My First …

gritHi – it’s me again, Pauline Schol, with another guest post. I’ve now obtained my MA in the History of the Book and I’m still benefitting from the Guv’nor’s occasional (if erratic) tutelage. He thought I might like to go to an auction the other week – my very first. Deep in the dark hinterland of South London we turned up at a local auction-house (I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the exact whereabouts) – a place where books are seldom sold, although they are apparently planning more regular book-sales: they have hired John Collins (ex-Maggs, ex-Bonham’s) to run this side of things, so they must be serious.

On display (or not actually on display – they were hidden away in a little room and we were the first of the day to ask where the books were) was rather a handsome collection of the more manly outpourings of Victorian fiction – lots of R. M. Ballantyne and George Manville Fenn – you know the sort of thing. We scoured the shelves and made our notes.

I’d learnt all about the theory and strategy of book-auctions at the York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) back in September, the importance of preparation, the importance of where to stand or sit, how and when to enter the bidding, controlling the pace of bidding, and, above all, setting an absolute limit on the price you are prepared to pay for each lot and not under any circumstances going beyond it.

All that of course went completely out of the window once we arrived on auction-day. The Guv’nor just planted himself slap in the middle of the room, caught the auctioneer’s eye on the very first lot, proceeded to buy it for rather more than the ‘absolute limit’  he’d written in bright green on our catalogue, and just kept bidding in a macho kind of way until he’d bought every lot we wanted. Unbelievable! Is everyone in the book trade this delusional?

In a weird way this aggressive strategy actually seemed to work – it all balanced out over the auction as a whole and we were buying subsequent lots at well below our green figures – but the scariest thing was when he handed the catalogue over to me and wandered off upstairs leaving me to bid on the later lots. Gulp! Thrown in the deep end! Heart in mouth! Adrenalin pumping! Luckily I got a great lot of Laurence Oliphants for well under our agreed upon green price and I felt more confident bidding on the next lot. It’s actually quite fun!

firstMeanwhile, he had left a healthy bid upstairs on a lot coming up much later in the day – a lot comprising a defective jigsaw-puzzle, a rusty bunsen-burner, another a rusty implement of some description, a broken pocket-watch, a small pair of binoculars, a small brush, some bone glove-stretchers, and the most hideous spelter mantlepiece ornament I’ve ever seen – he’s been trying to palm it off on me ever since, but I’m really not having it. There was something rather special about the jig-saw (an eighteenth-century map) that probably only he and a handful of other people in the world would have known – and he already had a buyer for it.

pluckMad as it all seemed at the time, and although one very heavy ‘sleeper’ in in an early lot turned out to be de defective, we still seem to have done pretty well on the day’s work. A couple of dozen books already sold, money recouped and more, and lots of manly (and even womanly) Victorian fiction left to sell. The Guv’nor has given me one lot to sell for myself – a couple of dozen volumes of stirring tales with titles like “Fifty-Two Stories of Grit and Character for Girls”, “Fifty-Two Stories of Courage and Endeavour for Girls”, and (my favourite) “Fifty-Two Stories of Pluck, Peril and Romance for Girls”.

A bit disappointed

A bit disappointed

I’m not quite sure what he is trying to tell me, perhaps it’s a coded message on the difficulties women face in entering the book trade. This was very much the theme of the first ‘Networking Event for Women in the Book Trade’ held at Maggs a few days later. The Guv’nor was a bit disappointed at the thought of a gathering of lovely bookish women that he wasn’t going to be allowed to attend, but I thought his telling me to enjoy myself at the ‘coven’ was going way too far (I think he was only joking – he’d better have been).

maggsAnyway, I tweeted him a nice photo of two of his very favourite bookish women to keep him happy (no names, we all know who they are). Personally, I think it was a great initiative, splendidly organised by Fuchsia Voremberg. We talked, we networked, we drank, we drank some more, we snacked, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

chelseaThe following day I went to my very first Chelsea Book Fair. Laurence had somehow managed to get himself involved in giving guided tours of the fair to some groups of rare book librarians, so we spent most of the first afternoon escorting them around and introducing them to various booksellers. It was a bit hit or miss as he hadn’t taken the basic precaution of finding out which libraries they were from or what their particular interests were, but with some on-the-spot reinvention of the itinerary it all seemed to go off reasonably well. One of the librarians was still chatting away merrily to Janette Ray long after the tour was over.

leoHighlights for the librarians seemed to be the visits to Leo Cadogan, Tom Lintern-Mole (Antiquates), Jenny Allsworth and Quaritch, all of whom had some particularly off-beat, quirky and interesting material. All four stands seemed to be particularly busy throughout the day. We asked Leo at one point if the fair was going well. “Exceptionally well”, was the answer, but he looked strangely dispirited at the thought. “I don’t really like selling my books”, he quietly confided, “I don’t have that many” – priceless! a true bookseller! We courteously refrained from buying any books from him, so as not to distress him any further.

We’d only bought a couple of things on that first afternoon – too busy with librarians – but we returned in earnest, cheque-book at the ready, the following morning. Laurence had already managed to buy two copies of the same book by the time I arrived (only three minutes later) – I quickly confiscated the cheque-book before he could do any more damage. This didn’t seem to slow him down a great deal, but I did just manage to stop him buying a book he already has a better copy of.

It had been a great week with the thrill of my first auction, my first Women in the Book Trade event, and my first Chelsea – although I’m still puzzled about why it seems mandatory for everyone there to wear a blue shirt. I loved getting acquainted with new people and catching up with those I already knew. A whole raft of new acquisitions has now been catalogued and will be featured in the Ash Rare Books catalogue coming out next week. I have learnt so much from everyone and I’m still looking to learn more. This is so much fun. I look forward to seeing you all at the next bookish event.

blue shirts

Blue Shirts

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J. & F. Harwood of Fenchurch Street

Hastings 1845I have long admired those occasionally found sheets of decorative Victorian notepaper – a handsomely engraved view of your place of resort at the head of a folded sheet of letter-paper: enough space to write a full four-page letter – the more leisurely and elegant precursor of the picture-postcard.  While they enjoyed their brief spell of fashion in the mid-nineteenth century there were a number of specialist London (as well as local) manufacturers, but the most appealing of them to my mind – a little larger, a little more artistic – employing decent artists like Thomas Abiel Prior and Edward John Roberts, and certainly better engraved – were those produced by the Harwoods of Fenchurch Street, who also produced bound selections of these views printed on heavier paper under a multitude of titles, such as “Harwood’s Scenery of Great Britain”, “Harwood’s Views of Guernsey”, “Harwood’s Views of Derbyshire”, etc.

