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 owns and operates the used and rare bookstore Pazzo Books in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Mass and runs the antiquarian food blog cruditas.