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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Then we had fiction, straight fiction. Then 1 had a section of
non-fiction, which was biography and history, and poetry and religion,
and picture books, and others I can't remember. We'd keep those
separated. I'd keep the biographies together. Usually, as I recall,
we kept it straight by author, not by person who was being written
about. Because I knew what all the books were, and all I had to do
was go to the biography section and pull it out. We had a large
quantity of fiction. And picture books we kept on tables, flat.

Maguire: So they could be seen.

Hawkins: Yes. And we would keep new books on tables, flat piles with their
faces up. We kept them roughly in alphabetical order by author.

Maguire: Were picture books at that time these large books that you see
these days?

Hawkins: Yes, some of them were, and some of them weren't. There weren't as
many full color illustrations then, although in the '30s, the new
color processes began to develop and we could have a lot more. I
remember that Macmillan put out a series of books called the Happy
Hours Series very attractive little square books with colored
pictures for the younger children. They sold, at first, for twenty-
five and then fifty cents. They really were delightful.

The average price of a book ranged between $1.00 and, oh, I'd
say $2.50. A three dollar book was usually one with quite a few
pictures. Very few books were five dollars. Those were considered
very, very expensive.

Maguire: But you mentioned last time you had a leather-bound dictionary..?
[See p. 12]

Hawkins: Well, that's adult books, you see. And you must remember that was

an India paper edition, leather-bound, for thirty-five dollars a very
expensive book.

But often we had tables for display like that in the original
store. We would get pictures originals from the publishers, and
then we'd keep them a few weeks and send them on to someone else.


Hawkins: We had at least two or three tables for display, and then we had
two or three tables for the new books to come in.

Selecting Children's Books

Hawkins: There weren't anything like the number of books published each year
there are now, and we were able to keep track. We had everything
that was good in children's books, but we did not have what we called
trash. In other words, we did not carry the Nancy Drew stories; we
didn't carry any of the Hardy Boys or the Tom Swift series. Those,
we' said, they could get at any department store. And they weren't
stocked by the libraries, so we just didn't keep them. They took
up a great deal of room, and we just didn't have enough room for

The Nancy Drew books really are pretty stereotyped. I have no
objection to libraries not stocking them, because they were cheap,
and they were things that the children spent their own money on.
There was no need for the libraries to stock them. They wanted to
give them the books that children couldn't afford to buy, the things
that the children might not discover otherwise. That's part of their

Just as I feel that in school, teachers reading aloud shouldn't
read aloud things like the Nancy Drew stories or books that the
children will read on their own, but books that they need to have
introduced to them that they might like very much if they got past
the first chapter read aloud to them. In fact, some of the teachers
used to do what I suggested, which was to get an interesting book
that was hard to get a child into, and then when they got to a very
exciting point say, "Well, if you want to finish this, you can get
it from the school library."

I remember one time, a librarian said that there was a book
about Saint Catherine of Siena (Anne Eaton's Story of The Flame) that
was terribly popular, and she couldn't figure out why. She found out
that the English teacher had read aloud this book and the children
were crazy about it.

Maguire: Did you ever have children asking you for the Nancy Drew books?
Hawkins: Oh yes, quite frequently.
Maguire: What would you say to them?

Hawkins: Well, we always said, "You can get it at a department store. They're
down at Capwell's" or Kahn's or whatever department store it might be.
All of the department stores carried them; they carried them in full.
But they didn't carry anything else. I mean, you have to make a
choice somewhere. And as we were supplying libraries our business
was with libraries it behooved us to have the books that they'd buy.
We just didn't have room for everything. We did have the Oz books,
however all of them [laughter].

Maguire: How did you keep up on all these new books that came in? Did you
use published aids, like Publishers' Trade List Annual?

Hawkins: Mrs. Mitchell, of course, got the word from the publishers' salesmen.
They always showed the books. Then, as soon as the books came in, I
was curious and would look at them and would read the ones that
attracted me.