26 Fenchurch StreetNo-one seems to know anything much about the Harwoods and having acquired a small selection of their decorative notepaper recently (as well as having spent a large chunk of my own working life in and around Fenchurch Street – in a shop just off it and in an office actually on it) I thought I would take the time to investigate. What I did not know when I used to gaze down Rood Lane from my old office window, is that 150 years earlier I would have been able to wave to the Harwoods across the road – their premises at No. 26 (long since disappeared) were directly opposite mine at No. 153 (the street numbering is idiosyncratic).

Folkestone 1841The Harwoods were general and wholesale stationers offering a much wider range of stock than just decorative notepaper: they were booksellers, publishers, printers, pen-dealers, pocket-book makers, bookbinders and engravers (or at least they took in bookbinding and engraving work). Theirs was often an innovative range. They patented designs for pens and inkstands. They were the manufacturers of the “improved patent metallic memorandum books” – the metallic paper described as “indelible”. They also produced their Diamond Diaries, “sufficiently small for the waistcoat pocket”.  Their range of pens included bank pens, cabinet pens, commercial pens, treasury pens, Victoria pens, ladies’ pens  and academical pens.

Diamond Diary

Bristol Mercury – 17 November 1838

Their publishing, beyond books of views and tourist guides, was often interesting, quirky, humorous and entertaining. They published “How Fanny Teaches her Children” (1836) by Harriet Downing;  “The Tutor’s Assistant, or, Comic Figures of Arithmetic” (1843) by the caricaturist “Alfred Crowquill” (Alfred Henry Forrester), as well as his comic “A Guide to the Watering Places”.  crowquillLater publications by John Harwood alone included Percy Cruikshank’s undated “Hints to Emigrants, or, Incidents in the Emigration of John Smith of Smith Town : Consisting of Nine Humorous Illustrations”; “The Pictorial Cabinet : An Entertaining and Literary Miscellany” (1846); Crowquill’s “Pantomime : As It Was, Is, and Will Be : To Be Played at Home” (1849) and the splendid “How He Reigned and How He Mizzled. A Railway Raillery” (1849) – caricatures on the career and scandal of George Hudson, the Railway King.

apprenticeshipJohn Harwood (1798-1855) was the senior partner, born 24th March 1798 in the London parish of St. Marylebone, the son of James Harwood, a butcher, and his wife Sarah. He was apprenticed in 1813 to the stationer James Low of Chancery Lane, proprietor of a circulating library, for the handsome sum of £80. He had set up for himself in Fenchurch Street by 1822 – a trade-card from this period survives in the British Museum. The younger Frederick Harwood, seemingly a cousin of some sort rather than a younger brother, became a partner in 1830 and the business traded as “J. & F. Harwood” until the partnership was formally dissolved on 12th January 1844:  stresses and strains must have become apparent six months earlier when the company was declared bankrupt on 13th July 1843. The financial difficulties were evidently temporary, as the bankruptcy was formally annulled at the time of the dissolution of the partnership, but henceforth John Harwood traded once more on his own account.

Harwood Card

© The Trustees of the British Museum

John Harwood had married Mary Ann Catherine Hudden (1818-1896), daughter of William and Catherine Hudden, her father described simply as a gentleman, at St. Mary Haggerston on 11th April  1838. The newly married couple evidently lived over the shop at 26 Fenchurch Street. The 1841 Census captures them there with two infant daughters, Mary Ann and Emily. Further children were to arrive in the ensuing years: Jessie Maria Harwood, who died in infancy, John Augustus Harwood and Ellen Adine Harwood.  The firm rapidly recovered from the short period of bankruptcy and the termination of the partnership. By 1851 John Harwood was employing no less than forty men in what must have been an extensive line of business. He died on 1st June 1855, evidently leaving his widow comfortably off.

bedford placeMary Ann Catherine Harwood saw out her days living in Bedford Place, one of London’s most elegant streets, perhaps quietly supplementing her income with some genteel paying guests. Her son John Augustus Harwood became a barrister and her daughter Emily married another.

harwood pens

Coventry Standard – 18 May 1838

The junior partner, Frederick Harwood (d.1861), is an altogether more shadowy figure. The 1861 Census finds him at 6 Mildmay Villas in Islington, recording him as a man of independent means, originally from Wiltshire and sixty years of age.  I can find no trace of his birth in or about 1801, in Wiltshire or elsewhere, and the fact that he was not apprenticed until 1822 suggests that he may well have been born a few years later than that. His apprenticeship (probably served with John Harwood) finished in 1829 and he had become a partner in “J. & F. Harwood” by 1830. He married Clara Nash, originally from Ludlow, at Holborn in 1836.

colored news

Newcastle Chronicle – 27 July 1855

What became of him after the dissolution of the partnership early in 1844 I am unable to tell, although he may perhaps have continued working in the business in a more junior position. I have not been able to trace a will for John Harwood, but Frederick may have been a beneficiary. Shortly after John’s death in June 1855, Frederick announced a new coloured weekly newspaper, “Colored News”,  to be published from 183 Fleet Street at 2d a week with “richly painted engravings”. The price seems improbably low for something with hand-coloured engravings of all the weekly round of sensational news – fires, murders, battles, storms, shipwrecks, earthquakes, duels, trials, accidents, elopements, insurrections, robberies, executions – all these and more were promised.

colored songster

Dorset County Chronicle – 20 September 1855

A “Colored Songster” featuring the best songs of the day was also announced. By September the price of the already cheap “Colored News” had halved to a penny, but the venture was evidently a spectacular failure. No more is heard on either score. Frederick died at Mildmay Villas on 10th December 1861, leaving an estate of under £200.

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Hidden Treasures (2)

rbscg bagThe final day of the recent CILIP ‘Hidden Treasures’ conference (see previous post) took place in the friendly and familiar surroundings of the British Library. A few words of welcome from Dr Kristian Jensen, éminence grise at the BL, on the importance of making collections accessible and meaningful. Well, yes – we are all in favour of that (although sometimes actions speak louder than words).

As a concrete example, Adrian Edwards (Lead Curator of Printed Historical Sources at the BL) was the first speaker of the day, referring back to last year’s ‘Comics Unmasked’ exhibition (see the post of that name from 1st May 2014). His theme was the uncovering of the treasure-trove of comics of all kinds that the British Library had acquired in one way or another over the years, but more or less hidden away – largely uncatalogued, ill-catalogued or otherwise inaccessible. He was able to use the potential for mounting a major international exhibition to leverage the resources (always in short supply) to get the comics sorted out, properly catalogued, and made available for essentially the first time, calling in outside experts to advise on the exhibition.

