meant that he was a horrible creature, but he did. He said it in such a sweet way that nobody could really believe that he really meant these terrible things that he said. He was famous for having made a mot about the book business. He said that the book business is a very pleasant way of making a very little money. That was true of him, and it has been taken for granted up to this time. Actually, it was just that the way he was running it was a very pleasant way of running a business and a way of making very little money. Other people who were handling Whitmans or Carrolls even said that he would have made a rather good deal of money, but he did not. I remember that, later on, I would come there and find him grimacing in pain. I said, "Whatís the matter?" and he said, "That damn sciatica that I have." A few days later I came, and he wasnít there. They said he was in the hospital. A few days later after that he died. The sciatica which he had turned out to be cancer, and terminal. He had never been told, and he had never realized it.
He was a friendly soul, but he wasnít able to give really good advice. He was a bookman, and he had his catalogue which he would bring out once in awhile. It was a kind of cute catalogue of first editions. In general, the downtown people, as I have mentioned, were general booksellers, and in general the uptown booksellers were first-editions people, not specialists. Iíll mention a number of those to show what they were like.
Max Hartzof was the doyen of the uptown scoundrels. He had his office in what was called the Grand Central Terminal Building, or Grand Cen-
tral Building, Iíve forgotten which it was, at Forty-sixth Street and Park Avenue. In the same building, was Frank Walters, who was a wonderful man and knew everything. Hartzof Ďs office was called G. A. Baker Company; the G. A. Baker name was completely arbitrary. There had never been anybody named G. A. Baker. Hartzaf employed there or gave office space to a great many booksellers who later on became something in the book business; the main people remembered are Edward Lazare and David Randall.
It was quite large, a long shop, beautifully arranged, and with a lot of sets, and so on. He sold furniture in that way, as sets, but he also was a very good first-editions man and also had his eye out for the main chance. He was a good general bookman. He knew a great deal, I assume, from what Edward Lazare says. He was very difficult to work for, difficult to work with, difficult to buy from, difficult to sell to, a difficult man altogether, and generally a scoundrel, I believe, and certainly dishonest. He was sort of, as I say, the doyen of the uptown scoundrels.
I knew that he was dishonest, that is dishonest in the sense that he would not hesitate to state a book to be right if it was not or to sell it for more than it was worth on the basis that it was something which it was not. Also, he certainly would simply pocket money and would lack reference to keeping any track of it or anything like that. Of course, thatís not too uncommon in the book business, generally. I imagine that not too many people are completely pure in the book business, actually.
When he died, it was taken over by these three employees: Edward Lazare, John Kebabian, and a third person whose name I know but have forgotten who has now disappeared. They bought it and kept it going until they had to go into the army. The other manís name was Otto. Otto didnít have to go into the army. He was the one who was the bookkeeper, or something, and knew least. So, when Edward and Jack had to go into the army, they sold it out to Rosenzweig, and it went out of business. That would have been a good buy for anybody at that time. I was interested in it, but Rosenzweig was able to do a good deal more. It had moved to the place on Forty-sixth Street, over to 3 West Forty-sixth Street.
Lathrop Harper was the doyen of rare-book dealers. He was the only person in town who really knew anything about incunabula and was the great specialist in that field and had been for many years. His shop was a large and beautiful one, on the second or third floor of a building opposite the public library on West Fortieth Street. He was helped there by several people who did know a great deal about incunabula. Harper was known to be the great incunabula man, but the fact was that he didnít really know much about them at all, strangely enough. He was a very wealthy man who had made his money in other fields, mainly real estate, and who liked rare books. He was not pompous about his knowledge or lack of knowledge, however. The fact that he did not know any foreign languages at all, while rather unusual for a European dealer, to learn about all the European dealings, being quite acquainted with at least four or five languages, and the incunabula dealers being usually acquainted with still more than that, Harper didnít know Latin or any language, in fact, except English. But when Harper came back from Europe with his usual quota of several hundred incunabula and people asked him how he got along without knowing any foreign languages, his answer was this: "I know how to say Ďimperfectí in every language."
