David J. Holmes was born in Somerville NJ in 1945 to Forrest and Margaret (Reed) Holmes. His childhood was blessed by wonderful family and friends and a deep love of nature. He spent the spare moments of his youth “brookside” in New Jersey, studying the ways of the water, and along the Jersey shore. Later this love was to bring him to purchase his summer home in Port Clyde, Maine. David was also a gifted athlete. When it came time to go to college he selected a sports-oriented school (Springfield College) and then surprised everyone by majoring in English. It was here that he met Barbara Ware, the woman who would become his wife. He and Barbara spent a summer together studying at Oxford University in England where David discovered the world of rare books and manuscripts—a passion that was to become the focus of his life’s work. He and Barbara both earned Master’s Degrees in English at Northeastern University. They married in 1968 and Dave joined the Coast Guard as a hospital corpsman. He was stationed in Ketchikan, Alaska and served on the buoy-tender, the Bittersweet.
David’s career in rare books began in Boston in 1972 where he ran his own business out of the corner of a tiny apartment in the company of his new baby, Sarah. In 1975, he joined the firm of George S. MacManus in Philadelphia, where he ran the literature department, and the family relocated to Collingswood New Jersey. Eventually, David was to operate out of his own shop on Broad Street in Philadelphia, overlooking the Academy of Music, and he became a noted and respected member of the book community, specializing in the minor literary figures of the nineteenth century. Aside from the business, he personally built what has been called the greatest collection of the works of Kenneth Grahame in private hands. Grahame was something of a kindred spirit, driven by the same values of simplicity, honesty, and respect for the natural world, and David spent the last 25 years refining his collection, focusing on Grahame’s connection with America. This culminated in an exhibit at the Grolier Club, the pride and highlight of his collecting career, and David’s expertise has often been called upon by researchers and biographers of Grahame.
David was a member of the Franklin Inn Club where he served as president, the Philobiblon Club, The Grolier Club and The Old Book Table in New York City. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support those organizations in which he believed.
The great joy of his life was that his daughter, Sarah Holmes Bookbinder, worked alongside him in the business for twenty years. In 2001 the families relocated to Hamilton NY where Sarah and Dave continued to work from his home. In Hamilton, David was embraced by the community at Park Methodist Church, where he sang bass in the choir. Music was the constant undercurrent of his life.
David will be remembered most for his generosity, his loyalty, his kind and gentle soul, his pure heart, his honesty, his integrity, and his subtle sense of humor. He believed in simplicity and goodness and, although a quiet man, he made lifelong connections and friends readily.
David is survived by his wife Barbara, his daughter, Sarah, his son-in-law Paul Bookbinder, his sister Susan and her husband Vincent Totero of Austin Texas, nieces Lolly Totero and Maria Brummer, step-grandchildren Lauren and Jack Bookbinder, his pit bull Tulip, and a large circle of beloved friends and colleagues all over the world. A memorial celebration will be held in the spring. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Stevens-Swan Humane Society 5664 Horatio St.Utica, NY 13502, or the Park United Methodist Church 17 Broad Street, Hamilton, NY.
Clarence Wolf of the MacManus Company:
David Holmes was a member of the ABAA for a number of years and was in the book business for 45 years specializing in autographs, manuscripts, first editions, association copies, and first editions. He started out as a bookseller in Boston, and in 1975 came to Philadelphia and joined forces with me at the MacManus Company, where he ran the literature department. Dave eventually went off on his own and had an office in Philadelphia for some time, before moving his business to Collingswood, New Jersey, and finally settling in Hamilton, New York, where his daughter Sarah joined him in the business. He was an expert in the field of Victorian literature, and Thomas Hardy in particular. He was a modest and gentle person whose impact on the world of books is substantial, and whose influence on the many collectors that he helped is equally so. Dave was dear and close friend who will be missed by many. In addition to his daughter, Dave is survived by his wife Barbara. A memorial is planned for this coming Spring. Our deepest sympathy and condolences go out to Barbara and Sarah.
Chuck Roberts of Wonder Books:
This is yet another blow to our trade.
I had the good fortune to visit David’s idyllic home and business near Syracuse and Colgate a number of years ago. Sarah had acquired a hoard of books in Philadelphia. A lovely modern pole barn in the New York countryside was filled with boxes and David was hoping to get them gone.
Who you gonna call.
We had the time and need back then and I made the long distance house call. Clif, the warehouse foreman (and Wonder employee since 1989) then moved up to his old hometown for about a week to load a tractor trailer so they could be brought to Maryland.
David showed me his antiquarian stock in the house and those books were as perfect as the surrounding Sleepy Hollowish countryside. I felt I was in a time capsule there. His locus was from the Golden Age. Genteel, scholarly, classic…perfect. Then I stepped outside beautiful home and back into the real world.
