Vol. 10 No. 1
Please note: As web publication of the newsletter often does not coincide with actual publication date, some outdated items have been removed. Please refer to the printed version of the newsletter for those articles.
MWBH Board Minutes and Financial Reports will be found in the Members only area.
Bibliopoles on the Prairie: A History of the Midwest Bookhunters
By Carlos Martinez
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress that Carlos has untertaken at the behest of the MWBH board. The final version may differ from that printed here.
A Main Street Bookman
“Every bookdealer should work hard to get books into our prisons.”
Kenan Heise certainly had a novel idea. He had decided to give several thousand paperback books from the stock of his Chicago Historical Book-works to the Cook County Jail for its inmates’ library. When I visited him one October morning, during the final weeks of his store closing sale, there were piles of boxes already packed and sealed, awaiting pick-up by the penitentiary’s truck.
The round-faced white-bearded grandfather of two smiled as I stared at him in amazement. “You are the first bookdealer I have known who thinks of giving books to a jail. One would expect a school or library.”
“Why deprive prisoners of things that will make them better people?” he retorted. “That’s crazy!”
We were sitting in the living room of Heise’s Evanston home, just around the corner from his store at 831 Main Street. Here was a bookseller with a successful career as a writer for the Chicago Tribune, who had written and published books on Chicago history, and who for nearly twenty-five years ran the only secondhand bookstore devoted to Chicago people and history — and ran it so well that he was made a member the Midwest Bookhunters. One would expect to find mahogany-paneled bookcases and Morocco-clad rarities on the shelves. Instead, there was a wall of unfinished homemade pine shelving on which I could observe frayed copies of Tarzan and the Wizard of Oz (both by noted Chicago authors, of course) alongside ex-library and jacketless histories of Chicago, a dozen or so well-thumbed biographies of Al Capone and other Chicago gangland figures, and a few hundred uncommon but not especially valuable books on Chicago history and personalities. The bookcases embraced a simple living room, with plain lowback sofas, a well-used recliner facing a round Oriental-style rug, and a modest brick fireplace. Framed Chicago prints, bric-a-brac and souvenirs, and an authentic Chicago telephone booth, gave the home a literary-bohemian charm.
In many ways, I was to find later, Heise is a typical member of the Chicago-based Midwest Bookhunters, to which he has belonged for over two decades.
“They do things differently in Chicago,” he continued. “Chicago dealers don’t just try to get top prices for books. They’re relatively much more interested in selling good books at reasonable prices to people who will read them. They are more interested in people than money.
“A good example was Richard Barnes.” The late founder of Richard S. Barnes was one of the founding members of the Midwest Bookhunters and argu-ably the unelected dean of Chicago area booksellers after the death of Frances Hamill. I felt a pang of regret at having driven by his large, well stocked store windows a few years ago and seeing a sign that said ‘Final Day. Store Closing’ next to one which said ‘Closed.’ The books on his windows had been impres-sive in their massed spine gilt, and promised to reward the most ardent bibliophile.
“Richard Barnes had a philosophy of not catering to rich customers. He’d rather sell a book to a customer who did not have much money but who would read it, or to a library. He didn’t tell you this, but there were lots of ways to tell. He did not give much attention to rich clients at his store. He treated everyone equally. He’d repair books himself using simple but solid bindings. Sometimes the book was missing a page, so he’d photocopy the page from a library copy and bind it in as a facsimile. It might not be very expensive book, but it was a good book that people with less money did buy.
“He was a curmudgeon. His style was abrasive, not superfriendly. But he had a B.A. in English from Harvard and an M.A. from Yale and he still treated everyone as equals.
“Chicago booksellers have a sense of democracy. You couldn’t survive in Chicago as an elitist bookdealer because nobody else is. Nobody in the Midwest Bookhunters is an elitist.”
Kenan handed me a small 4 x 8″ pamphlet called “Bookstores galore: A selective guide to the big stores and small,” a brochure made from a Chicago Tribune feature story he did in the 1970’s. On the by-line was his name. I flipped the pages and came upon a photograph of Florence Shay in her Titles, Inc. Bookstore in Highland Park. She held two armloads of books and sported a winning smile against the backdrop of a wall covered with framed prints flanked by well-stocked book-cases. The open bookcases were invi-ting,and the entry on her store seemed to confirm what Kenan had been saying about Midwest Bookhunter members being friendly and imbued with a sense of democracy: “Florence Shay is a vivacious and effervescent proprietor. Her stock and prices show she is also a very good bookwoman. Her shop has the comfortable feel of a fine library.”
“Why don’t we continue in the kitchen?” Heise said. “My breakfast should be ready. Do you want some-thing to drink? Chocolate milk perhaps?”
