Harry Goodheart: For the love of books

Published 7:39 pm Thursday, August 27, 2015

Goodheart WEB

Life in our Foothills
September 2015

Imagine yourself sitting at a dark oak pub table from England, not in expectation of a pint of IPA, but in anticipation of seeing, and maybe holding, treasure. Harry Goodheart stands on the other side, facing you, backed by a filled bookcase that almost hides three windows. His face is framed by neatly trimmed gray hair and matching beard and shows the lines of experience of one who can look back over a legal career of more than 40 years. In the eyes and smile, however, you see the enthusiasm of a boy on an adventure.

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As he extends three books toward you, there is an impression of presentation and you are

reminded of the curator of a fine gallery or museum. When he says, “This set has a pleasing hand,” you understand implicitly the invitation to accept and hold them carefully. The bindings are tight, a brindled leather with an intriguing pattern.

“The first owner may have held these books when ink was still drying on the Declaration of Independence. You are holding the Dublin ‘pirate’ edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.” Harry is smiling at you, wanting you to share his pleasure at touching 1776. His smile broadens when you cannot suppress an awed “wow.” Next you get to hold Gulliver’s Travels from 1731.

Harry searches for books, buys and sells them, restores them if necessary, and obviously loves them and what he does.

Casual visitors may see Tryon Fine Books on North Trade Street as The Old Curiosity Shop with its paintings of the tropics, a 1910 typewriter, a gingerbread lintel spanning a room, a whale baleen atop a coat rack, and framed black and white photos of sailing ships, Faulkner, and a signed Koontz. And of course, there are books to buy, a multitude that includes a slipcased edition of the above named Dickens’ classic.

To book lovers, the two floors are a treat to the senses and a temptation to the budget. The lamplight is warm and shadows are soft, rarely touched by harsh sunrays that can fade dust jackets. The air is conditioned to optimum temperature and humidity for antiquarian books but not stealing away the subtle fragrance of quality paper, lignin and ink, cloth and leather bindings, and well-tended wood. From custom shelving and a serendipitous collection of bookcases, titles such as Gone with the Wind, Dr. No, East of Eden, Th e Blue Nile, and Le Morte D’Arthur tease the eye. Names such as Wolfe, O’Connor, Baum, Hemingway, and Leonard beckon from here and there.

Harry writes his business mission as “Providing delight to adventurous browsers, discerning readers, and collectors of fine books.” For many collectors, this is headquarters for the tenacious book hunter who shares their passion for rarities and scarcities. They believe that if the book of their dreams is out there, Harry can find it.

A 1947 photo of Harry and his mother shows the blond three-year old holding a book, proof of his long love of the printed page that started in Denver, continued through childhood in the West Indies, and fueled his BA in English from Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

“My parents were great readers,” recalls Harry. “My earliest recollection of reading was Robinson Crusoe… although not the 1719 first edition.” He also remembers losing many childhood books to hurricanes.

After three years with the Air Force, including one in Viet Nam, he entered law school.

“After 20 years of trial practice, I decided to give up confrontation and arguing. I’d rather help people peacefully resolve their differences as a mediator.” Today Harry is still an active and widely recognized mediator and teacher with a track record of over 2,500 federal and state cases.

“I always wanted a bookstore,” says Harry. About 25 years ago he started book scouting simply for the pleasure of exploring bookstores and getting to know book dealers and their trade.

“The excitement was the hunt. The pay-off was the satisfaction of completing a collection. It was an afterthought to sell anything. Ten years ago I found this building and here you have it—Harry’s Folly—started with about 6,000 of my own books.”

He found the first of many treasures as a book dealer after only six months. A private collector wanted to know if his unique collection of 3,000 volumes was valuable enough to put his grandchildren through college. After two years of evaluation, cataloguing, and negotiating sales, Harry was pleased to exceed the owner’s expectations.

“I have to show you this,” says Harry. The squint-to-see title on the spine of the slim volume reads Fatal Interview. “It’s a first edition of sonnets…inscribed lovingly to the owner and signed Vincent. I was at the sales counter of the antique store when this dropped out of the book and hit my shoe.”

Harry holds up an envelope and removes a letter.

“And this…” he says with a flourish, “This is a Dear John letter to the same owner but now signed more coolly by Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

The stories of treasures found range from Ulysses to Mickey Mouse first editions. He presents proudly The Travels of Ali Bey published in 1816. Then there’s a collection of signed Sir Edmund Hillary that Harry found in New Zealand. And then, in a presentation box Harry made, Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz. And then 600 collectible equestrian books, including the 1837 memoirs of the High Sheriff of Shrewsbury, enriched with brightly colored hunt scenes. And then, and then…

Harry’s fervor sweeps you along wanting to see more.

“I have no favorite genre,” Harry concludes. “I love good writing whether it’s John D. MacDonald or Thomas Merton. And I enjoy the tactile pleasure of a book not possible with a screen. Electronic books are neither good nor bad, just another medium, and I am for anything that gets people to read. I sense an increase in young people who want to collect and I do believe there will always be those who treasure fine books.”

– Submitted by Vincent Verrecchio