Then there was a group of librarians that started up about the
time I don't remember exactly what year it stated. It was called
Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California. ACL we
called it. This group was started, I remember, by a meeting with
Frances Clarke Sayers, who was then doing the job that Mae Durham
Roger* is doing now. Several of the librarians in this area the
Oakland Public Library children's librarian, Nanette Morgan, and
Rosemary Livsey, who was down in southern California came up for
this. And I was included. I was very much interested that they
allowed me to join them because this was a library group. They met
once a month and got the publishers to send books out, and then
various librarians reviewed them.

I remember one time, one librarian said that a certain book it
was called Bears, Bears, Bears by Ruth Krauss she said, "Oh, I wish
you'd been at the last meeting. They reviewed Bears, Bears, Bears,
and they rejected it. I was sure you would have defended it."

And I said, "Well, why didn't you defend it?" [Laughter] Of
course, I just loved it. I thought it was a wonderful book. It was
done by Ruth Krauss.

I remember, later on I talked at a meeting. I did a great
many talks at schools, nursery schools and things. One time, a nursery
school asked me to speak and I brought some books. One of the books
I brought was by Ruth Krauss, and it was called The Very Special House.

*Mae Durham Roger teaches children's literature and storytelling for
the School of Library and Information Studies, University of California,


Hawkins: After I had read it and told them how much I liked it, I

finished my speech. I thought I was the only speaker. Then they
introduced a Doctor Adler, who was a child specialist, psychiatrist,
who was going to talk to the mothers about psychiatry and handling
children. I was terrified. I felt I might have made a horrible
error, my liking this book. But, Dr. Adler very amusingly said,
"Before everybody else gets a chance, I would like to get that book.
[Laughter] I think it's a very therapeutic one." Oh, I felt so
relieved.' [Laughter]

The Children's Book Room

Hawkins: Anyway, to get back to the arrangement of books in the first store

on Telegraph, the children's room was very big. We had lots of room
for things.

Maguire: You had tables and chairs?

Hawkins: Tables, and we had a big display stand. Oh, it was about as big as
this coffee table [about 2 1/2 feet square] and it came up like a
pyramid, and I thought this would show off the books very well.
They had it made specially for the children's room. I thought after
it was done it was a very poor idea, and it didn't work out very
well. But there we had it.

Then they had little round tables with little chairs for the
children. There were two tables. And we had a few books that were
specially on these tables for the children to look at. They were
Randolph Caldecott* picture books and things of that sort.

These were for the children, to amuse them while their parents
were buying books. And underneath the tables we had stock. Sometimes
the books were flat, and sometimes they weren't. But we had a
beautiful selection of books.

*The prestigious Caldecott Medal (named for Randolph J. Caldecott,
noted British illustrator of books for children) has been awarded
since 1938 to the illustrator of the finest children's picture book
published in the U.S. during the previous year; it is awarded by the
Children's Services Division of the American Library Association.


Maguire: Did you have some hard-to-find books?
area carried?

Books nobody else in the

Hawkins: Oh well, ninety percent of the books that we carried were not carried
anywhere else. We just didn't carry the so-called "flats," they used
to call them. They were cheap, garish books cardboard-bound, mostly,
and sold for thirty-nine cents or fifty-nine cents, etc. They weren't
really very attractive, and we didn't have to buy any of those. We
left those for the department stores. We really had a quality book
store. There's no place like it anywhere in this area now, absolutely
none. The people that used to come to Sather Gate say, oh, how they
miss it. Miss [Jeanne-Marie] Lee's book department at Hink's [depart
ment store in Berkeley] is as close to it as you could come, but that
couldn't carry the quantity and quality the number of titles because
after all, they aren't doing a wholesale business.

A lot of books that we bought would sell only for wholesale.
But if an occasional person would ask for it, we would have it for

Maguire: And you couldn't have really supported this if you hadn't had the

Hawkins: No. The only reason that we were able to have such a complete list
of juvenile books was because.... And of course, we didn't call
them juvenile books, I hope you understand. Sather Gate's children's
book department was called the "Boys' and Girls' Book Room." It was
always called that. We didn't call it "juvenile books" or "children's
books." It was the "Boys' and Girls' Book Room."

