H.P. Kraus
By: Tom Nealon | Categories: HiLo Heroes

H.P. Kraus in 1959, with the St Albans Apocalypse

H.P. KRAUS (Hans Peter Kraus, 1901-1988) once cut a Hemingway-esque figure in the world of rare books. A survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, he was a book dealer who abandoned 100,000 volumes in Vienna when he left for New York. As if his origins weren’t mythical enough, consider the following stories, some of which aren’t true: he bought a Gutenberg Bible (not to mention a Psalters of 1457 and 1459) on spec; he found a Thomas Jefferson-signed Louisiana Purchase inside a copy of Caxton’s Canterbury Tales; and he sold the Giant Bible of Mainz to Lessing J. Rosenwald for an astronomical sum — after winning it in a 48-hour poker game three days before. Like an LBO firm, Kraus bought huge collections — 20,000 incunabula, say, or 2,000 manuscripts — and sold them off piece by piece. His success — and his autobiography, a rare-books version of the memoirs of Casanova — earned him the awe of colleagues. But it’s his magnificent catalogs and research materials (still spiraling outwards after the firm’s dissolution), that keep him alive in their memories.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Aleister Crowley.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled generation (1894-1903).

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Tom Nealon runs the online rare bookshop Pazzo Books specializing in early printed books, cookery and literature. In his spare time he works on barbecue techniques in the test pit in his backyard. He can be found at pazzobooks.com and @pazzobooks on twitter.