Scope and arrangement
The records of Books & Co. include correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, guest lists, invoices, tax reports, diaries, guest books, invitations, notes, greeting cards, letters, artwork, postcards, advertisement materials, flyers, newsletters, introductory remarks to readings, press kits, photographic prints, negatives, and contact sheets, monographs, scrapbooks, audio and videocassettes, and paper ephemera.
The collection documents very strongly the social and intellectual life that was the heart of the store, fostered through its public events, readings, and the relationships developed between the owner and her clientele, both authors and the book-buying public. It documents less strongly the business of buying and selling books. It does not include the financial records, which would tell the underlying story of the dissolving of the Watson and Britton partnership, the part her father played in the enterprise, the problems with the Whitney Museum and the subsequent decisions made by Watson.
The Books & Co. records are arranged in seven series:
- 1979-19972.5 l.f
This series includes handwritten notes from authors, friends and acquaintances, some business-related correspondence, Christmas cards, artistic photographs, booklets, invitations to dinners and readings, (both those held at Books & Co. by Watson and those to which she was invited), introductory remarks for readings, artwork, children's drawings, and faxes from and about authors and other personal acquaintances of Watson. Correspondents include: Ray Blount, Jr.,Harold Brodkey, Russell Chatham,Susan Cheever,Christopher Coe,Hope Cooke,Carlos Fuentes,Brendan Gill,Jim Harrison,Max Kaplan,Ann Lauterbach,Fran Lebowitz,Ilona A. Vitarius,and Ted Wilentzamong many other names. It may be of interest to note here that the file for Burt Brittoncontains only an unsigned copy (perhaps a draft) of his 1980 termination agreement with Watson. Correspondence with staff includes letters from Susan Scott,Stan Lewis,and Peter Philbrook.Alphabetical by author's last name
- 1980-19973 l.f
The General Files include general correspondence; correspondence with related businesses, publishers, and philanthropic organizations, invitations, staff memos, clippings, anniversary books, poetry and poetry-related events. There is a good deal of correspondence about the closing of the store, support letters on Books & Co.'s behalf, written to Watson and to The Whitney Museum of Art, and clippings from local newspapers and magazines about the unfolding events and the store closing (see "Books & Co. - Closing" sub-series). Financial records include the list of names considered "House Accounts" (those who were able to receive a discount on purchases, which were labeled "C2" accounts by the store), some expense reports, income tax returns for five non-sequential years, customer invoices, operations statements and a few other odd files. The "Readings" sub-series includes introductory remarks, party plans, and other miscellaneous items for readings from 1980 to1997. Box 8, folder 8, titled "Doodles," contains cartoon drawings of scenes from a bookstore, usually drawn on the backs of event invitations. They are probably the work of a talented employee who usually focused his or her attention on Peter Philbrook as a subject, though occasionally honored others.
- 4 l.f
Two guest books include names, addresses, and comments from guests at Books & Co. One is dated 1982-1984, the other lists guests for "9/20/78", "9/20/88" and was used for the 15th anniversary party on December 10, 1992, and the "Final Party" on May 29, 1997. There are five diaries and one single 1983 page ripped out of a diary. Watson records very brief entries, usually just a few lines on any given day. Most of the diaries, with exception of the 1986-96 diary ("JWS" inscribed on cover), are very sparse, containing very few entries over a broad time span. Some of the diaries have information, such as names and opinions, edited out by Watson herself; she scribbled over words.
The small red diary, dated 1979, was used as a date book and records visits by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,Morris West,Bill Cosby,Joseph Heller,Truman Capote,Kurt Vonnegut, and Neil Simon,among others. Sometimes their purchases or a conversation were also noted.
Another diary appears to be notes or thoughts for stories for Lynne Tillman'sbook about Books & Co. (Bookstore: the life and times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Company, New York, Harcourt Brace,
The diary c.1984 (lace-covered), includes thoughts by Watson on the store, who visited, stories about visits, her opinions on the readings and attendance, comings and goings of staff, and personal details such as comments on the birth of Watson's sons. Specific people mentioned include Isamu Noguchi,Frances Steloff,Tennessee Williams, Bernard Malamud,Hortense Callisher, Paul Goldberger,George Braziller, Shirley Buren,Jacqueline Kenndy Onassis,Woody Allen,Virgil Thomson,and Fran Lebowitz.
The diary dated 10/6/95, inscribed by "Susan", records events from 9/4/96 through 5/20/97, the closing of the store, people who offered to help and Watson's personal feelings about it all.
