by George F. Kolbe – Kolbe & Fanning
Those seriously interested in mid-20th century American coin sale catalogues are likely familiar with B.A. Martin, the bookbinder responsible for many Stack’s and Kosoff special cloth- and leather-bound editions. Located in New York City, many of the firm’s deluxe bindings incorporated a distinctive leather termed “baby calf,” noted for its smooth and glossy finish. Sometimes a small B.A. MARTIN binder’s label is found affixed to the endsheets; the firm dominated their select niche for many years.
On the west coast, Mel Kavin went into the bookbinding business in 1948, coincidently the same year that Abe Kosoff moved to Southern California. The nature of Kosoff’s special edition bindings changed, though it is unlikely that any were bound by Kater-Crafts. It was another numismatic migration a few decades later, along with the activities of a longtime Los Angeles coin and stamp firm and a Southern California numismatic bookseller, that changed the locus of numismatic special edition bookbinding to the left coast.
Q. David Bowers and James F. Ruddy moved to Hollywood, California—across the street from the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theater—in 1972. From 1979 to 1981, the firm sold the remarkable coin collection formed by the Garrett family in a series of four auction sales. Interested collectors were encouraged to subscribe to hardbound editions of the four sale catalogues and, you guessed it, the Pico Rivera firm of Kater-Crafts Bookbinders handsomely bound the series in matching black cloth. Special hardcover editions followed for major sales, with the 1982 United States Gold Coin Collection (Eliasberg) being offered in this format and the two-part 1983 and 1984 sales of coins from the collection of Virgil Brand also issued in a hardbound edition. By this point, the firm was operating as Bowers & Merena Galleries, and in 1986 made the decision to solicit subscriptions to hardbound editions of all their sales, beginning with the sale of the Ezra Cole collection.
Bound in generally matching brown grained leatherette, the production of the series kept Kater-Crafts regularly engaged for a number of years. Of particular interest to numismatic bibliophiles, the series of four Bowers and Merena 1994–1995 catalogues in black cloth showcasing the Armand Champa library were also bound by the Kavin family firm. The firm subsequently bound a number of sales, generally in blue leatherette, for American Numismatic Rarities, a coin auction company formed in 2003 after Bowers departed Bowers and Merena.
In 1976, I issued my first auction sale catalogue featuring rare and out of print numismatic literature; a second catalogue was issued later in the year. Red cloth-bound editions of both were bound by Kater-Crafts. It is a truism to say that those relying on printers to meet a deadline are often disappointed. The first Kolbe catalogue barely arrived in time for mailing and the closing date of the second sale had to be extended by two weeks. Early in 1977, while driving to my daughters’ orthodontist in Santa Ana, I spied a printing establishment on a main boulevard. Thenceforward, the Rayline Company printed our catalogues for many years, never once missing a deadline. Serendipity reared its fortuitous head that day. In the back of the eponymous printshop, Ray Peterson’s son Charles (Chuck) professionally sniffed binder’s glue and gilt-stamped book spines, while his spouse Lyn sewed signatures and billed clients. From that day and beyond, Chuck’s Book Bindery bound all of the Kolbe auction sale catalogues. After Chuck and Lyn moved to Idaho and retired several years ago, Kater-Crafts resumed binding for a short time until Kolbe and Fanning cloth editions began to be bound in Ohio. It should be noted that, in addition to Chuck’s clothbound sale catalogues, several later “deluxe hardbound editions” were concurrently bound by Kater-Crafts, among them the four main Harry W. Bass sale catalogues and both of the two John J. Ford, Jr. and Stack’s family library catalogues.
While Chuck’s Book Bindery bound the occasional numismatic sale catalogue edition for others (a few Kreisberg and Cohen sales come to mind), Kater-Crafts was far more prolific. Unmentioned until now is the exceptional series of deluxe leather-bound catalogues produced in diminutive numbers for Superior Galleries. Between 1990 and the early 2000s, Superior commissioned deluxe bindings for about a dozen and a half of these numismatic aristocrats. A number of the catalogues and their accompanying clamshell boxes or slipcases were bound in Nigerian goatskin; several were crafted in water buffalo leather, which is quite similar in appearance. A half dozen sales were offered for sale as the ultimate lot in their respective catalogues; others were apparently issued solely for presentation purposes. Binding runs ranged from ten to as few as five examples. These special editions may well be the most attractive and finely bound numismatic auction catalogues ever produced.
It should be noted that the Kater-Crafts tradition carries on. The firm has been producing the handsome series of Eric P. Newman auction sale catalogues bound in “Cardinal Red” cloth currently being distributed by Kolbe & Fanning. Information about the series is available at numislit.com.