Monday, July 24, 2006

This is a picture Leary's Old Book Store in Philadelphia, around 1910. When it was sold out at auction in 1969 it was the oldest used book store in the U.S. Getting ready for the sale, a copy of the Dunlap first printing of the Declaration of Independence was discovered forgotten and neglected. It fetched over $400,000.00. Leary's was a great place to root around for old books - and to overhear the conversations of old book men.


Anonymous Lillian Smith Kaiser said...

When I was an undergraduate (1949-1953) at Bryn Mawr College, I frequently took the Paoli local into Philadelphia to spend hours in Leary's. Many were the treasures I found there, both in books and in gentlemen-scholars. Thanks for the happy memory!

2:42 PM  
Blogger BooksRare said...

Thanks for your note.

In coming weeks and months I hope to have more on Leary's and other Philadelphia bookstores and booksellers.

Please do check back.


2:46 PM  
Anonymous Frances Alexander said...

Philadelphia Mayor Edwin S. Stuart owned the book store at one time. He later became Governor of Pennsylvania. He was the brother of my husband's great great grandfather Jackson G. Stewart, both immigrants from Ireland. Don't know why they spelled the last name differently. I would like to know more about the family and the bookstore's history when you put it together! Thank you.

Frances Alexander

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Frances Alexander said...

Pardon my genealogical mistake - Edwin Stuart was the son of Hugh Stuart, who with his brother Jackson G. Stewart immigrated from Ireland. Jackson is indeed my husband's great great grandfather, and Edwin is his first cousin 3 times removed. It is a little late and the family tree branches got a bit crossed..

Frances Alexander

9:14 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Does anyone know the name or artist of the art print that hung in Leary's Bookstore window? It showed a man who looks like Dickens Pickwick on a ladder reaching for a book in a library.
I've been trying to find that print since the 70's and don't know the name of the picture or the artist.
Thanks for any help.

7:55 PM  
Blogger BooksRare said...


The Leary's sign and talisman was a version of the painting The Book-Worm, painted in 1850 by Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) who was a German romanticist painter and poet. I include a picture of the painting elsewhere in this blog.

It was a popular image in Europe and America. I have a large lithograph of the painting published in the U.S. in 1865.

I often wonder what became of the original sign.

Anybody know?


5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have the poster that Wendy refers to which was purchased during the auction. I would be interested in selling...

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely thread. I'm on the West Coast and haven't thought of Leary's in years.

Is this the image which appeared in the front window?

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 40's whenever my mother received any money gift she would ask her mother to take her to Leary's. That meant taking a bus in from NJ. She saved every book she bought there as a child and then I read them. I have saved them and they are displayed on shelves in my daughter's bedroom. They all have a little pencil price on them as they were all used. She also received a print from Leary's which she had framed for me. I don't recall if I have ever been to Leary's though which is unfortunate. Thanks for this website. I'm forwarding it to my mother.

5:42 AM  
Blogger Dan Leary said...

My Great-Aunt, Ruth Leary, ended up with the sign. My grandfather had a lighted case built for it. It stood in Ruth's apartment in Richmond, VA until her death when it moved over to my grandfather's house. My aunt has it now in North Carolina. It's beautiful with the lights shining through the stained glass.

11:31 AM  
Blogger BooksRare said...

Your family still has the stained glass sign. Wow! Cool. I'd love to see a picture of it. Any idea where the (wooden) outdoor sign went to??

Does your family have other artifacts or papers from the store and/or publishing business? Thanks, Ron

11:44 AM  
Blogger Charlie said...

Is there any truth to the story that Gimbels tried to purchase the property but Leary's would never sell? Because of this Gimbels was forced to "grow" around the store.

9:00 AM  
Blogger BooksRare said...

Gimbels (Gimbel Brothers Department Store) was actually a large complex which occupied the block between 8th and 9th Streets bounded by Market Street and much of Chestnut. It started at the Market St. location around 1894. In the 1920's they expanded along 8th St. to Chestnut. Undoubtedly, the famous Leary's Book Store complicated their expansion plans... but as they gained ample space along 8th St., I doubt that there was continuing pressure to build along 9th. I'm sure some visitors from out of town thought that Leary's was a charming artifact maintained by Gimbels as a used book adjunct to their own large in-store book department. The proximity seemed to help both stores. Ron

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh!, how well I remember taking the FrankFord elevated to 8th and Market on an early Saturday morning (in the mid 1950's) and spend all day in that wonderful place of old books (many are still in my library with the Leary receipt (used as book markers). This boy of thirteen wandered about the whole place. I can still remember the "pneumatic tube"used in making change and the 'bookmen" in their blue coats.

I appreciate this delightful memory walk.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my fiancee is Dan Leary. His father's family were the owners of Leary's book store. We have an old book handle with the store label on it encased in a shadow box. (They used to wrap your book purchase in brown paper and tie it up with twine then slip on one of these handles for easier carrying). Dan's aunt has the original "Bookworm" sign that hung in the window. I was wondering where you found a picture of the outside of the store, I would love a copy of it.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Ken Strehle said...

I well remember my visits to Leary's in the early 60's when I was 12 or 13. The boys' books were on the first floor in the rear, on the left. Along the wall in the same area was the WWI section. I thought it was unusual that Clark Gable apparently spent his free time working there. Does anyone remember the gentleman that was the spitting image of Gable? I used to enjoy watching him and the other salesman wrapping the books and attaching the wooden carrying handle. They really were quick about it, very professional. Made me feel reluctant to tear it all apart while riding the train home.
Ken Strehle
PS the price was always written into the book with a blue-colored pencil. I have many of those still in my collection but I think I have only run into one book with the Leary's price in it that we did NOT ourselves buy at Leary's.

11:03 AM  

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