He was married to a woman who had a column in hundreds of American papers, called "Seeing Europe with Helen and Warren" or "Helen and Warren Visit Europe" or something like that. And she was a very wealthy woman in her own right. After Harper died, the firm came upon evil days. She sold it first to a Latin American man, who bought the shop and continued it for a while, bringing in [Otto H.] Ranschburg to assist Douglas C. Parsonage, who had been there for a long time. Miriam Lone, who had been Harperís right-hand woman and who, I think, was an aunt of Douglas Parsonage, by that time was dead. With the advent of Ranschburg, it had a new lease on life. However, when this Colombian man died, the whole thing was sold to Indiana University, or given to Indiana University, and they took all the good incunables, and, for a moment, it seemed as though the shop would not continue. However, shortly after that, somebody else put in some money, and so it continues on now.
David Randall took all the incunabula which he wanted for the Lilly Library at Indiana, which was practically everything, plus all the general books which he wanted. But he left most of the Latin Americana which was there. The Colombian manís name was Mendel; of course, he wasnít entirely Colombian.
Parsonage was really an Americana man, but he had learned something about incunabula from the period there. But Otto Ranschburg really is an incunabula man. It was Miriam Lone who knew the most things about incunabula, but Harper sur-
rounded himself with people who knew something about things and always got along and put out perfectly wonderful catalogues, particularly a series in 1926 which remains a standard work with prices and with discussion of each book and the place and date. Harper was particularly interested in incunabula from the point of view of places published, and was very proud when he would find something from a little town, the only one published there, or he would say, "This is the first book printed in Traviso" or in some even smaller town that that. That would be a great thing. However, from the way prices are nowadays, we would consider his catalogue prices quite cheap, although in some cases itís surprising how little difference there is between the price in those days and today. It is true, however, that up until 1946 or even 1950 fully half of the books which were available in the 1926 catalogue were still present and were still available for the prices.
At the point of Harperís death, I think that Yale was permitted to buy anything that was in the catalogue at a substantial discount, I think one-third, and Yale did avail itself of this opportunity. If I had known it at the time, I would have bought a few, but I didnít know anything about it.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever buy anything from him?
GOLDWATER: From Harper himself, I donít think I ever bought anything. I mentioned previously that Harper was my friend and very kind to me, and that in one catalogue of mine he did allow me to borrow from him two seventeenth-century American imprints, just to sweeten up the catalogue, but neither of them sold. Aside from that and his putting me in touch with [Chavional] in Paris, we didnít have too much contact. He sort of liked me, but we never had much to do with each other.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think about the future of that shop?
GOLDWATER: Well, I think the future of the shop ... itís a crazy business. Theyíre paying twenty-two thousand dollars a year rent in the new place, something like that. It was something quite fantastic. The new place on East Fortieth Street is one of the most beautiful shops there is. Itís simply beautiful, but it costs to make it beautiful.
INTERVIEWER: Do they put out any catalogues?
GOLDWATER: They put out one or two absolutely wonderful catalogues. But, unless they have a regular sale of things, they cannot possibly make a go of it. Neither Parsonage nor Ranschburg is a merchandiser. They are both rare-book people. And, if they are not, then obviously the employees are not going to be. However, theyíve got some new money in from people who apparently can afford to lose it, so I think it will go on until the death of one or both of them. Ranschburg is now well over seventy, and Parsonage is in his mid sixties. It seems unlikely that anything will go on with the place after they go.
They donít know anything about merchandising; they never cared about merchandising. They wanted to sell a beautiful book for a beautiful price. Of course, they have customers; but if they had real customers, they wouldnít be able to put out such beautiful catalogues, because the material would be sold before they put out the catalogue.
