Springs Songs (RT)

I was rather hoping that my somewhat provocative remark a few weeks back about no-one at the York Fair having seen an earlier pictorial British dust-jacket would elicit some challenges.  It didn’t take long.  Peter Allen of Robert Temple Booksellers (http://www.roberttemplerarebooks.co.uk/) was soon in touch – he had at least two earlier examples in his collection of books in early jackets and there were pictures to prove it.

A splendid excuse for an afternoon out in my native North London: a bus onwards from Turnpike Lane (where my grandmother had a shop in the long ago) and there I was knocking on his door.  I could hardly keep up as he produced dozens of examples of nineteenth-century jackets.

Horkey JacketHorkey TitleHere’s a splendid one on a Macmillan edition of Robert Bloomfield’s “The Horkey” from 1882, the jacket illustrated with a monotone rendition of the beautiful full-colour title-page.  I knew of the existence of the jacket from the admirable listing of known pre-1901 British and American jackets given in Thomas G. Tanselle’s “Book-Jackets : Their History, Forms, and Use” (2011), but the entry doesn’t quite make it clear that the jacket is pictorial.

Palgrave“Spring Songs and Sketches Selected and Arranged by E. Nesbit and Robert Ellice Mack” (illustrated above), undated but published by Griffith, Farran in 1886, is not noted by Tanselle (although the companion “Summer Songs” from the same series is). Such a delicate book – bound, in Peter’s description, in “textured card wrappers, with die-cut rounded corners, and sewn with silk elaborated into a bow at the spine”, the whole protected by a dust-jacket replicating a design from within the book.

Leadenhall CoverLeadenhall SewingAnother which took my eye, although not pictorial, was a dated Oxford University Press “Treasury of Sacred Song” (1889) – printed in two colours and most unusual at this date.  But I think my favourite was “Views of English Society by a Little Girl of Eleven” from the always interesting, always quirky,  Andrew White Tuer (1838-1900) and Abraham Field (1830-1891) of the Leadenhall Press – again undated, but 1886. Leadenhall AddendumThe boards covered with a leafy cloth jacket, the flaps  sewn together, giving the whole production a pleasant Cottonian look and feel – and with a delightful explanation of how it came into being from eleven-year-old Mabel (see image – click to enlarge).

Generic JacketMost remarkable and most interesting of all was “The Pleasant Walk in Spring” (1824) in a plain ruled paper jacket (the paper watermarked 1819).  Sping WrapperThis could of course just be an ad hoc protective covering applied by an early owner and not a publisher’s dust-jacket, but the way the printer’s imprint is carefully lined up to appear in the corner of the flap (continuing in perfect alignment on the lower flap) seems to suggest otherwise.  Clowes ImprintPeter is fairly sure he once saw an another similar example – one or two more examples and we might have some cogent evidence of dust-jackets in regular use in England even at this early date.

Peter Allen

Peter Allen – Robert Temple Booksellers

Entertainment over, it was time to look for some books to buy.  Peter has an endlessly interesting stock, mainly nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, but shading off into much wider areas and some genuinely antiquarian material.  His book-room is enviably neat and tidy (something I have never remotely been able to manage and am always so impressed by).

It’s a very interesting business all round.  Another of that distinguished group of booksellers emanating from York University, Peter’s hallmark has long been his lengthy and highly distinctive catalogue descriptions.  Lengthy not in the sense of those maddening and otiose descriptions now so prevalent, listing solely forty-eight different faults which the book doesn’t have and nothing in the slightest bit useful about its format or content – but lengthy in terms of bibliographical description: precise and detailed descriptions of the binding and even, very often, with authors for whom the basic bibliographical work hasn’t been done, a detailed tabulation of possibly significant textual points.

Here’s his note on A. E. W. Mason’s “Fire over England” (1936) – the film of which brought Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh together for the first time – and a very handsome copy in the striking Bip Pares jacket (and now of course mine):

Fire over England“In this copy the following errata and typographical flaws have been observed (state or issue significance, if any, undetermined): p.124, l.16, full stop lacking after ‘England’; p.161, l.4, ‘collossus’ for ‘colossus’; p.232, ll.32-3, ‘un- / pected’ for ‘un / expected’; p, 253, l.5, ‘“It’s a’ for ‘“It’s not a’; p.257, l.19, wrong font ‘i’ in ‘in’; p.312, l.14, ‘a dirty’ for ‘as dirty’; there are also many instances of broken or battered type, generally very slight, for example: p.38, last line, ‘q’ of ‘quiver’ slightly battered; p. 69, l.1, broken ‘n’ in ‘and’; p.80, l.3, ‘o’ in ‘so’ broken; p.129, l.10, broken ‘I’; p.154, l.23, ‘s’ in ‘was’ battered; p.164, l.26, broken ‘w’ in ‘was’; p.251, l.20, break in ‘b’ of ‘been’; p.265, l.6, ‘S’ of ‘Small’ printed very lightly and next few words too heavily (and next two lines also printed unevenly); p.268, l.2, ‘in’ broken, etc”.

For those who don’t know it, with painstaking work like this, the online Robert Temple Archive is an extraordinary resource.  The business is interesting too in that the firm was one of the very first to come to terms with computers  and (a little later) to launch itself on the internet.  For an idea of how complex and how pioneering a procedure this was, do look up the Robert Temple Booksellers entry on Wikipedia.  Yes – we did have to learn some programming to get a computer to do anything.  Chorus GirlAnd yes, we could get one of those old computers to format and style a complete catalogue at the press of a button – something I can’t do now for all the modern software we have at our disposal.

A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Thank you, Peter.  My bag was soon all too full of treasures, but I never could resist a chorus-girl: this little popsy came home with me too – you may well meet her again on my next catalogue.

Posted in Book Collecting, Booksellers, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Augustine Ryther: Two Maps of London

© The Trustees of the British Museum. 1938,0709.57.1-60.

© The Trustees of the British Museum. 1938,0709.57.1-60.

Have I not here the best cards for the game,

To win this easy match play’d for a crown?

(Shakespeare, King John).

I recently mentioned in passing a very early map of London engraved on a playing-card. Here, courtesy of the British Museum, it is (click to enlarge) – the additional London card from the William Bowes set of playing-cards published in 1590.  I say additional in that it is not one of the regular fifty-two numbered suit-cards, which feature maps of the counties, but one of the accompanying historical cards (there is also an explanatory card on London’s history), rarely present in the handful of surviving sets. The discussion began in the recent acquisition by the British Library of a beautiful hand-coloured set (without the London cards), which you can read all about in Tom Harper’s post on the BL Magnificent Maps blog at http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/magnificentmaps/2014/10/new-acquisition-the-bowes-playing-cards-of-1590.html.

© The Trustees of the British Museum. 1938,0709.57.1-60.

© The Trustees of the British Museum. 1938,0709.57.1-60.

The playing-card map is surprisingly not listed in James Howgego’s usually authoritative “Printed Maps of London”, which is perhaps why it remains relatively little known, but after some deliberation and further correspondence, we concluded that it is indeed the earliest extant map of London actually engraved and produced in London: the handful of earlier maps comprise one of which only portions survive (and may well have been produced abroad), one which survives only in much later impressions, and two produced overseas.

BL England and Wales

© The British Library Board. Maps C.44.d.90.

It’s not a magnificent map in itself – tiny, lacking in detail and comparatively unsophisticated – except that the cards were engraved by Augustine Ryther, whose name appears in truncated form in minuscule letters intertwined with the pair of compasses on the general map of England and Wales.  Ryther himself was very far from lacking in sophistication: he was one of the most interesting of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and deserves to be better known.

Christopher Saxton, Anglia. 1579.  Engraved by Augustine Ryther.

Christopher Saxton, Anglia. 1579. Engraved by Augustine Ryther.

He is remembered as an engraver, responsible for five of the maps in Christopher Saxton’s atlas of England and Wales (1574-1579), our first national atlas and the largest and most complex book yet produced in England. His work included the general map of England and Wales on which his name appears as “Augustine Ryther Anglus” – “Augustine Ryther, an Englishman” – a fact odd and unusual enough, given the paucity of engravers in Elizabethan England, for him to remark on it – he was the only one of the Saxton engravers certainly English.  Despite the lack of an English engraving tradition, his maps, as Sidney Colvin noted long ago, are “distinctly the best in the book … the neatest and most precise in cutting and lettering, the most graceful and inventive”.

Ryther signatureRyther subsequently engraved several maps for the London edition of Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, “The Mariners Mirrour” (1588), the first maritime atlas produced in England, working in this capacity alongside both Theodore de Bry (in England briefly before settling at Frankfurt) and Jodocus Hondius – men who went on to found two of the greatest map-publishing houses in Europe.  Ryther then produced his own atlas, “Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam Vera Descriptio” (1590), comprising eleven folio maps from designs by Robert Adams, illustrating the harrying of the Spanish Armada and published together with a narrative by Petruccio Ubaldini.  This was the third and last atlas produced in England in the sixteenth century (and the first published without explicit government backing): and Ryther is their sole connecting link.

Detail from the Ralph Agas wall-map of Oxford (1588).

