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Arsons, forgeries & poker: how Johnny Jenkins blazed a trail through antiquarian bookselling


In the latest AbeBooks podcast, we interview bookseller and author Michael Vinson about his new book, which describes the life and misadventures of Texas rare book dealer Johnny Jenkins during the 1970s and 1980s.

Surrounded by gambling debts and with the authorities breathing down his neck over two suspicious fires, Jenkins was found dead in a river in 1989 from a gunshot wound to the head. His death shocked the world of antiquarian bookselling.

Vinson’s book is called Bluffing Texas Style: The Arsons, Forgeries, and High-Stakes Poker Capers of Rare Book Dealer Johnny Jenkins.

Jenkins had turned antiquarian bookselling on its head in 1975 when he purchased a huge selection of Americana from Eberstadt & Sons for $2 million. He also became a media hero after working with the FBI to recover stolen materials, which then helped him win membership to the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America). His books were displayed at rare book fairs around the world, and he sold books and ephemera to some of Texas’ richest and most powerful people.

And yet Jenkins sold stolen goods and forgeries, he may also have forged objects himself, he sold complete materials and then delivered incomplete copies to customers, and – at the time of his death – he was about to be accused of arson in relation to suspicious fires at his business locations.

Ever the flamboyant personality, Jenkins also played professional poker in Las Vegas but accumulated huge debts as his gambling spiraled out of control. Although short in height, Jenkins was a larger than life character, who loved to be the center of attention.

Find copies of Bluffing Texas Style: The Arsons, Forgeries, and High-Stakes Poker Capers of Rare Book Dealer Johnny Jenkins.

Author Michael Vinson examines the life and death of rare bookseller Johnny Jenkins
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