An Advocate for the Antiquarian
I’ve never seen a book I didn’t like. I’ve taken in all kinds. I guess that’s why I’ve often been called ‘the keeper of homeless books.’ – Dr. Leslie Poste
Dr. Poste was known to be a true lover of old books, which isn’t surprising considering the time he spent rescuing them with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) division while he was in the United States Army. While Poste loved a wide variety of books from all different genres, time periods, and backgrounds, his true passion was able to shine through upon his retirement in 1978 when he took up work as an antiquarian book dealer. He ran this business out of his home in Geneseo from retirement until his death in 1996. Doing the kind of work that he did, Poste was able to stay in regular contact with the librarians at SUNY Geneseo, and was never far from his adopted home. His presence and friendliness are well remembered by the people who had the opportunity to work with him.
Paula Henry was the Acquisitions Librarian for Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo from 1975 to 2002, and recalls Dr. Poste as a “very happy man.” According to Ms. Henry, Dr. Poste always had a cheery disposition, and loved to talk to people, as he was “a great storyteller.” Being Milne’s Acquisitions Librarian, Ms. Henry would have been of particular interest to any book dealer, and was especially so to Dr. Poste, as they had worked together briefly before his retirement, and his affection for Geneseo often translated into offering them reasonably-priced books as a dealer. Ms. Henry fondly remembers her first few years on the job and the pressure involved in making the big decisions about which books the library bought, and just how understanding and careful Dr. Poste was to only offer books that she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable accepting or declining. The two book-lovers got along quite well, sharing an interest in the well-documented local history of Geneseo as a town and college; one of Ms. Henry’s favorite purchases for Milne from Poste was a large map of New York state before all of its counties had been formed. Poste had a knack for obtaining rare and interesting objects during his time as a book dealer, making him a particularly effective antiquarian dealer. Ms. Henry recalls how efficient and successful his business was, running it with his wife, Virginia, whom Henry referred to as a “real treasure.” Virginia Poste was very supportive of her husband’s interests, and even shared them as she actively involved herself in his book dealing, attending auctions and tabling antique fairs with him.
An article found in a Mount Morris Enterprise publication from the year 1976-1977 details an interview done with Dr. Poste about his experience as an antiquarian collector and dealer. The article describes the Poste home precisely the way that Ms. Henry remembered seeing it once on a visit: “Books everywhere; on the table, the counters, stacked neatly in corners, lining the walls.” Despite the clutter, their home was qualified as a “highly intellectual climate… with a spirit of hospitality.” Dr. Poste’s own generous and passionate disposition is also underscored in this article, these qualities being some of the core motivations to his interest and success in dealing. He loved the challenge of locating rare books for customers, and seeing how “truly appreciative” they were even more so, proving the search service for free unless the book was found, and “in a presentable enough condition to pass on.” When much-desired books were found in less than desirable condition, Poste would even offer it to the buyer without charge, or undertake restoring it if requested.
Aside from work as an antiquarian dealer, the article also underscores his work as a Library and Information Science professor at SUNY Geneseo. According to the article, Milne’s Special Collections were in their infantile stages, as Poste explained how foreign rare, collectors’ books were to the librarians specializing in “fully circulated” books, by which he was surrounded. To “bridge that gap,” Poste developed an innovative Rare Books course, vividly remembered by Ms. Henry, who audited it in her early years as Acquisitions Librarian.
Dr. Poste’s life was a continuous narrative engaging in the praise, protection, and preservation of all kinds of books; his time at Geneseo as both professor and member of the community was truly a gift to its campus and community.
The Donations: While no one from Milne Library specifically remembers Poste’s donations to their “X” Special Collection, an extensive search of their records and holdings show that Dr. Poste, who often sold books to Milne Library, only ever donated three. I stumbled across these donations while looking for the earliest published books in the library’s holdings: a Latin encyclopedia titled Sicuti Antiquarum Lectionum, published in Venice, Italy in 1516. This book certainly stood out as part of Milne’s rare books collection, and upon finding it, I also noticed two other books much older than the other books in the collection: D. Hilarii Pictauorum and Ioan. Damasceni, published in 1535 and 1539, respectively. All of these texts are in Latin, and are in very good shape for their age. I learned that all three were donated by Dr. Poste only by their bookplates, marking the year of donation as 1980 for all three. In looking more into the provenance of each book, I was led down the unexpected rabbit hole into the incredible story of this admirable man. Given Poste’s history and interests, this donation may not be surprising, but it is meaningful and says a lot about his generous character. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Leslie Poste’s story as much as I’ve enjoyed relaying it. Please continue to explore this website, specifically the pages for each donation (click on the italicized titles previously mentioned!), and take a crash-course in early Western printing if you need a better context for these beautiful pieces of text!
Paula Henry (Acquisitions Librarian, Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo, 1975-2002), interview by Amanda Wentworth, April 2017.
“Rare Find Started Book Hobby and Business,” Enterprise (Mt. Morris, NY), November 23, 1977, 10. Old Fulton NY Post Cards. http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2023/Mt.%20Morris%20NY%20Enterprise/Mt.%20Morris%20NY%20Enterprise%201976-1977/Mt.%20Morris%20NY%20Enterprise%201976-1977%20-%201013.pdf