Detail from the Ralph Agas wall-map of Oxford (1588).

He was also responsible for engraving the beautiful eight-sheet Ralph Agas wall-map of Oxford (1588), surviving in a unique copy, and the equally rare and impressive John Hamond wall-map of Cambridge (1592).  He is also generally credited with engraving Saxton’s wall-map of England and Wales (1583) and he appears to have acquired the Saxton county plates, probably when Saxton’s privilege expired in 1587, the maps sometimes found bound together with his Armada maps on identical paper.

Ryther Armada

“Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam Vera Descriptio”, 1590. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 1888,1221.8.7.

In collaboration with the celebrated mathematician Thomas Hood, he engraved two planispheres (the first produced in England) to accompany Hood’s “The Use of the Celestial Globe in Plano, Set Foorth in Two Hemispheres” (1590), as well as a fine chart of the North Atlantic (1592) – “a beautiful example of what must be the first printed English plane chart designed expressly for navigation and instruction” (David W. Waters).

Ryther Theodolite

Theodolite by Augustine Ryther, 1590. © 2010 Museo Galileo – Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Firenze.

It is difficult to overstate Ryther’s importance to the history of English cartography, but he had a yet greater claim to fame.  He was also a maker of scientific instruments and, although few examples survive, a very fine one.  Here is his theodolite of 1590, a key instrument in surveying and perhaps a clue as to how advanced Saxton’s surveying technique may have been.  As an instrument-maker Ryther stands literally at the head of his profession: his is the first and founding name in an unbroken master-apprentice chain of unparalleled distinction, leading directly on through his apprentice Charles Whitwell to some of the greatest names that craft has ever produced – Elias Allen, Edmund Culpeper, and the famous families of Adams and Troughton.

Pocket Sundial

Pocket Sundial by Augustine Ryther, 1585. © Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Biographical information is scant. Ryther was reported by the local historian Ralph Thoresby to have been born in Leeds – by no means unlikely as the name Ryther is a Yorkshire one (and he certainly engraved the Saxton map of Yorkshire), although this remains to be verified. It is conjectured (the similarity between their theodolites is striking) that he was a pupil of Humphrey Cole, himself a northerner and superb instrument-maker.  In 1581 (recorded as Augustin Ryder) he married Alice Maskall, a widow, at the London church of St. Andrew Undershaft.  He was a member of the Worshipful Company of Grocers in the City of London, and in 1590 described himself as still “a yoong beginner”.  The only address we have dates from that same year, “A little from Leadenhall next to the signe of the Tower” (it was at the Leadenhall that Hood gave his lectures on navigation).

Ryther Burial

Ryther was buried at St. Andrew Undershaft on 30th August 1593 – one of five burials that same day in one small parish, perhaps suggesting the outbreak of some virulent pestilence. Earlier identifications with “this poore Gent. Mr Ryther”, imprisoned in the Fleet in 1594, are now known to be erroneous.  Widowed once more, Alice Ryther remarried Richard Dawberry at the same local church on 21st April 1595 – and there the biographical trail ends, except that Ryther’s legacy lived on.

The Cittie of London

The Cittie of London. Later state, with compass rose, ca. 1640. © The British Library Board. Maps Crace Port. 1.32.

Part of that legacy is another map of London long ascribed to Ryther: a considerably larger map on a scale of about nine inches to the mile, titled “The Cittie of London”, and known in a number of variant states. The attribution to Ryther goes back at least as far as the compilation of the catalogue of the Frederick Crace collection of London material in 1879, when the map was ascribed a date of 1604.  The later of the two Crace copies, now in the  British Library and illustrated here, has Ryther’s name neatly pencilled near the lower border, although whether this is the source of the attribution or the consequence of it is not clear.

It cannot be by Ryther or dated to 1604 – at least in the forms in which we know it.  Ryther died in 1593 and the internal evidence of the map, even in its earliest state, suggests that it dates from some forty years later. There are other indications, but the most telling is that the map (with no evidence of reworking in the earliest state) shows a gap where the buildings north of London Bridge were destroyed by fire in 1632. Nor is it apparently an English map: the earliest variant states quite plainly, “to be sould at Amsterdam by Cornelis Danckerts grauer of Maps”.

Since the attribution to Ryther appears to be faulty, the general supposition has been that the map is merely a Dutch copy of something English and for that reason it has largely been disregarded in discussions of London mapping.  The map is, however, barring the little inset on the John Speed map of Middlesex, the only surviving printed map of London from the whole of first half of the seventeenth century.  It deserves rather more attention than it has received. It is not inaccurate, as has sometimes been said. The lesser buildings are stylised, the clutter behind the street frontages largely unexplored, the street-widths much exaggerated for clarity of lettering and ease of wayfinding (just as in a modern “A-Z”), but this does not make it inaccurate. You could still easily find your way round the City of London with this. It’s an important map of pre Civil War London.

Although ostensibly Dutch, as Ashley Baynton-Williams points out, “the title, imprint and toponymy are all in English”.  It does not look or feel like a Dutch map and Danckerts does not even claim to have engraved it.  There is no real doubt that the later states were published in England.  Howgego identified three of these later states, Ashley has uncovered two more, and in looking at the various examples in the British Library the other day, we now seem to have found another one. The map was clearly kept up to date in London throughout most of its life, with details erased and inserted, and numerous street names added.


The Cittie of London. Earlier state, with the Danckerts imprint. ca, 1633. © The British Library Board. Maps Crace Port. 1.31.

The suspicion is that the map was in reality an English publication all along.  But why should a London publisher disguise an English map of London to look like a Dutch one?  I think we need look no further than the vagaries of the licensing of English publications at this time.  Someone like George Humble, publisher of the Speed maps, stocking an unrivalled range of cartographic material but without a full-size map of London, would have had particular problems in publishing a London map under his own imprint.  In 1618, the surveyor Aaron Rathborne had been granted a twenty-one year privilege for a projected series of town-plans of English cities. In effect, he had been given a monopoly on producing town-plans and although he failed to produce any, there was a specific bar on anyone else doing so.  I think we can understand the temptation for a London mapseller to resort to subterfuge. It is noticeable that the Danckerts legend was dropped from later states of the map at about the same time as the patent expired.

Rathborne Title

© The Trustees of the British Museum. 1895,1031.481.
Engraved title-page to Aaron Rathborne, “The Surveyor”, London, 1616.

Rathborne may himself have been caught up in an overlapping second patent granted in 1619 – a patent granted for thirty-one years for a bizarre monopoly on printing anything printed on one side of the paper only.  This was a patent vigorously contested and equally vigorously defended by the patentees, Thomas Symcock and Roger Wood, both in reality assignees for the principal beneficiary, one Marin de Boisloré, “esquire of the body to his Maiestie” and someone with probably greater clout than Rathborne.  Maps were certainly included under this “one-side-only” heading: both Speed and Humble were among those who petitioned the Commons over the matter in 1621.  The patentees had the right to impound anything not printed by themselves as well as rights in “taking, seazing, carrying away, defacing and making vnseruiceable, of all such printing presses, roling presses, stamps [plates], and other instruments” which may have been used to print them. This would place any map-publisher in serious jeopardy.  The patent was finally annulled in 1631 and it may not be coincidence that the London map appears to have first surfaced shortly afterwards.

Aside from the possibility that the map was a covert English publication all along, there are still unresolved questions.  Either it is an original map of the early seventeenth century compiled by some unknown hand, in which case it demands some more detailed attention – or it is a copy of something earlier.  As it bears no real resemblance to any of the known earlier maps, in style, extent or scope, the former is perhaps more likely.  But the survival rate of these early maps is poor – perhaps there was an original now lost.  And perhaps too the Victorian compiler of the Crace catalogue knew more than we do and it is a copy of something by Ryther – possibly a draft left unpublished at his early death or a project left in the hands of his apprentice Charles Whitwell, himself a superb engraver and instrument-maker.  Such things are not impossible.

Posted in Antique Maps, Engravers, Mapsellers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terror and Wonder:  Gothic Imagination at the British Library

Terror and Wonder

Another crowd-pleaser of an exhibition at the British Library: 250 years since the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, so a convenient enough excuse, as if one were needed, to celebrate 250 years of the gothic imagination, not just in literature, but in art, architecture, film, fashion and music.

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole. Portrait by John Giles Eccardt, 1754. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Horace Walpole in 1754 with his hand on a volume from his library and the Gothicised Strawberry Hill in the background.

The first edition of Otranto, although dated 1765, appeared late in 1764.  It was only with the second edition that Walpole admitted his authorship and the “gothic story” sub-title was added. Despite his own verdict that the novel was “fit for nothing but the age in which it was written”, nothing was ever quite the same again.  As the exhibition swoops through time, place, mystery and the macabre, from Walpole through to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, this is a powerful reminder of just how much of our mental furniture derives directly from the tradition Walpole brought into being. Packed together in the variously themed segments of the exhibition are William Blake, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, M. R. James, Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman and a host of others of greater or lesser celebrity.