“That’d be great.” We walked through a dining room that had been converted into a workshop-study. A large table in the middle held works in progress, while a corner desk cradled an open laptop glowing with the lines from a current project. Despite the obvious signs of work, the room was Bibliopoles on the Prairie: tidy and inviting, its warmth enhanced by a large photograph of a smiling Carl Sandburg and Frank Lloyd Wright on one corner. The door was open to an adjoining kitchen with a small, narrow table next to the doorway. Heise took a cup from the dishwasher, served himself some coffee, then pulled a carton of chocolate milk from the refrigerator and invited me to sit at the narrow table. The intimacy of the setting was almost unnerving.
A rear door opened and a man appeared. His very informal and some-what careless dress surprised me a bit, but what startled me was that he was black. It was not his blackness I found unusual—I am no bigot. But the North Shore is not known for their racial inte-gration. The man had what looked like a sanding machine in one hand, but no uniform to indicate that he was a serviceman, and his hands and forearms were white with a powdery sawdust. He exchanged a few soft-spoken words with Kenan, then went back into the rear room, which I knew from earlier visits led to a basement filled with books.
Through another door came a black boy holding a set of keys. He too ex-changed words with Kenan that I could barely hear, and disappeared into the dining room behind me.
“I hope you don’t mind a slight impertinence,” said I, sensing a good story. “Some people would be surprised to find that gentleman and the boy in a home like this, in a North Shore suburb. May I ask who they are?”
“His name is Jimmie,” he said, pointing to the rear door. “He was homeless. I met him at my neighbor’s, where he was doing some work. I needed someone to do the physical work I cannot do anymore, and he agreed to come over. He was living in a homeless shelter, and probably had some trouble with the law in his past. Ironically, he cannot read, but he is an excellent work-er—and a very, very good human being. The boy is his nephew.”
He paused to drink his coffee, then for the only time that morning
I saw a look of the utmost solemnity on his face.
“Society does not trust this man.”
We were back in Heise’s comfortable living room, and I asked him to explain how he came to be a bookseller, and then a member of the Midwest Bookhunters.
I was writing a column on Chicago history for Chicago Magazine in the early ’70s, and started to build a personal research library for use in my writing for the Chicago Today and the Tribune. I would go to garage sales, house sales and such, and often found extra copies of a book I already had. If they were in better condition or signed, I bought them.
“I went to a book auction of Chicago material at Hanzel Galleries in ’74. It was the collection of Lawrence E. Dicke (sic) of Evanston. I spent $1,000 in 1974 dollars.
“There were two major events that encouraged one to sell books back then. One was that the Federal government gave money to libraries to buy used books, and consequently libraries spent lots more on used books. Another was that foreign countries began to buy lots of books—especially Japan. Ordinary dealers did not realize this, but I did because I knew people who were buying.
“I started putting out mimeo-graphed catalogs. The first had 30-40 books, and sold 80%. These were different times. I had a specialty nobody else had. All I made I put back into buying a collection of 9,067 Chicago books, many of which I ultimately sold to the Chicago Public Library in ’89. I think some of the books are still in boxes out there.
“I opened my store on 831 Main Street in ’84. The collection at home had gotten so big I hired a teenager to dust the books for me. So I opened a store around the block from our house. I was fortunate in enjoying the fraternity of other bookdealers who gave me advice and support. They are some the nicest people I ever met in my life. Their inte-grity was unquestioned. They were open-minded and very, very supportive of me as well as each other. On occasion they could be curmudgeons, but I like curmudgeons better than other people sometimes.
“I joined the Midwest Bookhunters in the mid-’80s and began doing their book fairs. I enjoyed the sociability of these fairs. The only problem was I was accumulating too many books. But selling them was never a problem. My pricing philosophy is that if you have no idea of the value of a book, I’d research its significance and then ask what was the least amount I’d sell it at, then what would be the highest I dared go on it, and then I’d ask myself which price sounded better. Then I’d study the mar-ket, and I’d ask back and forth till I got a better feel for the book. With this system, I sold more Lakeside Classics over the years than anyone I know.”
“You know,” I interrupted, “I sold the first Lakeside Classic—Ben Frank-lin’s autobiography—for $75 a couple of years back, and it was an ex-lib copy.”
Heise frowned. “You could have gotten several times that much for it now!”
“Well, I won’t argue that, but what really drove you to sell books? It was not the money, I gather.”
“More than anything, I was driven by a belief about Chicago.
That’s why I wanted to buy, read, and sell Chicago books. Chicago has a special creativity: its culture comes from the people, and not the elite. My son married and moved to Minnesota, and I’m 68, so I’m closing the store. I want to divest myself of the books—I can’t take them into a coffin. I want to get them to people so they can enjoy them, rather than hold them in my basement.
