Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Quarto Club: “A Few Harmless Bibliomaniacs”

Certainly, cigars and pipes after.
 But first a meal of better fare, then adjourn to the private library.  Oh yes, and drinks, pick your fashion.  But overwhelmingly books, a few brought for show, but the focus on talk—lively talk – nothing perfunctory or mundane, for these bibliophiles are most comfortable in the details, the aura of the book itself bringing whatever one’s pleasure.  It is New York City, ca. 1926, and outside the world is roaring but within it is timeless, the same for the first bookmen long ago and the same now when I gather with my fellow bibliophiles.   Today we admit all races, genders, and creeds, but the fundamentals unite us.
            This is a gathering of the Quarto Club, established in New York City by a small group of  bibliophiles headed by lawyer Mark G. Holstein (1873-1952) who serves as president.  You may recall meeting him recently in my essay “Three Ardent Bibliophiles and the Greatest Book in the World.”   He owned the copy now in my library of The Greatest Book in the World (1925), inscribed to him by the author A. Edward Newton, with a carbon of his cheeky reply to Newton tipped in (Newton had humorously disparaged lawyers.)
            A biographical note on Holstein in The Colophon: A Book Collector’s Quarterly begins, “Mark Holstein is president of the Quarto Club.”  The club’s name is vaguely familiar to me.  I research, and although I discover little secondary information about the club, I find three published volumes of papers (1927-1930) originally read by members at monthly club meetings.  The club’s effort to preserve them in book form saved the Quarto Club from almost certain historical oblivion.
            The volumes are distinguished not only by the varied and interesting essays, but also by the involvement of many prominent printers.  The first volume Quarto Club Papers 1926-1927 (NY: 1927) was nicely printed by Club member Elmer Adler of the Pynson Printers in an edition of one hundred and ninety-five copies “hand set in Caslon and printed on mould made Glaslan paper.” (Adler also established The Colophon.)   The print run may have been an over-reach as we find that the second volume Quarto Club Papers MCMXXVII—MCMXXVIII (NY: 1929) was now limited to ninety-nine numbered copies.  It is copyrighted by the Pynson Printers but printed by Daniel Berkeley Updike of the Merrymount Press in Boston.  The third volume Quarto Club Papers 1928-1929 (NY: 1930), was printed by William Edwin Rudge, another notable printer, with typography by Frederic Warde, and splits the difference with a print run of one hundred and forty copies.  Then the major publications of the Club go silent, coinciding with the onset of the Great Depression.

            The preface to Quarto Club Papers 1926-1927 is illuminating.  It reads: “The Quarto Club was formed on the 17th of February, 1926.  It is composed of a few harmless bibliomaniacs who meet once a month to talk about books and bookish things and to exchange ideas on all manners of subjects literary.  There are no dues, no rules and the officers have no serious duties or enviable prerogatives.  To stimulate discussion and to direct it along some well defined channel, one of the members reads a paper at each meeting on some subject of his own choosing.  During the first year of the Club’s existence, eight papers were read and these are now collected and published in the present volume.  The authors cherish no illusions about the quality of these essays but they have felt that here and there may be found some friendly reader who will peruse them with interest and perhaps discover something which may induce him to spend an agreeable hour in congenial company.  It is however more than likely that those who wrote and those who listened to these papers will continue to remain their most sympathetic admirers.”
            The atmosphere of the meetings and an inspiration for the club is briefly recorded in the opening paragraph of the first printed paper in Quarto Club Papers 1926-1927,  “Philip Quedalla” by Lois C. Levison, “The Quarto Club promises to become a very pleasant enterprise.  It meets in an informal atmosphere of pipes and cigars, within book-lined walls.  Its members are interested, as were the members of the delightful Saints and Sinners Club over which Eugene Field presided, that used to meet at McClurg’s Bookshop, in the things that have to do with the writing and making of books.”

Mark Holstein's Library. A possible meeting place of the Quarto Club.

           The membership was small, befitting intimate gatherings for readings and discourse.  I found no information on how the publications were financed.  The first volume of Papers lists the founders and early members. (A complete list of members through the third volume is listed below.)
Elmer Adler
Mark G. Holstein, President
Lois C. Levison
Ralph E. Samuel
Amos Steinhardt
Maxwell Steinhardt, Secretary
Elected Subsequently
I. Edwin Goldwasser
Ely J. Kahn
Jerome D. Kern
Solomon Lowenstein
Victor S. Riesenfeld
Howard J. Sachs
Alan Steyne
            The papers themselves are a delightful surprise.  Between the three volumes, there are twenty-three contributions by thirteen members.  I don’t smoke a pipe or cigar, but I do enjoy a quality cocktail, and I had several over a few days as I read each volume cover to cover.  These bibliophiles present a variety of topics linking books and authors to subjects ranging from literature and Americana to Arabia to prison to modern design; personal experiences to astute literary criticism; the chase of collecting to the re-discovery of lost figures.  The papers vary somewhat in quality as one would expect from such a compilation, but all are well-written with a number rising to exceptional.  The best-known paper is the first appearance of Newman Levy’s “Alexander T. MacPherson,” a minor classic spoof on book collecting that was reprinted a number of times under the title “Sandy MacPherson, Book Collector.”  This club may have been small, but members were talented and their writings exceeded my expectations. 

