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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Raymer's Old Book Store, Seattle 1956


Here is a 1956 postcard from Raymer’s Old Book Store in Seattle, one of just a few examples of Seattle bibliophemera in my collection and I'm pleased to have it. The store has a bit of interesting history, as you will read later.

In a post from a few years ago on Book Patrol, longtime Seattle bookman, Taylor Bowie, describes Raymer’s Seattle store on 3rd Avenue as “a dusty and dreary shop of picked-over dross.” I wonder what he really thought?

I still like the postcard, though. I suppose the illustration represents the picked-over dross. Actually it looks like a variant of Carl Spitzweg's Der Bücherwurm. It depicts a book hunter’s haven—the hunter on the step stool, books strewn about, seemingly endless shelves of old books to dig through.

It seems there may have been more than one location for a book hunter to browse the stacks. I have found Raymer's Old Book Store in Salt Lake City, Denver, Tacoma, and Minneapolis, where the store's name looked like this: Raymer's "Old Book" Store.

Anyone interested in learning about the history of bookselling in Seattle would benefit from reading Taylor Bowie’s reminiscences of forty years in the business, Part I of which is featured on the Book Patrol link provided above.

The flip side of the postcard features a note to a customer along with a little salesmanship: "A book has come in that makes me think of you... the book is in fine condition and you should have it..." The note is signed E. Chlarson.


A search of Chlarson turned up a 1948 Saturday Evening Post article that reported on a peculiar practice at Raymer's in Seattle. It seems Charles D. Raymer (founder) for some reason had started a mailbox service in his shop where customers could have their mail sent. He also offered a mail forwarding service. The service began with one customer in 1909 and as of the Post article in 1948, the book store had 600 mail box customers with room for 400 more. At $3 a box per year, the book store was pulling in $1,800 annually just for receiving and distributing mail. Raymer died long before the Post article was written, but his successors, Mr. and Mrs. Lew Chlarson, continued the practice. How far it went beyond 1948, I don't know, but it was the first, and only (at that time) private post office in the United States.

The E. Chlarson who signed the note on my 1956 postcard was undoubtedly related to the Chlarson proprietors in the 1948 Post article.


A customer picks up his mail from Mr. Chlarson
at Raymer's Old Book Store.

4 comments:

  1. Very cool post card, Chuck! By the time I first visited Raymers, the old man was long gone and it had passed through several hands (the Chlarsons, Herb Beatty) until in ended up being run by Rose, aka "Rose of Raymer's." Believe me, I wouldn't have wanted her to handle any of MY mail! Glad I found your blog...I did so by Googling my own name...the new Great American Tradition! Best wishes, Taylor B.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A pleasure to hear from you, Taylor! Glad you found the blog and enjoyed the post. I google myself, too, from time-to-time (usually
    painless!)--you never know what's out there. I got a kick out of your comments about "Rose of Raymer's." Do you know if the store, under the name of "Raymer's Old Book Store" was a national chain of sorts? I found several references to that name in various locations. If so, a bit unusual for a used/OOP shop--only a few come to mind. Now I need to find the remaining part(s) of your bookselling reminiscences--I'm sure there
    are a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes. Thanks again for stopping by.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi again Chuck, Mr. Raymer started out in Minneapolis, as I recall, way back in the 1880s! I think he might have moved to Denver before he ended up in Seattle. I just completed my 4th part of my seemingly endless autobio saga for the Book Club of Washington Journal...and it only takes me up to Feb of 1982! Jeez, it's a problem when someone like me wants to tell so many stories! Taylor B

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

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