Over on Park Avenue were two people, both of whom were so similar that I always get them mixed them up. One of them was called Harry Stone, and one was called Harry F. Marks. They both made their primary living out of erotica and fine bindings. But both of them disappeared during the Depression, because their fine customers disappeared, also. One of them, I donít know which [Stone, I believe -- M. M.], went down to Florida and had a shop there and disappeared. The shop of the other one continued for quite a while under somebody elseís sponsorship. Not too long ago, although I guess it is a long time ago now, possibly ten years, the remains of the shop became available there before they lost their lease. I bought from them a vast number of Black Sun Press imprints. That must have been Harry Marks, not Harry Stone. Harry Marks apparently was the contact of Edward Titus and Caresse Crosby here [Marks was an agent for Black Sun Press -- M. M.]. I bought this vast number of Hart Cranes, Henry Jameses, Archibald MacLeishes, and so on. It was a very shrewd maneuver on my part, as these things so often are. I went immediately to the Gotham Book Mart, Seven Gables, and other places, and sold them to them for a dollar or two profit each, including thirty copies of the Ezra Pound and a number of the Joyces. After a year I discovered that if there had been one mistake in my life, it was exactly selling these books which I had sold. I did make a very substantial profit within a few days at that time, and I thought I was very clever. But the only cleverness that I would have had in that time would have
been to forget the whole thing for about three or four years or ten, at which time I would be now quite wealthy. I still have one copy of the Henry James letters to Walter Berry and perhaps one copy of something else, but thatís the entire stock which remains to me. In the meantime these things have simply skyrocketed. My usual shrewd maneuver.
There were two Friedmans downtown who were fairly interesting -- three Friedmans, really. One of them was Maurice Friedman on 147 East Twenty-second Street, who had a little shop there which was about as filthy and jammed as any shop in the city. I think that it compared favorably with any shop that Iíve had anything to do with in that one can simply go in there and only had to squeeze his way by piles of books and everything if he wanted to find anything. Mr. Friedman was interested in radical things, but it didnít matter much, because when you went in there, you couldnít find anything anyway. On Twenty-third Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues on the South Side, was the shop of the brothers Friedman, Ira and Harry. They had been in business quite a while before I started and had a very good shop, a very big one, very deep. The two of them got along quite well, but they were very different, and specialized in Americana, also in remainders, but had a good general shop. They got along quite well until a quite extraneous matter turned up: the question of parking. At some point or other during the early fifties, it was decided that there should be no parking on Twenty-third Street. As soon as there was no parking on Twenty-third Street, they lost their entire clientele, shut up the shop, and Harry Friedman opened a shop in White Plains; and Ira Friedman went to Port Washington. Harry Friedmanís shop in White Plains closed about three or four years ago, but he still does business from his home. Heís a man now in his very late seventies. Ira Friedman died a few years ago but, before he died, left to his son-in-law his whole business. The son-in-law, realizing that he knew nothing about secondhand and out-of-print books, went into the publishing business and became the Kennikat Publishing Company, which has done very well, indeed, on Americana and other, particularly New Yorkiana, reprints. That still exists out in Port Washington, and itís partly called Ira Friedman and partly Kennikat Book Company.
I knew Merle Johnson only very slightly. Merle Johnson is, of course, best known as the author of American First Editions and other books, such as You Know These Lines and High Spots in American Literature. You Know These Lines was, of course, a book of quotations and which books they came from, I think entirely American.
Johnson was a bookseller as well as being an illustrator as well as being a bibliographer. He worked from his home, a little place in the East Twenties, and sold first editions, mostly similar to Whitman Bennett, mainly what Randall calls "sophisticated copies." He found out what the first issue of a thing was and then would either insert the page with that issue point on it, or sometimes have a facsimile of a title page made with a date very carefully inked in ó something like that. He was involved in those days with Kelleher and with Jake Blanck, who were, of course, much younger than he. I didnít know him well; I just became acquainted with him through Sugarman, and then he died not too long after that, during the thirties.
Another man who only recently died but was very much involved with the sophistication of copies for all his life was George Van Nosdall. He was the man who was the member of the Fritz Kuhnís bund [Kuhn was head of the American Nazi Party before World War II -- M. M.]. Some of his catalogues said on the top, "Buy American." He was very anti-Jewish, and this was not the thing to be much during those days. So he was not generally liked. However, he was involved with Gabriel Wells, who was one of the most Jewish people that there ever was. His original name, as we know, was not Wells but Weiss. Van Nosdall claims to have sold as many as 150 or 200 sets of Harriet Beecher Stoweís Uncle Tom's Cabin and many, many copies of the Melvilles and other things, which were rather plentiful around town.