Castle of OtrantoThe lead curator, Tim Pye of the British Library, gothically bearded and fresh from his recent stint on the faculty of the York Antiquarian Book Seminar, stepped forward to give us a little context.  Walpole’s initial claim that the story was a translation from the sixteenth-century Italian manuscript of one Onuphrio Muralto (the manuscript recently rediscovered in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England) in fact should have placed it squarely in the context of that eighteenth-century vogue for literary fakery – the poems of ‘Ossian’ and the mediaeval concoctions of the marvellous boy, Thomas Chatterton.

Otranto Maggs

© Maggs Bros Ltd.

But Walpole soon came clean and admitted that the book was the result of a lurid dream in the summer of 1764 and a subsequent eight weeks of intensive writing.  He was of course a man who not just wrote ‘gothic’ but lived ‘gothic’ in his fantasy house at Strawberry Hill: a particular eighteenth-century take on ‘living the dream’.           

Nothing begins in isolation and Walpole saw himself  as harking back to mediaeval romance, chivalry and Shakespeare, and the exhibition commences with a nod to those. To my mind, the Jacobean revenge tragedies seem more direct precursors, but no mention made and this would depend on to what extent these might have been were available or known to Walpole.  One of a number of unanswered questions that are still rattling around my head – always the sign of a good exhibition.

Strawberry Hill

The library at Strawberry Hill

Much more to see: a proof copy of Walpole’s own Hieroglyphic Tales (1785) – wilder even than Otranto and only six copies published of the original edition; the second novel with a ‘gothic’ sub-title, Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778), “the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient romance and modern novel”; William Beckford’s Vathek of course; Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), etc.; Matthew Lewis, The Monk (1796).  A claim was made that by 1800 a third of all the novels being published in England were in some sense ‘gothic’ (another question to quiz and ponder). Certainly there were enough for parody to set in: I think my favourite exhibit was the display case containing all seven of the “horrid novels” recommended to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.

Fuseli Nightmare

The Nightmare, after Henry Fuseli. Print made by Thomas Burke. London, 1783. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Echoes in the art of the period too – the whole theory of the ‘sublime’, romantic landscapes to inspire awe and wonder, and the fevered imaginings of Henry Fuseli.  Back to literature and the seminal publications emanating from those evenings at the Villa Diodati: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) – wonderfully represented here by pages of the manuscript with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hand-written comments in the margins (in the crowd at the press-view I couldn’t quite get close enough to see what he had written – more questions to answer) – and John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819).

Frankenstein manuscript

Mary Shelley, manuscript of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

From there to the terror of the soul of Edgar Allan Poe and then a move into more contemporary and more domestic horror: what is seen as the respectable gothic of the Brontës; the cramped and extraordinary manuscript of Wilkie Collins’ Basil: A Story of Modern Life (1852); the gothic elements in Dickens.



Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré

Back to vampires with the predatory female protagonist of Sheridan le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, first published in The Dark Blue (1871-1872), and the source of numerous film adaptations in multiple languages, not all of them in the best of all possible taste.  It had never occurred to me before that Gustave Doré’s illustrations to Blanchard Jerrold’s London : A Pilgrimage (1872) were less stark social realism than an imaginative excursion into gothic menace, but so they are and rightly appear in this context.

‘Dear Boss’ letter from Jack the Ripper. Letter to the Central News Agency, September 1888. © The National Archives.

‘Dear Boss’ letter from Jack the Ripper. Letter to the Central News Agency, September 1888. © The National Archives.

Quite the most blood-curdling exhibit in the entire exhibition is the blood-red ink of the (apparently genuine) ‘Dear Boss’ letter written by Jack the Ripper, a chilling moment where the horror of the imagination tumbles over the abyss into real life.

On to the high Victorian – the penny-dreadfuls, Jekyll & Hyde, Dorian Gray, and a whole room devoted to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), with even a vampire-slaying kit loaned from the Royal Armouries, ostensibly nineteenth-century (although there appears to be no substantiated record of such things prior to the Hammer Films era).

Dracula – First Edition Dracula

Dracula – First Edition (1897). Photography © British Library Board.

The curator’s tour was by now being led by Tanya Kirk, having difficulty in making herself heard over the competing sound-tracks of the numerous movie clips as we moved forward into the twentieth century and beyond. She made the undeniable point that the march of science had done nothing to dampen down the appetite for gothic – the films made the point quite loudly enough. We were introduced to themes of haunting, the menace of landscape, and the potential darkness of the animal world (think Hound of the Baskervilles, think Hitchcock’s The Birds, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel).

magic-islandDaphne du Maurier featured again with a first edition of Rebecca (1938), as did John Buchan with Witch Wood (1927), but beyond that I couldn’t but feel that the literary element for the twentieth century was a little thin – the names lacking the resonance of their eighteenth and nineteenth-century counterparts. But then the film heritage is rich enough, from Nosferatu through to the most recent zombie thrillers.  A suggestion seemed to be made that the zombie was a new concept for the twentieth century, a notion first introduced to popular culture by the American traveller and writer William Seabrook in his The Magic Island (1929).  I’m not at all sure this can be right (whatever it may say on Wikipedia)– didn’t Robert Southey write about the ‘zombi’ over a hundred years earlier? Actually, didn’t he even have a cat called The Zombi?

Vampires of VenusNo matter – but I was little surprised not to see any Dennis Wheatley at about this point. He was a true guardian of the gothic flame.  I was also surprised not to see any science fiction, which has always seemed to me to be the apotheosis of terror and wonder in the imaginative writing of the twentieth century – even if not always as explicit as in Vampires of Venus (which isn’t in the exhibition). But is there anything more gothic in spirit than Ray Bradbury? The very last thing I looked at was a Twilight Saga themed edition of Wuthering Heights.  I felt at that point that I’d seen quite enough.

The British Library does this sort of thing very well – the exhibition will be a huge success and you should certainly make a point of seeing it.  It ties together previously unrelated strands of thought and opens up any number of questions.  There is a full programme of related events – and we can all look forward to a parallel gothic season on the BBC.

Vampire Killing Kit

Vampire Hunting Kit, Victorian © Royal Armouries (XII.11811).

Don’t mistake me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m sure you will too. And yet, and yet – there are things which still trouble me.  There are parts of this exhibition trying all too desperately hard to be populist and ‘relevant’.  What’s the Alexander McQueen frock all about? Is the Library now measuring itself solely by its success as a tourist attraction rather than the preservation of its intrinsic value as the deepest well of our national memory – our greatest research resource?  I begin to fear so.  It troubles me that the reception desk is now labelled ‘Box Office’.  It troubles me that “a brand new Gothic-inspired product range has also been developed, available in the British Library shop”.

Travelling library of Sir Julius Caesar from Strawberry Hill, acquired in 1757 by Horace Walpole. Photography courtesy of British Library.

Travelling library of Sir Julius Caesar from Strawberry Hill, acquired in 1757 by Horace Walpole. Photography courtesy of British Library.

No real harm in any of this and I don’t mind too much, but I can remember a time when the Library bookshop was stocked with works of dense scholarship not findable elsewhere, rather than gift-books and picture-books.  I can remember a time when the British Library was run by scholars for scholars (and there were undeniably weaknesses in that arrangement) rather than, as it now so often seems, by marketing men. Is it true that the surviving scholar-curators are becoming marginalised?  Are they now valued more for their public relations skills than their scholarship?

Bride of Frankenstein

Film still of Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff in The Bride of Frankenstein, 1939 © Universal / The Kobal Collection.

Has it become an institution in danger of forgetting what it’s for – that it’s about research and scholarship not show-biz?  I hope not, I really hope not – but I fear these blockbuster exhibitions, however excellent in  themselves, may yet turn out to be masking some uncomfortable truths behind the scenes.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs from 3 October 2014 to 20 January 2015 – http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/gothic/index.html.

BL Gothic Shop

The British Library Gothic Shop

Posted in Book Collecting, Exhibitions, Forgotten Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Antiquating – York 2014

AntiquatesA new verb for us to contemplate this week: to antiquate, describing whatever it is we think antiquarian booksellers actually do (or perhaps merely the process by which we become antiquated – if this is not in fact the same thing).  Inspired by the Antiquates Ltd. trading name of young Tom Lintern-Mole, the latest recruit to membership of the ABA.  I took it to be a noun of some sort, but he prefers to think of it as a verb.

Tom Lintern-Mole

Tom Lintern-Mole

It’s what he does: he antiquates – and he does it very, very, well.  I was completely charmed by his offbeat, quirky and idiosyncratic selection of stock when I encountered him up at the PBFA York National Book Fair last weekend: books unusual, books interesting and books important.  A definite bias towards early printing and the genuinely antiquarian, but with forays elsewhere.

Fairy Fine-Ear's Fancies“Look at this”, he said, producing what at first glance I took to be nondescript and rather twee Victorian children’s book.  Nothing altogether exciting, until I realised that the monotone outer covering was in fact a miraculously intact dust-jacket from the 1880s.  Had I ever seen an earlier example of a British pictorial dust-jacket?  Well – no, I hadn’t – and nor, I suspected, had anyone else in this vast fair (a conclusion only slightly modified by subsequent research).  Ownership swiftly transferred – and a book for a future blog-post.  While I was looking at it, a little early nineteenth-century manuscript recipe book, full of recipes for puddings (generally involving heart-stopping quantities of rich cream) also caught my eye.  BullaceA couple of recipes involving bullaces (a roundish wild plum) took my fancy, and who could resist the Paradise Pudding?  Not me – so this book too may feature on these pages again.  A thoroughly engaging young man, with a thoroughly engaging stock: his resolve to become a bookseller established in his teens, looking round the Olympia Book Fair with, as he says, “tremendous awe and not a little trepidation, and thinking how nice it would be to be able to exhibit one day”.  That day will soon come.