A diary with dates between 1986 and 1996, ("JWS" is embossed on the cover) is the most substantial of the five. The first few pages are loose and it appears to have pages missing. It appears to begin in 1986 (determined by reference to the space shuttle explosion). Though the entries are made within a ten-year time span, entries are actually broadly spaced within those ten years. The last recorded date is January 23, 1996. It is the longest of the diaries, and records numerous stories about the comings and goings of the store, the events held there, and particularly Watson's experiences and her feelings towards the clientele or staff, the events, and the general happenings in around her shop. There are several references to her family in this volume, especially her son Ralph, and her father, Thomas. Watson heavily edited this volume.
- 11 volumes
The scrapbooks record the readings and special parties at or for Books & Co. The scrapbooks include snapshots of authors, audiences, and the shop in general (color, and black and white); small posters or flyers, clippings from newspapers and magazines about the various events held there or the bookstore itself, or The 939 Foundation for the Arts, and gossipy items about who has been seen there; and invitations to various readings. They also include guest lists, schedules for the season, introductory remarks for readings, postcards, and correspondence. Two volumes of note are the anniversary books; one for the 10th and one combining the 15th & 20th (though there is only the invitation to the 20th anniversary party and nothing more). They include the respective invitations and photographs. The span dates for each volume are included in the container list; some of the volume dates overlap and materials within the volumes are not necessarily in exact chronological order. Volume 4 contained many loose 8x10 black and white photos, which were removed to a folder in Box 16
- 3 flat boxes 1 AB (.75 l.f.)
Includes images of authors during readings and book signings, candid and formal images of Watson alone and with the staff in front of the store, Watson and early partner Burt Britton in a series of formal images shot in front of the store, and many candid snapshots of the various events held at Books & Co. Contact sheets from the 5th anniversary party (May 23, 1983) in the Puck Building are included, along with several 4x6 images from this grouping (Box 16). The series includes the master color negatives of the Books & Co. logo, with a copy of the postcard made from this image. (Box 16).
About three-quarters of the images are black and white, 8x10 format, though there is one box of oversized prints, both black and white and color, and a number of smaller snapshots. NOTE: A double asterick (**) indicates more than one person in the image; a number in brackets indicates multiple photographs.
This series includes five copies of the privately published, 10th anniversary commemorative book, Letters to a Bookstore,one in the original packaging with the invitation to the September 29, 1988 celebration; four of the original Books & Co. paper shopping bags, designed by Ed Koren;a press kit for Leila Hadley's book, A Journey with Elsa Cloud,published under the Books & Co. imprint of Turtle Point Press;a special printing of a Laura (Riding) Jackson poem; and another of a Jim Harrison poem.
The audiocassettes are recordings of readings and the occasional panel discussion at Books & Co. between 1991 and 1997. (Though readings were a featured event at the store as early as 1980, according to Watson, they were not recorded prior to 1991.) Over 100 works were recorded on 79 audiocassettes. Most of the readings feature one author, though several do include two. Several special events, such as a celebration of a specific publishing house or benefit for a particular cause, feature multiple authors or readers. Descriptive entries capture the name of each author and the title of the book from which the author read. If a poet read from a collection of poems, titles of individual works are often, but not always, captured. Most of the readings were under 30 minutes in length, but several do last longer or include audience discussion and questions for the author, requiring the use of the second side of the cassette. These instances are noted in the audiocassette database description (see Appendix B). An alphabetical listing of recorded events and authors, with the date of the event, is found in Appendix A. A chronological listing of readings and events, which includes authors, event title (if a special event), book title, and publisher is included in Appendix E. (Please note that not all of the events between 1991 and 1997 at Books & Co. were recorded.)
The eight videocassettes include recordings of NBC, CNBC, and NY1 News television reports which involved Books & Co. as the subject of the report, either regarding the closing of the bookstore, or in discussing the effect of cyber bookstores and super-bookstores on the business of independent shops. Other clips include a "CBS News Sunday Morning" report by Charles Kuralt interviewing author/painter Russell Chatham, a friend and reader at Books & Co.; an interview with famed French actress Jeanne Moreau (whom Watson refers to as her "personal goddess") speaking about her love of literature and her fondness for Books & Co., which was filmed in the shop, (recorded in French, no English translation available); an interview of Jeannette Watson on the evening of the final reading at Books & Co. (May 15, 1997); and a recording of Watson receiving an award from the New York Society Library, on April 23, 1997, from NYSL Board Chairman William Dean. This clip also includes her acceptance speech and a toast by Brendan Gill.