Rare Booksellers' First Catalogues - A Cover Story, Part 1 (United States and the World)
For mere mortals they are astoundingly boring, but for the hard-boiled bibliomaniac they are fascinating reading. - "Für Normalsterbliche von bleierner Langweiligkeit, sind sie für hartgesottene Bibliomanen eine faszinierende Lektüre."
“I issued my first catalogue as a rare book dealer in 1982, while still lecturing in English at the University of Warwick, from which I resigned a couple of years later in order to deal full-time. By contemporary standards it was pretty fancy: photos of the best items, glossy paper, decent typesetting. I was a bit taken aback when my printer described it as "cheap and cheerful". Or maybe it was me he was referring to?”
"A catalogue is like an alibi to me, it makes separating from those books that I particularly love less painful, when I am forced to sell some so that I can buy some other ones. Having studied them and having published their description on one of my catalogues, allows that particular book, with that particular binding, with those notes of ownership, that water staining and those worms holes, to be still a little bit mine, anyhow, in spite of whom will own it in the future.”
Booksellers’ firsts are as rare as some rare books. Often printed and produced with much love and energy, yet on cheap paper and for a still small company of customers, they are “used” – and thrown away. Who started when? What did he or she offer? And for what price? Only the first catalogues can answer such questions. How did he or she present the material? With illustrations, elaborate descriptions, old-fashioned, modern, sophisticated or funny? A fine selection of 100 titles, or the abundance of 4000 items in one volume? In form of a “real” print catalogue or as a photocopied list? The catalogues, and especially their covers, reflect the taste and customs of the decades in which they were printed.
Some months ago Tom Congalton of Between the Covers Rare Books started to publish pictures of rare booksellers’ first catalogues on Facebook. The most outstanding examples are presented here. Thank you very much for giving us permission.