            The Quarto Club appeared at first to have disappeared after these first three impressive volumes.  But the club continued through the Great Depression until at least 1936 when a much more modestly produced but no less entertaining publication appeared:  How the Poets Celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Quarto Club (NY: Privately Printed, 1936).  The foreword of this scarce work reads, in part: “The Quarto Club, which is composed of a small group of book-collectors who have been meeting monthly during the past ten years, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.  On that occasion, Mr. Mark Holstein, a member of the Club, read the following skit, which is now printed for the members and their friends.”
            It is a humorous romp, published in a petite 16mo pamphlet, containing supposed contributions by the likes of Shakespeare, Whitman, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning, and Omar Khayyam, each extolling the bibliophilic virtues and vices of the Quarto Club.  Shakespeare’s contribution will give the flavor.  It begins:
“A Book-Collector’s Soliloquy”
To buy or not buy: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis wiser, in these perilous times,
To suffer the anguish of repressed desire,
Or, throw discretion to the winds, and take
A sporting chance.  To buy,---possess,--
To own the prize you have been searching for;
And, by possession, rouse the envious spirit
Of your fellow Quartos: ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished!  To buy;--to buy;--
Perchance get stuck;  Ay, there’s the rub!
For in the world of books, unless you’re wise,
And really know your P’s and Q’s,
You’re apt to have the very hide
Pealed off your mortal coil.”
            This was the last publication of the Quarto Club as far as I can ascertain (see link below).  But as any good collector would, I will seek out related items and more information as long as my mortal coil exists.  The distinction and effort reflected in the Club’s three publications of Papers, along with the overall quality of the contents, separates the Quarto Club from other efforts that left no written record.  So does their relative longevity in maintaining monthly meetings during difficult economic times.  The preface to the third volume of Papers provides a prescient conclusion, “These papers have at least pleased the members who prepared and read them and they now venture to offer them as their visiting-card to posterity.”
List of Quarto Club Papers from the three volumes published 1927-1930.
Elmer Adler.  “A Picture Story.” 1926-7.
Elmer Adler.  “An Adventure in Americana.” 1928-29.
I. Edwin Goldwasser.  “Hamlet: Act II, Scene 3, Line 191.” 1926-27.
I. Edwin Goldwasser.  “The Origin and Nature of the Literature of New England.” 1927-28.
Mark G. Holstein.  “Caveat Emptor.” 1926-27.
Mark G. Holstein.  “The Diversions of a Will Collector. A Dialogue.” 1927-28.
Mark G. Holstein.  “Some Famous Prison Books.”  1928-29.
Ely J. Kahn.  “Contemporary Design.” 1927-28.
Lois C. Levison.  “A Maker of Books.”  1927-28.
Lois C. Levison.  “Philip Guedalla.”  1926-27.
Newman Levy.  “Alexander T. MacPherson.”  1927-28.
Solomon Lowenstein.  “Chartres to Washington. The Virgin and the Dynamo.”  1927-28.
Solomon Lowenstein. “Travels in Arabia Deserta.” 1928-29.
Victor Riesenfeld. “Louis Becke.”  1928-29.
Howard J. Sachs.  “The Harrowing Contingencies of Human Experience. Some Reflections on Hardy.”1927-8.
Ralph E. Samuel.  “The Bawdy Serving Man Disappears.” 1926-27.
Ralph E. Samuel.  “Lifting a Bit of Lamb.”  1927-28.
Ralph E. Samuel.  “The Well Known Name of a Little-Known Man.” 1928-29.
Amos Steinhardt.  “Something About Richard Jefferies.”  1926-7.
Amos Steinhardt.  “Number 30 Erewhon Place.” 1928-29.
Maxwell Steinhardt.  “An Appreciation of Mosher.” 1926-27.
Maxwell Steinhardt.  “A Devon Idyll.” 1928-29.
Alan Steyne.  “Norman Douglas.”  1926-27.
Notes on Publications:
The Quarto Club Papers are not available online.  However, there are a few copies of the various volumes currently available on the used / rare book market. 
How the Poets Celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Quarto Club. 1936.  Reproduced from my copy. Here is the link:  How the Poets Celebrated
The contents, although tongue-in-cheek, give glimpses of details about the Club and the rare book world of the time. The biblio poetry is first rate.  Reference is made for example in Shakespeare’s “A Book-Collector’s Soliloquy” of the effects of the recent Carter-Pollard exposure of forger Thomas J. Wise.   Mark Holstein was the author based on evidence in my copy which has an inscription from Holstein to friends explicitly stating himself as “The Author.”
List of Quarto Club members from Papers Vols. I-3.
Elmer Adler
Mark G. Holstein, President
Lois C. Levison
Ralph E. Samuel
Amos Steinhardt
Maxwell Steinhardt, Secretary
Elected Subsequently
Bennett Cerf
I. Edwin Goldwasser
Ely J. Kahn
Jerome D. Kern
Donald S. Klopfer
Newman Levy
Solomon Lowenstein
Victor S. Riesenfeld
Bruce Rogers
Alfred L. Rose
Howard J. Sachs
Temple Scott
Alan Steyne
John T. Winterich
Notes on Club Members
Although small in number, many members were prominent in New York business and affairs.  Some are well-known bookmen—collectors, printers, publishers.  Many are Jewish which adds a potential research angle as to the social nature / establishment of the Quarto Club.  I’ll add what I find over time.  Input welcome on members’ book collecting activities.