A slight qualm at this point as I reviewed what I had bought and how much I had spent so far.  Was I now only buying books to feed the blog, irrespective of any remote possibility of future re-sale or profit?   I began to fear that this was so.  Certainly sales over the summer would suggest it.  What had I already accumulated?  A cookery book published in Colombo by the wife of an English tea-planter, bought on the tenuous basis of someone having asked me to find a copy long ago: it was an impossible task, no copies at all on the internet, no copy at all in any UK library.  But can I now even remember who was looking for it?  Probably not – but it can always feature on the blog.

Left BankA decidedly uncommon (but also somewhat expensive) Rolf Boldrewood three-decker in a very pretty binding, with a handsome and traceable armorial bookplate.  Do I have any customers for Boldrewood?   No, none that I can think of – but it can always feature on the blog.   An unrecorded early state of a James Wyld map of the roads of England and Wales, attractive  enough in itself but particularly interesting in that it has been fitted up in a French slip-case for sale in Paris by a French mapseller.  Do I have any customers who would find that remotely as interesting as I do?  I doubt it very much – but it can always feature on the blog.  A handsome copy of that haunting collection of short stories by Jean Rhys, “The Left Bank” (1927), complete with dust-jacket and an interesting expatriate provenance – probably the finest short stories to come out of that fevered Paris of the 1920s – bought from Philip Barraclough of York Modern Books, who tells me he bought it in turn from the legendary Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, which makes the provenance nigh on perfect to my mind.  Do I have, have I ever had, customers for Jean Rhys?  Not that I can recall – but it can always feature on the blog.

Jonathan Kearns

Jonathan Kearns

Clearly time for some serious reflection and re-evaluation.  I wandered off to have a chat with Jonathan Kearns, who had been teaching at the inaugural York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) earlier in the week.  The whole venture a total and roaring success by all accounts.  Not just in the view of the organisers, but in that of all of the first twenty-seven students. Palpable buzz, energy and enthusiasm detected from all ends of the bookselling spectrum: from Fuchsia Voremberg of Maggs Bros. – no better place on earth to be than at Maggs for any young bookseller, but you don’t quite see the whole of the book-trade in all its nooks and crannies from the windows of Berkeley Square.  Eyes opened for her, while for Richard V. Wells, collector turned bookseller and no longer quite that young, the whole thing was just “fabulous”.  So much learnt and in so little time.

Jonathan Kearns is to become a co-director with Anthony Smithson, and I have no doubt at all that we can look forward to the YABS boot-camp for booksellers becoming a permanent and very welcome feature of the British rare book trade.  Well done to all concerned.  Couldn’t be more pleased.

Jonathan, by the way, has decided not to follow his employer Adrian Harrington to Tunbridge Wells when the business relocates in the near future (although he writes as good a “Disgusted” letter as anyone I’ve ever met – read his Bibliodeviancy blog, it’s way funnier than this one).  He’ll be starting up on his own in the new year, and we all wish him every success.  Keep a look out for him – he’s a brilliant, witty and original bookseller – and far more technically astute than most of us.  I met him again on Monday at a meeting of the ABA Website Committee, where he has been chief guide and mentor to the rare book trade’s engagement with cyberspace virtually from the outset.

PBFABack to antiquating my way around this extraordinary fair.  Well over 200 exhibitors and the largest event of its kind in Europe – and so, so, much to see.  First a trip up to the third floor to pay my respects to dear old Gerry Mosdell (The Junction Book Shop), the first founder of the PBFA (Provincial Booksellers’ Fairs Association).  It’s the association’s fortieth anniversary this year – and how far it has come in that time.  I picked up a copy of the anniversary booklet to which Gerry has contributed an introduction on the origins and early days. The first York Fair at the White Swan (just twenty-five exhibitors) was held in October 1974.  Legend has it that there were so many visitors that the queue had to wait for a person to leave before another could be allowed in.  It’s been growing ever since.  A new way of local pop-up bookselling had proved itself and a fortnight later the PBFA formally came into being.  Almost all my generation of booksellers grew up with and within the PBFA: this was how we met each other, forged lifelong friendships, travelled the country and bought and sold to each other.  I can’t now remember quite when I first joined, but it can’t have been all that long after its inception.  I’m fairly sure I was one of the first London booksellers to gatecrash what had been a specifically provincial organisation.  I have never in truth been a great enthusiast for exhibiting at fairs (too much lugging and lifting for my taste), but I can certainly recall experimental trips in the long ago to Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Oxford, Harrogate, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere.

Bat v BallGerry (whose memory appears to be rather better than mine) recalled the hilarity which ensued when I volunteered my services to the PBFA cricket team for the (first?) annual match against the ABA.  I couldn’t claim any particular prowess, I explained, not having played at all since schooldays, but I was the possessor of my own cricket bat.  It was enough to get me selected (as it would be in any of the coarser grades of cricket).  Appointed to bat in the middle order, a clatter of early wickets brought me to the crease rather sooner than anyone can have expected. Surviving some early scares, a catch that may or may not have carried, and aided by some stentorian coaching and some very firm, not to say imperious, calling from Mike Garbett at the other end, I prodded, poked, pushed, propped and paddled my way to one of the most inelegant fifties ever seen on a cricket field.  Having reached that score with a swipe or two into the adjacent cow-field off a very small boy who had been brought on to bowl (I think this may well have been Ed Bayntun-Coward, we were certainly down in Dunkerton: that he can only have been about five years old at the time puts these shots into proper context), the opposing captain decided we had all endured enough. Raymond Kilgarriff was summoned back into the attack and I only lasted another couple of balls – but there we were, a century partnership, the innings salvaged and a reputation made. This unfortunately led to a thirty-year long delusion that I could actually bat – a delusion suffered chiefly by me, but also somewhat bizarrely by many members of the book trade.  Of course I couldn’t, but I kept getting selected anyway.  Ah, well – I made a few runs once in a while, took a few wickets slightly more often, and thoroughly enjoyed it all – the chance to play at a famous old ground like Fenner’s (and a famous new one like Wormsley), or the village green at Frant of fond memory – all in the very best and friendliest of company.

ColfaxIn talking to Gerry I had of course spotted two more books to buy.  Two detective novels from the 1920s: one called “The Colfax Book-Plate” and allegedly the only book in that whole vast  corpus of crime fiction in which the murder (in a bookshop) hinges on a bookplate.  What self-respecting bookseller is going to turn that down?  Not me – certainly.  Do I have a customer for it?  Obviously not – one for the blog, perhaps. The other book was by the prolific and extraordinary William Le Queux, a man whose paranoid fantasies in such works as “The Invasion of 1910” (1906) and “Spies of the Kaiser” (1909) probably brought about the creation of both MI5 and MI6.  broadcastWhat appealed to me was his “The Broadcast Mystery” (1924): the BBC only started broadcasting in 1922 and didn’t go national until 1925, but here we have a murder mystery which opens in the BBC’s “artistic studio” in York . The first radio murder mystery? – I don’t know.  Do I have a customer? – probably not – another one for the blog.


Howes Bookshop

Looking for some perhaps more potentially saleable purchases I sought out Miles Bartley (Howes Bookshop) – the most attractive stand at the entire fair to my eye, the books all interesting, attractive and in what we used to call ‘choice’ condition (what do we call it now?)  Three more purchases – a Dickens story published by that rogue publisher John Camden Hotten – rotten, forgotten, Hotten, as we like to think of him.  Pretty binding, armorial bookplate, front wrapper and advertisements retained – but oh, no, no, this is just another one for the blog.  And so were the other two (obviously).  It could have been worse, I suppose: there might have been a fourth.  Miles leaned over to ask me at one point whether I’d ever seen a book-binder’s label quite like this one – a long thin leather label stretching right across the width of the leaf and advertising Proudfoot of Euston Square. Not that I could recall – here’s yet another one for the blog I thought, but no! – Bernard MiddletonMiles was actually just on the point of selling it to someone else.  I turned round to see what sort of strange person other than myself might buy a book on the strength of an unusual binder’s label and perhaps to remonstrate that the book should rightfully be mine – except that the other customer turned out to be none other than the great Bernard Middleton MBE, FSA, doyen of English binders, our honorary member, and someone to whom we must all give place. No better home for it.

All in all yet again an excellent time in York – old friends and new at every turn; interesting books and interesting people wherever you looked; an absolute credit to all involved.  I suppose the PBFA was primarily set up all those years ago to bring books from the provinces to London. This fair is now such a powerful and irresistible magnet that in brings London dealers and London collectors (in large numbers) to the provinces.  No greater tribute than that.  Long may it prosper.