“Except, of course, those behind bars. As I was saying, every bookdealer should work to get books into prisons…”
In a little while we were off to his bookshop for the final closing sale. Heise was jovial and ebullient, and not for a moment did he allow me to feel as if a chapter was closing in Chicago book lore. Chicago Historical Book-works was closing as a store; but the man was still there, and his book-filled house, the dream and the vision that had inspired him—and will continue to inspire many of us.
Terry A. Tanner 1948-2003
By Tom Joyce
Terence A. Tanner died a double-handful of days before his 55th birthday, which would have been December 21st, 2003. His death leaves a sizable hole in the Chicago-area rare book trade, just as his life made a substantial mark on the rare book trade far beyond Chicago.
Terry was born in south Chicago, but his formative years were in the south suburbs. I got to know him mostly through the Boy Scouts, where he became Senior Patrol Leader, and the troop’s third Eagle Scout.
After an unremarkable high school career, he graduated from the hard school of Knox College (a school with a surprising number of bookselling alums for so small a college) with a degree in mathematics. While in Galesburg, Terry had dis-covered Mr. Clare Van Norman’s Book Company, and learned some serious book-lore from his septuagenarian friend. Back in Chicago, Terry and I discovered Van Allen Bradley’s new Michigan Avenue rare books office (upstairs from The Mil-lionaire’s Club),and before the next year arrived, Terry had been hired as Brad-ley’s office manager. Bradley had already authored Gold In Your Attic and More Gold In Your Attic (based on his Chicago Daily News column, “Gold in Your Attic”), and both of us helped him to do the finishing touches on his original edition of The Book Collector’s Handbook of Values (1972) [n.b. Bradley’s editor at Putnam’s was William Targ, whose own adven-tures as a used bookseller in Chicago were related in his Indecent Pleasures.
Years later, after intermittent bouts of self-enjoyment as a bookscout, and after a stint working for Kenneth Nebenzahl, Inc., at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue at the Chicago River, Terry was hired to fill the staff vacancy for the internationally renowned booksellers of Hamill & Barker, then located on the 19th floor of the Carbide and Carbon Building, about a block south and a handful of floors below Nebenzahl’s. Not long afterward, H&B relocated to the Wrigley Building.
Terry became indispensable to his employers. To their already legendary establishment, he brought new and renewed focusses on Americana, early Illinois-ana, and Chicago history and writers, science and mathematics, while he learned from the a great deal about incunabula, early printing, and European literature — especially English. Terry became a real equal in the firm when Margery Barker left him her share of the firm in her will — as well as her vintage Mercedes-Benz coupe, a car we could have never have imagined him owning.
When the octogenarian Miss Hamill receded from the day-to-day business, Terry became the managing partner. After her death, he decide to move the business from the splendid office in the tower of the landmark Wrigley Building to a more cost-effective ground-floor building on the Evanston side of Howard Street, a much shorter commute from his home and family in Skokie.
It was possible to become somewhat jaded in the rarified atmosphere of Hamill & Barker. After handling multiple copies of a book like The Nuremburg Chronicles, in Latin or German, the next one will not give you the same thrill as the first one. Terry branched out from his other interests — such as Mormon history — and developed his fascination with Freud and Freudianism to the point where his bookselling began to “take a back seat.” Indeed it culminated in Terry’s founding, editing, and publishing a new joournal dedicated to the mind sciences. In his usual way, Terry poured all of his focus, passion,and acuity into that project, but its continuation was cut short by the onset of cancer.
Terry never did write his proposed history of bookselling in Chicago. In addition, of course,to numerous bookseller’s catalogues, Terry compiled a learned catalog for a display of Midwest Private Presses for Northern Illinois University’s Library, as well as contributing extensively to catalogues of selections from the Chicago-ana of Lawrence J. Gutter. Terry also compiled an extensive addenda, with corrections and additions, to Cecil K. Byrd’s Bibliography of Illinois Imprints1814-58; and a bibliography of Frank Waters.
Between the years that Terry was thirty and forty, and after he had worked with Van Norman, Bradley, Nebenzahl, and Hamill and Barker, I always asserted that he was the most knowledgeable antiquarian bookseller under the age of forty in the United States. Over the age of forty, there may have been others who eventually approached breadth, length and depth of his understanding of the business and its minutiae, but I do not know any-body who surpassed him. Now he can compare notes with Dibdin, Charles Evans, Wright Howes, and, once again, with Van Allen Bradley. With his passing, so too passes the seventy-five year-old firm of Hamill and Barker. Chicago will take little note of it, but we, Terry’s many friends and colleagues, will not fail to remember him. (N.B.. Frances Hamill was the first woman who served as the President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. The firm was also a member of the British Antiquarian Booksellers Association.
Visual Media About Books
Those on the hunt for bibliographical videotapes, films, and DVDs might find the following useful: The ‘Doc’ Robert Leslie Collection of Videotapes and Films on Graphic Arts Subjects Owned by Rare Book School.
