Thursday, June 15, 1995
Tales of the Booksellers' Row Pt 3/4 Jack Brussel, Dr. S. R. Shapiro, Dr. Saul Jarcho
Tales of the Booksellers' Row Part III
The demise of the Luchow's building on East 14th Street brings back memories from nearly 40 years ago, when that restaurant was the pride and joy of our neighborhood. I had lunch there every Saturday, for years, with my bookhunters' crowd, eating creamed herring appetizers and swapping tales. Creamed herring with onions and slices of black bread was enough food to hold even a growing youth.
In the late 1950s I was invited to join a small group of knowledgeable book collectors and dealers who met weekends to lunch, to travel the East Coast, looking for "sleepers," as underpriced book rarities are known, and to renew old friendships. We visited bookstores from Maryland to Massachusetts, and were greeted with mixed emotions by the dealers. We were sure to bring in money, but we would also deplete the shelves of the better stuff, and leave the dealer wondering about the magnitude of his mistakes. But mostly we brought good cheer, particularly Jack Brussel, the mailbox of the trade, who knew everybody.
Jack, then in his 60s and past a major heart attack, was our undisputed unofficial leader. He had a store at 100 4th Avenue. the Jack had a great history, as book scout, writer of a math textbook, publisher of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and other sex-oriented classics. It was part of his myth as to whether he was exonerated or went to jail for the printing of the Miller book, not permitted under our then sanitized law, only partly softened by Judge Woolsey's 1933/4 decision exonerating James Joyce's Ulysses. I met Jack when he imported Japanese color woodcut prints (ukiyo-e). He claimed that they were in such a low esteem as to be used to wrap fish in Yokohama. The legend is that the Japanese gainer some respect for this form of their own national heritage when they saw them exhibited in the U.S. museums. I bought a few original Hiroshiges and Utamaros, which I eventually lost to a scammer.
Jack's brother was the renowned Ike R. Brussel, who then lived in the Jewish enclave of Seagate, and ventured out rarely. He was the author of the scholarly British-American First Editions bibliography (separate East-to-West and West-to-East volumes), and spoke with a thick East European accent. I remember telling him how I had found a first edition of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929), worth $100, and he gave me a lesson in book scouting: "Bubbele, I had a book like that. El Dieff had it in his catalogue for $100, so I called him. 'Lissen, Lou, I have the book but no jacket, so I'll give it to you for one half, $50. And it's a trade deal, so I'll cut it one half again, to $25. Now, it is not mint, so I'll reduce it further to $10. And since you are my friend, you can have it for $5.' And he told me: 'No deal.' So, don't expect money, but you can have fun."
Jack had a comfortable rebuilt Checker cab, but his eyesight was not the best, so we traveled mostly in Milt Riessman's car. Milt was a button manufacturer, struck by the collecting bug. His interest was in children's books, and eventually he sold the button business, to open Victoria Bookshop, competing with Justin Schiller, then a young prodigy dealer, for the expanding kids' book collector market.
Sunny Warshaw, a lively gnome of a man, had his start buying junk paper from firms that went out of business or were moving. He found out that old files contained valuable stamps, autograph material and historic memorabilia, and built up a huge collection of Business Americana, from which he rented out illustrations and documents.It was eventually bought by the Smithsonian for $100,000, a bargain.
Sam Orlinick, who had a store off 4th Avenue, dealt in science and music. A Mozartian, he asked me to see my wife's uncle's Dr. Max Nachman's manuscript on the Aristotle/Mozart connection, and pronounced it unreadable. Since he was a reader for Dover Publishing, that was it. The late Uncle Max, a lawyer/philosopher/concert pianist, never pursued the publication of this book, holding it to be above the comprehension of the marketplace, and the manuscript now rests in the Leo Baeck Institute Collection. Sam's proudest possession was a Mozart manuscript of an early composition, in need of authentication. We would concoct elaborate schemes for verification of its authenticity without giving away its contents (I believe it was an unpublished variant), Sam would listen courteously and dismiss the harebrained ideas with gentility.