Maguire: I was going to ask you a few more questions about Mr. Kahn. I under
stand that he wasn't quite the book man that Mr. Sommmer was, but
he was very big on service.

Hawkins: Yes. Mr. Kahn came in without previous experience in books. He was
a young man who had quite a good deal of money. He didn't have to
work for a living, but he wanted to be busy and have something to do
that was useful. He liked books, but he wasn't a book man in the
same sense that Mr. Soramer was. Mr. Sommer was a born book man.
Mr. Kahn was a very fine man who did a very good job, and he liked
books, but he never had quite the flare that Mr. Sommer had. Mr.
Sommer was pretty close to being a genius. There weren't very many
booksellers that had his particular ability.

When I came back in 1931, Mr. Lee had gone on to something
else and Mr. Kahn was the only one of the two young men still in the
business. Of course, after Mr. Sommer died, Mr. Kahn took over as
president of the company and stayed with it until he died.


Maguire: Did you keep the stationery department at that time?

Hawkins: Oh, we had the stationery department, yes. I think we had the

stationery department until we moved into the very small quarters
on Durant, and then they gave it up.

Store Locations

Hawkins: We had two moves during those years. When they enlarged the univer
sity for Sproul Plaza and Sproul Hall, we moved down Telegraph
Avenue one block. There we had very, very much smaller quarters.
We moved there in 1940 and Mr. Sommer had died in 1937.

Maguire: What did you do with all the stock?

Hawkins: Oh, it was a terrible thing. We had no real place to keep our

stock. I lost five tables for my children's room. That shows you
how little. And I called it "the black hole of Calcutta" because
it had no daylight back in that place but a tiny little window
above the telephone booth. No, we couldn't keep nearly as many
books. We had a small stockroom, but it wasn't anything like as
big, not anything like.

Maguire: Were these moves from location to location financially a burden on
the store to transport the books?

Hawkins: Well, our moving of the books from the one Telegraph store to the

other Telegraph store, which was a block away, was done with trucks,
little hand trucks that we used to bring stock from the stockroom
into the main store. We just rolled them down the street, and we
did most cf that ourselves. So it wasn't that costly, having done
it that way. It made it fairly simple. We packed books in boxes,
I remember. I also remember that I labelled the boxes with the
place they had come from and where they were to go. We would take
a whole shelf of books and put them in a labelled box and trundle
them down the street, and put the whole box of books into place in
the designated shelf in the new shop.

It was funny, because I got two boxes transposed on the shelves,
and they were there for about a year before I realized it. Because
within the shelf itself, they were alphabetically arranged [laughter]
but not when you ran it down to the next one. One day I was running
it down, and I saw running over from one shelf to the next that they
were wrong and I re-did them the proper way.


Maguire: It sounds like an awful lot of work though.

Hawkins: It was a lot of work and it's not something you do often. But I

don't know, it's always costly to move. There's no question about it.
But in those days, we were still fairly prosperous. The big burden
hadn't fallen on us. After all, it was when Vroman's went out of
business that everything happened. And that happened after I left
Sather Gate and was working for the [University of California] Press.
So that I wasn't there when this thing happened. I just heard about
it afterwards.

Working Conditions

Maguire: I was going to ask you about the working conditions.

Hawkins: Well, we worked six days a week for a long time.
[end tape 1, side 1]

That was until Mr. Fred Potter came. He had been in advertising
I guess, before World War II, when he was in the service, and he
wanted something that was more rewarding to him personally. That's
how he happened to come into bookselling, which of course as you know,
is a very ill-paid work. After a certain length of time, Mr. Potter
felt that we ought to have a five-day week. I remember, there was
a great deal of talk about it. The workers were all non-union, of
course, and this was the time when there was a lot of organization
of unions. Mrs. Herbert was very much opposed to unions, and there
was, oh, quite a lot of discussion going on. Also, I might add jobs
were not too easy to get. Mr. Potter wanted us to all sign a petition
that they put in a five-day week.