Posted in Book Collecting, Book Fairs, Book Labels, Bookplates, Booksellers, Bookshops, Cricket, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Rare Book Day

world-map-communicationsI naturally like to regale the family over the supper table with all the latest news from the world of rare books.  The family is slightly ambivalent about this: stifled yawns sometimes remain unstifled; eyes are exaggeratedly rolled; fathomless stupefactions of chronic boredom are elaborately mimed, and silent departures from the table to go and have a lie down are by no means unknown.

A recent pop-up fair in Australia

A recent pop-up fair in Australia

Imagine then my surprise, my triumph, when I announced the concept of Pop-Up Bookfairs – and not just one or two, but a worldwide rolling twenty-four hour programme to celebrate a World Rare Book Day – fairs popping up all over the place, time-zone by time-zone, on a single day – right across the globe and all backed-up by the full might of social media.  Tweet-pop, tweet-pop, from Australia to L.A. and beyond.  Pictures, videos and reports on the web,  YouTube, Instagram and wherever else anyone can think of.  “That’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant”, said Daughter No. 1.  “Oh, you are soooo twenty-first century”, said Daughter No. 2.  “We’ve got a trestle table”, said my dear wife, fondly imagining that the number of books in the house might actually decrease if I popped out for a pop-up.  Incredible.  I had managed to hold their attention for – oh – thirty or forty seconds. Well, twenty anyway.

I’d like to take credit for the idea, but of course it’s not mine.  It’s the brainchild of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) – and it’s really going to happen.  World Rare Book Day – 23rd April 2015.  Shakespeare’s birthday (of course) – and already for the last twenty years or so designated as the International Day of the Book.  Vladimir Nabokov’s  birthday too, come to that.  And J. P. Donleavy’s.  And St. George’s Day.

And look who popped up! It's our Honorary Member Nicolas Barker.

And look who popped up! It’s our Honorary Member Nicolas Barker.

The idea is that the venues will be somewhere unexpected, imaginative, quirky or newsworthy – where we can expect to meet people who would never normally find us.  A hotel lobby, a theatre foyer, a railway concourse, a town hall, a banking hall, a shopping mall – anywhere where there are people in plenty with a few minutes to spare.  Even a bookshop if imagination fails.  An old woolshed in Victoria has already been earmarked.

Sally Burdon

Sally Burdon

It’s the brainchild in particular of the redoubtable Sally Burdon of the Asia Book Room in Canberra and the equally excellent Barbara van Benthem, who runs the very impressive ILAB website.  Here’s Sally at the York Book Fair a couple of years ago (she was born on Tyneside and is really one of us) – and Barbara preparing to take yet another high quality picture for the website.  They will be co-ordinating the event worldwide.

Barbara van Benthem

Barbara van Benthem

It  will all present an opportunity for booksellers, whether or not they have a shop, to meet potential new customers face to face.  And there really is no greater delight for a bookseller than to present someone with their first genuine encounter with a rare book.

© Holybourne Rare Books

© Holybourne Rare Books

A book they can handle, touch, fondle, smell and experience at first hand – the crackle of hand-made paper, the patina of a fine binding, the original edition of a favourite book.

© George Bayntun

© George Bayntun

And what riches we have to offer – you know we do, of course we do:  here are a couple of beautiful bindings currently available from ABA members, each priced at around £500 – one a little more, one a little less.  I could show you thousands more.   Tens of thousands of fabulous books available from booksellers affiliated to ILAB worldwide.

© Bernard Quaritch

© Bernard Quaritch

Here are a couple of topical titles from Bernard Quaritch – ideal farewell presents for a soon to be failed politician we may think (naming no names and making no assumptions, but we don’t entirely live in the past).  It’s an opportunity for booksellers worldwide, whatever the size, scale or style of their business, to combine together in a single if widely dispersed event, which is bound to be well publicised.  We reach out to a new audience.  We reach out to young collectors.  We engage.

© Bernard Quaritch

© Bernard Quaritch

The ILAB World Rare Book Day pop-up bookfairs will be easy to organize – some booksellers, some books, some tables and a big sign.  Just liaise with ILAB on the publicity.  No-one has to travel far or be away from base for too long. They can last all day or just an hour or two.  Imagination and invention are the only limitations.

It has not been confirmed yet but the idea is to tie it all in with an appropriate international charity – a literacy project of some kind would seem to fit the bill.  Collectors all start as readers, after all.  Each of the pop-up fairs will display a poster of a symbolically empty bookcase.   Visitors will be offered the opportunity to ‘buy’ an image of a symbolic book (or better still a set of books) to adorn the poster and fill the bookcase – donating money to support the charity.  ILAB will provide everything necessary: poster, book pictures, a price list, fundraising information, a press release and clear suggestions on running the event.  As the day progresses there will be online reporting of how the global Mexican Wave of pop-up fairs is going and what they have raised.

World in LettersAs Sally says, “Pop-up fairs are great – you bring very little stock, just a few good books, put them out on a table and you are not exhibiting for long. The advantage is that they will be low or no cost for the dealers to take part in and will not require anything like the organisation of the traditional fairs”.  So – it’s over to you.  We know when – Thursday 23rd April 2015. The where is up to you.  What can we come up with across the UK?  Let’s get going.

Posted in Book Collecting, Book Fairs, Booksellers, Exhibitions | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Andrews of Durham – A Prize Binding

FroudeBought for no more than the price of modest supper from the admirable Keel Row Bookshop a couple of weeks ago.   The book in itself not especially enticing – no more than a ‘Silver Library’ edition (1901) of that troubled, controversial, but once so universally read historian, James Anthony Froude (1818-1894) – a man who at once put more of his own feelings into his writing than a historian properly should, but yet also went back to the original sources in what was then a pioneering way.  Here on a favourite topic, “English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century” – Hawkins, Drake and the heroes of the battle against the Spanish Armada.  ‘Proper English history’ as I like to think of it – and here pretty much as it was still taught back in my schooldays.

Bede CollegeWhat attracted me was neither the edition nor particularly the content (interesting as it is), but that it is a book with a complete narrative of its own – a copy with its own unique and definable history.  In a prize binding blocked on the upper cover with the shield of the Durham Training College for School Masters, also known as the College of the Venerable Bede and already then formally part of Durham University – and bound locally by Andrews of Durham.

red edgesAn attractive binding – half calf, ruled, banded and worked in gilt and blind, red label, cloth sides, mainly blue and red marbled endpapers, blue and white silk headbands – conventional enough in design to be sure, save the slightly unusual colour – one of those faultline colours on the blue-green spectrum which you have to ask a woman to describe as the male eye generally can’t see it truly (something to do with the cone cells in the retina).  Anne says ‘peacock blue’ – which it is in the photograph, although to my eye much more green in real life.  Another slightly unusual feature (at least on a non-religious text) are the red edges all round – beautifully executed.  All carried out in good materials, with proper Oxford cloth for the sides.  It has exactly the right heft to the hand and ease of opening of a truly well-bound book.  And the quality shows – over a hundred years on and it’s still in excellent shape – the fugitive colour (whatever we call it) still unfaded.

Andrews of DurhamAndrews of Durham – a new name to me and one evidently not widely known to the denizens of the interweb.  A single early twentieth-century plaquette binding in the British Library Database of Bookbindings, nothing much else in the obvious sources – and yet once a famous bookshop for the best part of two centuries and something of a landmark in Durham.  The British Book Trade Index and Peter Wallis’s supplement to C. J.  Hunt’s “The Book Trade in Northumberland and Durham to 1860” between them have some of the answers.  The firm was founded by the first George Andrews (1779-1832), bookseller, stationer, publisher, mapseller, printseller, bookbinder and music-seller, as early as 1808, originally (until 1823) in partnership with Francis Humble.  The premises were on Sadler Street – now known as Saddler Street but normally spelt with a single ‘d’ in the nineteenth century – right in the heart of Durham.

MarblingOn his death in 1832, the business was taken over by his widow, Frances Andrews (1779-1867), whose 1835 “Catalogue of Books in Various Languages Now on Sale by Frances Andrews, Bookseller, Binder and Stationer, Durham” survives in  the Durham County Record Office (along with other material relating to the family and the business).  At some point after 1851, at which date she was still very much in charge of the business, she made way for their son and her former assistant, the second George Andrews (1814-1861).  On his death in 1861, Frances Andrews, now in her eighties, still in Sadler Street, took the helm once more.  In that year she was employing five men and two apprentices and the business was evidently substantial.  In 1863 her daughter, also Frances Andrews (1811-1897), previously a governess, married the widowed Londoner John Henry Le Keux (1812-1896), a well-known engraver who could meet even the exacting standards of his friend John Ruskin and who had worked on both “The Stones of Venice” (1851-1853) and “Modern Painters” (1855-1860).

titleWhen Frances Andrews died at the age of  eighty-eight in 1867, it was Le Keux who took over the running of the business, continuing both to paint and engrave in his spare time.  A few months before his own death in 1896, the business was sold to his manager, Warneford (or Warnford) Smart (1865-1965), the son of a Gloucestershire baker and at one time a librarian in Guildford.   Under Smart, according to the “Publishers’ Circular” of January 1909 (reporting on the firm’s recent centenary dinner), the business had grown considerably, “necessitating the removal to larger and more convenient premises [farther along Sadler Street], and even still further extensions until at the present day it may truly be considered one of the finest businesses in the North of England”.   And so it was: the firm were official booksellers and publishers to Durham University, publishers of the university calendar and examination papers, and publishers for the Surtees Society.  Andrews & Co. were also the manufacturers and suppliers of Le Keux’s Sweet Gum, “most useful for mounting photographs” and “sold by all stationers in bottles for 1s. each”.  The business expanded into records and leather goods as well as books, and offered a coffee-shop which became a favourite meeting-place for the citizenry.  It survived on even after Smart’s death at the age of 100 in 1965, at least until the early 1970s, known in its prime simply (from at least 1932) as the “The House of Andrews”.