I can still recall the 3 books I bought from him. I have them still…somewhere here…
The thousands of others I bought in the barn are long gone.
David, Godspeed and “well done".
To the Holmes family, my condolences.
The frustrations and unhappinesses at work today now seem trivial and selfish. Another Friday afternoon has become bittersweet and melancholy.
Every Bookseller’s death diminishes me...
David Holmes was one of the brightest lights in autographs, a rigorous scholar, an expert of unquestioned integrity, he was the epitome of what a dealer should be. In every transaction I had with him, he was always correct, always reliable. He was also a sweetheart of a man. Such sad news. He will be missed.
John and Jude Lubrano:
We were very sorry to hear of David’s passing. We had the pleasure of working with him on one of the committees of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association some years ago and, of course, would often see him at various book fairs in the Northeast. He always impressed us as a kind, thoughtful, and genuine person - the likes of which are much too few and far between. He will be greatly missed.
Rusty Mott of Howard Mott, Inc.:
Veta and I were shocked and saddened to learn of David's death. At one point in the Spring he had told us his health was going through a rough patch, but intimated it was all manageable, albeit long term. We had no idea.
Dave was an extraordinary book and manuscript dealer, more properly, scholar, of immense knowledge, but more importantly he was a gentle soul, and a wonderful person. We respected him greatly for all those marvelous traits. I knew Dave for roughly 45 years, and for 30 years or more sat together half a dozen times a year at dinner in New York. Not only did we have interesting and entertaining conversations, but the extended time together shone a light on what a wonderful, dry sense of humor he had.
I don't remember the exact year we met, but it was when we were both new to the business, sometime during his and Barbara's Boston years, before he joined Clarence at MacManus in Philadelphia. There are many parallels to David's life and mine. We were both born in February, 1945 (I was 19 days older), both served on board ship in the 1960's, he in the Coast Guard, and me in the Navy, and we both began our full-time bookselling careers in 1972. He had the advantage over me of knowing what he was doing when it came to rare books. I was a babe in the woods, and I remember being impressed with his knowledge. To say that Dave knew a great deal about English and American literature would be a severe understatement. As I said, he was a scholar.
I do remember the occasion we met in the early 1970's when Dave visited us, or more precisely my father who had offered him a collection of Stone & Kimball books. They happily conversed about all the books and their interest, if not import, and I was a spectator to their enjoyment. Two bookmen talking about what they loved. Dad made Dave an attractive offer, and Dave bought the collection at what still must have been a large financial outlay at the time for a new bookseller. My father liked to support and encourage younger dealers, and he thought David Holmes among the best. No one could argue with that assessment.
We are saddened beyond words, and extend our deepest sympathies and condolences
Fred and Ellen Schreiber:
David, whom it is was my privilege to call my friend, was the only person I ever met about whom no one could possibly have had anything negative to say. He was a very rare individual who was loved by everyone who knew him.
Ellen and I will miss him dearly.
Our deepest sympathy and love to Barbara and Sarah, and Paul her husband.
Terry Halladay of the William Reese Company:
David's friendship was a gift - his was one of the most abundant and
generous hearts I've known.
With Barbara and Sarah by his side, David exhibited extraordinary grace and
courage through some very difficult months of complex medical issues.
For myself, for my wife Laura, and for all at the Reese Company, words just
do not suffice at this moment to convey how deeply affected we are by his
passing and how painfully he will be missed.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Barbara and Sarah.
David's passing will come as sad news indeed to anyone who ever met him. Dave was an eager and intelligent bookman whom I recall first meeting at a book fair in Philadelphia when he purchased a few Victorian three-deckers for the Macmanus firm. Although it's been years since we saw each other, David remained a savvy customer and a true gentleman, friendly and kind. Best wishes to his family and to those who knew him well.
Even though I read of David’s passing early this morning, it has now taken the later part of the day for me to approach the keyboard to express my shock and sadness at his passing.
I first met David in the late 1970s when he was head of the literature at McManus. We instantly got on, but then again who wouldn’t with such a fine and interesting guy. If I had to pick for the poster boy for integrity it would be a large portrait of David. In terms of knowledge about autograph material, no one knew the worlds of 19th Century through pre-World War Two English and American Literature as well as he. It is one thing to know big names well, but David had an intimate and extensive knowledge of all the lesser known or remembered authors. If David felt something was wrong with an autograph I would go with his opinion anytime. When people pass we all have a tendency to try to pick out the good things to say, with David, I am at a total loss to think of anything negative.