Van Nosdall never really had a shop, as far as I know. When I got to know him, he had a place up in East 126 Street, and he sold from that. It was a filthy place and smelled terribly, and it was just full of first editions ó all bad first editions, but first editions. He cared about first editions, and he always complained about how things used to be, and so on. He used to come down to the shop and buy some things from me, from which I learned that he would buy a real first edition. It didnít have to be a fake; he would just rather have a fake than nothing at all. Later on, he became interested in a few authors only: Gertrude Atherton, because she was the only right-wing author that we ever had in America; and, for some reason not explained, also Theodore Dreiser. But he was also interested in, among the English, Rider Haggard, Swinnerton, and he was interested in Mayne Reid; and then he was interested in Anthony Hope. The only reason I really got to like him was about the Anthony Hope: he was the only
person who really cared about the first issue of The Prisoner of Zenda, which had to have seventeen titles on the first page of the advertisements instead of eighteen titles. He was the only person besides me who knew that, and the only person besides me who cared. Whenever I came back from England with a copy with the seventeen titles, he was always right there to get it from me; and he appreciated that.
INTERVIEWER: Then he sold to other dealers?
GOLDWATER: No, he didnít, because no other dealers generally would buy from him anyway. He still had this mailing list, and he would send out mimeographed lists. He did very badly, and he died with a vast number of books, probably a hundred thousand or more, many of which were in Wappingerís Falls, others which were in Queens, others which were on Twenty-second Street. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a lot of them were destroyed by fire and water. He had also given a large number of them, perhaps ten thousand, to Rosenzweig to auction. When Rosenzweig died, Mrs. Roscnzweig denied everything; and so he never got anything out of it at all. It was sort of a case of where everybody was pretty amused by this sort of go at woman, go at bear. Nobody cared, so long as they were quarreling with each other. Each one of them was crooked as the other one. He also claimed to be swindled by several other people, which was probably true, although if anybody could swindle him, we always felt good luck to him.
John [Kohn] always hated him the worst of all, but I never could really hate him enough because I couldnít take the Nazi business seriously. I did know that he liked books; he really cared about books and really cared about first editions.
This reminds us of Gabriel Wells, of whom I didnít know anything because I never met him. Stories of Gabriel Wells would have to be heard from somebody else whoís been in it longer than I. He was, and is, known, as the only competitor that Rosenbach ever had. The two of them used to bid things up at auction against each other during the period when nobody else was around, except a man named George D. Smith, whom I also didnít know, except that I was at his place once. I did not know Wells at all.
Captain [Louis H.] Cohen; Nobody really believed that he was a captain. In joke they would always say that he was captain of the horse marines. It is probably true, however, that be had become some sort of a lieutenant, at least, in the army during the First World War. But he was connected with the French army at that time. Whether he was in the American army, nobody knew whether he was in the First World War, of course. He was a man who had waxed mustaches and was very old-boyish. He was really Colonel Blimp, our own Colonel Blimp.
Yes, and he was the one who cared about Hemingway and put out a bibliography of Hemingway in 1932. His wife was Margie, and she had to take at least second place whenever he was around. He would always say, "Shut up, Margie; Donít be snotty, Margie"; or, "Get out of here, Margie," when anybody else was around. Whether he did that when they were alone, we donít know; but he always did it when somebody else was there. And she always did shut up, or not be snotty, or get out, as told.
They were in the East Fifties; that was called the House of Books. And they had two or three different places there, but they were always within one or two blocks of each other. They were always up one flight and very fancy. He would buy first editions, but they had to be in mint condition, and she kept that standard after he died.
They got with private people of a fancy type. Also, they had some money; anyway, they were a very modest business up until he died. He apparently must have left a good deal of insurance, and she apparently has never lacked for money since and has always bought anything she wanted, even just for prestige. I think that, in the long run, she got to know a good deal more about the business than he did. At the time she was considered, I think, nothing at all. But now she certainly knows a good deal about her business, and she also knows how to do business, which I donít think he ever did. In general, he wasnít particularly liked, and he wouldnít attract people much.
