Riverrun Books & Manuscripts Provides Literary Portal into the Past

by W.B. King

Riverrun Books & Manuscripts Owner Tom Lecky.

Riverrun Books & Manuscripts Owner Tom Lecky.

With a revolving inventory of more than
30,000 volumes of rare, antiquarian, unusual
books and manuscripts from all time
periods, Hastings-on-Hudson’s Riverrun
Books & Manuscripts is tantamount to a
literary time machine.

“Since 1978, it has been an antiquarian
book store focusing on fine books and first
editions,” said owner Tom Lecky. “Until I
took over in June of 2016, the focus was
on modern material because that was the
strength of the previous owners.”

Prior to buying the book store, Lecky
spent 17 years working for Christie’s auction
house. During his last 10 years of employment,
he headed the company’s Printed
Books & Manuscripts Department.

“Given my background and experience,
I have handled a lot more earlier material,”
said Lecky. His current catalog project, for
example, features more than 120 books
that reflect the entire history of book illustration—
from the 15th century to early 20th century.

“The stock we have now tends to reflect
more of that (older titles) as well as the
whole scope of books throughout printed
history,” said Lecky.

Bound and Determined

A Hastings resident since 2001, Lecky
often passed the book store on his way to
and from the train when he commuted to
Manhattan. He would stop in on occasion
to see what new titles were on display or
just to have a chat.

“The store has the same name as it did
in 1978. I knew the previous owner and
bought things from him,” said Lecky. “Last
year the opportunity arose for me to take
over the business, and I ended up purchasing it.”

With an extensive list of books, customers
could purchase a first edition, first issue
of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatbsy
for $7,000. On average, Lecky said book
prices range from $5 to $150,000.

“I am not what you would call a used
book store,” said Lecky. “I sell first edition,
scholarly books and unusual books. This
doesn’t necessarily mean they are expensive
but it means they have a unique or interesting
feature to them rather than, say, a
paperback version of a Charles Dickens novel.”

And while his list of books sits around
30,000 titles, only 15,000 are catalogued
on the store’s website (www.riverrunbookshop.
com). “There is a tremendous amount
of material that hasn’t been processed yet or
is of more modest value and doesn’t warrant
the time and detail it takes to catalog,”
said Lecky. “So there is a lot to discover in the store.”

Turning the Page

Lecky, who has been a featured appraiser
on PBS’s Antique Roadshow, has worked
on various literary collections that went
to market, including the Fox-Bute set of
Audubon’s’ Birds of America, which holds
the world record for price of a printed book
($10 million). And while this example is
the exception rather than the rule, rare,
valuable books continually pop up, he said.
“Most of the books that are here and that
I purchase are books that have been passed
down in families going back one or two
generations,” said Lecky. “The overwhelming
number of books are of nominal value,
but that is true of any area whether it is
silver, porcelain or a painting. Every once
in a while you find a real gem.”

Lecky purchased Riverrun Books &
Manuscripts, in part, to support the literary
community in and around Hastings-on-
Hudson. The store regularly holds
readings and receptions. He is also happy
to field general questions from customers
on the lineage and history of a book. For a
fee, he offers professional estate and insurance appraisals.

“There are fewer and fewer book stores
people can visit,” said Lecky. “This store is a
place where people can come and feel comfortable.
They can browse, ask questions
and make discoveries on their own of really
interesting material that ranges across centuries
and subjects. It’s a pleasure to share
my love of books with people.”

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