August 2, 2013
SLIDESHOW: Turn-of-the-century bookstores
by Claire Kelley
Classic New York bookstores like Gotham Book Mart, Charles Scribner and Sons, Brentano’s, and the Old Corner Book Store in Boston showcase the golden age of bookselling in the past century.
Both Frances Steloff and her bookstore, Gotham Book Mart, were legendary. Among those who frequented the shop were John Dos Passos, H.L. Menken, Eugene O’Neill, and Anais Nin. She purchased shipments of the banned Lady Chatterly’s Lover directly from D.H. Lawrence in Italy and ordered smuggled copies of the Tropic of Cancer from Henry Miller in Paris. After selling Gotham Book Mart to Andreas Brown in 1967, she lived in an apartment on the third floor, and would come down to sit in the bookstore every afternoon. She lived to be 101.
This photograph was taken by LIFE Magazine photographer Lisa Larsen on November 9, 1948 at Frances Steloff’s famous Gotham Book Mart bookstore located at 16 East 46th Street. The occasion was a party to welcome poets Sr. S.W. Osbert Sitwell and his sister, Dame Edith Sitwell to the United States. Pictured are, ront row: William Rose Benet, Charles Ford, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell; Middle row: Stephen Spender, Sir Osbert and Dame Edith Sitwell, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop; Back row: Marya Zaturenska, Horace Gregory, Tennessee Williams, Richard Eberhart, Gore Vidal, Jose Garcia Via, and W. H. Auden.
In 1894 Charles Scribner and Sons bookstore opened in a six-story building at Fifth Ave and 21st Street. The magnificent bookstore on the ground floor was the prototype for the more famous store that would move to 48th Street and Fifth Ave after nineteen years.
This is the interior of Charles Scribner and Sons bookstore in 1913, which was located at 597-599 Fifth Avenue. The Beaux-Arts building was designed by Ernest Flagg, Charles Scribner II’s brother-in-law. Today it is a Sephora.
The exterior of Brentano’s Bookstore, which was founded as an independent bookstore in New York City in 1953. It later became part of Waldenbooks, then Borders.
John Philip Sousa poses in front of a Brentanos window display of his autobiography in 1928.
The Old Corner Bookstore on Washington Street at School Street in Boston was a meeting place for Emerson, Longfellow, Julia Ward Howe, and a circle of many other authors. Rescued from demolition in the 1960s, the building is now recognized as a site on Boston’s Freedom Trail, Literary Trail, and Women’s Heritage Trail. The space is now a Chipotle.
The building where the Old Corner Bookstore was located dated back to 1710, and stood on the site of the home of Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Masachussets Bay in 1637 for religious heresies. The bottom floor of the building became a bookstore in 1828.
This is the Burnham Antique Bookstore in Boston, photographed by Leslie Jones in 1930. In a September 1919 issue of The Publishers’ Weekly mentions the proprietor as a Mr. Richard Lichtenstein, and says the shop’s “sidewalk displays and cellar treasures were so well-known to Boston booklovers and Boston’s visitors.”
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.