Memories of Departed Bookmen Department

Harry Bierman, Proprietor of Pic-A-Book

Harry Bierman at his famous roll-top desk

Harry Bierman at his famous roll-top desk.  Photo by Arnold Herr

Harry Bierman seemed to be such a gentle soul, low key, soft-spoken, and a friendly smile.  When I first met him, he was at his shop that he called Pik-A-Book Co., 8422 W. 3rd Street in West Hollywood.  He previously had a shop somewhere on Santa Monica Blvd. in the City of  Santa Monica.  Sometime around 1985 or 1986 he moved to West Hollywood and was listed in the Southern California Book Finder in the 1987 edition.

Harry graduated from Law School in New York and came west in the 1950s.  He somehow got into the vending business.  At one point I heard that he actually set up little vending machines for paperback books.  This was scuttlebutt that was going around after he died, but I can personally verify it because I actually saw one in the 1990s.  I had dropped by the old Dutton’s Bookshop at Laurel Canyon and Magnolia to look around and Dave Dutton asked me to check out a library of  books that was for sale out in the Van Nuys area.  This happened once in a while when Dave couldn’t get out of his busy shop. The deal was I was to buy the books if they were good, bring them back and we would divey them up between us.

I drove over to the house and looked at the books, piled in boxes in the garage. They were newer books on gambling and betting, always good sellers back in those days.  I made an offer and became the instant owner.  When I went inside the house I was astonished to see a vending rack leaning in the corner of the living room.  It was the legendary Pic-A-Book rack, selling paperbacks for 25 cents.  I tried to buy it, but the lady of the house would not part with it.  It had been a present from her father, a book dealer himself.  The vending rack was small and would hold about 50 books, and it was entirely open, meaning it operated on the honor principle, something that would sadly be a sure money loser in today’s mercantile society.  If you put one of those out on the street today, not only would the books be gone, the money ripped by crowbar from the little built in bank, but the entire machine would be gone to some scrap yard, probably all the above in an hour’s time.

Harry Bierman was a bookman’s bookman.  He obtained most of his books from auction and sold most of them at pretty much wholesale prices at his shop, mainly to other book dealers.  The shop itself was sparse, not a typical bookshop piled high.  Harry was a regular at Abel’s auction house when it was down on Adams Avenue, and then when it moved to City of Commerce. In the 1970s and 80s Adams Avenue had auction houses lining the street, a hold-over of better days in the teens and 1920s when the L.A. rich lived west of downtown on Adams in huge mansions, many of them Victorians.  He bought most of the libraries at Abel’s, and was their number one book buyer.  I remember being at some big auctions at Abel’s when they had received a fabulous library, and all the high-rollers would converge on the auction house, confident that they would be able to out-bid Harry and make off with the books.  It was amusing to watch the carnage, because old Harry beat them every time.  He somehow had the magic touch and almost always got the library, sending the westside bookdealers back to their palaces wondering what had just happened to them.

Harry was at one time quite a good tennis player and tennis instructor.  He was also a top U.S. Bridge Master and would be paid by wealthy folks in Beverly Hills to join them in a game of bridge for some of their gala bridge parties.  This was before the internet, when folks had time to do more than just text their phone or cruise the net.  Times have changed and old Harry, were he alive today, would starve if he had to make some extra pocket change playing bridge.  In fact, he might well starve if he were still selling books in this marketplace, where even a rumor would generate big news that a “book collector”, a rare species of humanoid, had been seen walking around Los Angeles asking where the hell did all the bookstores go?  Harry Bierman passed away sometime in the late 1980s.  He left his remaining books and possibly the roll-top desk to his friend Phyllis Reichman.

Many thanks to Ken Karmiole for his memories of Harry, and to Arnold Herr for his wonderful timeless photo.  If anyone out there has any additional thoughts or corrections please contact me.  Paul Hunt.

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