Nasty TalesIt was all a great success – a deservedly popular and interesting exhibition – but if this is really the only way to get proper resources for the retrospective cataloguing that the Library so badly needs, I do wonder whether some of the other ‘hidden’ collections at the BL will ever get catalogued at all. I frequently offer the Library books which it doesn’t appear to have, only to discover that it does have them (or may well have them) somewhere after all. I fail to understand why our national library, the library which should lead the way, set an example and inspire all the others (not just in this country), does not make the proper cataloguing of all its holdings an absolutely top priority. We all know that this is the only way to make the collections ‘accessible and meaningful’ – if that is truly the aim. I know I am not alone in fearing that our national library is nowadays sometimes guilty of wandering down the path of showmanship rather than scholarship.

Cataloguing has to be properly done and overseen by scholars who fully understand the material. It needs expertise. It needs specialist knowledge. That is what gives it meaning. This is what makes it accessible. I say this, because I had been shocked to discover only a couple of days earlier that the retiring head of the Map Library at the BL, my old friend and colleague Peter Barber, is not to be replaced. Not only is he not to be replaced by anyone of comparable stature in the history of cartography field, but he is not to be replaced by anyone at all. The Map Library, that great historic glory, that essential pillar of the British Library, one of the finest collections of maps in the world (in many ways probably the very finest), is apparently simply to be subsumed into some amorphous ‘Western Heritage’ department. If we wanted an object lesson in how to hide away a magnificent treasure, this would probably be it.

Now, I fully understand that maps are just a part of our heritage and should not be wholly divorced from the rest of it. I fully understand that maps are scattered throughout the library and are not just to be found in the Map Library: they turn up in manuscripts, in printed books, in newspapers and magazines (and no doubt in comics as well) – but all the more reason to employ a Head of the Map Library who fully understands the field. I know that many historians of cartography have become too distanced from the rest of book trade history (it’s a point I have made often enough myself), but to argue that maps are just part of a single strand of heritage is a nonsense. Maps are different. It’s like arguing that cats and dogs are actually the same because both are small furry animals kept as household pets – everyone knows they are different (and some might even turn out under an expert eye to be rabbits, chinchillas or hamsters).

hiddenTo downgrade this great Map Library (a magnificent library of four-and-a-half-million maps) by leaving it headless, rudderless and lost is a disgrace. For our national library to do this in our name demeans us all. It demeans the heritage we seek to preserve. It insults all those who have built up this great cartographic library. It makes a nonsense of aspirations to accessibility. It simply says that the British Library no longer cares about its cartographic collections. Map libraries across the world have long looked to the BL Map Library to lead by example. Until now, it always has. It has been a haven of scholarship. It has always been headed by scholars of international reputation – the late Helen Wallis was the first I knew personally, the finest scholar I have ever had the privilege of working with. To leave the Map Library without a head – not even to attempt to find one – diminishes our stature. It damages the Library’s standing in the eyes of the world. It also leaves the Map Library powerless to attract the sponsorship and funding the BL so badly needs. One large donor at least is furious. This is a mistaken and foolish policy. It’s not yet too late to think again.

InnerpeffrayDigression over. To return to the conference, our next speaker was the irrepressible and enthusiastic Lara Haggerty from the Innerpeffray Library – a tiny library in the middle of nowhere with a bus once a week, but founded in about 1680 and Scotland’s oldest free public lending library. A heartening tale of this magical place successfully re-inventing itself as a tourist attraction. Lara made us all want to go there – and one day we shall.

sambrookAn equally heartening tale was that given by the very impressive Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections at King’s College, London, on her library’s absorption in 2007 of the old Foreign & Commonwealth Office Library. A once hidden and largely uncatalogued collection of around 100,000 books, charmingly and idiosyncratically complete with jolly novels of colonial life as well as all the usual things we might expect in such a collection – still not fully catalogued but already providing an invaluable resource for students and researchers, full of things not readily found elsewhere. She said at one point something along the lines of “Cataloguers are often the people who know a collection best and can promote it best” – my point entirely. Why don’t more libraries understand this?

After a coffee-break we had Katharine Hogg from the Foundling Museum telling us about her work with the Gerald Coke Handel Collection – an internationally important collection of material relating to Handel and his contemporaries, including manuscripts, printed music, books, libretti, artworks and ephemera. Assembled by Gerald Coke over a period of sixty years (from about 1930 onwards) and left to the nation by his widow. All fascinating and all things I never knew. Another library we need to visit.

Next up was Hannah Manktelow, a Ph. D. student who has been doing wonderful and entertaining things researching provincial performances of Shakespeare, mainly in the nineteenth century, using the British Library’s extensive (but under-used and uncatalogued), collection of playbills. The BL are planning a Shakespeare exhibition sometime soon, which probably explains why they are now becoming accessible.

Very good as all the morning’s talks had been, it was the last which in a way I found most interesting. A private collector, Mark Byford – whom unaccountably I’d never met before – talked about his personal collection of perhaps 1,000 Tudor and Jacobean books. An interesting and unusual collection in focusing entirely on period rather than subject. Although his personal collection, he clearly regards it as being in some sense a teaching collection, making it available to students, even taking books to groups of students to talk about and instruct in provenance and other matters. He fears greatly that what he regards as the demise of the antiquarian book shop (even perhaps the demise of the rare book trade) is adversely impacting on the ways in which people, especially young people, encounter rare books. I ran into him again at York a week or two later – plainly someone we should talk to and listen to. I’ll see what I can do.

The formal proceedings ended with a round-up, questions from the floor and a general discussion. I hoped that we should see more booksellers at future conferences (Liverpool next year) – and that booksellers and librarians should talk to each other more. The rare book world is beleaguered – and we are after all (or at least should be) on the same side.

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Hidden Treasures (1)

lambethpalacelibraryHidden Treasures (and their unveiling) – such was the theme at the recent conference of the Rare Books and Special Collections Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) – that’s what used to be the good old Library Association back in simpler and more innocent times, when the names of things still had a certain brevity (not to mention lucidity and utility). I was sent along by the ABA to monitor proceedings and report back on behalf of the rare book trade.

I had to miss the first day as other ABA duties were inescapable, but I turned up bright and early at Lambeth Palace for Day Two. It had been a good few years since I had been along to one of these events. I seem to recall a very good one on the Nineteenth-Century Book, held in Manchester, about twenty years ago (perhaps more), and another on the Eighteenth-Century Book, probably in Cambridge. Other events in Oxford and Edinburgh. It was all about looking at books and learning about books back then, and there always seemed to be a reasonable number of other booksellers among the attendees. Not so now. Far more about librarians, library work  and their libraries. Apart from Alice Ford-Smith from Quaritch, I couldn’t identify a single other bookseller in the room.