Maguire: His position in the store was what at that time?
Hawkins: He was a salesclerk.
Maguire: He was a clerk?

Hawkins: Yes, at that time. I remember that I wouldn't sign it because I was
so afraid of losing my job. I was afraid that Mrs. Herbert would be
very angry. As a matter of fact, they must have been considering
putting in the five-day week because after Mr. Potter put in his
petition, they did put the five-day week in. I think they did it
because they thought if they didn't, the union might get in [laughter].

At any rate, he was a person who had ideas. He was not afraid
to stand up for what he thought was right. But our salaries were
very, very meager and never did become good. Mine was particularly


Love of bookselling

Hawkins: But I never was a person that cared more for money than for the

pleasure of my work. I literally loved what I did. Every day was
fun. There wasn't a day went by that I didn't enjoy it.

I remember one time, I discovered what the bookstore meant to
me. Miss Leone Garvey was the children's librarian at Berkeley
Public Library and she was in the shop. At the same time a young
girl named Nina, whose last name I don't know, and her older brother
were in. Nina was a great reader. She was about thirteen. In fact,
she was so knowledgeable about books, that I thought that she really
might go into books because she reminded me of myself when I was
young and reading. And so I introduced her to Miss Garvey, whom she
didn't know she didn't, apparently, go to the library very much
and I said, "Miss Garvey, I think that Nina would make a very good
children's librarian."

At which Nina shuddered and said, "Oh, I_ don't want to be a

And her brother said, "No. Nina's much too vibrant!"

Miss Garvey laughed afterwards and she said, "There I was feeling
so vibrant" [laughter],

I was terribly embarrassed as you can imagine, so I said, "Well,
Nina, what do you want to do?"

"Oh," she said. "_! want to be an actress."

And I thought to myself, when I was thirteen, that's what _!_
wanted to be. So I said, "Well, Nina, that's just exactly what I
wanted to be when I was thirteen. I wanted to be an actress or a

And she said, "A missionary?"

And I said, "Yes." Then I thought to myself, "Well Quail, you
have achieved your ambition. You didn't realize it." But to be a
good bookseller of children's books, you have to be both a missionary
and an actress because in order to present your book, you have to
dramatize it sufficiently so that the customer is intrigued by it.
And if you have this missionary zeal to get the very best of books
to the children, you're a missionary. So that I was a missionary
and I was also an actress.

Hawkins :


I remember one time, a customer said to me when I was reading some
little part or describing something, "Do you go with the book?"

Giving Advice on Children's Reading

Maguire: How did you provide guidance to your customers on the books?

Hawkins: Well, we had quite a few patrons who came in regularly, and I got
to know them very well. They were mostly charge customers. They
were women who really had the interest of their children's reading
at heart. After all, you must remember Berkeley was a college town
in those days. It wasn't a big city. It really was a college
community. Even the people who were not teaching were not professors-
were people of considerable interest in the arts: literature, music,
drama, things of that sort. There was a great deal of it going on
all the time. The customers would come in, and they usually had
read reviews or they knew things, or they went to the library or they
came in and asked me! That was really kind of fun. I had a number
of customers who trusted me to give them good advice. I remember,
too, they'd come in and ask questions about things.

I remember, one time a man came in and said to me, "What does
a modern teach a child about religion?" That was the question he
put to me as a bookseller.

I said, "Well, what do you believe?"
He said, "I don't know."

I said, "Well, I'm afraid you're going to have to go home and
decide what you believe before you can teach your child anything,
because there's no use in the world in your giving anything to a
child you don't believe yourself. That's the first thing." So
that was that. Another time, a man came in and said to me, "What
do you tell a child about death?"

I had lots of hard questions, you see. I remember, one woman
came in. She was a very nice young woman, and she had a baby who
was about a year and a half old. Her mother had sent her twenty-
five dollars to get books for "baby." So we selected. You could
buy quite a few books, you know, for twenty-five dollars. I showed
her the books that I thought were the very best and she bought two
or three of those, but she mostly bought what she liked. And then


Hawkins: gradually, she'd come in more often. Mother would send her twenty-
five dollars every once in a while and she'd come in. Finally after
about the fourth time, she said, "After this, don't let me buy what
I want. Make me take what you want. I notice that baby always likes
the books you pick out and doesn't care about the books I pick out"
[laughter] .