Not surprisingly, our best hunting for books was in New York City. Irving Binkin, in the back of Brooklyn Heights and the courthouse, on Willoughby Street, had a four-story building, the ground floor of which was devoted to making a living. Irving's heart was relly in ballroom dancing, of which he was a champion. He liked to go to Hispanic dances, and had a small Spanish book stock for his dance partners. Upstairs, he held residues of good Brooklyn estates, unpriced and unevaluated, books, paintings and ephemera. After much negotiating, Irving had decided that we were trustworthy and would not stuff our pockets, and could be permitted to make selections and bring them down for pricing. Irving was not knowledgeable, but prided himself on being able to divine, from our body language, things about the value of our selections. It did work out, since he asked for our scholarship, and we were not out to steal high value items for pennies. It was fun. I found some Elihu Vedder lithographs, which somehow had drifted down from the Houghton publishing company estate in Boston, and many small brown buckram-bound books from Ticknor & Co., the publishers of Hawthorne.
Next time i'll tell you about the experiences with the two scientists in our group, Dr. S.R.Shapiro and Dr. Paul Cranefield.
LOOKING BACK by Wally Dobelis
Tales of the Booksellers' Row Part IV
The truly professional bookman in my Saturday book-collectors' club, otherwise known as "Jack Brussel and friends," was, according to his own lights, the knowledgeable Dr. S.R. Shapiro.
I learned a lot from him. The good Doctor supplied the scholarship to our bookhunting expeditions, whether we wanted it or not. A man of towering bibliographic recall and decided opinions, he was not on speaking terms with a number of Fourth Ave dealers, which limited his quest, and explained his enthusiasm for our trips. He liked me, and since we were both members of the Bibliographical Society of America, he brought me up with him to the 4th opening celebration of Herman Liebert's Beinecke Library at Yale, in the early 1960s. This was a truly regal series of celebrations. We stayed in the Taft Hotel of fond memories, and had martinis every night, enough to float a small boat, in the President's reception hall. I remember meeting the Provo, Utah, university librarian, a Mormon, who confided to me how shocked he was to see all the great names in bibliography and library science swilling gin.
Our main speaker was John Sparrow, the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford, but the most fun was John Carter, who, with Michael Pollard, discovered the forgeries of first editions by the highly respected bibliographer and Browning collector, Thomas J. Wise. Carter's 1952 book, "ABC for Book Collectors," in its seventh 1995 edition, is still a basic source of book terms. Carter traveled with two strangely shaped duffel bags, which he claimed had served as his gun bags during WWII, when he was in the British intelligence.
Our other scholar member was Dr Paul Cranefield, both a PHD and MD, a medical historian and a cardiac researcher. Paul, who has had a major lab at the Rockefeller University since 1966, researching arrhythmia and the electrical system of the heart, was mostly interested in pursuing a dream - finding a first edition of Harvey's "De Motu Cordi" (printed in Germany in 1628), the most important heart book ever, first to explain blood circulation. Paul knew the Garrison-Morton medical book bibliogaphy by heart, practically, but was very selective in his choices. He was good to have around, considering the geriatric makeup of our crowd. I recall once, in Luchow's, Sam Orlinick getting caught up in a Sunny Warshaw joke while swallowing some creamed herring, and choking for seconds until Sunny's hefty pounding on his back dislodged the morsel and brought Sam back. At this point we noticed Paul, who was sitting at the opposite side of the table, surreptitiously folding his razor-sharp pocket knife, with a sigh of relief. He had been ready for a tracheotomy, as a last resort. This was in pre-Heimlich movement days.
Dr Cranefield, who chairs the Kesselring Awards Committee of the National Arts Club (for new playwrights), at that time was the editor of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. His collaborator and successor was Dr Saul Jarcho, an internist and also an eminent paleopathologist, a physician who could determine from the bones of prehistoric men what they died from. Saul was also a medical humorist, writing under the pseudonym od S.N. Gano (it's a joke, in Spanish) in the venerable JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association). His mother was a Wallerstein, a sister of Nathanael West's mother. As many know, in 1927 West clerked at the then Kenmore Hall Hotel. It was owned by his uncles Jacob and Max Jarcho, and Saul's mother persuaded them to give Nat the easy job. West's sister was married to Sid Perelman of New Yorker and Marx Brothers fame, a resident at the Gramercy Hotel, and you are getting a whole article on the families, sometime. Dr Jarcho was my family physician, and saw my wife through her pregnancy, coming in to watch her tum late at night. There are not many physicians like Saul Jarcho.