A brief chat with Adrian Edwards (Lead Curator, Printed Historical Sources, British Library), with whom I liaise on book-trade/library matters,  before proceedings began. Some of the catering the previous day had apparently struggled to cope with a 50% vegetarian and 10% vegan balance of requests. What this tells us, if anything, about the current state of rare book librarianship I’m not at all sure – but do they have issues with all that vellum, calf and morocco? (Just saying).

freemasonryWe began with a brief welcome to Lambeth Palace Library from another familiar face, Giles Mandelbrote, the Palace librarian and ABA honorary member, and were soon into the papers and presentations. First up was Martin Cherry from the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Now there is a collection full of treasures which used to be not so much hidden as secret: access almost impossible at one time, certainly if you were not a very well-connected and highly-placed freemason. Something of regret to me in times past, because a number of the engravers in whom I was particularly interested were all quite heavily involved in the birth of modern English freemasonry in the early eighteenth century (I even gave a paper on this once to a group of stony-faced masons in Sheffield). But how times have changed. Visitors now welcome. Free admission. A searchable online catalogue (not integrated with COPAC yet – but full of things you will not find elsewhere). unmaskedEven a ‘kid friendly’ icon search, whatever that may be. A very heartening and encouraging example of a change of policy and direction, because if a catalogue is not publicly available, then the collection is not in any real sense available. It may as well not exist. And – from a bookseller’s point of  view – how much easier to offer relevant and useful material to a library when you know from the catalogue that the library does not already have it. How much easier to check on whether a book is stolen or not when there is a public record of where it should be.

Next was a paper from John Pearce, Deputy Librarian at Sandhurst, on those “hidden but not always intentionally secret” libraries and archives existing within the defence and military establishments of the country. Not always as difficult of access as we might expect – and the same is perhaps true of the next group, the libraries of private clubs and professional bodies. Librarians from the Athenaeum, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Middle Temple Library discussed the policies of their own and comparable institutions. Permission to use the libraries still too often rather summed up in their title, “It’s not what you know …”.

Helen Potter, interim head of the Freedom of Information Centre at the National Archives (I’m sure the information is freely available, but I didn’t know there was one), stepped forward after coffee to explain. It’s our national archive, it’s there for us to use and explore, so how much of it are we not allowed to see? The answer turns out to be about 200,000 ‘closed’ records of one kind or another (about 2% of the total – I assume this does not include the census returns from 1921-2011, there must be millions of those). Closed for one reason or another – data protection issues, national security, medical records, criminal prosecutions, naturalisation papers, tax files, and so on – but all of which we can now ask to see under the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Whether we are allowed to or not depends on the exact circumstances, a delicate balance between genuine right of privacy and public interest. Health and safety are issues, but not here as in the ubiquitous ‘health’n’safety’ culture, but in the genuine mental well-being and physical freedom from harm of individuals who might be affected by the release of information – the relatives of rapists or mass-murderers for example. About half of all such requests do lead to the release (in whole or in part) of ‘closed’ files. The care, deliberation, responsibility and concern with which these decisions are evidently made – “release what we can, protect what we must” – was all really rather impressive.

cardiffbooksThe morning closed with another powerful presentation. Karen Pierce from Cardiff University told us the tale of the rescue of the magnificent collection built up in more enlightened times by the Cardiff Free Library, founded in 1882, under the direction of Sir John Ballinger and Harry Farr, chief librarians in the period up to 1940. Built up by purchase, bequest and donation – mouth-watering donations from William Morris, the Marquess of Bute, John Cory and others. cardiffA collection of some 14,000 volumes, including 175 incunables, a unique collection of Restoration drama, Shakespeare quartos, exquisite private press books, 250 atlases of ‘international significance’ – the entire collection subsequently forgotten about and ignored by later generations of librarians, wholly neglected and hidden from view until Cardiff Council decided to sell it off.  It’s a familiar enough tale. In this case with a reasonably happy outcome – custodianship of the collection has been transferred to Cardiff University Library, which is committed to preserving, promoting and cataloguing it.

Looking at the various statements made at the time, I am a little surprised to learn that the National Library of Wales was not itself interested in acquiring the collection, as it did not “align with its current collecting policy” – the collection was originally built up in Cardiff precisely with the intention of its one day becoming a Welsh national library.  Also a little surprised to learn that there is apparently only one full-time rare book cataloguer employed. Five years on and the atlas collection ‘of international significance’ is still simply labelled ‘uncatalogued’. I’ve already said that if a catalogue is not publicly available, then the collection is not in any real sense available – I’ll say it again.

BillWestAt least in this case the books were still in the public library and something could be done. In so many other similar cases fine collections have been surreptitiously sold off (usually to fund more ‘relevant’ or less ‘elitist’ activities). It’s now over twenty  years since the late Bill West (1942-1999) published his “The Strange Rise of Semi-Literate England : The Dissolution of the Libraries” (1991) – fifty-two pages of polemic on the “mindless dispersal of stock by public and institutional libraries”. Treasures not so much ‘hidden’ as ‘lost’. Things probably got worse thereafter (Bill used to come into my shop to rant about it). And I well remember, not that many years since, a librarian from a London public library, terrified of publicity, selling off through the back-door roomfuls of fine books – books donated by generous individuals to grace and enrich their local library in perpetuity: “We don’t really do old books any more”.  I didn’t buy them, but I know that when I spoke to him he had no intention of either stamping the books as deaccessioned or of keeping a list of what had been sold off.  Unless there was a change of heart, there might well be a headache for someone somewhere down the line in proving legal ownership of a book clearly still marked as being the donated property of a London public library.  If you should hear, by the way, of this kind of covert selling off of public collections –do report it to CILIP or the ABA.

Cataloguing was again a theme on a group afternoon visit to the Wellcome Library (other libraries were available). The hidden treasures in this case took the form either of books in the library which had unique features only now discovered in a rolling programme of digitisation (or perhaps rediscovered, information not having been transferred when the catalogue itself was digitised), or ones which had disappeared from view for a while through faulty cataloguing. An erroneous shelfmark can render a book lost and invisible. It’s all about the cataloguing – but some wonderful things, some extraordinary tales of provenance, and at last a chance to handle some books.

receptionBack to Lambeth Palace in the evening. A drinks reception (generously sponsored by Quaritch). A chance to meet Lucy Kelsall, a cataloguer from the Angus Library and Archive at Regent’s Park College in Oxford: Lucy had been awarded the ABA Bursary provided to enable a young librarian to attend the conference. She was full of gratitude and will be writing her own account of proceedings for the ABA Newsletter.

