Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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GOWANS, William, antiquarian bookseller, born in the parish of Lismahagow, Scotland, 29 March, 1803; died in New York City, 27 November, 1870. His parents desired to educate him for the ministry, but he was disinclined for so serious a profession and returned to work on his father's farm. In June, 1821, the family emigrated to the United States, and, after working on a flat-boat on the Mississippi, William became a gardener in New York City in 1825, and afterward successively a stone-cutter, stevedore, vender of newspapers, and bill-distributer for the Bowery theatre. In May, 1827, he obtained a clerkship in a small book-store, and in the following year began to trade on his own account, buying at auctions and vending as a book-pedler in the Streets of New York City. In 1828 he opened a book-stall on the sidewalk in Chatham Street. Here he remained two years, and thereafter opened a small store in the "Arcade" building, but soon returned to Chatham Street. In 1837 Mr. Gowans became a book auctioneer. In 1840 he paid a brief visit to his native hind, and on his return to New York City once more became a dealer in second-hand books, finally settling in Nassau Street, where he remained till his death. His earliest publications were "Phaedon " (New York, 1833), and "The Phoenix" (1835). From time to time followed re-publications of rare tracts and pamphlets, in liraited editions, most of them historical Americana. After the death of his wife in 1863 he retired from contact with his fellow-men, and spent his time in his store and at the book auctions. At these places it had for a long time become the rule to knock down all lots for which there were no bona-fide bidders at the auctioneer's estimated value to Mr. "Chase," his commercial pseudonym. Many were the anecdotes related illustrating his peculiarities. A single one may be mentioned. While the writer was in conversation with the dealer on one occasion, a person entered the Nassau Street shop and asked for a rare book, which was handed to him with the price, in answer to the customer's inquiry. "Is that not very high ?" the latter asked; and Gowans, taking the work from his hand, said: '" Well, I'll put it higher," and to the astonishment of the clerical customer replaced the volume on the shelf. When the latter remarked that he would take it, the irate antiquarian answered that it was not for sale, and turning his back on him resumed the interrupted conversation with the writer. Gowans's first book-catalogue was issued in 1842, his last one, No. 28, in 1870. These brochures were interspersed with valuable notes on books, and remarks on noted persons with whom the author had come in contact. Among these were Audubon, Burr, Bennett, Forrest, Fanny Kemble, Halleck, Macdonald Clarke, the mad poet, Poe, and Simms. Gowans's stock of books at the time of his death numbered nearly 300,000 volumes, and were disposed of by auction. The catalogue was in sixteen parts, containing 2,476 pages, and the sale began 30 January 1871, and ended 5 February, 1872, lasting for about a month in each season. His funeral discourse was delivered by the Reverend John Thompson, D. D., and memorial sketches were written by his friend and physician, Dr. Samuel S. Purple, and the Rev. S. I. Prime, D. D., of the "New York Observer."
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