Quail. ive Hawkins.

The art of bookselling: Quail Hawkins and the Sather Gate book shop : oral history transcript / and related material, 1978-1979 online

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person who would mail books out from Sather Gate Book Shop for
customers. But they had, let's see, almost forty people, I guess,
working for it , maybe more .



Eavkins :




Eavkins :

There vere nev staff members hired?

Oh, yes. You see, with the IBM card system, ve had big tubs that
had all the orders in them, and they had to be hand filed. If they
could have done that by machine, it would have helped a tremendous
amount. But it had to be hand filed.

There was a master card that would tell how many copies were
ordered, and then all of the orders would be put behind it and a
rubber band would be put around it. Each person had so many tubs to
take care of. Their work was to take the order cards as they came
every day and interfile them. They were supposed to check. If we
had ordered twenty-five copies on the master card and the orders
behind were piling up say you've gotten fifteen copies against that
then they were supposed to let the buyers know that more of this book
was needed. They were then supposed to send the card to the buyers
with the number of orders against it so that the buyers would have
a chance to buy intelligently, [tape interruption]

We're discussing the Emeryville location,
customers came to the warehouse?

Did you lead tours when

Oh, yes, customers came in the warehouse. You see, there was another
woman, Virginia Corwin, who also went on trips for us, and then Lois
Ireland. When I found that I couldn't stay away as long as six weeks
at a time (Mother needed me), I said that I would go around on day
trips. I could stay overnight, but preferred day trips. Then Lois
Ireland took over the distant travel, and Virginia Corwin and I sort
of did much the same sort of work she took some accounts and I took
others .

Do you think that having this warehouse, overall, made business run
more smoothly?

Oh, yes, of course it did. There was no question about it. It was
much better after that, in a sense. But it was frightfully expensive.
These computers are not cheap. A theory was that you were going to
have fewer people, would hire less people, and replace individual
people. But we still kept one biller, that was Thelma Grant Sandon.
She's great. She would bill almost as much as a computer would!
[Laughs] She did the books that were bought by selection. When a
customer would come in and select the books , then Grant would bill
those books and not the computer. We arranged them alphabetically
by author on trucks, and then they'd be billed and packed. Either
the customer would take them or leave them and have them sent.


Wholesaling Difficulties

Maguire: On wholesaling, overall, do you think that there's any way that Sather
Gate could have continued its wholesale business through the 1970s?

Hawkins: I don't know. The expenses were just more than the profit. There's

very little profit in bookselling >actually. The margin is very small,
and you have to have such a large amount of investment. Even so,
even though many books could be returned, you lost money on the
returns. You got some money, and in many cases they didn't give you
back as much as you paid for it.

Also, you had to pay for transportation to your store, and you
had to pay the transportation back. And transportation from the
Vest Coast to the East is very expensive. Not only that, but you've
lost the space ; it took up space that might have been used for some
thing that was selling. So there was a lot of loss in that sort of

Maguire :
Hawkins :

Did Mr. Kahn's death affect the bookstore?

Well, yes, it certainly affected it. I don't know in a business way
exactly how it affected it because I didn't know enough about the
details. But certainly the interest of the Kahn family disintegrated
upon his death,and if he had been alive he might have put in more
money. I don't know. But when he died, there was no incentive
whatever to continue to put money in it that wasn't already in the

The Appeal of Bookselling

Maguire :
Hawkins :

Overall, would you say that you preferred work in the children's depart
ment to wholesaling?

Well, it was very hard to say. I don't think I ever enjoyed anything
more, really, than the person to person selling of individual books.
There is something there that is very, very happy and very nice. It
was sort of fun in those days because you really and truly had a
rapport .

But then on the other hand, there was a very good feeling with
the wholesale, too, because I often helped the librarian pick books
out when she came in, if I happened to be in town. I would go around
with her and perhaps show her something special that I thought she
or he might be interested in. There was time to help with selections
when they came in.


Hawkins: Otherwise, you Just filled orders and, of course, that wasn't what
I was doing. I wasn't pulling orders. Occasionally, if things were
very, very bad and we were very far behind, I might help by pulling
some of the orders, but that wasn't the job that I really did.

Maguire: So it was the person to person contact.

