coming eventsComing Events

September 8

PBA Galleries

September 9-11

Brooklyn Book Fair

September 24

Bonhams

September 23

Skinner

September 29

Swann

Find More Events in the FB&C Calendar

In the News

Christie's Photographs Evening Sale and Day Sale, New York, October 4 & 5

New York - Christie’s announces two Photographs sales to be offered in October 2016,... read more

Boston Antiquarian Book Fair Celebrates 40th Anniversary, Oct. 28-30

BOSTON, MA - The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair celebrates its 40th Anniversary at... read more

Out-of-this-world Illustration Art Lands at Heritage Auctions

DALLAS — Two iconic images of 20th century science fiction and pop culture —... read more

National Collegiate Book-Collecting Contest Winners Announced

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Library’s Rare... read more

Daniel Crouch Rare Books to Open New York Gallery

Daniel Crouch Rare Books, internationally renowned specialist dealer in maps, atlases and rare books,... read more

AbeBooks Introduces Collections: Curated Lists of Collectibles

(Victoria, BC, Canada - September 26, 2016) AbeBooks.com today launched a new method of... read more

Nate D. Sanders Auctions Offers 50 First Editions This Week

LOS ANGELES, September 26, 2016—A set of over 50 rarely available first edition books... read more

16th Annual Library of Congress National Book Festival a Year of Firsts

Another fun-filled, action-packed Library of Congress National Book Festival is underway at the Walter... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Special Report

The Americanist

Norman Kane has been an antiquarian bookseller for more than fifty years By Nate Pedersen Nate Pedersen is a contributing writer at Fine Books & Collections. His website is natepedersen.com.

Norman Kane pictured with Nate Pedersen from 2008. Credit: David Eilenberger.

At eighty-six years old, Norman Kane is one of the elder statesmen of the rare book trade. A Pennsylvanian for most of his life, Norman’s business, the Americanist, began in the 1950s in the unheated attic of a semi-detached house in Drexel Hill. Several years later he moved to the country, purchasing a historic farmhouse with acreage in Chester County where the Kane family lived and worked for many years. His wife, Michal, was the daughter of the American expatriate poet Walter Lowenfels. Norman and Michal had three children together while jointly operating the bookselling business. Their son, Garry, managed a successful book auction (Kane Antiquarian Auction) on the Chester County property until his untimely death. After Norman’s wife also passed away, Norman relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where his two daughters reside, and where the Americanist continues to operate today in a suburban house just south of town.

The Pennsylvania farmhouse where Kane’s Americanist was based for so many years. He now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Credit: April Tucholke.

I had the great pleasure of working for Norman when I first began in rare books and enjoyed a first class education in bookmanship at his side. We sold a number of interesting books together and enjoyed an equal number of lingering lunches, discussing history, politics, literature, philosophy, and, of course, the rare book trade, while sharing a bottle of wine. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Norman about his half-century in antiquarian bookselling.

NP: How did you get started in rare books?

NK: Having two degrees and no job in the 1950s, I answered an advertisement in the “AB” [the Antiquarian Bookman] and offered my services for $50 a week. Even then, that was too modest to refuse. I went to work for George McManus in the middle 1950s. His shop was in Philadelphia, in the basement and first floor of an old brownstone near Twenty-first and Chestnut Street, right across the street from George Allen’s bookshop. McManus was an Americana business—he put out regular catalogues on this subject with a focus on Pennsylvania books. But since I had studied American literature and he had picked up many odds and ends [in this area], I set a lot of that aside and started putting out catalogues. Over time, I built up that side of the business. In those days you could still pick up a lot of very nice [American literature] books from the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century. So when I sailed off into the great book unknown with a few dozen books and $100 in the bank, dealing in literary and historical American seemed a natural. But, of course, over the years I was tempted into other areas. Inevitably, you’d get a call and you’d go into a house and a man would have one hundred art books. What are you going to say—‘I don’t sell art books?’ [Laughs]. So eventually I just became a general bookseller, but I’m still more interested in some things than in others. Witness the fact that recent purchases have included Polynesian imprints, philology, and fore-edge paintings—perhaps the indulgences of old age.

NP: Do you have a favorite catalogue that you produced over the years?

NK: I put out a list once of the ultra rare mimeograph productions of Buckminster Fuller—things he did when he went to Chicago and dreamed about skyscrapers. Nobody had ever seen the damn things so, of course, the orders pored in, but I just had the single copies. That’s the way you learn about books that you won’t ever see again! [Laughs]

NP: Do you have a favorite book fair?

NK: The Boston book fairs were the most fun. I also did a great many of them up and down the coast. One book fair was sponsored by the Essex Institute. John Updike, who came from the Redding area [of Pennsylvania], was living up there in New England. The Essex Institute people asked him to come by and make the rounds. I had brought, for fun, a six-pack of Old Redding beer to the fair. I happened to be away from the booth when Updike arrived, so Michal handed him the six pack and he got quite a kick out of that. I asked her if she got him to sign any books and she said, “Oh, no, I forgot.” [Laughs] So that was a fun thing.

NP: What personal book collections have you built?

NK: Sherlockiana, Christopher Morley, S. Weir Mitchell, Charles Godfrey Leland, houseboats, baseball, Cornelius Weygandt, and others—some I still have, and some are gone. I would say that the Morley and the Mitchell collections are my favorites, although I’m also rather proud of the Leland collection. Like the other two, he was a Philadelphian. In a sense this was opportunism as the material by and about these people kept turning up in Philadelphia. Local patriotism I guess! [Laughs]

Page 1 | 2 | Next
comments powered by Disqus