In 56 pages, it describes and reviews about 135 presentations, including (for example) on libraries:
Library of Con-gress: Memory and Imagination: New Pathways to the Library of Congress. 1990. 58 minutes.: Produced by Krainin Productions, Inc, New York, with funding from the Library of Congress (project director: Craig d’Ooge). Written and directed by Michael R. Lawrence.
A promo piece for LC, redeemed by appearances by Stewart Brand, Julia Child, Henry Steele Commager, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Feinstein, John Hope Franklin, Al Gore, Vartan Gregori-an, Steven Jobs, Ted Koppel, Penn & Teller, Pete Seeger, Isaac Stern, Gore Vidal, Sam Waterston, etc.
The vastness of LC’s holdings are emphasized, and hope is given for increased accessibility through the wonders of electronics. The substitutional format fallacy is rampant here, but the message is inspirational nonetheless: James Billington has the final word: “If we can produce practical wisdom for our democracy, and the creativity which celebrates it and ex-tends its horizons of possibility and creativity, we will indeed have created something richer than the democracy of the Greeks.”
See the Rare Book School Web site to order a copy of the RBS’s catalog of videotapes and DVDs at:
–Terry Belanger : University Professor : University of Virginia : Rare Book School
Centre for the History of the Book
Issue Number 3 of the CHB NEWS is now available on-line at the Centre’s web
site, at: http://www.arts.ed.ac.uk/chb
The latest issue includes:
- A tribute to the late Ian Mowat by Richard Ovenden
- Robert Hillenbrand on the digitization of a Persian classic
- Bill Bell on the reading habits of Australian convicts
- Jonquil Bevan on John Locke’s library
- Gen Rogers on the everyday life of a Victorian printing shop
- David and Diedre Stam on polar explorers and their libraries
- Donald Meek on the Gaelic print culture of North America
Another Book Fair Bites the Dust
Another tradition faded away with the cancellation of the annual Great Illinois Book Fair, which has been held annually for the past ten years or so in Blooming-ton-Normal, Illinois. This book fair was started in conjunction with Illinois State University in Normal. The next year, the President of Illinois Wesleyan University, in adjacent Bloomington, asked that it be held on his campus. The third year, back at ISU, was a disaster when nearly thirty exhibitors showed up, but only about 200 attendees darkened the doorstep. The good vibes from the second year enabled it to struggle to have a fourth appearance, and the vigor with which IWU promoted the fair, and the new venue in their brand-new athletic center, revivified the fair when over 400 people turned out. Thus, the Great Illinois Book Fair became the pet project of IWU President Minor Myers Jr., and attendance at the succeeding fairs became predictably steady at about 500 persons.
President Myers had expressed the hope that this fair could become the biggest of its kind in the country. It fed his own private collection of some 10,000 volumes of mostly pre-1850 imprints of arcana, political philosophy, literature, classics, gardening, gastronomy, and sheet music. He was stricken with lung cancer last spring, and died in July. No longer in a position to uphold the book fair, the new administration cancelled the event. This leaves downstate Illinois with only the one-day Peoria Book Fair as a venue for old and rare books.
by Thomas J. Joyce
Received from the Excelsior Library, Excelsior Minnesota:
Dear Mr. Rost,
What a wonderful surprise to receive your generous grant of $400.00. It will be turned over to the “Freinds of the Excelsior Library” and used to purchase books. It is a very generous gift and we will use it wisely. Thank you so much.
Jane Stein, Adult Services Librarian
Received from the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago:
Dear Mr. Rost,
Thank you for the generous gift of $100.00 to the American Lung Assocation of Metropolitan Chicago in memory of Juanita Schearer.
The ALAMC has been fighting lung disease through education, community service, advocacy, and research for over 90 years. Our mission is to promote the importance of lung health and to reduce the pain and suffering caused by ling disease, the third leading cause of death and disability in the United States. The ALAMC funds a wide variety of research in many areas of lung disease, including asthma, emphyysema, lung cancer, tuberculosis, influenza, and breathing problems caused by indoor and outdoor air polution.
Your gift will support our effort to remain in the forefront of lung disease research and to continue our mission.
From the American Liver Foundation, Illinois Chapter, June 2, 2003:
Thank you for your recent generous donation of $100 in memory of David Harmon. On behalf of the American Liver Foundation, Illinois Chapter, please accept our gratitude for this donation. We have notified his wife, Patricia Harmon, of your generosity.
While much has been discovered about the causes of liver diseases, and while there are many new drugs and treatments available, there are still many people struggling to cope with these diseases. Your memorial gift will go to further research the causes of and potential cures for liver diseases.
The American Liver Foundation is grateful for your support, and looks to provide hope for the future for those who are still afflicted.
Jacqueline A. Dominguez, Chapter Director
On behalf of all the people your generosity will reach, I thank you again.
Joel J. Africk, Chief Executive Officer.