And then to dinner. A system of displaying name cards with coloured spots of different colours expressing dietary preferences. I lost track of the number of different colours used to express the various combinations of vegetarian, vegan, celiac, gluten, dairy and whatever else. So did some of the waiters and waitresses. First world problems. I thought back to my childhood at one point, when we still had food-rationing, ate whatever was put on the table, licked our plates clean, and said thank you very much.  I really didn’t mean actually to say that out loud to the table – but, there we are, too late now.

SebagMontefioreSorting everything out seemed to impact rather adversely on the flow of wine, but then I suppose librarians are after all a different species and may not require as much life-blood. After dinner we were treated to a talk from the delightful Charles Sebag-Montefiore on his extraordinary collection of art catalogues. Very much hidden treasures, these libraries of private collectors, although Charles does allow access to serious scholars and the collection is now destined for a national institution. All in all, a memorable and thought-provoking day. That’s probably enough for now – “scribble, scribble, scribble, Mr Worms” – as someone has just e-mailed me.  More on the final day of the conference (at the British Library) to come.

(Thank you to various Tweeters for the images).

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The York Antiquarian Book Seminar – Second Edition (2015)


Another guest post  from Pauline Schol!

After waiting at King’s Cross for a considerable amount of time for our train to arrive (first blamed on a ‘terrorist threat’, later referred to simply as ‘an incident’, and eventually on ‘a person on the track’), we finally arrived in York around supper time on Sunday.


Anthony Smithson

We were expected at the Bar Convent at 8.30am the following morning, where we were greeted to YABS 2015 by the lovely Alice Laverty (Mrs Keel Row Bookshop). The day started with an introduction by the faculty,  which consisted of Jonathan Kearns, Anthony Smithson, Simon Beattie, Justin Croft, Sophie Schneideman and the keynote speaker, Sally Burdon.

Justin Croft

Justin Croft

Day One was largely dedicated to teaching us about how to run a business, entrepreneurship and financial know-how, but we ended the day with Simon and Justin introducing us to the finer points of bibliographical description. The next morning we picked up where we left off and after a couple of hours we were given books to catalogue ourselves.

Simon Beattie

Simon Beattie

I was given a very interesting copy of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. As this edition was printed on the recto of the leaves only, I was having quite some trouble paginating it. Even the Guvnor’s amazing “Cataloguing for Booksellers” booklet could not offer help [oops! – he’s just e-mailed me back telling me to look at p.34]. Someone had also rubbed out the second edition statement, making it look like a first edition. Quite the challenge!

Sally Burdon

Sally Burdon

After all this hard work we could sit back and enjoy Sally Burdon’s story of how she became a bookseller and all about how she runs her Asia Bookroom bookshop in Australia. This was followed by a talk by Tim Pye, Curator of Printed Literary Sources 1500-1801 at the British Library, with Simon Beattie, on the relationship between booksellers and institutional libraries. Turns out, they actually do like each other! After a break, Anthony Smithson shared his experiences of going to bookfairs and running real bookshops, after which we actually got to see a number of antiquarian bookshops in York during an evening tour. The tour took in a very enjoyable look at Janette Ray’s shop, with a glass of wine (note to other shops): we had already met Janette earlier in the day when she gave us a talk about dealing in the visual arts, her background in landscaping, and her specialisation in books on art, architecture, etc.

studentsI didn’t know York had so many bookshops. Apart from the ones we actually got to visit, we passed many more on our tour. At every shop we were given about twenty minutes to have a look around. Our group of twenty-seven students plus faculty members swarmed inside the tiny shops like ants, although I guess we were more like moths drawn to a flame. It was a smart move on someone’s part to show this many booksellers, librarians and other assorted bibliophiles these bookshops – many books were bought.

tourThe day concluded, as was becoming quite the habit by then, at the House of Trembling Madness – a tiny pub above a beer shop. Not sure if the pub lived up to its name, or if it was the beer, or the many examples of taxidermy on the walls, but it did not take long for our imaginations to run wild. Putting our lessons to use, we came up with entrepreneurial plans involving systems, brand new specialities and whole new techniques of bookselling.

Sophie Schneideman

Sophie Schneideman

Our third and final day opened with a lecture by Sophie Schneideman on the Art of the Book. She talked about different techniques of printing and illustration, different bindings and a little bit on paper types.

Adam Douglas

Adam Douglas

Next was our first guest speaker of the day: Adam Douglas (of Peter Harrington) talked about Fakes, Forgeries and Theft, and showed us some examples that he had had to deal with during his career, such as forged signatures of Winston Churchill and Virginia Woolf, to the tale of someone who had produced an entirely faked-up copy of a book (including the binding).

Nigel Burwood

Nigel Burwood

During the afternoon, Nigel Burwood (Any Amount of Books) gave a highly amusing talk about how (not) to be a successful bookseller, while Ed Maggs (Maggs Brothers) showed us the ins and outs of cataloguing an archive. The honour of the final talk was given to Jonathan Kearns who gave the third and final instalment of his lectures on postmodern bookselling, giving us many useful tips on social media and how they can help you find more customers and followers.

minsterAfter an open forum, we wandered down to a Greek restaurant where we continued our discussions over dinner. For those who did not catch a train home on Wednesday evening, a tour of the Minster Library was organised for Thursday morning. This beautiful library is able to continue to exist with the help of York University. The collections include many old manuscripts, although the special display the curator had put on for us was mainly of printed books. crucifixionWe began with some of the earliest printed books in their collection and continued into the modern era. We were shown some wonderful things, such as a small religious book owned by Katherine of Aragon, a Kelmscott Press book, some pamphlets advertising shows with lions and flying men, a bundle of letters in a satchel, and so much more.

ScholCertificateSo many thanks to all those who have helped organise this event. It has been a thrilling few days. Not only have I learned a lot about what it means to be a bookseller, but also (hopefully) how to run a successful business. I now feel so much more confident in my developing skills.

Pauline Schol

P.S. I’ll see you all at the York National Book Fair on Friday and Saturday.

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

The Interns – 2015

interningThis year, for the first time, students on the MA course in the History of the Book at London University were offered a voluntary additional module – a 200-hour work-placement with a London bookseller. Official sanction from the university authorities to make this a full part of the course was a little late in coming through, so by the time Professor Simon Eliot gave me the final go-ahead to start approaching booksellers we had to make haste. Five of the students wanted a placement: I had met none of them and only had a very brief statement of the kind of books they were interested in to work with.  Colleagues in the trade were mostly kind. Some were unable to help this year or at such short notice, a few seemed disinclined to help at all, others hummed and hawed, but some (to whom I’m eternally grateful) simply said – “Yes, of course, delighted to take part”.

