Henry Newton Stevens

Henry Newton Stevens (1855-1930), who became the first president of the ABA in 1907, was born in Camden Town, London, on 7th June 1855. He was the only son of the celebrated, indeed legendary, bookseller Henry Stevens of Vermont (1819-1886) and his wife Mary Kuczynski, née Newton (1819-1891), who had married at St. Pancras the previous year.  The elder Henry Stevens had arrived in London in the mid 1840s and rather set the book world ablaze, virtually inventing Americana as a bookselling category, helping to build some of the world’s greatest libraries – finding material for John Carter Brown Library, James Lenox, Pierpont Morgan, Henry Huntington, William Folger – and founding a business which passed on standards of bibliography, expertise in the rarest of books, and scrupulous collation to his son, Henry Newton Stevens , grandson, Henry Stevens, and great-grandson Henry Robert Peter Stevens. His papers are now at Yale and there is further reading in an admirable article, Henry Stevens and John Carter Brown: A Tangled Tale of Early Americana Collecting, on the William Reese & Co. website, as well as an illuminating essay by John G. Garratt (on Stevens’ feud with Henry Harrisse) in the Autumn 1978 issue of The Book Collector.

His wife, herself born in Lincoln, was the widow of Vincent Francis Kuczynski, Polish by birth, who worked in Her Majesty’s State Paper Office. Kuczynski died in 1851, after ten years of marriage and the arrival of two children, Stanislaus Newton Kuczynski (1842-1891) and Pauline Ann Kuczynski (1843-1892). At the age of twenty-one, Pauline Ann Kuczynski married the recently widowed and well-known vicar-poet, Robert Stephen Hawker, of Morwenstow (1803-1875), who thus achieved the rather unusual feat of marrying a second wife at least sixty years younger than his first. To what extent the young Henry Newton Stevens came to know his half-sister’s wildly eccentric and colourful husband is not known, but the association is a pleasing one.

Henry Newton Stevens was brought up in London, the family recorded at 2 Byng Place, Tottenham Court Road, on the 1861 Census return – his father simply described as “literary” by way of occupation, with Pauline still living at home and described as a scholar. Ten years on, the Census return finds him at school at Nassau House in Barnes.

He may not originally have been intended for the rare book trade. When he married Lucy Elizabeth Baker (1856-1907), daughter of the late John Baker, a local bootmaker, and his wife Mary, at Holy Trinity, Clapham, on 15th August 1878, he was described simply as an accountant. (His father was described in the parish register as an American literary agent).   A son, also Henry Stevens, was born the following May – the young couple’s address given as Vermont Cottage, Paragon Grove, Surbiton, in a newspaper announcement.  They were still in Paragon Grove in 1881, at which time Henry Newton Stevens was described as a commercial clerk. It is possible that he was in fact working for his father in this capacity, and was certainly doing so by 1885 when the firm became known as “Henry Stevens & Son”, the business moving at that time from 4 Trafalgar Square to 115 St. Martin's Lane.  Henry Stevens senior died at his home in Upper Avenue, Regent’s Park, on 28th February 1886. Henry Newton Stevens was described as an antiquarian bookseller – an earlyish use of that phrase – when the will was proved (the personal estate valued at a somewhat meagre £151.12s.6d).

Henry Newton Stevens was still living in Paragon Grove in 1891, with the business having moved to to larger premises at 39 Great Russell Street in 1888. He “was as upright as his father was slippery” according to the William S. Reese article mentioned above, and soon began to acquire his own reputation for expertise and scholarship. Among his publications were Lewis Evans : His Map of the British Colonies in America. A Comparative Account of Ten Different Editions Published between 1755 and 1807 1905; Ptolemy’s Geography. A Brief Account of all the Printed Editions down to 1730 1908; The First Delineation of the New World, and the First Use of the name America on a Printed Map. An Analytical Comparison of Three Maps 1928. Formal recognition of his authority and stature came with the award of an honorary Master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1923, at the instigation of William L. Clements.

Meanwhile the business had expanded with the addition of his own son, Henry Stevens III, who became a partner in 1907, and a further partner in Robert Edward Stiles (1869-1937), the son of a local piano dealer who had worked with Stevens since at least 1891 and became a partner in Henry Stevens, Son & Stiles in or about 1905.

Stevens’ home life was perhaps not quite so happy. In 1898 or thereabouts he set up a separate establishment at 3 The Paragon, Richmond, with Marie Levy (1865?-1943), one of the numerous daughters of a German immigrant, Joseph Levy and his wife Rosa, whose premises at 110 Waterloo Road were variously described as an eating-house, a hotel or a coffee-house.   The couple had four daughters between 1900 and 1905 – Celia Candace Stevens, Dulcie Marguerite Stevens, Jessica Estelle Stevens and Marjorie Eileen Stevens – before they able to marry in 1907 on the death of his first wife and set up a new home in Harold Road, Upper Norwood. Their daughter Dulcie later married Roland Tree, who later became a partner in the business, in 1924.

Henry Newton Stevens died on the 26th April 1930. Probate was granted to his widow, Marie, his son Henry, his son-in-law Roland Arthur Louis Tree, and to Charles Stanley Meadows, an insurance official . His estate was valued at £10,237,15s.2d. 

Laurence Worms 2012 - revised April 2014