June 20th, 2005 with Marguerite Goldschmidt
Marguerite Goldschmidt, a very young 92. Photo courtesy of the Grolier Club
By Bruce McKinney
Notes on a conversation with Marguerite Goldschmidt, widow of Lucien Goldschmidt, long time New York book dealer.
I met Marguerite at the Grolier Club in New York. I was there for a week doing research on long forgotten auctions while she, a Grolier member, was cataloguing material for the club. We were separated by only a few feet but a wall of books lay in between and for most of the week only the occasional street sound penetrated the third floor library. The place is quiet.
Fernando Pena, the Grolier librarian, chanced to introduce us after a few days and I learned she is the widow and partner of Lucien Goldschmidt who for fifty years was a bookseller first in Europe and then in the United States. I asked if, when I returned to New York, it would be possible to interview her and in a bright, clear voice she said "Why, of course." Mrs. Goldschmidt is 92, a very young 92.
Today I'm back and, with my wife Jenny, visiting Marguerite in the New York apartment on the upper west side that she and her husband purchased more than forty years ago.
Marguerite is quick to say she was active with her husband Lucien in their business but she always referred to him. She describes him as a remarkable man among remarkable men in the Goldschmidt line. He was knowledgeable in the European way, very clear and often correct according to Marguerite who explained this with a lovely smile. "In a life and in a marriage someone must be first and someone second. In our business and in my married life Lucien was first." He was one of three sons. Raymond Goldsmith, the economist was his brother. Another brother, Felix Ben-Yosef, lived on a kibbutz in Israel and was friends with Ted Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem and an avid book collector. Their father, Alfred, was a lawyer. She describes her husband as the kindest, most human of the brothers.
Marguerite was born in England to Swiss parents and has lived a complicated life, been educated in England and Switzerland, speaks English, French and German and reads Latin. Her father, Paul Studer, at 47 died of tuberculosis in 1927, was naturalized British in 1915 and from 1914 until his death, was the professor of Romance languages at Oxford University. He spoke nine languages, taught and translated Anglo-Norman documents. During the First World War, he served in the Intelligence Department of the Admiralty, in London. Beginning in 1932 Marguerite studied librarianship at the University of Geneva, apprenticed at Bristol University and Geneva University libraries and then worked as "praktikant" or intern at the University of Tubingen Library. After she received her diploma in Geneva she was appointed assistant cataloguer at the University of Bristol library. Later she was "associate" of the British Library. In 1944 she became librarian of the Bush House Library at the BBC in London and while there met Lucien on a double date for lunch at Lloyd's Corner. She remembers that he added money to the tip, a generous act that conveyed a sense of European manners and courtliness that even 59 years later still brings a smile. "He was a gentleman and I knew it then."
June 20th, 2005 with Marguerite Goldschmidt
Lucien Camille Goldschmidt: 1912 - 1992
"He inquired about a French newspaper and I sent it to him, discreetly including my address on a tiny clipping," the essential piece of ephemera that would forever link their lives for he wrote to thank her and initiated a conversation of letters. Later, the relationship growing serious, a friend suggested Lucien might not be entirely reliable and Marguerite sent his handwriting to be analyzed by a graphologist who confirmed what her heart already knew, he was a kind and utterly reliable man. They married in 1946.
He was already established in New York, having left Germany in the early 1930s after two years experience with Max Perl to work five years in Paris at Librairie Incidences. In 1937, with war approaching, he traveled by ship via Cairo and the Suez Canal across the Far East to Hong Kong, Yokohama and eventually San Francisco. Arriving in America with his intelligence, seven books entrusted to him by Pierre Beres, a white suit, a fine hat and five dollars he made his way to New York to become a book dealer. He took a small place on 53rd Street, and nine years later Marguerite joined him there, he to sell books in post world war New York and she to assist in the endeavor. Later they moved to the second floor of the Partridge Building - into a beautiful paneled space and then uptown to around 79th St. as prosperity took hold. The firm, initially called Pierre Beres, later became Lucien Goldschmidt, Inc. Marguerite's part in the business became cataloguing, bookkeeping and a bit of everything, he the selection of material, cataloguing, creating their always changing window displays and making sales. In time they found success and raised a family. Their two children, now in their early 50s and married, live in the metropolitan area today.
We spoke about the book business as it was. It was a business of books and images where the emphasis was on knowledge and the buyers were those who appreciated the material for its condition, history and importance. The Goldschmidt view of pricing was to set it fairly. The goal was relationships more than sales. With relationships came the prospect of future sales. Mrs. Goldschmidt remembers her husband with admiration as a man who understood both his books and his clients very well.
From the outset catalogues were issued. There were many but one stands out for Marguerite, "The Good Citizen, a collection of books written to further or to undertake the improvement of mankind" issued in 1981. This is a catalogue of books that have been read and understood by the seller and are presented as a complex amalgam of periods, languages and subjects that together deliver the promise of the title. In the world of bookselling today, where descriptions are routinely cribbed from the internet, a compilation of diverse material drawn together in support of a concept that none of the titles individually envision, is the highest expression of what the bookseller can be: interpreter and guide to those who collect. In their career they produced 63 catalogues.
June 20th, 2005 with Marguerite Goldschmidt
In Marguerite's view: their best catalogue, a lasting achievement
When I asked about material they sold that was memorable she spoke of a set of Matisse's book and portfolio Jazz prints that they acquired in Europe and sold in the 1950s for $400. Today that material commands a very high price.
In 2001 Nicholas Basbanes wrote a lovely book, "Patience & Fortitude" that includes a description of the well educated European dealers who immigrated to the United States in the 1940s and brought intellectual vigor to the art and book fields. In it he discusses Mr. Goldschmidt's career. He quotes a talk Mr. Goldschmidt gave at Columbia University in 1969 lamenting "the loss of the scholarly bookseller," an appropriate description of himself. At the time he said, "The most important change of his fifty years in business, is the striking devaluation of literature and reading." The lament of course rings ever more loudly today although the analysis is not the same. Certainly the material prized a generation ago is today less read although certainly not lower priced. Two generations of scholarly dealers are gone but the books they prized, catalogued and sold remain. In time, what made them appealing to these dealers during their careers will be rediscovered. Until then what was valued as "worth reading" is now more often appreciated for its financial value. They closed their shop in 1987 and sold some books to Peter Kraus. The reference library was sold by Swann Galleries in 1994.
Looking back Marguerite remembers the first days of the incendiary bombings at Bristol. She remembers the terror, the damage to her parents' home and her resolve to survive and do well. Now, in considering her life in the retrospect of nine decades, she looks me in the eyes and smiles, "I've done it and would change nothing."
These days Mrs. Goldschmidt keeps her apartment clean, her days filled and her memories alive with thoughts of her children in the present and life with her husband in the past. She speaks of her husband as if he is nearby and in every sense he is. Their experiences together live in the artwork on the walls, the old furniture they acquired, the friends they made, catalogues they issued and the rare material they found and shepherded to collectors and institutions over a lifetime.