Tribute For Alfredo Breitfeld, Antiquarian Bookseller in Buenos Aires, Dies at 82

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

For the past two decades, Alfredo Breitfeld, a rare bookseller from Buenos Aires, had attended the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, an annual bonanza for those who love the printed word.

All year, every year, the gregarious and courtly Mr. Breitfeld, whose specialty was Spanish material, looked forward to the fair, held each March at the New York Armory. This year was no different, though health issues, including a bad knee, had impeded his mobility, and though, as he prepared for the trip in mid-February, the novel coronavirus was beginning to be a concern in the United States.

He went anyway, along with 200 or so other dealers to attend the fair — which attracted 10,000 attendees — from March 5 to 9. Mr. Breitfeld was seen zipping around on a scooter through the armory’s vast Drill Hall because of his bad knee.

He was one of a half dozen dealers who came down with Covid- 19, becoming sick even as he flew home. He died of the virus on July 11 after 120 days on a ventilator. He was 82. His son Gustavo confirmed his death.

Mr. Breitfeld was born on Dec. 11, 1937, in Montevideo, Uruguay. His father, Isidro, was a distributor of mint candies; his mother, Gisela Grunhut, a homemaker. Alfredo began to study medicine, but dropped out to start a business selling photocopied medical texts in front of a medical school.

“He was a brilliant man but a terrible student,” Gustavo Breitfeld said.

The business was so successful, he opened a small publishing house for medical texts, Delta Editoriale. “And then someone put a rare book in his hand,” his son said. As Mr. Breitfeld put it in a 2008 interview with the Bookdealer, a journal for the antiquarian book trade, “It was a case of ‘amor a prima vista.’”

In 1973, he opened Librería De Antaño — which translates roughly to “a bookstore of old times” — in Buenos Aires. (His wife, Susana, is from Argentina.) It was a large, beautiful and not exactly organized space, 10 rooms of floor-to-ceiling books, “a nice mess with no system,” Gustavo said, although his father had no trouble remembering where each of the 30,000 books was located.

Gustavo Breitfeld, who joined his father in the business, organized the stock; in 2010, they moved to a third-floor space in an Art Deco building in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

The shop sells works related to the Spanish-speaking world, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Mr. Breitfeld had a particular fondness for early editions from Mexico, where the history of printing in the Americas began. North America’s first printing press was in Mexico City in 1539.

In addition to his wife and son Gustavo, Mr. Breitfeld is survived by another son, Marcelo, and a sister, Fela Breitfeld.

“There are several universes in this business,” Mr. Breitfeld told The Bookdealer, “and it is a constant challenge as one discovery leads on to the next. First you encounter the universe of ‘small’ books for general reading purposes, and then you move out into the rarefied world of good, very good and impossibly scarce books until you are thoroughly poisoned by the urge to explore ever further afield.”

“I’m not pessimistic about the future of the rare book trade,” Mr. Breitfeld continued. “I cannot imagine a time when one of my clients will start to tremble and perspire holding in his hands a first electronic version of ‘Don Quijote de La Mancha.’

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