Hawkins: It was the person to person contact. That's really why I liked my
work at Sather Gate better than at the Press. I was dealing with
figures, mostly, at the Press and not very much with individuals.
I loved, I guess becaused I was a salesman by nature, I Just loved
to sell. But I could only sell something I really believed in. I
couldn't sell something Just to sell it, in spite of the little
treasures. [Laughs] [see p. 11]

Paperback Books

Maguire :

Hawkins :
Hawkins :

Maguire :
Hawkins :

Would you discuss Sather Gate' s decision to carry or not to carry
paperback books when they appeared on the scene?

I had nothing to do with that at all.
But they never did carry paperbacks?

No, we didn't carry paperbacks. Oh, I don't mean that we didn't
ever have any paperbacks. We did, but we didn't have the so-called
paperbacks. That is, we would have paper editions of things that
were put out by Knopf, and I think we had some Vintage books and
things of that sort, but we didn't have a paperback section. Well,
we did have a few, but not much. There were too many.

When did paperbacks appear on the scene in force?

Oh, I don't know. Of course, on the continent, they had the Tauch-
nitz editions a long time ago. And I think Pocket Books were among
the first to come to this country. I think that was related, if
I'm not mistaken, with Simon and Schuster, but I don't remember well
enough. You can look it up. The information is available.*

*Simon and Schuster, together with Robert de Graff and Leon Shimkin,
issued the first titles in the Pocket Book series in 1939; their
efforts marked the beginning of the "paperback revolution."


Havkins: For a long, long time, libraries didn't buy paperbacks. I vas always
library-minded so I vas always interested in hardbacks. But I have
found since that now libraries do buy paperbacks, and they consider
them dispensable. I must say that I myself enjoy holding a paperback.
It's easier to hang on to than is a bigger book. But since my eyes

have gone bad, I can't see as well,
books .

I'm very grateful for large print

Other Bay Area Bookshops


Hawkins :

What were some other good bookstores
Gate Book Shop?

in the Bay Area besides Sather

Oh, dear. That's almost like asking me, "Where can I buy this book
if you don't have it?" [Laughs] People used to come in and say to
me, "Well, I've been all over San Francisco and I couldn't find it,
but I knew you'd have it." I used to think to myself, "What did
they go all over San Francisco for? Why didn't they come and get it
from us in the first place?" [Laughs] It used to irritate me very

Of course, in the old days, Paul Elder's over in San Francisco
and Gelbert Lilienthal were very good bookstores and, oh goodness,
bookstores came and went. Those were two that had stayed a long
time. But over on this side, most of the stores, when Sather Gate
was alive , were not true bookstores . They were mostly either second
hand bookstores, or they were text bookstores.

The text bookstores gradually began putting in paperbacks and
newer books, some of the new books. The ASUC [Associated Students
of the University of California] bookstore originally didn't have
anything but textbooks. But then they gradually began putting more
trade books in, and then the university professors went to the ASUC
bookstore because they could get a discount. They did get a discount,
some of them, from Sather Gate fora while but that was discontinued
after awhile.

But to ask me who were the bookstores I never got into the other
bookstores, and there was very little togetherness in the early days.
Later on, the National Booksellers Association established a northern
California branch and there were a lot of the book departments in the
stores, like Macy's and the Emporium and other bookstores. Then
there was the Bonanza Bookshop in San Francisco. But even so, there
are not very many retail bookstores. Here now, there's Books Unlimited.
Then, of course, in San Francisco there was Books Incorporated that
Lew Langfeld ran. He has a whole chain of them now. I just don't
remember the names of all of them.


Maguire: Were there any outstanding shops?

Hawkins: Sather Gate Book Shop. [Laughs] As far as I was concerned, that
was the only outstanding one, certainly on this side of the bay.
In Oakland there was Kahn's Book Department, and that was owned "by
Sather Gate, and there was Capwell's hook department. But it just
carried the most popular type of thing, the way most department
stores do.

Decline of Sather Gate Book Shop

Maguire: When did the staff know that Sather Gate Book Shop would be closing?

