Guest Blog: Remembering Jean Marie Parmer & Henry Polissack

Guest Blog by Lillian Cole, Twelfth St. Booksellers

In less than a year, I’ve lost two of my favorite bookseller colleagues. Jean Marie Parmer of Parmer Books, San Diego, California, passed away November 27, 2009 at age 72, much too young at heart to leave us so soon.

She was a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), the San Diego Booksellers Association, and founding member of TomFolio, an international co-op of independent dealers. She was often seen at antiquarian book fairs, buying and selling, frequently triumphant with a mountain of rare first editions in hand, she wrote articles for various bibliophilic websites, and participated as panel member of the Antiquarian Book Seminar in Denver.

Jean started her own rare book business, Parmer Books, which husband Jerry and later, Robin Nosan, joined full time within a few years. Her interest in polar books was ignited by a visit to the Old Globe Theatre where she saw Ted Tally’s play, Terra Nova, the tragic story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Parmer Books specialized in polar, travel and exploration, nautical, and Americana.

Early on, Jean and Jerry embraced the rapidly developing technology, the computer and the Internet and created Book Stacks, an inventory software for the Macintosh. Because my mind was stubbornly closed to the encroaching powers of the Internet, they offered to help me find books and are responsible for opening me up to the great possibilities of finding the huge variety of gem and jewelry books that I have since accumulated for my own business. This selfless act of friendship is just a hint of the deeply generous spirit that I was so privileged to know.

Jean’s warm and gracious spirit nurtured her garden, her family, and her friends with her very big, loving heart. She was a bookseller’s bookseller, fair, knowledgeable, honest, and brought that same gift to her creation, Parmer Books.

Henry Polissack, antiquarian bookseller and antique jewelry seller and specialist, in Northampton, Massachusetts, died May 5, 2010, just short of his 71st birthday, too young, too soon.

He was a member of the Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers and the British Society of Jewellery Historians. His passion for collecting beautiful things started with his early collection of antique pens, and within ten years, built one of the largest collections in the United States, which when completed was sold, en bloc. While searching for these beautiful pens, he became fascinated with antique jewelry, which he ultimately turned into a business where he was well known and loved as evidenced by the moving tribute by Diane Singer in the Newsletter of the American Society of Jewelry Historians. His passion for the jewels led him to build a library on the subject and his book business was a natural result of his soon overflowing collection of books on jewelry, gems and related topics. Henry pursued books with a passion, and found me listed in a book trade directory as a specialist in books on gems and jewelry, and was usually the first caller when my yearly catalog was mailed out.

He formed the La Prima Jewelry-Book Collectors’ Club specializing in books about jewelry, gems, history of jewelry, engraved gems, crown jewels, noted jewelers and goldsmiths, travel and adventures related to them, and created twelve catalogs between 1999-2007. During our many long telephone conversations about our books of our special interest, he confided his decision to build the finest, most comprehensive collection of books in the field in the United States and vigorously pursued them nationally and internationally, building a collection of over four thousand volumes. He loved building collections, and when satisfied that he had the best, the scarcest, the rarest, the most significant and important books in the field, he offered them at auction with Swann. They advised him that because of its size, there should be two auctions, and so there were, the first on March 20, 2003, and the second scheduled for May 27, 2004. The first took place the day after the United States bombed Iraq; nevertheless, though sparsely attended, there was much phone bidding activity and the auction was successful. The two catalogues of Books on Gems and Jewelry, The Henry Polissack Library are a great source of reference and are in my own reference library, together with all twelve catalogues issued between 1999-2007.

Another remembrance of Henry written by Mary Murphy Hammid in the Journal of the Geo-Literary Society tells of her visit with him at his home in Northampton, where she saw the enormous volume of books in his private collection as well as the inventory for his book business, evidence of the overflow of his obsession, his “splendid addiction,” his “gentle madness.” Henry was honest, knowledgeable, a lovely man, a wonderful friend and colleague who I admired and respected with deep affection.

--Thanks to Lillian Cole for this homage to two great bibliophiles. 

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