Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2020 Issue

David Lesser: The perspective of an experienced dealer who has earned his grey hair

I recently interviewed veteran bookseller David Lesser for his perspective on the trade during these difficult times.  He’s been through the wars.

 

[Q] By way of background, how did you find yourself in this predicament?

 

[A] I became a bookseller in 1989— part time, in order to finish up my duties as a lawyer and also to continue making a living. I had been a lawyer since 1967, and spent my early years in the legal services program. It was the late 1960’s and early 1970’s— important constitutional issues affecting low-income people dangled like low-hanging fruit, and I was lucky to have been able to pluck some from the trees. Later, after a few years of private practice, I lost my taste for adversarial proceedings, at least when litigation involved the clash of people rather than the clash of issues. Fortunately I had always been interested in American history, legal and otherwise. I was surprised one day to see an 1850’s Congressional speech about slavery--  common as dirt, of course, but I didn’t know that. It pretty much hooked me. On a two-week vacation in Peru I spent my down time reading some of Bill Reese’s catalogues I had taken with me. I brought forth my own first catalogue in the fall of 1989, and am now up to Number 176.

 

[Q] And, along the way you became a member of the ABAA and became a regular exhibitor at book fairs.

 

[A] I became a member of ABAA in late 1993, and made the rounds a few times of all the ABAA Fairs. I have exhibited at every New York fair since 1994; and continue to exhibit in Boston. I gave up the California fairs about ten years ago—costs compared with results were not encouraging.

 

[Q] Has your bookselling career been more Aretha Franklin’s ‘Hello Sunshine’ or Van Morrison’s ‘Days Like This’?  Or both?

 

[A] I have always been an optimist about our little corner of the planet. When I first entered it, people were complaining that the good old days had disappeared; but I was delighted with this new world, found many interesting items to buy and resell, and took great pleasure in book trips, particularly in the American South, which my wife and I would combine with sight-seeing and local music—blues, jazz, bluegrass. The world is constantly changing, and people’s interests respond to those changes, but our fascination with the printed and written word will remain forever. I suppose that the invention of moveable type caused some worry that interest in manuscripts would vanish; or that second and third editions would diminish the desire for first editions; or that paperback printings of ‘Moby Dick’ would collapse the market for early printings. None of these horribles has happened.

 

[Q] So the many lamentations that have been whispered and groaned over the decades about the rare book business have more related to the changing structure of the field rather than that interest in the material is declining.  In your experience the interest endures and see blue sky in the future?  That makes sense.

 

[A] It is certainly true that the internet has caused major changes in the book world. Standardization of markets results in lower prices and comparison shopping. That’s what markets are supposed to do. But people adapt as they always have—hence, the increased interest in one-of-a-kind items like manuscripts; and the recalibration of markets for relatively common material. Dealers, collectors, and institutions are smart enough to make the necessary changes. The underlying passion will remain.

 

 

That’s encouraging.

 

[Q] The structure of the field has always been changing.  Shops have been closing for decades, printed catalogues have been losing some of their cache.  Shows remain essential but, while Covid-19 is present, and it’s not safe to be there until the epidemic quiets or we have a vaccine, the future of rare books and paper is unknown.   All this not withstanding I feel confident in the future of the trade.  Do you agree?

 

 [A] Yes.  Pax tibi.

 

Thank you David.

 

And in the meantime you are working at your offices with 5,000 items on line with a few thousand yet to be described and offered. Let’s click here to take a look.

 

Welcome to Catalog 176.


https://www.lesserbooks.com/images/upload/catalog-176.pdf

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000

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