Hawkins: I don't know. In 1970, the wholesale closed. Mr. Potter, I know,
asked me what I thought about the situation. I was for closing it.
If I had kncwn they had that lease, I think I would have suggested
that they hang on a few years longer and they wouldn't have lost
quite so much money. They would have lost some, but they wouldn't,
perhaps, have lost quite as much.

[end tape 1, side 2; begin tape 2, side l]

Hawkins: The wholesale closed in December of 1970, the first of December, and
Sather Gate retail stayed alive until 1972. But they were dragged
down by the fact that the Emeryville warehouse was not able to be
rented and we had a lease. I don't know all the ins and outs of it
because I was out at that time, so I don't know. Mr. Potter was the
person in charge.


Maguire: How did you feel about leaving?

Hawkins: At that particular time my mother was not well, and Harvey Fergusson,
my friend, who lived in my garden cottage was eighty-one and not very
well. It seemed to me that it would be a wise idea for me to retire.

I hadn't had any idea of retiring, to tell you the truth, when
I turned sixty-five, which I did in March of 1970. But in May 1970,
my cleaning woman came to me and said, "I'm sorry, Miss Hawkins, but
I'm going to have to leave you." I said, "Why, Hattie Mae?" She
said, "Because I'm retiring.' [Laughs] I'm now sixty-five." I
thought to myself, "Well, if my cleaning lady can retire, I don't
know what I_ should do," because I was very much concerned about both
Harvey and Mother.


Hawkins: So I talked to my accountant who does my income tax and I said,
"What do you think?"

He said, "Now, let's figure it out. What would you get if you
got your social security?" I told him. Then, "What do you get?" and
I told him. So then he figured awhile and he said, "Well, you'd
have the same take-home pay if you retired as you would have if you

I said, "What! [laughs] Do you mean that I would have Just
as much money to spend as I would have if I worked?"

He said, "Yes."

I said, "Me for retirement."

Hawkins :

Then I worked until December when they closed the wholesale.
Mr. Potter wanted me to come to the retail shop and work until
Christmas, tut I said that I didn't want to "because it might be the
last Christmas for either my mother or Mr. Fergus son (Harvey) and
it's true. He died before the following Christmas. So I'm glad I
did retire.

Were you sad to leave?

Oh, yes, of course I was. I loved it and I had very many happy hours
there. I was very distressed over the fact that they had to close

the wholesale.

First Experiences in Writing Children's Books

Maguire :


Row we finally get on the subject of your writing!
you do?

What writing did

The first book I wrote was Who Wants an Apple? I wrote it in 1929 >
and I think it was 19^2 when it got published. Curiously, it was
the story of it has to do with where home is. If it had been
published in 1929, it wouldn't have had the impact it had being
published in 19l*2. Because at that time, World War II was on, and
there were a great many people moving all over the country because
of it and much disruption among children. Several nursery school
people told me that they'd read the story to younger children. It
wasn't intended for that. It was intended as an easy reading book
for a child in the first or second grade. But it had reassured them
that wherever their parents were was home, so that it had an impact
that it wouldn't have had otherwise.


Hawkins: But it was not the first book of mine published. The first book vas
a book I wrote in collaboration with Victor Von Hagen called Quetzal
Quest. I had, I think, thirteen books altogether published with my
name on them. Every time I count it comes out different. Sometimes
it comes out twelve, sometimes thirteen, sometimes it comes out four
teen. I'm never sure but we'll compromise on thirteen, [laughs] of
which two books were written in collaboration with Von Hagen [the
other book was Treasure of the Tortoise Islands] .

For one, I did the introduction and the selection of the poems
of James Stephens [A Singing Wind] . One was a selection that I did
that didn't have any writing of mine in it at all [Prayers and Graces
for Small Children] . I think that I wrote all the others .

Where the Ideas Come From

Maguire: Were many of these books based on incidents from your own childhood?

Hawkins : Well , yes , certainly Who Wants an Apple? was , and Don't Run, Apple
was, in a way. But curiously enough,! can't even tell you now which
parts were based on what was real and what was imagination. That's
what happens, when you write. On Don ' t Run , Apple , which was a sequel
to Who Wants an Apple? , I describe a kitchen. It Just came to me
that I knew just what this kitchen looked like and I described it.