As I look back now, I think of David taking me to my first Philly cheesesteak place, with the place packed with people, with grease fires seemingly happening every few minutes and the place full of smoke from the grill, but we just chatted on together about books and autographs.
Such a sad day. Rest in peace, friend.
Years ago, Dave Holmes told me that he thought there was a critical point in the life of a business when it was at risk of faltering or failing because it was either too ambitious or not ambitious enough. I don’t remember whether Dave had anything particular in mind at the time, or was just making a general observation, but looking back, I’m not surprised that Dave was thinking along these lines. Size matters; but for most booksellers it seems it is our size that matters most, and I think Dave was always aware of the subtleties of translating ourselves into our businesses, adapting ourselves to them, and them to us, so that we might be both comfortable and successful at the same time.
Businesses, like people, can have identity crises, I suppose, but I don’t think Dave ever had one. Dave always seemed to know exactly what he was doing; he seemed to have the surest sense of what he wanted to buy, how much he could pay for it, and how much he could reasonably expect to sell it for, of any bookseller I know. He was passionate about his interests, but pragmatic about his business. He didn’t swing for the fences; he always got on base, and almost always made it home.
One of the reasons for Dave’s strength and success, I think, was that he knew he was part of a community, a community of scholars and book collectors and booksellers, a community that was a source of pride and pleasure to him, and a community in which trust mattered more than anything else. When it came to buying and selling rare books and manuscripts, Dave did it confidently and fairly, and always with the honesty and integrity that meant so much to him, and to all who knew him.
Dave was one of the most admirable and endearing men I’ve ever known; and in his modest, moderate way, without vanity or pretension, the truest bookseller. Our world is a sadder, shabbier place without him.
Rick Loomis of Sumner and Stillman:
When I first came onto the antiquarian book scene, in the early '80s, Dave Holmes (in Philadelphia) was one of the first book-people I really got to know. I immediately knew that he, even back then, represented the kind of professional I wanted to become. Quiet and modest, he simply exuded knowledge, professionalism and integrity -- all with a spark of dry wit. Throughout our 35 or so years of friendship (and commerce), he unfailingly came across that way.
In recent years, Sue and I have seen Dave and Barbara usually in August, on their way to or from their seaside cape in Port Clyde, Maine. Yes we might have talked books and maybe even traded a few, but we mainly talked about our kids, our home-towns -- whatever it was that made us happy.
I shall miss, something awful, Dave's calm, authoritative voice in the midst of what is sometimes a sea of huckstering and hype.
James M. Dourgarian:
I just learned of David's passing. While he and I never met in person, we had many phone and e-mail conversations, starting with our partnering on a cache of Dickens, etc. letters that I had acquired from a private collector. I'm hardly an autograph expert, but David and I had conducted some business previously and since he was an ABAA member and an autograph expert, he seemed like a good choice to partner on those letters. He was. Our dealings were professional, cordial, successful. We are very close in age. While just a few of those letters remain, David sold all the good ones for us. Our business dealings just couldn't have been better. I just wished he and I could have met in person so that I could place a face together with a name. That's always one of the joys in this business for me. He and I last communicated about six months ago. I am sad for my loss, for the loss suffered by our trade and association, and for his family.
I was shocked and very sad to learn of the passing of my dear friend David Holmes – he was a true gentleman in our trade.
I first met him in the early seventies when he was working for Macmanus in Philadelphia.
I had just purchased a collection of books in Denmark where the owner had bought literally thousands of books published from around 1900 until 1920 when he died. He had never unpacked the parcels and the books were put into storage for over fifty years. All the books were ‘absolutely mint’ and when I returned from Denmark and unpacked the books onto our shelves - David came into 48a Charing Cross Road and asked “have you any early twentieth century literature?” I remember so well taking him down to our basement in Great Newport Street and his expression when he first saw all the books. He purchased most of them and that was the beginning of a long and fruitful business relationship and a wonderful friendship. I shall miss my friend David Holmes – one of the true gentlemen of our trade.
Editor’s note: Sarah Holmes saw many of the tributes posted on the ABAA’s listserv, and wrote the following in response:
I wanted to thank everyone for their moving testimonies which I have been sharing with my mother. My Dad was a true book dealer to the end, never making it to the "retirement" we knew he'd never want. I have been reading your posts aloud to him, in the hopes that somehow he can hear them. You were all treasured friends and respected colleagues.
I will be continuing to operate the business for the foreseeable future. I have been cherishing the tributes and have been greatly comforted by the realization that so many saw my father so clearly for the extraordinary kind man that he was. I hope he can see how much you all respected him. And please know it means the world to me. I am proud to be his daughter, and to have been able to share his passion and values, and hope to continue to honor his legacy.