And I said, "Well, you certainly must have books that you want."
"No," she said, "you pick them out."

One time I picked out something and she called me back, and she
said, "Do you really like this book?"

And I said, "I think it's perfectly delightful."
She said, "I think it's a silly book."

And I said, "Well, it is; it's nonsense. But if you don't like
it, you bring it back and I'll exchange it for something else."

"No, no," she said. "If you say you like it, I'll keep it."
Well, that's a pretty big, a pretty big...

Maguire: Trust!

Hawkins: Trust. And you have to be careful that you fulfill it. I remember
one time, a library burned up in northern California. Afterwards,
I was up there for a library meeting, and the librarian said to me
this was in May and he said, "I haven't had time to do anything with
the children's books. We've replaced lots of the adult books. Do
you think you could pick out about $2000 worth of books for the
children's room?"

I said, "Why, yes, of course I can."

He said, "We have to have them quite soon because we have to get
them in before the first of July." Then he said, "No, make it

So I said, "Well, what I'll do is pick the books out and I'll
have a list sent up to you, and then you can check out the books you
don't want, and we'll send you the balance. You let us know what you

So we did that. I went down to the store. In those days,
$1000 worth of books were an awful lot of books. I said, "Do you
want just single copies, or do you want multiple copies?"


Hawkins: He said, "No, multiple copies would be fine up to, say, four copies

So I picked them out with the help of the girls in my department.
We went through the books. They'd bring something to me and I'd say,
"No, no, that's not good enough. Put it back." So when the books
were picked out, we alphabetized them by author and packed them by
author, so we could get at them. And they were marked on the outside,
what was in the boxes, because we didn't have room to just pile them
up. So I sent him the list and wrote, "Would you please send back
the list and cross out what you don't want."

I didn't hear and I didn't hear and I didn't hear. So I wrote
him another note and I said, "Please tell me what you want taken out."

He wrote back, "We want substantially what you've sent." Well,
that didn't do me any good at all. It was the end of the fiscal year,
and librarians were coming in to spend the rest of their money that
they hadn't spent. Because if they didn't, it would go into the
general fund or it would go back, and they didn't want to do that.
This was money that they'd set aside for other books that they'd
ordered that hadn't come through, books that were out of print or the
publishers hadn't sent them or what have you.

I was getting desperate because I could sell these books, you
see. Finally I said, "Please tell me what you don't want so I can
take it out," and explained to him.

So he wrote back and said, "Well, we'll take all except the
Cowboy Sam books. We have them."

There were exactly seven books. And all the rest of them he
kept. This man was a real librarian. He wasn't somebody that didn't
know. So I felt that was really a compliment.

Maguire: Did you often get big orders like that?

Hawkins: Oh, yes. There were lots of big orders. But that was one thing.
Then another time, another librarian came in and asked me to pick
some books and I did. She came down and she went through it. She
took out about six or eight books but the rest of them she kept.

This was always very gratifying to me, as you can well imagine.
But I felt it was a very definite time for me not to give them "little
treasures," [See p. 11] [chuckle] but to really consider.

One time, a high school library was to be filled. The school
had been burned and rebuilt. I was on the road and had stopped at
this library. They were going to have a opening and they needed some


Hawkins: books, and they hadn't gotten any books for their library. So the
librarian said to me he wanted, I guess this was around $4000 worth
of books, and these would be single copies. I was to just send him
anything, you see, on approval. Well, to build a high school library
from scratch, without any books at all? I was still on the road. I
couldn't pick them out myself. I wrote back to the firm and told
them to please send up, on approval, all the books that we had up to
$4000 worth, that were on the basic high school library list that was
put out by the American Library Association.

Maguire: That was a good list?

Hawkins: Oh, it was an excellent list. It had every kind of book in it, you

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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 5 of 15)