As to the anonymous workers who must have produced this binding – of all the bookbinders living locally in Durham listed on the 1911 Census, the following were of an age to have been possibly working for Smart ten years earlier: George Bailes, Harry Herbert, Charles Hollis, Thomas Hopewell, George Kerr, William Leasdale, Ernest Lee, John Noble,  Thomas Ramsden, Thomas Henry Smith and Catherine Smith.  So – take your pick – probably one or more of them.

moses inscriptionThe book’s narrative does not of course end with the binding.  This was a prize binding for presentation and we know who won the prize.  A neat inscription gives us “J. R. Moses. (Second on College List).  Bede College.  1902”.   This  was John Robert Moses (1880-1917) – the twenty-two year old son of a coal-miner from the pit village of Tursdale, a few miles south of Durham.  He was still living at home with his parents at this date and, looked at in this light, you can almost feel the book radiating a sense of their parental pride at the achievement of their son.  We can readily imagine this beautiful book sitting as something of an object of wonder in their necessarily modest pit cottage.

mother-in-lawIn 1907 John Robert Moses married Jane Bormond Hutton (1868-1952) at Sunderland.  His wife was herself a teacher and the daughter of a local ship’s captain.  By 1911 they were living at 4 Guisborough Street, Sunderland, together with a rather formidable looking mother-in-law (yes, this really is Ann Bormond Hutton) – Moses by now teaching at a local elementary school.   No doubt the book remained in Sunderland with Jane Moses throughout the thirty-five years of her widowhood as a memento of her lost young husband.  The kind of book I very much like – a book on which to hang a story.  A fragment of a lost era.  A fragment of lost lives.  A survival from a city’s past.  And the sort of book it is still possible to collect for inexplicably little money.

Posted in Book Collecting, Bookbinders, Booksellers, Bookshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friends in the North

The Smithsons

The Smithsons

A very pleasant night out in Newcastle a couple of weeks ago with Mr & Mrs Keel Row Bookshop – also known as Anthony Smithson and his wife Alice.  A Turkish supper in the lee of the mighty football stadium – good food and good company.  And, in Alice’s phrase, Newcastle seems to be the capital of still-cheap eating-out.  Anthony was of course full of news on the build-up to the inaugural York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) next month.   Almost fully booked, it is all shaping very well indeed – driven along of course by Anthony’s own dynamic enthusiasm.  It simply wouldn’t be happening without him.  Alice is very much looking forward to it as well – the children are to be consigned to grand-parental custody for that week.

Anthony still can’t quite believe that all – yes, all – each and every one of his first-choice speakers for the course has agreed to turn up.  He regards it as a promoter might in having lined up a stellar cast.  Unwonted hyperbole for the rare book trade, perhaps – stellar is not, frankly, a word we regularly use of our colleagues – but looking at the faculty on the YABS website (in absolutely strictly alphabetical order) – Simon Beattie, Nigel Burwood (Any Amount of Books), Justin Croft, Adam Douglas of Peter Harrington Rare Books, Jonathan Kearns (Adrian Harrington Rare Books), Ed Maggs of Maggs Bros., Tim Pye (Curator of Printed Literary Sources 1501-1800 at the British Library), Sophie Schneideman,  Anthony himself, and Carl Williams, also of Maggs, together with the two guest speakers from the USA, Rob Rulon-Miller and Lorne Bair – it’s very difficult to disagree.  These are all outstanding booksellers, genuine stars of the book trade, and, just as impressively, drawn from right across the breadth and depth of the trade on all its levels, in all its many aspects and differing ways of doing things.

Just from the sections of the course handbook which have recently been passed to me by editor-in-chief Charles Cox for comment I can tell how good it is going to be.  If only this kind of advice and guidance had been available when I was starting out as a bookseller all those years ago.  If only!   All those years of learning things the hard way, all that learning by trial and error (almost entirely error) – so much of it could have been avoided or short-circuited with the kind of generosity the trade is now showing in putting on this kind of course.  So good is it going to be that I’m tempted to sign up myself (never entirely too old to learn – and we could all learn from this, however long we have been at it), except that I wouldn’t want to deprive a young bookseller or a would-be bookseller of the opportunity.  Last I heard there were just a couple of places left for this year.  Get there if you can – you will not regret it – all the details are on the YABS website (link in the blog-roll).

The God of the Tyne

The God of the Tyne

What I hadn’t previously realised about Anthony was how engrossed he is not just in the book world but in his own local community.  Not only does he run a bookshop and run around the country exhibiting at fairs, but he seems to be involved in just about everything happening on Tyneside.  Where he finds the time I have no idea.  One particularly entertaining story was about how he tracked down an early nineteenth-century wooden figurehead of the God of the Tyne, replete with a head-dress of flaming coals, pick and shovel, fish, nets and other items evoking local history and tradition.  The figurehead has very strong connections with the history of the local printing industry and now quite properly adorns and presides over the sparkling new Newcastle City Library – thanks almost entirely to Anthony’s efforts.  

The Keel Row Bookshop

The Keel Row Bookshop

The following morning, Anne went to pay homage to the River God (the photograph from her) and to explore that great and welcoming city of the north.  Meanwhile, I took myself out to North Shields to have a rummage around Anthony’s shop.  It was pretty busy for a Friday morning, people popping in and out, buying books, offering books, debating books.   Anthony gives a lesson to us all in being charming, attentive, patient and helpful to anyone and everyone.   At one point he scurried off to try and find a book for someone.  In his absence, she turned to another customer and said, “Isn’t this a wonderful shop?” – “Aye”, came the reply, “I don’t know anywhere else like this”.  They were right: it is a wonderful, wonderful, shop.  Although crammed to the rafters with books, it remains orderly and tidy.  Although full of books, there is barely a book which doesn’t look interesting on one level or another: books for the collector, certainly, but also second-hand books for the casual reader, books for the serious reader, books for the old, books for the young, books on every subject you can think of (and quite a few you can’t) – above all, books you would like to read or just to give to someone you know who would.  I found myself saying to myself like a mantra as I went round: That looks interesting, that looks interesting, that looks interesting, that looks interesting …  And better still, all reasonably priced.  A reminder of just how wonderful a good bookshop can be.  

I plucked out a boxful – mainly for stock, including one in a binding by Andrews of Durham which will probably feature here on the blog at some point, but a few others simply to read or pass on to friends.  A marvellous  shop.  A marvellous evening.  A marvellous morning.  Thank you, Anthony and Alice.     

Posted in ABA, Book Collecting, Booksellers, Bookshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Finer Sight

“There’s no finer sight in the world than that of a handsome woman bearing cakes” – this the (completely unsought) opinion of a man in the Warkworth tea-shop.  It struck me as a deeply profound and rather moving thought.  Substitute ‘books’ for ‘cakes’ and we might yet be in a perfect world. Possibly borderline sexist, but then the sight of handsome men bearing cakes is not one all that frequently met with, at least not in my experience (do correct me if I’m wrong).  Books, of course, are a very different matter.

We should have followed his example and gone for the cakes (the finest Victoria Sponge since the days of the late Queen Victoria herself), because the cream tea was dire.  The clue is in the name – cream (i.e. real cream, proper cream, not some anodyne surrogate) – it’s a necessary ingredient.  The well-attested medicinal properties and restorative powers of the true cream tea are as nothing without it – and we certainly needed restoring after a depressing visit to a truly ghastly bookshop elsewhere in Northumbria a couple of hours earlier.  The sort of shop that’s usually never open and when it is you wish it hadn’t been.

John Atkinson

John Atkinson

The memory didn’t truly disappear until the following morning when we went calling on John Atkinson at his new home just outside Darlington.  Here’s the restorative – a young bookseller with an eclectic and immaculate stock.  Just the books you need to complete or improve a twentieth-century collection.  Books I haven’t seen in years, books I’ve never seen (or at least not in this condition), the scarcer books, the rarities, the desirable books, the sought-after books, admirably dust-jacketed, often signed or inscribed, and surprisingly often with a long-forgotten or unknown wrap-around band.  John has something of a penchant for these ephemeral promotional bands and you can see why.  Here’s his copy of the London edition of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms (1929), intact in a pristine and fabulous dust-jacket by David Theyre Lee-Elliott, but also with the apparently undocumented puce-coloured wrap-around band carrying a quote from Arnold Bennett’s review – “This is a superb performance”.