Years later, after the book was published, I was reading aloud
books over KPFA radio and I was reading Understood Betsy by Dorothy
Canfield Fisher. To my amazement, I realized that the kitchen in
Don't Run^ Apple was one that had been described in Understood Betsy.
It wasn't identical, but that's where I got it. That was the kitchen
that had come to my mind. So you just don't know. Until I was
reading aloud this book, I hadn't the faintest notion that that was
a memory from my childhood of something I had read. So when people
talk about plagiarism, I don't know. It wasn't word for word, certainly,
and it wasn't identical, but it was apparently what I had thought
about .

Maguire: Totally unconscious.

Hawkins: Yes, totally unconscious. Then I wrote a book called Too Many Dogs.
Oh, I did A Puppy For Keeps. That was probably the most popular one
that I wrote of easy reading. That was based on an incident in our
childhood. We did have a bitch who had puppies in a gopher hole.
Queenie, as I call her in the book, was a real dog and Bob was her
mate. Bob comes into Too Many Dogs.


Hawkins: We never did know how Queenie got into that gopher hole to have her
pups. The gopher holes up there in Spokane were more like prairie
dog towns. They weren't prairie dogs. Really, we call them gophers
up in Spokane. Maybe they were prairie dogs, "but they were always
called gophers . We did dig her and her puppies out , and this was
then the incident in Puppy For Keeps.

Then I did Don't Run, Apple and then I did Too Many Dogs. Oh,
in there, I also did Prayers and Graces for Small Children, which is
one that I didn't write but selected. I was going to do a book of
prayers and graces that I composed, but I very shortly discovered
that prayers and graces are not something you can compose. You have
to find them. They're very difficult to do a good job and I wasn't
good enough. But the selection was pretty good.

I got caught, though, inadvertently. I wasn't trying to do
something that was copyrighted, but I asked different people if they
knew any prayers that were particularly important. Ron Smith, who
was our outside man at that time, told me of a prayer that his little
daughter used to say. Well, it turned out that it was a Christian
Science prayer, and it was copyrighted, and we almost got into a great
deal of difficulty. But luckily, somebody in the office of Grosset
and Dunlap was a Christian Scientist and recognized it, and they did
write to the mother church and did get permission to use it.

So it was all right. But I was completely innocent. I didn't
know that it was this prayer. I just thought it was a nice prayer
and stuck it in. Two of the prayers that I wanted to include in that
book were left out in the Grosset edition, but later on when Doubleday
printed it, they put it in, one of them.

But the Too Many Dogs and that book, in a way, is my favorite
book because it's the only one that I think has a concept that I've
never seen in any other child's book, which is that you might not
necessarily like somebody, but you have to learn to get along with
them if there they are. That was the basic idea, sort of the world
situation. You may not like your next door neighbor in a country,
but you've got to learn how to get along without fighting all the
time. This story shows you how this fighting can develop and what
you do towards curing it.

Maguire: Is it difficult to judge, in writing children's books, the kind of
concepts that will be appropriate to the style of writing in that
particular book?

Hawkins: In other words, what you're saying is that if it's a very simple idea,
do you write it simply? Is that what you mean?


Maguire: Yes, and do you try to keep the concepts very simple?

Hawkins: Well, they seem to take their own natural course, but you don't
always know what's going to come out when you start in. They're
self-limiting. Sometimes if you are writing a longer book or a
shorter book, you are guided by the material. I was never very
original and I didn't have a lot of ideas.

Mother was one of the most creative people I've ever known,
but she didn't have the self-discipline to work on these "ideas." Her
ideas crowded in on her so fast that she'd halfway Ret through one
idea and another one would come popping out. I had so few creative
ideas that I had time to struggle with them until they were really

I would know, because I read so much, whether the idea I had
was overdone. I was more often drawn to filling a need that was
open than to just write. I wrote Who Wants an Apple? because there
was no easy reading book for small children except textbooks. I
wanted to write a story that would be easy for them to read and was
a story, not a picture book.

Maguire: So this was one of the very first easy reading books?

Hawkins: Yes, it was. I think probably the first easy reading book. It was
quite a long time ago. See, it was published in '42. I wrote it in
'29, and it took me until '42 to get it published. Dr. Seuss books,
which were the big push toward easy reading, didn't come until the
fifties. I don't remember exactly what year, '52 or '54, something
along there.

