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Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade
     

Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade

by Marvin Mondlin, Madeleine B. Stern (Foreword by), Roy Meador
 

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The city has eight million stories, and this one unfolds just south of 14th Street in Manhattan, mostly on the seven blocks of Fourth Avenue bracketed by Union Square and Astor Place. There, for nearly eight decades, from the 1890s to the 1960s, thrived a bibliophiles' paradise. They called it the New York Booksellers' Row, or, more commonly, Book Row. It's an

Overview

The city has eight million stories, and this one unfolds just south of 14th Street in Manhattan, mostly on the seven blocks of Fourth Avenue bracketed by Union Square and Astor Place. There, for nearly eight decades, from the 1890s to the 1960s, thrived a bibliophiles' paradise. They called it the New York Booksellers' Row, or, more commonly, Book Row. It's an American story, the story that this richly anecdotal historical memoir amiably tells: as American as the rags-to-riches tale of the Strand, which began its life as book stall on Eighth Street and today houses 2.5 million volumes in twelve miles of space. It's a story cast with colorful characters: like the horse-betting, poker-playing go-getter and book dealer George D. Smith; the irascible Russian-born book hunter Peter Stammer, the visionary Theodore C. Schulte; Lou Cohen, founder of the still-surviving Argosy Book Store; gentleman bookseller George Rubinowitz and his legendary shrewd wife Jenny. Rising rents, street crime, urban redevelopment, television-the reasons are many for the demise of Book Row, but in this volume, based on interviews with dozens upon dozens of the book people who bought, sold, and collected there, it lives again.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
There are still used bookstores scattered about the city, but the loss of this unique neighborhood, as Book Row illustrates time and again, is one to be mourned. — James Polk
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. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fond, nostalgic account of the rise and fall of the secondhand- and rare-book sellers who once clustered on and around Manhattan's Fourth Avenue. At times as dusty and disarrayed as one of those shops, this survey begins with a snapshot of the seven-block region that served as home to several dozen stores. Mondlin, estate book buyer for the Strand, and freelance writer Meador interviewed scores of bookstore owners, employees, patrons, and neighbors; they scoured old periodicals for stories on Book Row and gathered a plethora of detail and anecdote. (However, an appendix listing shops, addresses, owners, and dates of operation is notably and regrettably missing.) They have done book-lovers a grand service by profiling the men and women who established these legendary ventures, starting with George D. Smith, whose acumen helped Henry E. Huntington acquire his eponymous library in California. Smith opened a shop on Broadway in the 1890s and held sway for 30 years. Subsequent chapters deal with various dealers grouped together for assorted reasons including chronology, kinship, marriage, and even like-sounding names-Jack Biblo and Jack Tannen eventually joined forces to maintain what Mondlin and Meador call "one of New York's finest bookstores in the 1960s and 1970s." The authors explore the conditions that gave rise to the shops (lots of books, low rents) and offer reasons for their disappearance in the '70s and '80s (rising rents, diminishing numbers of book-lovers), though they see the Internet as a new boon to the business. A long paean to the Strand that reads more like ad copy than analysis is typical of a text in which weaknesses compete with strengths for dominance throughout. Aperfect detail or poignant anecdote is sometimes followed by such eye-glazingly trite comments as, "The great finds at Dauber & Pine are no more, but still great are the memories." Equally numbing is the formulaic arrangement of chapters: introduction, biography of the dealer(s), rise and fall of the shop(s), nostalgic phrases of farewell. Priceless items shelved alongside pap and pulp. (16 pp. b&w photos)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786713059
Publisher:
Avalon Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/25/2003
Pages:
405
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.57(d)

Meet the Author

Marvin Mondlin began working in the book trade in 1951 and has been the estate book buyer for the Strand since 1974. He is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and numerous other book-related organizations. Roy Meador, a book collector and freelance writer, has been published in such national periodicals as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, and Analog.

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