Back to the education of the bookhunter. Most dealers whom we visited would scrutinize our choices with great care, and some few would reserve the right to withdraw some titles, stating that their stock was priced a long time ago, that they had had no time to update, and that we were taking an unfair advantage. Others were proud to match book knowledge even with the exuberantly loud Dr. Shapiro. The quiet Peter Lader of the small Martin's Book Shop on West 4th Street off 6th Avenue had the best literary scholarly books, and decent prices. He did the same thing as our group, on a truly professional basis, twice a year leaving his tiny wife in charge of the shop while he traveled the country, buying selected stock. He offered advice only when asked.
Mr. Pine of Dauber and Pine, 66 5th Avenue, had Americana stock still from the days of their partner Charles P. Everitt, a farmer's son from Peekskill and a great book scout. His book, "Adventures of a Treasure Hunter," (Boston, 1952) is a most fascinating work, and got me initially intrigued with book-scouting, though I never met anyone that could claim such finds as the famous Charlie. His book is still a good startup text. Similarly chatty are the several books by A. Edward Newton, such as "The Greatest Book in the World," (Boston 1925). A book collector, his articles started appearing in the Atlantic Monthly during WWI. He describes rare books that we will not easily find. "Gold in Your Attic," (1958) and "More Gold in Your Attic" (1961), by Van Allen Bradley, a set of easy-to-enjoy price guides, are more for the contemporary American browser and garage-sale addict. They evolved into his "Book Collector's Handbook of Values," (1972-79-82), and were continued by Allen and Patricia Ahearn as "Collecting Books - A Guide to Values" (Putnam, 1991).
Eventually my studies progressed to the reading of the heavy tomes of auction catalogues - Parke Bernet (pronounced Bernet, Otto was a German), Anderson and American Book Auction. I had bought a lot, in four big cartons, from Leo Weitz, who was closing his good art and illustrated book store way uptown at 1377 Lexington Avenue, and put them up in a cheap storage space with a broken floor that I rented in the old Hotel Albert on University Place. The restaurant of the hotel had an Eiffel Tower logo and advertised "All the Steak You Can Eat for $4.00" in the New Yorker, The clientele was rock and roll musicians, some of the best groups, but my recollections are bad. My storage room was entered and robbed, and I lost, most importantly, an eight-volume small paper first American edition of Audubon's "Birds of America," (N.Y., 1840-44) in a green cloth binding. That had been my most expensive purchase ever - bought with a borrowed $700, from the old Isaac Mendoza Book Company, a rabbit warren at 15 Ann Street, South of City Hall. Today that would be valued in five figures. I had to produce a certified check, and the next morning I ran into Mr Mendoza at 9 A.M., waiting for my bank to open. We were both embarrassed.
As recollection serves, I wrote a letter to the Antiquarian Bookman, the weekly bible and want-list source of the trade, describing my loss, but to no avail. The AB is published in Newark, NJ. It was founded by the late Jacob Blanck, who in 1950s started the compiling of the "Bibliography of American Literature." The opus was published by Yale in nine volumes over a long stretch of time. Anyway, the AB is where most of the book search people whose ads you see in the back page of the New York Times Book Review advertise your requests for out-of-print books. This is not the book-searchers' only resource, but it is a starting point. A hint: the AB is expensive, aimed for the trade, and not a one-shot advertising vehicle for the collector.
Wally Dobelis thanks Dr Paul Cranefield for his recollections, and sends best belated 88th birthday wishes to Dr Saul Jarcho, from the Dobelis family and T&V.
Jacob and Max Jarcho were plumbing contractors. You can still see their Siamese connections outside CPW buildings. Son Arthur living in bk. Sauls mom persuaded the uncles to give the job to Nat.The Weinsteins were builders Anne and Max Weinstein. Soul jarcho was Harv '25, Col MA in Lattin and MD. In his jr yr 1924 the ceremony on chas elliotts 90th had chas, who remenm Pres Jackson, and a patient at Barb hot remem ALinc funerak at Union sq. Amenities 1918