A new kind of bookshop in 1930s New York City

Drew elizabeth pic 001Discovered in a copy of The Publisher’s Weekly for March 22nd 1930 is this feature by John D. Stannard on a New York bookshop that aimed, with its decorations and objets d’art, to emulate the comfort and charm of a private library.

Elizabeth Drew, a graduate of Vassar College and her ‘ associate’ , the artist Jessie Leach Rector, opened their (unnamed) shop on 43 East 60th Street in September, 1929, just a few weeks before the Wall Street Crash. Designed to be an antidote to the ‘ graceless ‘stores that most booklovers had become used to, the couple had created a ‘ bookish background’ in which old furniture and rare objects of art competed with books for the attention of customers.

Everything in the shop was for sale, including the ‘ lamps, lampshades, old prints and watercolours, framed and unframed mirrors, screens and tables’ provided by Rector, who specialised in interior decoration, and the ‘primitive Indian pottery and Spanish colonial silver which Drew imported from Peru. Drew emphasised that although her store was sophisticated, had an exclusive list of patrons, and sold old and rare books, including modern first editions and fine bindings, her ideal customer was the ‘middle-class ‘type who travelled into town on the subway.

A key innovation devised by Drew was the monthly review of new books in the fields of fiction, biography, essays, Book-of-the Month, Literary Guild, Crime Club and best sellers, which was sent out to a hand picked 6,000 names, half of whom came from friends of the two booksellers, and which bore the testimonial ‘ Recommended by Elizabeth Drew’. In fact, the reviews came not only from Drew herself, but by these friends, who signed their work. Continue reading

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Cafe Bizarre – Beatnik club

Found- a rare piece of Beatnik ephemera, a card from New York's Cafe Bizarre with the phone numbers and name of Rick Allmen who started the club in 1957. The Cafe Bizarre was one of the better known clubs to capitalise on the beatnik phenomenon, and the venue for many counterculture poets and musicians of the period. Musitron Records even recorded an album of Beat festivities at Cafe Bizarre in the late '50s. (In the post-beatnik-era Andy Warhol discovered The Velvet Underground there.) Another band who played there was the Lovin' Spoonful who described the place as a 'little dump' (1965 -post its Beatnik Glory).They played 3 gigs a night and were paid with tuna fish sandwiches, ice cream and occasionally peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. More can be found at Rock and Roll Roadmaps.

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The Magnetor

The Magnetor, according to this advert placed in the Winter 1958 issue of Tomorrow, the quarterly review of psychical research, is a 'stunning device' and an 'admirable conversation piece' which 'demonstrates dramatically reality of the non-material.' Apart from having an aversion to the definite article, the person who placed this advert from the office of a distinctly dodgy outfit in Woodstock, New York, called ‘the Far-A-Field  Co’, also seems a trifle unforthcoming about the actual powers of the Magnetor.

The phrase ‘conversation piece ‘is usually a warning sign that what you are urged to buy is a load of old tat disguised as something extraordinarily fascinating. In the case of this particular device, the word Caution inscribed on a label tagged to the base of what seems to be some sort of electrical apparatus, is a direct invitation to the adventurous among the Tomorrow readership to do something dangerous.

It’s all appears rather fraudulent, like that bomb detector made from a golf ball retriever and a car aerial that a few years ago some anti-terrorist boneheads here and abroad were glad to paid thousands of pounds for and which earned the wily fraudster a large Georgian house in Bath’s Royal Crescent, luxury foreign holidays and a six year jail sentence. The advert mentions no price, but doubtless this is revealed in the brochure, which the reader is invited to acquire. Possibly intended as a gift for the psychic who has everything.

Nothing can be discovered online about The Far-A-Field Company or its Magnetor, but the small town of Woodstock, New York, has long had a reputation for tolerating the alternative lifestyles of musicians and painters. In 1903 the Byrdcliffe art colony, which produced ceramics, metalwork and weaving, was established here and 13 years later came the summer Maverick Music Festival, which is still going.  The town gave its name to the famous Woodstock Festival of August 1969, which was due to be held here, but actually took place at a dairy farm near Bethel, some sixty miles away. Of more relevance, however, is the fact that in 1976 the Kharma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery was built here. Far Out or Far-a-Field? You decide. [RR]

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Barron’s Textbook Exchange, Brooklyn 1941

Found on the front endpaper of an American book on Abraham Lincoln -- this bookplate label advertising a used bookstore. This store was the first business of the still extant and flourishing Barron's  textbook business and the owner started out mimeographing textbooks in the basement of the shop long into the night after the shop was closed. As Publisher's Weekly noted in 2011: 'In 1941, the after-hours mimeograph business became Barron's Publishing, and its first offering was the aptly named series Barron's Regents Exams and Answers...Seventy years later, the series is still going strong, albeit with some innovations—apps, e-books, and a subscription-based Web site—that could never have been imagined in 1941.'

He was still around and working in 2011 when he celebrated 70 years of business, which dates this label from the early 1940s. Of note is the broad range of business he was engaged in  - used books, stationery, art supplies, records both classical and modern, gym wear and even new books...this kind of enterprise is still needed to survive in the book trade.