Noted collector Mark Samuels Lasner comments on 6.24.22: "What you don’t say, directly, but it’s clear from the biographical details, is this was entirely a Jewish bibliophile group. My understanding, from someone who seemed to know what they were talking about, is the club was formed in part because Jews were not admitted as members of the WASP only Walpole Society.  If not the Walpole Society, perhaps some other collecting club. Not Grolier, which did not bar Jewish members. The publication program of Walpole and Quarto have some similarities; contributions by members and very nicely printed at considerable expense.  It’s also interesting that quite a few of the Quarto Club members had bookplates designed by Rockwell Kent."

Elmer Adler (1884-1962).  Book Designer, collector, and graphic design educator.  Founder of the Pynson Printers in NYC.
Bennett Cerf (1898-1971).  American publisher, co-founder of Random House with fellow Quarto Club member, Donald Klopfer.
I. Edwin Goldwasser (1878-1974).  New York Jewish-American teacher, principal, philanthropist, and businessman.
Mark G. Holstein (1873-1952).  New York City lawyer and book collector.
Ely J. Kahn (1884-1972).  Commercial architect who designed numerous skyscrapers and residential buildings in New York City.
Jerome D. Kern (1885-1945).  Composer of musical theatre and popular music, famous book collector.
Donald S. Klopfer (1902-1986).  American publisher, co-founder of Random House with Bennett Cerf.
Lois C. Levison (1890-1929).  Harvard graduate, head of the commercial banking firm of Levison & Co., NYC.   Committed suicide leaving note to wife that indicated depression issues, his lawyer said he’d been complaining of being ill.  See NYT obituary.  This one was a shocker.
Newman Levy (1888-1966).  New York City lawyer, poet, playwright and essayist.
Solomon Lowenstein (1877-1942).  New York City Jewish-American rabbi, social worker, and philanthropist.
Victor S. Riesenfeld (1887-1964).  New York City businessman, prominent in Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.  NYT obituary records he was a “capable painter and art collector. . . He had an extensive collection of rare first editions, including Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson.’”
Bruce Rogers (1870-1957).  Famed book designer, typographer and type designer. 
Alfred L. Rose (1886 -1981).  New York City lawyer and former president of the Mount Sinai Hospital and Medical Center.
Ralph E. Samuel (1892-1967).  Investment banker.  Established one of the first mutual funds in the United States in 1954.  Involved in numerous Jewish philanthropies.
Temple Scott (1864-1939).  Rare bookman, publisher, author of many biblio and literary-related books / articles.  See NYT obituary.
Amos Steinhardt (1886-1964).  New York City.  Brother of Maxwell Steinhardt. 
Maxwell Steinhardt (1889-1977).  New York City lawyer and book collector.  President of the George Bernard Shaw Society of America.   Active in various Jewish organizations.  See NYT obituary.
John T. Winterich (1891-1970).  Bibliophile, author, and collector.  Wrote numerous books on books.


  1. Great article on a distinguished group of collectors

  2. Bennett Cerf was also on television.

  3. He appeared on the popular television show “What’s My Line?” (1952–68).

  4. PS With only two or three exceptions, all the family names are Jewish names.

  5. Wow, what an interesting club. I Did key word searches in ABE on them, and they have quite an impressive bit of work.
    Tom S.