He was a first-editions man, and they did the printing of these various limited editions, and so on, with Saroyans and other stuff. That was all done by him. He was all right in the main. He never was mean or anything. It was just that he was kind of obnoxious.
He would buy first editions. If it were in fine condition, he would buy; and he was not so bad. There were a few other people who were in the first-editions business in midtown at that time. One of them was called Ernest Dressel North, who had a large beard. Another one was called Barnet B. Byer. They were all very expensive first-edition people, and most of them disappeared at the end of the De-
pression. I donít know what happened to them all. Barnet B. Ryerís shop continued for quite a while later -- after the war, in fact. John Kohn was called in to appraise it, and I think to liquidate it finally. But I never knew these people. They were quite out of my sphere.
George Kirk was a very nice man who had a shop called Chelsea Bookshop. It was first opened at 365 West Fifteenth Street in Chelsea but, just about the time I went into business, moved down to Eighth Street and had a very nice little shop on the south side of Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue [58 West Eighth Street]. He was there for many years. His wife worked; she was at Parents magazine. So he was able to keep the shop going, even when business wasnít terribly good. He had a circulating library, mainly, but he was also interested in first editions and remainders. His shop was taken over by somebody who could pay four times as much rent -- that was in the days just when Eighth Street was starting to boom -- either Marboro or some other kind of shop took over his place and paid some fantastic rent, which he could not possibly touch. So he had to go out of business. And it was just at that time when I put my brother into the auction business, and George became his partner. It was probably through George that Robert Wilbur came into that circle, because Robert Wilbur used to hang around in the shop too, as I did at that time.
Later on, after the business of the auction disappeared -- apparently he drank a good deal, which I hadnít known -- his wife continued with her job, and it became better and better. She was quite well-off with her job, and he got a job in a defense factory and continued that throughout the war. But he died either toward the end of the war or a little bit after that. Sheís still alive.
There was a man named Maurice Sloog, who was a French dealer, whom we got to know fairly well after a while because he became a member of our group. After he never paid either the dues in the group or anybody else that he ever bought any books from, eventually he sort of dropped out. He was a real scoundrel, but a very lovable one. People liked him very much, but he never paid for anything.
He had an office, I guess, on West Forty-eighth Street. He knew the French book business very well and early books quite well. I guess he was a pretty big shot. He certainly talked awfully big and was always looking for big things. But I didnít know him too well. I used to kid a lot with him, because weíd speak French and so on, but I always knew that he had the advantage of me in whatever we were doing.
On Sixth Avenue -- I think between Tenth and Eleventh -- [161 Sixth Avenue] there was a very large shop called Prattís which had been there since at least the 1890s, possibly before. It was a wonderful shop to go into, if you didnít have to have anything to do with Mr. or Mrs. Pratt, who were rather horrid people. It was similar to [Weyman] Brothers in that it specialized in pamphlets or little paperback material on how to fix your house, or how to play chess, or something like that; and that was the main thing that they did business with. But he did have a complete shop of secondhand books of all kinds, and a very large cellar also piled up with stuff. It was there when first Mr. Pratt died and finally when Mrs. Pratt died that I bought some thousands, possibly as many as ten thousand, little magazines, that is the English ones called Dome,Yellow Book.
I found perhaps a thousand Black Cats there, for instance. Black Cat had been considered very rare. Suddenly here was this vast number of Black Cats. With all of that, I had a great deal of difficulty selling them, and Black Cat was the one that I tried to sell to Princeton, because he was very anxious to have them. When I asked him twenty-five cents, he
said no; he wanted me to give them to him for fifteen cents. This was in the late forties or early fifties. Well, he was no good. And then there were vast numbers of the Philistine and the other thing which was similar to the Philistine...
Bibelot. There were a tremendous number of things. I bought them for one or two cents apiece at that time, but I never made much off them. I did all right with them, but I didnít make a great deal of money on them. I sold to Yale and the University of Connecticut, and some other people, and probably even sold to Princeton.