Then, of course, everybody jumped on the bandwagon, but before
then I couldn't persuade any publishers that there was a need for it.
I must say that its time came later when everybody jumped on it.
You see, Seuss was an illustrator as well, and he had a lovely sense
of humor and was able to capitalize on that. But mine did fairly
well. A Puppy for Keeps did quite well. I'm sorry that they're out
of print because I think children still do like them.

But then Too Many Dogs came out during World War II. It came
out in '44 and unfortunately, because of the lack of paper, it was
cramped, the book itself. It should have had larger type, and it
should have been a fatter book so that it would appeal to the age
child it was intended for, which is around the fourth grade. Because
of the paper shortage, it did not get republished the way it would
have if it had been a different period.


How the Ideas Become Stories

Hawkins: Then I did a book called Mark, Mark, Shut the Door and I had lots of
fun with that book. Unfortunately, when I started to write it, I
had thought it was a good idea, but I could not make the story come
out. I tried. It was going to be a sequel to A Puppy For Keeps.
I wrote and I wrote, four different times I started that book, and
I couldn't get anywhere with it.

One day I started to tell it to some children, and they were
bored as the devil and I was too. I was just as bored as I could
be, and I thought to myself, "Now, why is that boring?" It was
because I solved each incident right away. I didn't build any

So I was thinking about it, and suddenly I decided I wasn't
going to call the boy in the story David anymore. I'd call him Mark.
Curiously enough, you see, it wasn't David that I was writing about;
it was another child. It wasn't the same character. It wasn't the
same person. The minute I changed his name to Mark, the story began
to come and I was able I remember I did it on a Washington's birth
day. I went down to Carmel and spent the weekend down there, and I
wrote it in seven hours, the whole story. It just came, whoosh!
It just flew out, and I had taken a whole year trying to build that
story into a story.

Maguire: You were thinking of your brother Mark then?

Hawkins: Well, no, I wasn't. I wasn't thinking consciously of anyone, but it
obviously was that this Mark was not the same child that I was talk
ing about when I was talking about David. He just wasn't the same

That year, before it was published but after it was accepted,
I went to a summer camp one of the Berkeley summer camps, Tuolemne
Camp and they drafted me one evening at the campfire to tell a story.
I was horrified, and the only thing I could think of was Mark, Mark
Shut the Door, which I had just written. So I told them this. It
was a family camp and there were lots of children. I got to the
point where the baby had found the mother's lipstick. I said that
Mark had discovered that the baby had found mother's lipstick, at
which there was a dead silence and a little voice said, "Oh, no!" and
everybody in the entire audience burst into gales of laughter. After
wards they said to me, "Who was your stooge?" [Laughs] It was really
too funny for words. I never forgot it. So the story went over big!
It was fairly successful. I've always been very fond of that story.


Hawkins :

Hawkins :

The "Mark, Mark, shut the door, what do you think a door is for?"
is based on a naughty story that was told about Mr. J.P. Morgan.
It seems that a young man had been hauled up for being indiscreet
and he said to Mr. Morgan, "Well, we only do openly what you do
behind closed doors."

And Mr. Morgan said, "What do you think a door is for?" That
little phrase, "What do you think a door is for?," stuck with me,
and so an innocent child's book comes out of it. [Laughs]

Then what happened? I'm trying to think what I wrote. There
was a long gap, almost about seven years where I didn't get anything
written, and then I think the next book I wrote must have been Mountain
Courage. Harvey helped me with that. He gave me the idea in the
first place. Then he decided that I didn't know enough about fishing
so he wrote at least a half a page on the fishing incident. In
another place he wrote a couple of paragraphs about getting into a
freshet in rapids, being bumped around, because he said I didn't
understand. So I dedicated the book to him and gave him a quarter
of the royalties. [Laughs]

The next book I did was the Aunt Sitter,
time with that. Oh, I forgot.

I had quite a hard

I did The Best Birthday in there.
I can't remember where that came, to tell you the truth.. But it came

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Online LibraryQuail. ive HawkinsThe art of bookselling: Quail Hawkins and the Sather Gate book shop : oral history transcript / and related material, 1978-1979 → online text (page 11 of 15)