In 1922, The Douglas Book Shop published Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms by Guido Bruno. Despite its title, the book’s focus is the New York bookselling scene that, at times, is not unlike the New York book scene of today.
The following are excerpts from this book, a witty and sometimes snarky review of bookshops and booksellers, that paint a romantic portrait of biblioculture in early 1920’s NYC.
In New York Book Shops
The location of book streets changes with the growth of a city. Seventy-five years ago the book centre of New York was far downtown on Ann Street; after the Astor Library had opened is doors, Fourth Avenue became the city center and soon was lined with picturesque bookshops. The city grew and twenty-third Street became the Dorado of the book-hunter. Then people began to make immense fortunes and build palaces and mansions on Fifth Avenue, Central Park was opened to the public…and Fifty-ninth Street became the book street of New York. Ever further the city expanded. Harlem grew in population and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street is another shopping center for lovers of books and objects of art. (page 39)
The Sunwise Turn Bookshop
There they are simply quiet and awfully Batik. Another art shop for art’s sake where the returns more than justify us in being artistic. “See this Batik dress, isn’t it expressive, why don’t people dress like that all the time?” Nobody but a Bahaist or a Rosicrucionist or a Greenacre disciple would be seen dead in it. Then there are books, lots of nice books by nice people and bought by nice people. …The room is decorated in the scheme of a musical chord. A rope would be more appropriate for those who are responsible for its decoration. (page 118)
Washington Square Book Shop
Just a while before the time when certain people got the ambition to own teas shop in Greenwich Village, the very same people thought it the aim of their lives to be the proprietors of book shops in the vicinity of Washington Square. Still more ambitious were they. They wanted to print their own books. The Boni Brothers (now Boni and Liveright) started their Glebe Magazine there, and published pretty little books by all sorts of authors; Kreymborg here printed his booklets; and many others, whose fame was too short lived to be recorded, half a dozen of them. One sold out to the other and finally Egmont Arens purchased whatever there was left from pretty Renee LaCoste. His became the bookshop of the neighborhood. (page 52)
Scattered about the throbbing city are a few quiet nooks and corners that seem especially made for the lover of antiques. They are not numerous, but full of a certain charm. Book stores, with big boxes in front of the doors, where you can choose for your pennies tomes in old-fashioned binding and printing. Inside are shelves laden with books in delightful disorder left by the book-hunter who looked through them before you. The narrow passageway becomes narrower on each visit you pay to the shop because of newly-arrived books and pamphlets. (page 81)
The Man Who Knows His Books
Bruno quotes Mr. Corbett, the proprietor of a shop on Thirty-Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue:
“You know,” he told me once, “the bookseller has a very important mission in life. The writer writes his books, but he doesn’t know into whose hands they will fall, the publisher sells them as merchandise to dealers all over the country, but we little shop-keepers come in contact with real readers. It’s up to us to place something in their hands that might make criminals out of them. A few pennies that we might gain might mean the perdition of lives and souls.” (page 67)
Bruno profiles Frank Bender, who at one time was considered one of the leading second-hand book dealers of Fourth Avenue, who says:
…I signed a lease for a little one-story building that stood where the new post-office on Fourth Avenue and Thirteenth Street is at present. I sold enough architectural books to pay my first month’s rent and to buy lumber to fix up my shop. I literally built up my own business. I laid the floors, built the shelves the tables. My shelves remained empty because I had no money to buy books. One day a friendly print dealer came along who must have taken an interest in and pity on me. “Why don’t you hang some prints around your ship to fill out the wall spaces?” he asked. “It will make it look better. I have a bunch of prints I will sell you for forty dollars and I’ll give you six months in which to pay it.” …I accepted his offer, and those prints netted me over five hundred dollars in a surprisingly short time. (page 45)
The Den of a Pessimist
Bruno also speaks to E.A. Custer, who has a shop on Fifty-ninth Street near Park:
There was a time when people really loved books and bought them in order to read. The successful man of today has an automobile, has to go out joy-riding after business hours, has to spend his time in cabarets and roadhouses. He needs books only as decorations when he buys a home or furnishes an apartment. And then he leaves it usually to his decorator to choose the most attractive and expensive bindings in keeping with the color scheme of his library. …I tell you New Yorkers don’t know books, don’t ant to know them. The men read newspapers, the women magazines, and the young people trashy novels. (page 42)
‘Way Down in Greenwich Village
The fad of false Bohemia in Greenwich Village has passed. The purple and orange brand of tearooms and of so-called gift shops where art lovers and artistic people from the Bronx and Flatbush assembled, have gone out of existence. The designers and manufacturers of astounding atrocities who called themselves “modern artists” have disappeared. True there are a few short-haired women left, who parade the streets in their unusual clothes, but they, too, will soon move to other parts of the city with the return of the soldiers, and will reassume their real calling in life.” (page120)
All excerpts from:
Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms By Guido Bruno (Detroit: The Douglas Book Shop, 1922)
This and other books by Guido Bruno available online here.
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Adventures in American bookshops, antique stores and auction rooms / (Detroit : The Douglas Book Shop, 1922) (page images at HathiTrust)
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Bruno’s weekly / ([New York, N.Y.] : Guido Bruno, c1915-) (page images at HathiTrust)
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: FRAGMENTS FROM GREENWICH VILLAGE. (NEW YORK : GUIDO BRUNO, 1921) (page images at HathiTrust)
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Greenwich village. (New York : Guido Bruno, ) (page images at HathiTrust)
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Sentimental studies : stories of life and love / (New York : [s.n.], 1920) (page images at HathiTrust)
Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Songs of the cosmos : 17 rythms / (New York : [s.n., c1915]), also by Charles Augustus Keeler (page images at HathiTrust)
About Guido Bruno, from Wikipedia:
Guido Bruno (1884–1942) was a well-known Greenwich Village character, and small press publisher and editor, sometimes called ‘the Barnum of Bohemia’.
He was based at his “Garret on Washington Square” where for an admission fee tourists could observe “genuine Bohemian” artists at work. He produced a series oflittle magazine publications from there, including Bruno’s Weekly, Bruno’s Monthly, Bruno’s Bohemia, Greenwich Village, and the 15 cent Bruno Chap Books. 
From July 1915 to December 1916, Bruno’s Weekly published poems, short stories, essays, illustrations and plays, as well as special sections, such as “Children’s House,” and “In Our Village.” The publisher was Charles Edison.  Bruno’s Weekly published Alfred Kreymborg, Djuna Barnes and Sadakichi Hartmann, Alfred Douglas, articles on Oscar Wilde, and Richard Aldington on the Imagists. Others were Theodore Albert Schroeder, Edna W. Underwood, and Charles Kains-Jackson.