Autograph expert and ABAA-member Gary Combs died last month. A celebration of his life will be held in New York City on March 7, as many of his former colleagues will be in the city for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.
ABAA-member James Camner paid tribute to his late friend and colleague:
It is with deep sadness that I am reporting the death of my dear friend and colleague Gary Combs who died just after his 70th Birthday on February 10.
Gary will be known to many in the ABAA as a premier level autograph dealer in New York City. He was a top private dealer, a “dealer’s dealer” for many years, but his start in the business was as a salesman in the Book Department of B. Altman’s Department store, where I met him back in 1976. At the time, he was the assistant to another dear old departed friend of the trade, Bob Tollett. Upon Bob’s retirement, Gary became Altman’s buyer, and remained there until the store closed for good. We older autograph and book dealers will remember what a force Altman’s and their buyers were in their day. At every book fair, autograph show and twice a year in Europe, we all looked forward to their buying trips. They were perhaps the most powerful retail outlet to the general public, and their groundbreaking full page ads in the New York Times likely created countless new collectors. With Gary’s passing, we have lost our last link to that grand old institution and its retail world of antiquarian books, maps and autographs.
After leaving Altman’s, Gary moved easily into establishing a niche for himself in the business with a rare eye for finding perfect, special autographs and manuscripts. Collectors and dealers knew that they would find unique and sophisticated rarities in his stock and eagerly anticipated catalogs. Gary had that deep and extensive knowledge of history, science and the arts that characterizes only the top dealers.
Many will remember Gary for his caustic wit, and though he was my oldest friend in the trade, he zinged me plenty. He would gleefully tell me “I defended you” to this or that person and then tell me all those faults he had “excused” in the course of his “defense”, thoroughly flattening me. But underneath that slicing and dicing, he had the proverbial heart of gold and he took in all sorts of waifs and orphans in his days: friends, cats, dogs, fish, and even for one summer, my daughter when she was at NYU.
Health problems plagued Gary for more than a decade so he became somewhat reclusive. Those who have known him only in recent times might not know that, in his youth, he was an Adonis and had had a career as a male model, moonlighting as such, while getting his history degree at Colgate.
Gary was a true original, standing out as an idiosyncratic character even in a profession that is bristling with them, but always with integrity, knowledge and honesty. With his passing, the field has shrunk to a perilous few genuine experts, but it is really on a personal level that I will miss him the most.
A celebration of the life of the late and noted autograph dealer, Gary Edward Combs will be held on March 7, 2017 at 1:00 PM. All of his many friends, colleagues, and clients are invited to attend the remembrance. The location is The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, between Christopher and Grove Street in Manhattan.