I was not at all sure that working quietly on my own from home, without shop, without staff, I could provide a student with any meaningful experience of the book trade, but plainly I couldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wasn’t prepared to do myself.  We were also interested to see what kind of environment might work best for this kind of exercise – a large firm, a medium one, a smaller bookshop, or a bookseller working from home or office.  Although, I imagine like everyone else involved, I was fearful of it taking up more time than I could afford, I resolved to take on whichever of the students could not be found a more obviously suitable placement  elsewhere.

Prepared by no more than a very hastily put together couple of talks from me (collating and cataloguing, together with some of my more random thoughts on the ‘ways of the trade’) and a brief, if almost certainly more formal, introduction to bibliography from Professor Tony Edwards, the students went out to begin their placements.  Fingers crossed. Briefing notes had been sent out to all parties.  It was hopefully made clear to the students that they were not going to get 200 hours of personal tuition, but would simply have to pitch in and learn on the job.  It was hopefully made clear to the booksellers that this was still meant to be a meaningful part of an academic course and that the students might need help and guidance in formulating a rare book trade topic to write a 5,000-word essay on.

As far as I can tell, from what feedback I have had, it has all gone rather better than anyone dared hope. Do let me know if you might be interested in taking part next year. Here’s what everyone has to say.

LeahHenricksonWhen I began my internship at Maggs, I thought I knew what the antiquarian book trade was all about: selling customers old books. That’s it. I’d worked in bookstores before – how different could selling someone an old book possibly be from selling someone a new book?

Turns out, quite different.

Yes, the antiquarian book trade is fundamentally about selling customers books. It’s about starting, adding to, and never quite completing collections. It’s about developing professional relationships with customers, many of whom regularly visit the shop just to browse and to chat. In these ways, the antiquarian and modern book trades do have things in common. They are businesses, aiming to make a profit.

However, Maggs taught me that the antiquarian book trade is about more than just making a profit. It’s about uncovering the unique narrative held by each book, autograph, and artefact in the shop. I was tasked, for just one example, with writing a long-form catalogue entry for an anonymous African-American World War II soldier’s scrapbook. This required close examination of everything included in the book, extensive research to determine the context in which the book was produced, and a heck of a lot of imagination to make connections that resulted in a cohesive narrative. Sure, narratives like these help sell products, but they also help us understand why these products are culturally valuable. This is the difference between the antiquarian and modern book trades: antiquarian booksellers see each item as having a completely unique story to tell. Turns out, antiquarian booksellers do more than just sell books. They research, they enrich.

Among other things, during my time at Maggs I wrote short- and long-form catalogue entries for both specific and general audiences; I tidied parts of the shop (here’s lookin’ at you, Counterculture); I helped host after-hours events, of various kinds; and I assisted colleagues and customers at the shop front. I also tagged along at the Olympia Book Fair and at the Young Booksellers drinks nights, where I found myself inspired by the number of young people thriving in the trade. There’s hope!

I am so grateful to have spent my summer at Maggs. Not only did I learn about the trade and what it takes to succeed in it – I also met so many intelligent, eccentric, and incredible people who constantly proved me wrong.

Leah Henrickson

EdMaggsThe best and the worst things about interns as good as Leah (for she is of the first water), is that they show us up by working harder and faster! “Slow down, for God’s sake, you’ll run out of work to do . . .” She got things quickly, dealt instinctively with the varied people both in the business and on the other side of things, and all in all became a valued team member very quickly. She’s a shining example of the reasons to be cheerful about the Worlde of Olde Bokes: the future of the past is safe in hands such as hers.

Ed Maggs

RobertFrewShopHaving frequented antiquarian bookshops for fifty years, leapt at possibility of seeing trade from other side. Started with Robert Frew mid-May; not sure was quite what he had anticipated. Shop stacked wall-to-wall with crates of other people’s books. Was expecting book shopping but dropped straight into book shipping – best not to start interning a week before two book fairs? Five days later was running Robert’s stand at PBFA, meeting people certain that, because was wearing ‘Robert Frew’ badge,* would know exactly who they were and handed over piles of books with requests to ‘start a box for me’. Miraculously nothing got lost. After further week of manic box sorting and map packing could finally see stock in shop.

Settled down to peaceful cataloguing, interspersed with hunt for books/periodicals containing earliest mentions of obscure animal species, requests for ‘map showing California as island’, side trips to back-doors of auction houses (old pink driving licence not proof of ID), hearing sharp intake of breath as customer discovered price of fine first edition AA Milne, and giving directions to V&A, Harrod’s, Science Museum, French Embassy and/or bus to Notting Hill (note: suggest Robert charges for this service).  Wondered re sanity of woman who bought four books from outside trolley, then asked ‘Is this a bookshop?’

Handled huge variety of books, began to penetrate mysteries of describing condition, dug up interesting bits of provenance and back history/associations, saw what can be done to improve look of worn bindings, understood that pricing is art (not science) and enjoyed it enormously. Very grateful to Robert, Tibor and Mark who’ve put up with my ineptness and idiotic questions.

Internship is useful complement to other course modules – hope it continues. Now the essay: ‘My struggles with parcel tape’, or possibly ‘Quantitative evaluation of the properties of differently-sourced bubble-wrap’?

*But wearing ‘Robert Frew’ badge gets the discount – own collection benefitted considerably!

Margaret Joachim

RobertFrewWhen Laurence asked if I would take on an intern I quipped, “OK, as long as she is twenty-five,  blonde and prepared to do anything”. Well Margaret is no longer twenty-five or blonde – but willingly, with a smile, a keenness and a sharp intelligence, has been prepared to muck in and do anything asked of  her. From cleaning jobs, to packing, to manning our stand at the PBFA, to research at the Natural History Museum, to collating books, to researching a large archive on skiing and even a collection of saucy seaside postcard art from the 1950s.

I assume she has learnt something of the mechanics of running a small antiquarian bookshop, the trials and tribulations of book shipping, and hopefully a little to expand her appreciation and understanding of the history of the book.

I suspect, I know, that she would have preferred the emphasis to have been more on the academic side, but unfortunately the reality of bookselling also requires many other more mundane skills.

She has been an absolute pleasure to have on our team and a genuine benefit to the business.

I wish her all the very best and look forward to repeating the experience should another intern turn up – although Margaret will be a tough act to follow.