The Pratts didnít like anybody there much, so a book dealer didnít go. After they died, it was taken over by a man named Edward Weiss, who wasnít particularly likable but who liked to sell books. So, at that time, we did go over and buy a good deal from Eddie Weiss. He later on sold it again to an Englishman who wasnít particularly liked but who was interested in bicycles. If youíd go there and talk to him about bicycles, then you could buy some books at a low price sometimes. Eventually the shop disappeared, and the bookshop became an art-supply shop, which it now is.
In New Brunswick, New Jersey, there were a couple of shops at given times. The oldest one was run by a man named Perry Kaiser. Kaiser was an old anarchist who had been involved in the Stelten, New Jersey, experiment and in others. He got into trouble with stolen books and was actually put in jail for them.
It was a very long time ago. Later on, after he got out of jail, he ran a bookshop there for many, many years. I was always quite friendly with him; I liked him quite a good deal. And I would buy batches of books from him quite often at low prices.
It was a general shop. Eleanor (Goldwater) would buy Edgar Rice Burroughs and cookery and whatever she was interested in at the moment. After the war he got involved with a man named Rizick, and that was a great error on his part because Rizick was, of all the people we knew in the book business, probably the most crooked. He never did anything honest at all. If he had been able to make more money being honest than dishonest, he still wouldnít have done it. Because what he really cared about was doing something crooked. So, suddenly Kaiser found himself in a position where Rizick had done something wrong but Kaiser was responsible. And this was great trouble for Kaiser, because he already had this criminal record. I remember going in there when this was going on and Kaiser saying to mc, "You know, Walter, I really admire that Jim. Listen to this." And then he told mc the story about how Rizick and he had gotten involved in this thing, which was doubtful, but how Rizick had carefully arranged it so that Kaiser would be responsible. He said, "You know, you really need to be smart to do that. I really admire that." And he was perfectly serious.
It wasnít the stuff from Lehigh, and it wasnít the stuff from this other place in Pennsylvania, and it wasnít all the money that he had gotten from those doctors and lawyers who didnít dare to say anything because they had kept them in a crooked way themselves, and it wasnít the question of the records which he had gotten on consignment and then suddenly went bankrupt. It wasnít any of those things. It was something quite else which he was involved with. Kaiser died after a while.
Fourth Avenue even now has as many as twenty bookshops right there or around the corner. But in that time it must have had thirty or forty. Right up from Eighth Street to Thirteenth Street, on both sides of the street (of course, on the West Side, it was only from Tenth Street up because Wannamaker took the whole block from Eighth to Tenth Street), it was all secondhand bookshops. I have mentioned already the Bible House, which was at Eighth Street to Ninth Street; Iíve mentioned Breslow and Argosy and Schoenpants and Leon Kramer up in the building. . . . On these blocks, some of them I remember and some of them I forget just where they were. Between Ninth and Tenth streets, there was a man who called himself the Astor Bookshop, and that was Abe Klein. He was always trying to maneuver, but later everything went bad with him. He sold out, and his place was eventually taken over by Biblo and Tannen. He became a salesman for Abraham and Strauss, and he may still be alive. He was never involved, as far as I knew, with the real crooked things which were going on on Fourth Avenue, which were mainly the activity of Charles Rohm, who was on the other side of the street, Ben Harris, and Harry Gold. These were the ones who were really involved with books being stolen from libraries, which was different from the sort of run-of-the-mill kind of things being stolen from new bookshops and sold on Fourth Avenue. Harry Gold went to jail, and I guess Robin did also. And I guess Harris did also. The stuff that they stole, or had stolen for them, was so important and was so professional that the people wanted to make an example of them. Actually, stuff stolen from the New York Public Library, Edgar Allan Poes and things of that sort, was really big stuff.
There were many things stolen, and eventually Mr. [Bernquist] of the library and other people
SOURCE: "New York City Bookshops in the 1930s and 1940s: The Recollections of Walter Goldwater" [interview], DLB Yearbook, 1993, pp. 139-172.
A Memorial Tribute to Bill French
Finding Aid: University Place Book Shop Papers, 1968-1988
All praise to R. Dunaway, Bookseller...
Home Page | Site
Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links
CONTACT Ralph Dumain
Uploaded 20 May 2001
Link added 1 April 2009
Site (not this page) ©1999-2009 Ralph Dumain