Giuseppe Martini (1870-1944), bookdealer

Giuseppe Martini.
Credit: Archivio Diocesano de Lucca.

On 11 May 1901, Giuseppe Martini sailed to the United States. He was already an established bookdealer in his native Lucca. However, he was in trouble: he had used his personal ex-libris to cover the shelfmarks of books stolen from public libraries, including a rare early edition of a letter by Cristopher Columbus, which he had tried to sell to the Biblioteca Casatanense in Rome. His father, the architect Domenico Martini, had already expressed concerns about his son's character. Giuseppe abandoned his medical studies just before graduating to undertake a palaeography course, neither of which he completed. But he then found his true vocation: he became a bookdealer. He published his first catalogue in 1899, and seven more followed before his departure in 1901.

His beginnings in New York were probably difficult. He worked as a cataloguer for private clients, including the Grolier Club. But by 1912 Martini had acquired an excellent reputation in bibliophile circles and published his first American catalogue to great success. In the years that followed, he sold numerous manuscripts and incunabula to private collectors, including thirty three manuscripts to George Plimpton and twenty four to the Morgan.

He regularly sailed to Europe to obtain books for his American clients, acquiring at the same time an exclusive clientele in Italy (including Prince Ginori Conti). In 1924 he closed his New York office and moved to Florence, settling a few years later in Lugano, where he died in 1944. Once again, trouble with the police was probably the reason for leaving Italy, but this time because of his anti-Fascist leanings.

Like Tammaro De Marinis, Martini was an accomplished bibliophile scholar. In 1899, he conducted research on the history of silk manufacture in Lucca, and pioneered the use of watermarks for dating manuscripts and incunabula. Collectors and scholars relied on his erudition; for instance, he helped Acton Griscom prepare his edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. He amassed an important collection of medieval documents, which he made available to other scholars. In the words of bookdealer Cesare Olschki (son of Leo), 'few men have been so strongly, so completely, a biobibliographer'.

Federico Botana

Source: Da Lucca a New York a Lugano: Giuseppe Martini libraio tra Otto e Novecento, ed. by Edorado Barbieri (Florence:  Leo S. Olschki, 2017)