Robert Frew

HelenMillsWhen I started at Tindley & Everett, one of the most daunting aspects of the shop seemed to be a certain lack of technology (no computer). Even the credit card machine shares the phone-line ensuring nothing so vulgar as ‘multi-tasking’. Records are kept on library cards. Customers may be forgiven for thinking this would result in a fast-track to a ‘bargain’. They would be wrong.  Between them James and Mark possess an impressive knowledge of twentieth-century books and it has been fascinating to absorb the interactions (invariably highly acerbic ones in the case of Tindley) with customers, sellers, auction houses, the Post Office, and the excellent folk that inhabit Cecil Court.

What have I learned? Apart from my attempts to catalogue, chase provenance, price and wrap, my experience has confirmed a simple truth: there are no shortcuts. The internet has made it easier for more people to buy and sell antiquarian books, but to endure you have to have the knowledge. Above all that’s what Tindley & Everett has taught me. You have to know what you’re doing. And sometimes, with luck and a high wind, you might even be able to pay yourself.

I feel very sad to be coming to the end my time at Tindley & Everett, I have had the most marvellous experience over the last few weeks. With profuse thanks to Laurence Worms, Simon Eliot, Cynthia Johnston and, of course, James Tindley and Mark Everett for allowing me access to their mad, brilliant world.

Helen Mills

TindleyEverettDelighted as James Tindley and I were to agree to Laurence’s suggestion that we might host one of the students over the summer, we did so with a certain amount of trepidation. How well would a student of the History of the Book fit into the daily life of a rare bookseller, not to mention deal with the occasional eccentricities of life in a shop in Cecil Court?

We need not have worried.  Helen has taken very easily to life in the shop and dealt so well with customers that several of them have volunteered extremely positive feedback. No doubt her retail experience at Waterstone’s has helped her to deal so good-humouredly with the public.

Helen has looked after the shop on more than one occasion and accompanied us to auctions, so hopefully will have learnt something of the skills involved in rare bookselling. We would also like to think that she has also gained some insight into why some books sell and others do not, though it is probably at least a lifetime’s work to master that one.

Helen would have to say how useful the experience has been for her in the context of her course. It has certainly been useful for us and we would happily participate in the scheme again next year.

Mark Everett (Tindley & Everett)

PaulineScholWhile doing my MA in the History of the Book, I was still not sure what I wanted to do once I’d finished. When Professor Eliot gave us the option of taking part in a practical course, I eagerly put my name down.

On hearing I would be placed with Laurence Worms (Ash Rare Books), I was not at all sure what to expect. Selling books without a bookshop was a slightly unfamiliar concept, but all the clichés seemed to be in place – mad cat, mad house full of books, and a bookseller who has clearly been ‘cultivating his eccentricity’ for a considerable time. It’s proved to be not just a lot of fun, but hugely instructive as well. Having learned from one of the best, he now says I am well on the way to being a master at cataloguing and that’s not just his ‘wonderfully large ego’ talking! [see previous post]. Wandering round book fairs I have also had the pleasure of meeting so many other interesting and friendly people.

Working for Laurence, I have learned so much about books, authors, buying books, cataloguing them, producing  catalogues, online selling, printing techniques, illustration, provenance research, and so many more things. Most importantly it has absolutely made me want to join the world of antiquarian bookselling. It has been a really rewarding experience.

Pauline Schol

LaurenceWormsAny initial fears soon evaporated. Right from the outset, Pauline made herself useful. She is one of those rare people to whom something needs to be explained only once. Within days she had taken over all the paperwork and computer-related routine. We put together the summer catalogue in a few days – researching, editing, photographing – it all came easily to her. She soaks up information like a sponge. I was soon starting to wonder what I would do without her (I still am). In July she even took over the blog on a couple of occasions, gaining record numbers of visitors. Those of you who have read her posts will know what a delight she is. She has now decided to pursue a full-time career in the trade: I would love to keep her on, but don’t sell enough to pay her a proper living wage. If anyone has a full-time job for her – you would not regret it.

What I thought might have been a bit of a chore had turned into a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience. As to how well the internships have worked in different situations, I am aware that I have not given Pauline any experience of working in a shop (although she did have a couple of days at Jarndyce), or of exhibiting at book-fairs, or attending auctions, etc., but equally, we have been able to do much more intensive work on researching and cataloguing than may have been possible elsewhere. A matter of swings and roundabouts.

Laurence Worms

JessicaStarrI first became interested in the antiquarian book trade while studying for my MLIS at the University of Toronto. After perusing a number of booksellers’ catalogues during an acquisition seminar at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, I was inspired to start hunting around Toronto for interesting and unique books to enhance my own collection, and soon decided that the book trade was a field I wanted to know more about.

I spent my 200 hours interning at Jarndyce and, like Leah, learned that there is much more to the antiquarian book trade than I originally expected. Beginning the internship towards the end of May meant that my first days were spent preparing for the Olympia and PBFA fairs – quite an exciting and immersive introduction to the antiquarian book world! I had a wonderful time exploring the fairs with Pauline and Laurence, observing the Jarndyce stand with Brian, Josh, and Ed, and meeting many passionate booksellers and collectors. Following the book fair madness my more typical days at Jarndyce were spent cataloguing, organizing, packing parcels (for which I earned a rare Brian Lake gold star), and working in the shop.

It is impossible to contain in this space how much I learned during my time at Jarndyce, but perhaps the most striking thing is the continuity between book history and bookselling. As Leah points out, booksellers, like book scholars, research and enrich; book historians study the past lives and legacies of books, and antiquarian booksellers ensure that the lives and legacies of those books continue. I am so grateful to Jarndyce – Brian, Janet, Carol, Ed, Josh, Helen and Paul – for making every day I spent there both interesting and entertaining. I look forward to continuing my bookselling education at the York Antiquarian Bookselling Seminar this September.

Jessica Starr

BrianLakeIt has been a pleasure to have Jessica as an intern: keen to learn, prepared to have a go at anything, perfect packer (at the first attempt),  good with customers, likes cricket.

It is the second time we have had an ‘intern’ at Jarndyce – the first was a Danish student on the old UCL/ABA bookselling course a few years back who came for two weeks. Then, I found myself effectively tutoring for the whole period. This time, Jessica came 2-3 days a week until completing her 200 hours and fitted in her work experience around whatever tasks needed doing.

We certainly enjoyed having her here and it certainly felt as though she found it useful and fun. If it works out, Jessica will continue here in part-time employment this autumn.