13073910768This rather took me aback.  Firstly, I couldn’t off-hand recall having seen very many British examples of these wrap-around bands (or ‘flashes’ as they are sometimes called) from quite as early as this.  After much racking of brains (and several days later) I eventually recalled once having had a copy of Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica (also 1929) which had one, and I’ve seen quite a few examples from the 1930s (with some rather earlier ones from the United States), but can anyone nominate an earlier British example?  That’s your challenge for this week.

But what really took me aback was this conjunction of Arnold Bennett and Ernest Hemingway, because, although I admire them both, they really don’t inhabit the same circles in my head.  Here’s Arnold Bennett, already past sixty, wealthy, famous, successful – a man of such prominence that straw was laid in the street to quiet the traffic as he lay dying a couple of years later (I believe the last Londoner so to be honoured) – still of course very popular with the common reader, but a man already much derided by the younger set, especially the Bloomsburyites, and not at all someone you would have expected to find championing the brash young American newcomer.  But then Bennett was always far more astute and far more modern in outlook than most of his critics – the proof is in this wrap-around band – lose it and we lose that thought.  That’s why the idiosyncrasies of the collectors who cherish such things must needs be nurtured.

There is, by the way (and I kid you not), a curious piece currently on the BBC website headed “Arnold Bennett: The Edwardian David Bowie?  Arnold Bennett is probably the most successful and famous British celebrity you’ve never heard of, unless you’ve tried the omelette that bears his name” – but I think this tells us more about the current state of the BBC than it does about book-collecting.

John Atkinson Rare & Fine BooksElsewhere in John’s stock there are many other wonderful things, including a book he asked me not to write about or illustrate in case someone wanted to buy it and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  So I won’t tell you what it is.  He really knows and loves his books.  It’s a very impressive set-up, even if it’s all a far cry from the old-fashioned second-hand bookshop.  He’s well advanced down the curatorial wing of modern book-selling – and rightly so, we need to adapt, but the spark in his case was kindled by an old-fashioned chance first purchase from Anthony Smithson of the Keel Row Bookshop (of whom more anon).  Nothing special, a run-of-the-mill Ian Fleming I believe, but it lit the fire which diverted John from an academic career (he has a doctorate – phonetics, inflection, that sort of thing) into book-selling.  Academe’s loss and the book-trade’s gain.  His details are in the blog-roll to the right.

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N. Wesley Firth

Norman Wesley Firth

Norman Wesley Firth

A newish but really rather interesting customer got in touch the other day (a customer who first came to me through a perceptive between-the-lines reading of the blog, by the way).  He had a very particular reason for trying to assemble the works of Norman Firth – might I have anything hidden away in the deepest vaults?  He suspects that he is the only person in the world still collecting and reading Firth, although I’m not at all sure that the author of Spawn of the Vampire (1946) – and a man once known as “The Prince of the Pulp Pedlars” – can have been altogether so entirely forgotten.

As it happened, I had five Firths.  Details duly sent off.   All booksellers know what happens next: the answer routinely comes back that the customer already has all these, has had them for years, that these are the really common ones, do we have anything else? (i.e. what they really want are titles which are utterly impossible to find, may not even actually exist, and that certainly no-one has seen within living memory).   But this time, wonderful to relate, a circumstance at least as rare as the books themselves, this wasn’t the answer that came back.  Despite determined looking over the years, my customer didn’t have four of the five.  They are now winging their way to a new home – happiness all round.

The event seemed worth recording, if only because such things so seldom happen.  But the further thought occurred that there may perhaps be other Norman Firth titles lying hidden out there still looking for a happy home.  Over to you on that.  Only the difficult titles, of course, which don’t include the handful of hardbacks or anything else currently listed on the internet.  He usually published as N. Wesley Firth, but also used a multitude of pseudonyms, including Jackson Evans, Joel Johnson, Net Anson, Jackson Haines, Mac Raine, Rice Ackman and even Olga Hendry (his wife’s name).  Earl Ellison was his most regular nom-de-plume, but this requires care as the name was later taken over (1950 onwards) as a house-name by John Spencer & Co.  Leslie Halward was another of his regular pseudonyms, although this also requires care as there was another Leslie Halward, who had some fiction and an autobiography published by Methuen and Michael Joseph in the 1930s.  Other Firth pseudonyms may well now be lost in the mists of time.

His principal publishers were the quirky and related West London imprints of Bear, Hudson Limited and Hamilton & Co. (Stafford) Limited, as well as the (also inter-connected) Grant Hughes and John Spencer & Co.; other titles appeared from Utopian Publications and the Staffordshire imprints of Clifford Lewis and Curzon Publishing, as well as London’s Brown, Watson Limited and Mitre Press, and Pillar Publishing of Dublin.  He also did some publishing on his own account, e.g. the Gaze Publishing title depicted, published from his home at 66 Park Road, West Birkenhead.

Institutional holdings of his books are sketchy – about twenty titles published as N. Wesley Firth; three Olga Hendry titles in the Castleton series published by the Mitre Press; a couple each by Leslie Halward, Joel Johnson and Jackson Evans, and a western from Rice Ackman.  This can only represent a fraction of his output.  In the course of his short life (he died at the age of twenty-nine) his output was prodigious and covered a huge range: gangster stories, crime stories, thrillers, romances, westerns, some science fiction, sporty stories and even school stories – his Harcourt series containing distinct echoes of Frank Richards and Greyfriars.  He is said to have been capable of punching out 6,000 words at a sitting – and on occasion to have supplied single-handed the entire contents of magazines like Futuristic Stories and Strange Adventures, using a variety of different names.

Piccadilly NightsSome of the titles illustrated here give the flavour both of his breadth and versatility, as well as his strengths and weaknesses.  Piccadilly Nights (written as Jackson Evans) is ostensibly “a new and daring novel of London’s haunts and night life”.  It’s in fact written in the typical style of a American gangster novel, with most of the characters sounding more American than English (Bats O’Reilly excepted – his Irish brogue gets subtly stronger the more menacing he becomes): but this was presumably precisely what the publishers (Grant Hughes) wanted.  It’s a story which begins on Merseyside with a botched gangland execution.  The killer flees to London, falls in with a naked beauty discovered in her bath via a fire-escape, wins some money wrestling against “The Cockney Maniac”, and pulls off a nicely-tuned and delightfully plausible mail-order scam involving a wholly fictitious naughty book (this must surely be based on fact from the murky underworld of pulp publishing).  He then muscles in on the turf of London’s pin-table racketeers and marries bizarrely at gun-point.  There is precious little night-life and the star-crossed lovers, cabin-in-the-forest ending is straight out of American film-noir – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the very film.

Dangerous DamesIn contrast, although Dangerous Dames has an ostensibly American narrator, the tone is almost entirely British stiff upper-lip –  “I had only gone as far as the end of the street, when that quality known as chivalry made me stop and think”.  Neither the title nor the leggy H. W. Perl brunette on the cover seem to have any particular relationship to the plot (or any relationship at all, come to that – they must have been designed for another book altogether).  It relates the tale of a Hollywood film company down on its luck and resolved to risk everything on making an epic blockbuster filmed on location in Egypt.  “The Mummy Walks” is re-titled “Flame of the Pyramids” and strange things start happening almost at once.  En route to Egypt there is a pleasant glimpse of post-war 1940s London, “now the lights were up and the look of strain had gone from the faces”.  A scene in the Egyptian Room of the just re-opened British Museum introduces a mysterious English blonde, who issues a warning.  That night a cameraman is murdered.  The mystery blonde later turns up on the ship, leaves it mysteriously, but crops up again in Egypt.  After that it all gets a bit Indiana Jones, bad guys, whips, drug-dens, guns and pyramids.  Occasionally we feel the mounting pressures of deadline, word-count and a need to unravel the plot in a hurry – “No words of mine are apt enough to describe that scene, I will leave it to your imagination mainly …”  – but on balance it’s all rather fun.

PossessionPossession is a romance of what is sometimes condescendingly called the mill-girl novelette type.   Actress turns down Hollywood – the love of a good man, the much more enticing lure of a bad man, eternal triangle, twist in the tail, all of that.  Borrowed Love (written as Joel Johnson), with its similarly poignant Perl artwork, has all the look of something cut from the self-same cloth: in fact it commences with the brutal escape of an English deserter from the Foreign Legion and a getaway to Marseilles, where death stalks and treachery and retribution abound.  Studio Revels begins with a girl from a New York sweatshop replying to a curious modelling advertisement and hastens on to the “inside story” of Greenwich Village and “queer, crazy characters, torn from a page of life, the riotous studio parties, the life of a professional model, and the excitement of the hunt for a crazed strangler”, which must have ticked any number of marketable boxes for the publishers (Hamilton & Co).  Firth undoubtedly knew his business and the dreams and foibles of his readership.

