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Where Chessler Books Started 36 Years Ago
Here some images from our New York days. In 1986 we were in our second year of bookselling, and still in our original location, in a 1300 sf apartment in the Tribeca neighborhood of NYC. Those were the days!
We paid only $150,000 for our Tribeca apartment in 1982! We found a listing for it on Zillow in July 2022, with a current photo, below. The long brick wall on the left held our 32 foot wide bookshelves. Current price is ''$2,295,000 (2 beds, 1 bath, 1,345 Square Feet).'' Crazy, huh?
Above: Our actual 1980s apartment in NYC, but recent July 2022. Worth 15 times what we paid for it in 1982!
Also in 1986-1987 we got some free publicity. Sports Illustrated heard about us, and as they have always covered climbing as a ''sport'', they gave us a half page blurb. Eleven years later the writer of the article, Nicholas Dawidoff, wrote a terrific biography The Catcher Was a Spy, The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg. I recently re-read it, and it holds up well. Moe Berg, was a major league catcher in the 1920s, 30s and 1940s who served in the OSS during WW2.
Moe Berg was an amazing character. On YouTube there is a video of a recent lecture Nick gave on Moe Berg at the Spy Museum in Washington DC. Berg's friends would joke, “He can speak 10 languages, but he can't hit in any of them.”
As Tiger Woods was not yet available, Sports Illustrated covered us in April 1986.
Above: Nick Dawidoff's biography of Moe Berg, a major league catcher in the 1920s, 30s and 1940s. “He can speak 10 languages,” his friends used to joke, “but he can't hit in any of them.”
How it started
No Picnic On Mount Kenya was the first climbing book I read. It came out in 1953. My brother, 3 years older than me, came across it at the library and turned me on to it.
I have re-read it several times. I don't want to get mushy but it's really about how to live your life with joy, finding something to do that is worth while, during what otherwise was for Benuzzi several meaningless years spent in confinement, not really a jail.
After that book all I wanted to do was climb, and just to be in the mountains. So I climbed at the Gunks, and I replay the elation I felt on that first rock climb in my mind, even though it was almost 60 years ago.
In 1964 I had a ten speed bike and rode from NYC to NH, over the Kancamagus Highway. I camped at the top of the pass. The next day I rode to Pinkham, stashed my bike, hiked to the summit, and splurged on staying at Lake of the Clouds hut. It was the first time I had been above timberline. By then I had read some climbing books, but I was just unprepared for the experience.
The word for what I felt was epiphany. A sudden insight or intuitive understanding. It was my first experience of feeling the magic of being at high altitude.
So here I am, jabbering away at a computer, but I am also at 8105 feet. During the day I can see Mount Evans at 14,271 feet, both from my work station, but also from my bed! Evans is the 12th highest peak in Colorado and has the highest road in America.
Chessler Books was started in 1984 by Michael Chessler in New York City. Our primary interest has always been books about mountaineering and rock climbing, but we also carry books on polar exploration, and other adventure travel and sports activities.
At first we sold only used and rare mountaineering books, but quickly added climbing guidebooks and in-print narratives. We sold by mail order through printed catalogs. In 1987 we moved to Colorado and quickly grew to where we were soon selling 20% of the mountaineering books in America.
From 1984 to 2003 we issued 120 different paper catalogs. In 2003 we did our last catalog and transitioned into selling through this website. Most of our sales now are from this website, and we also list books on eBay (as chesslerbooks) and other websites. We are now selling our old catalogs as collectibles or reference. See the link in a green tab at the top of every page on this website.
Climbing has been a passion of Michael Chessler since he was a teenager, hiking and camping as a Boy Scout. He learned how to climb in 1962 with the Brooklyn College Open Road Club at the Shawangunks in New York. He also got some snow experience in New Hampshire's White Mountains, especially on winter climbs of Mount Washington in the 1960s, and on ice climbs in the Adirondacks.
Kelty Packs, Gore-Tex and Books
His first job in the business of climbing was working and managing one of the original east coast climbing shops, Leon Greenman Inc, in NYC, starting in 1968. He soon moved to Cambridge MA and managed a small but influential climbing shop called Climber's Corner.
In 1971 he created a mail order catalog and department for Kelty Pack Inc in Glendale CA, and climbed and skied in the Sierra Nevada almost every weekend. In 1976 he became Sales Manager of Sierra West in Santa Barbara, an early manufacturer of Gore-Tex jackets, and started seriously collecting mountaineering books. By the time he moved back to New York City in 1982 he had over 5000 mountaineering books on hand, most purchased from bookshops all over America.
Chessler Books was very successful, until the internet came along and took the wind out of our sails, as it did to most bookshops.
With the advent of the internet, many bookshops throughout the world had a difficult time adapting to on-line competition. We adopted several changes that allowed us to thrive. We import many books from the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Europe that are usually unavailable in the USA. We maintain an inventory of new, used and rare mountaineering books that is probably larger and more comprehensive than any other specialist bookseller.
And perhaps most interesting, for thirty years we have been getting many authors and climbers to autograph the books they have written or are mentioned in. In many cases, we sell signed books at the same price as unsigned books. We usually keep a large inventory, so the books are available for years after publication. It has enabled us to create a type of bookshop like no other in the world, with thousands of books signed by the leading people in our field.
Some of the climbers we have had the pleasure and thrill of meeting and getting books autographed by include Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, Heinrich Harrer, Anderl Heckmair, Maurice Herzog, Chris Bonington, Gaston Rebuffat, Stephen Venables, Jim & Lou Whittaker, Tom Hornbein, Galen Rowell, Barry Bishop, Ed Viesturs, Jon Krakauer, David Roberts, David Breashears, Steve House, Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, Warren Harding, Layton Kor, Yvon Chouinard, Jim Bridwell, John Bachar, Lynn Hill, Henry Barber, Catherine Destivelle, Paul Petzoldt, Charles Houston, Bob Bates, Rick Ridgeway, Bradford Washburn, Pat Ament, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold and dozens more.
This is an image of Michael Chessler climbing in the 1970s. Note the twin lens Rolleiflex we were given in our teens by a family friend who saw that I liked to take pictures.
Our 1994 Profile in Climbing Magazine
Proof that Michael Chessler was a Climber in 1969!
A climber we know was doing some research in Boston in March 2022. He was reading a log from the Harvard cabin in Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington in NH. He spotted my name in a dated entry on March 8, 1969. That was exactly 53 years to the day before he found it and sent me a copy. I remember the day, although I don't remember writing in the book. What is not mentioned is we ran into two climbers at the cabin, Bruce Beck and David Seidman. Just a month later David was killed in the devastating avalanche that wiped out 7 climbers on Dhaulagiri, including notable Alaskan climber Vin Hoeman, and team leader Boyd Everett.
A Gold Mine of Chessler Books Catalogs From 1984 to 2004
When we started selling mountaineering books in July 1984 there was no internet, no websites, no computers. I typed all the book descriptions on an IBM Wheelwriter typewriter. We didn't use a computer until Catalog Ten in 1987. I loved Wordperfect, the magic program for lousy typists. It could alphabetize, spell check, and I loved using those wonderful macros that were shortcuts for lengthy repetitive actions.
We saved about a dozen each of all 120 Catalogs that we published and are now selling them as souvenirs, or as reference books. Almost every climbing book since the Mont Blanc first ascent in 1786 has passed through our bookshop in our first twenty years.
There is a link to the listings of our old Chessler Books Catalogs in a green tab on top of every page in this website.