Book Review: MORE — Adventures of an Antiquarian Bookman

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May 22, 2012 by Ephemera Society

MORE — Adventures of an Antiquarian Bookman
By Harold Nestler
208 Pages, $20, $2 postage/handling
Harold Nestler
13 Pennington Ave, Waldwick, NJ 07463
201.444.7413

How do you top a best seller? Write a sequel. That’s what Ephemera Society of America member Harold Nestler has done with MORE . . . a follow-up to his 2001 self-published limited edition Where Did You Find That — Adventures of an Antiquarian Bookman.

Where Did You Find That was a best seller only when compared to Nestler’s previous titles, but fame and fortune weren’t the goals of his 2001 effort, nor of MORE.

Nestler figures he earned about 25 cents and hour with the first book in this short series, but the real reason he’s worked so hard recording his remembrances of 50 years in the business is to keep the “Golden Age of the wonderful antiquarian book business” from being “overwhelmed by the onslaught of the impersonal computer and the Internet.”

He laments the decline in interaction among dealers, collectors, and librarians and opportunities to tell good stories and share knowledge face to face. It’s those good stories and recollections that Nestler has preserved on paper in this often stream-of-consciousness narrative.

The book is divided into chapters covering most aspects of a dealer’s business life from traveling to issuing catalogs, to wrapping and shipping books. For instance, there’s the tale of a two-pound shower head forged in the shaped of the Liberty Bell that eventually made it into one of Nestler’s book catalogs and sold. Honest! He also has added chapters that contain dozens of stories and recollections on books and ephemera on Early American Life and Industry, the Revolutionary War, Indians, and other topics.

Nestler recalls a quite involved tale about the path followed by the rare Cherokee Spelling Book of 1819. When the book came to market in 1974, Nestler and Connecticut dealer and collector Rockwell Gardiner were the winning bidders. While sorting through the collection, Nestler put a price of $125 on the book. Gardiner, who was awarded the Society’s Maurice Rickards Award posthumously in 1988, said he felt it was worth at least $235, even during the depths of a recession. The pair sold it to a Tennessee dealer who later sold it to a customer for $1,200. When Sotheby’s auctioned the owner’s library in 1999, the book sold of $50,000.

Wrote Nestler, “Rocky Gardiner and I made money on it at $235. The dealer in Tennessee made a lot of money on it — $1,200 or more, and the beneficiaries of the auction sale did very well indeed.”

At two and a half pages, the tale of the Cherokee spelling book may be the longest passage related to a single topic in the entire book. Nestler jumps from story to story almost paragraph by paragraph. At one point, he details a 19th-century broadside promoting chiropractors then jumps immediately to a paragraph about a 1940 article on the history of the enema published in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. You may never know what’s coming next, but keep reading and you’re guaranteed to find something Nestler has pulled from his deep pool of experience that will strike a sympathetic chord.

As he writes in the book’s introduction: “In this mind-numbing world of impersonal technology, let us keep alive the marvelous essence of the Antiquarian book world that has brought joy to countless people.


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