Borrowed LoveAs is often the case, the only account of his life I’m aware of which goes beyond the merely perfunctory comes from the pen of Steve Holland, who devotes several pages to Firth in The Mushroom Jungle.   I can only add a little to that.  Firth is usually said to have been born in Birkenhead on 20th October 1920, but I believe in fact that he was born slightly earlier on the 8th October – and at Crumpsall, just north of Manchester.  Certainly his birth was registered, as plain Norman Firth, at nearby Prestwich, a mile or two from Crumpsall.  His parents, Henry Wesley Firth and Mary Elizabeth Tattersall, had married in the same area in 1911 – and Norman Firth appears to have been the youngest of several children born in the locality.  His father is said to have been a theatrical producer of some kind, hence perhaps the theatricality of some of Firth’s stories, but I have been unable to verify this.  Henry Wesley Firth’s own father had been a draper in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, and that appears to have been his son’s occupation too.  In 1901, at the age of twenty-three, he was certainly working as an assistant in the drapery department of a large London store.  Mary Elizabeth Tattersall was a local young woman (from Gorton): both her parents worked as cotton-twisters in the Manchester mills (which I suppose gives a certain poignancy to the mill-girl novelettes).  The name Wesley, by the way, seems to relate to the Wesleyan sympathies of the Dewsbury Firths.  Henry Wesley Firth was baptised at the local Wesleyan chapel in 1877, and the name was commonly used as a middle-name in the wider family.  Although it was not formally part of Norman Firth’s name (at least as evidenced by birth, marriage and death registrations), it’s not difficult to see why he used it.

Studio RevelsDuring the war, Norman Firth worked on the assembly lines of an aircraft factory (probably Rootes at Speke).  He married the seventeen-year-old Olga Hendry (1927-1996) at Birkenhead in 1944 – and by the following year he was published author, with the short story collection This is Murder, Lady and the novel Murder for Sale, both appearing in that year.  From there, the pace of his writing grew exponentially.  He lived in London for a time in 1948, staying in a mews cottage at 22 Roland Way, attached to the house in Roland Gardens belonging to Benson Herbert.  Herbert (1912-1991), science-fiction writer, editor and publisher (Utopian) was one of Firth’s major supporters in terms of constant commissions.  Firth was, however, already becoming increasingly ill, and returned to Birkenhead, where he died of tuberculosis on 13th December 1949, leaving a twenty-two year old widow and a young daughter.  His relentless writing round the clock over a period of five years had earned him a little more than the average working wage – his effects were declared at a not unreasonable £1,449,10s.10d when probate was granted to Olga Firth in February 1950.  She re-married at Birkenhead in 1956 and I believe his daughter later emigrated to Australia.

The only one of his books for which I have found contemporary reviews is When Shall I Sleep Again? – a James M. Cain sort of tale posthumously published by Gifford in hardback in 1950, dedicated to Olga, and later reissued by the Thriller Book Club.  Here’s what the Western Daily News had to say (1st August 1950): “There is ‘strong meat’ in this novel of sex and intrigue in a small mid-Western town following the arrival there of a fugitive from justice in New York.  The story is one of murder, jealousy and spitefulness, and is so well told that the reader will probably gain every satisfaction in the fate that overcomes the man and woman (one can hardly say hero and heroine) who are the main characters.  This is a really vigorous thriller with an astonishing climax”.

“So well told” – yes, Firth had the gift of a natural writer in rapidly conjuring scenes and characters.  What he writes, we see.  Great literature? – obviously not, but he apparently had ambitions to write more seriously one day.  His colleague and contemporary Bevis Winter felt that his “vast store of knowledge” and “grinding experience” stood him in good enough stead.  This may well be so, but I suspect that his style of writing, more filmic than truly theatrical, cutting freely from scene to scene, might well have steered him towards writing for television, as a number of his contemporaries did.  We shall simply never know.  Let me know if you find anything.

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100 MapsAn unwonted spell of quiet here on the blog lately.  Apologies for that – but not entirely from lack of activity.  A bit of holiday and a long-postponed attempt at reading The Alexandria Quartet in its entirety aside, head and hands have both been full with a variety of projects:  a stint of teaching at the London Rare Books School, with a resultant essay to be guided; sorting out issues on the ABA website;  keeping an eye on the ABA Twitter account;  putting together a manual (of sorts) on book-cataloguing for booksellers;  a stupid row with the entirely ridiculous NatWest Bank;  delving away into the recondite by-ways and back-alleys of post-war British pulp fiction (more on that next week);  planning a couple of bookish safari trips for August (one northern, one western);  trying to pull together the speakers for the coming year’s monthly Senate House seminars on book-collecting – a splendid line-up already in prospect:  Tim Bryars and Tom Harper (British Library) this October on twentieth-century maps – this roughly to coincide with the publication of their “A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps” at the end of September.  I’ve seen some advance proofs: it’s an amazing and extraordinarily impressive book, which will challenge and change some of our assumptions both about the history of the twentieth century and the way in which we use maps.  That’s the Christmas presents sorted for all of you.

YoYoI can’t get hold of Stephen Foster, who is away on holiday, but a decision made in his absence and (like it or not) he’ll be speaking at Senate House in November;  Christopher Sokol in December – topic to be confirmed;  Neil Pearson in January – on the Paris pornographers, the cultural atmosphere of Paris between the two World Wars, and its contribution to the defeat of literary censorship;  Charles Cox in April on the Galsworthy Bubble and other freaks of fashion in book-collecting;  both Christopher Edwards and Sophie Schneideman to be slotted in somewhere, a couple of others pending.

Adrian Seville and Tom Harper

Adrian Seville and Tom Harper

A day off from all of that yesterday – one of those delightful days which we all need to refresh and reinvigorate the spirit.  A day with Adrian Seville in the company of Ashley Baynton-Williams and Tom Harper from the British Library (and ex Jonathan Potter).  Adrian is of course one of the great collectors of our time – a man who has marked out his field, enriched it, changed the way we view it, and built a new research resource almost certainly unmatched in any institutional collection.  His collection of printed games is quite magnificent and will be duly honoured with an exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York in 2016. (Many of the games are illustrated on the Giochi dell’Oca website, link in the blog-roll).

Ashley Baynton-Williams

Ashley Baynton-Williams

And of course it is only in seeing the games all together and studying their similarities, their development and, crucially, their subtle or not-so-subtle differences, that we realise how much we can learn from them.  They mirror their times in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways,  and when Adrian describes himself as a cultural historian – that is precisely what he is.

BalloonsIt was a day spent in discussing engravers, printers and publishers (huge overlap with the map trade, of course), but also in unlooked-for and unexpected connections between the British trade and its continental counterparts.  One newly acquired game had thrown up a previously unknown maker – Dewhirst & Co. of London with a very sophisticated game dating from the time of the American Civil War.  The Great BlockadeA game in which risk is calculated with unusual delicacy, but also one which is a whole history lesson in itself.  (Dewhirst proves stubborn – a very unusual name in London at that date, but so far I have only been able to identify a carpenter, a schoolmaster and a needlewoman – none of whom seem particularly likely to have produced this: more work to be done, this not aided by the ridiculous decision of the COPAC authorities to disable for the time being the best part of its search mechanism).

All Over the HouseConversation shaded off into discussion of the mystical powers attributed to individual numbers in the past, numerology and the Cabala; the extraordinary longevity of the Game of the Goose; the significance of the death-square; geographical games; map-based games; geographical playing-cards; games of the seasons; the earliest London-published map of London (on a playing-card?);  the significance of decoration; the history of ballooning; the Jansenist heresy (one extraordinarily heretical game); The Geographerpolitics, satire, travel and sport; the representation of games in art; the origins of the skull-and-crossbones symbol; paddle-ships; the Thief-Taker General; the pricing of rare and possibly unique material; the unforeseen consequences and the effect of bibliographies on pricing and the market; the foibles of some of our colleagues; the Americas Cup; a 200-year old ivory yo-yo, and a guessing game as to who the apparently real people were whose portraits were given on a 1790 English game on the ages of man. Here’s “The Geographer” – any suggestions?

Noble Game of the SwanI was very pleased to be able to add this magnificent beast to the collection – William Darton’s 1821 Noble Game of the Swan.  An example of the game with a pleasant little history of its own: it once belonged to Percy Muir, ABA President in 1946-1947, and was item No. 961 in Muir’s catalogue of the National Book League’s May 1946 exhibition of Children’s Books of Yesterday.  It was a ground-breaking exhibition, with the foresight to include games, puzzles and peep-shows, and the present game not only still has its beautifully hand-coloured card case, but its printed rules and even its 1946 exhibition label.  AutomobileNor was this Adrian’s only purchase of the day: arriving at about the same time as we did was this delightful game in a 1933 issue of the French magazine Vu.  For all its twentieth-century trappings of automobiles and sharp photography, it’s a traditional Game of the Goose – the death-square here in the form of a caped gendarme ready to inflict dire consequences on speeding or careless motorists (and even a suggestion of paradise as a giant car-park).

Panorama of LondonYet another recent acquisition (this collection is still growing) was this humdinger of a London game bought from Robert Frew at the recent London Map Fair (I may just possibly be able to put my hands on another one of these if anyone’s interested).  All in all, a nigh-on perfect summer’s day.  Good company, good friends, and a community of interests.  Thank you Adrian – already looking forward to the next visit.

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