Description : An unlikely bookseller in New York City became the leading dealer in rare Western Americana for most of the twentieth century. After working in western-U.S. and South American gold mines at the turn of the twentieth century, Edward Eberstadt (1883–1958) returned to his home in New York City in 1907. Through luck and happenstance, he purchased an old book for fifty cents that turned out to be a rare sixteenth-century Mexican imprint. From this bit of serendipity, Eberstadt quickly became one of the leading western Americana rare book dealers. In this book Michael Vinson tells the story of how Edward Eberstadt & Sons developed its legendary book collection, which formed the backbone of many of today’s top western Americana archives. Although the firm’s business records have not survived, Edward and his sons, Charles and Lindley, were all prodigious letter writers, and nearly every collector kept his or her correspondence. Drawing upon these letters and on his own extensive experience in the rare book trade, Vinson gives the reader a vivid sense of how the commerce in rare books and manuscripts unfolded during the era of the Eberstadts, particularly in the relationships between dealers and customers. He explores the backstory that scholars of art history and museology have pursued in recent decades: the assembling of cultural treasures, their organization for use, and the establishment of institutions to support that use. His work describes the important role this key bookselling firm played in the western Americana trade from the early 1900s to Eberstadt & Sons’ dissolution in 1975. From Yale University and the American Antiquarian Society to the Newberry Library and the Huntington Library, the firm of Edward Eberstadt & Sons has left its mark in western Americana repositories across the nation. Told here for the first time, the Eberstadt story reveals how one family’s business and legacy have shaped the study of the American West.
Description : In 1989 a woman fishing in Texas on a quiet stretch of the Colorado River snagged a body. Her “catch” was the corpse of Johnny Jenkins, shot in the head. His death was as dramatic as the rare book dealer’s life, which read, as the Austin American-Statesman declared, “like a bestseller.” In 1975 Jenkins had staged the largest rare book coup of the twentieth century—the purchase, for more than two million dollars, of the legendary Eberstadt inventory of rare Americana, a feat noted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His undercover work for the FBI, recovering rare books stolen by mafia figures, had also earned him headlines coast to coast, as had his exploits as “Austin Squatty,” playing high stakes poker in Las Vegas. But beneath such public triumphs lay darker secrets. At the time of his death, Jenkins was about to be indicted by the ATF for the arson of his rare books, warehouse, and offices. Another investigation implicated Jenkins in forgeries of historical documents, including the Texas Declaration of Independence. Rumors of million-dollar gambling debts at mob-connected casinos circulated, along with the rumblings of irate mafia figures he’d fingered and eccentric Texas collectors he’d cheated. Had he been murdered? Or was his death a suicide, staged to look like a murder? How Jenkins, a onetime president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, came to such an unseemly end is one of the mysteries Michael Vinson pursues in this spirited account of a tragic American life. Entrepreneur, con man, connoisseur, forger, and self-made hero, Jenkins was a Texan who knew how to bluff but not when to fold.