Brian Lake

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Seminars on Book Collecting – The New Season

Still chuckling over this comment (much ‘liked’) put up in response to last week’s post: “Looking forward to you [sic] booklet. It will be fun to see advise [sic] on how everyone is doing it wrong. You must have a wonderfully large ego, but I’m sure the advise [sic] will be worth seeing”. I’m very grateful to the commentator for his ‘advise’ – his own cataloguing really is something of an object lesson.

No denying the central charge, obviously, but I suppose it’s another aspect of that ego that leads me to spend so very much of my time trying to help my colleagues in the trade by attempting to publicise what we do and reaching out to the wider world. This week (apart from stitching together a final report on this summer’s successful internship scheme – more on that in a week or two), I have been putting the finishing touches to the 2015-2016 programme of the monthly ‘Second Tuesday’ Seminars on Book Collecting which we put on in collaboration with the Institute of English Studies (IES) at London University.

Senate HouseI have not mentioned the seminars in quite a while, and although there will soon be printed flyers available and full listings on both the ABA and the IES websites, I thought I might give you all a full advance preview of what’s coming up, especially as this will be my last season in charge. For those of you who do not already know, the seminars all take place at Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, on the second Tuesday of each month during the academic year. They start at 6pm and so can conveniently be taken in by anyone on the way home from work in central London. They are absolutely free and open to anyone to attend. There is no need to book, everyone is more than welcome, and there may even be a free glass of wine at the end.

There will be a splendid degree of variety in the programme this year, subjects we have not covered before, and a number of speakers I am absolutely thrilled to have booked. We kick off in October with a topic we have not touched on at all in the past, in fact two topics, both Science Fiction and post-war British Pulp Fiction in general:

Vultures of the Void

Vultures of the VoidThe first talk will take place on Tuesday 13th October 2015 and be given by Philip Harbottle. Born in 1941, as a child Philip devoured the “Daily Mirror’s” comic strip adventures of Garth (unaware he was destined to script it five decades later)! Collecting and researching post-war British science fiction led to his publishing “The Multi-Man” (1968), a study of the noted pulp writer John Russell Fearn, and to editing the magazine “Vision of Tomorrow” in 1969. PhilHarbottleA major contributor to many SF reference books, his own two-book sequence, “Vultures of the Void” (1992) and “British Science Fiction Paperbacks and Magazines (1949-56)” (1993) was a much-acclaimed study on post-war British science fiction. They remain the standard works.

multimanAfter taking early retirement he became a literary agent, representing the estates of Fearn and many other post-war writers, successfully restoring them to print. His latest non-fiction book is “Vultures of the Void: The Legacy” (2011). He plans to talk about British science fiction publishing in that immediate post-war period, its legacy today for authors, publishers, collectors and booksellers, and the ‘mushroom’ publishers of the period in general. There is absolutely no-one who knows more on his subject.

The Education of A Book Collector

JeremyArcherTuesday 10th November 2015 brings Jeremy Archer, who has been an enthusiastic book collector for almost thirty-five years. It has been a long, and often surprising, journey involving many friendships, occasional changes of direction and healthy doses of serendipity. His feeling was that too many of the previous talks have been given by dealers and not enough by collectors (although it’s half-and-half this year and he has perhaps never tried finding collectors willing to talk publicly about their collecting). He wants to share aspects of his experience with others, in the hope of inspiring them and guiding them into similar ways. He currently collects illustrated books, with a focus on the twentieth-century private presses.

As well as collecting books, Jeremy is also an author, focusing on military history – particularly his own Regiment – and also on the Christmas period and how the holiday has been celebrated in times gone by. His published works include “A Military Miscellany” (Elliott & Thompson,  2013”; “A Royal Christmas” (Elliott & Thompson, 2012”; “The Old West Country Regiments” (Pen & Sword, 2011”); “Away at Christmas” (Elliott & Thompson, 2009); “Home for Christmas” (Century – Random House, 2007). He was also a member of the editorial committee for “The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment 1958-2007” (Pen & Sword, 2007).

Forgetting to Change the Filter in the Gene Pool

EdMaggsOn Tuesday 8th December we shall have Ed Maggs, who has been on my hit-list of speakers to get right from the start. Ed, in his usual offbeat way, promises “a sort of memoirish cod-book-philosophy waffly-waffle” on aspects of life, history, tradition, book-selling and the modern world at the legendary Maggs Brothers. We may also get some “reality TV (without the TV) on the horrors and joys of moving seventy-five years and 8,500 square feet of booktrade history”, as Maggs prepare finally to relinquish their famous premises in Berkeley Square. Maggs was originally founded in 1853 by Uriah Maggs, Ed’s great-great-great-grandfather – this will be a view from the very pinnacle of the trade. There are few, if any, better, more engaging, or more interesting  speakers in the rare book world than Ed – those of you who have heard him before will be first in the queue.

Collecting Tourist Literature

PaulHarveyOn Tuesday 12th January 2016 we shall welcome Paul Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at the University of Durham. Elected as a Senior Fellow of the British Academy in 2003, Professor Harvey is a leading figure in the study of medieval English economic history, and the outstanding authority on medieval and early modern maps in England.  He is also well-known to many booksellers as a collector of those little guide-books and picture-books devoted to promoting the British tourist trade (which often contain locally-produced maps unrecorded elsewhere). He is an old friend, a delightful speaker – I had dinner with him just last week – and I am greatly looking forward to his analysis of a field I suspect we could all usefully know more about.

Collecting Wilde: Inspiring a New Generation of Collectors

KayleighBettertonThe seminar on Tuesday 9th February 2016 will be given by Kayleigh Betterton – the only woman we have speaking this series. Yes, yes, I know how very, very bad that looks, but please believe me, I have tried. Lots of women have been asked, but no amount of arm-twisting and moral blackmail (even conventional blackmail in one case – you know who you are) has managed to produce even one more to step forward this year.

Kayleigh puts all the refusers to shame. She must also be the youngest speaker we have had so far, but she has the credentials. After a brief stint at Bloomsbury Auctions, she is now an English teacher at a school in south London and after falling in love with the works of Oscar Wilde herself, she now teaches Wilde to her students, using her collection of first editions to do so (her recent A-Level results were exceptional). A prize-winner in the Anthony Davis Book Collecting Competition last year, she is keen to ensure that the next generation will continue to collect books. She will not only reflect on what inspired her to begin collecting Wilde, but will also share her thoughts on how using antiquarian books in schools can encourage young people to start their own collections. I spent an afternoon with her recently on some research – trying to tease out from census returns, newspaper advertisements and rate-books, some tiny morsels of further flesh to put on the bones of Wilde’s errant publisher – Leonard Smithers and the precise locations of his various London shops. Her enthusiasm is utterly infectious and we all need to listen to her ideas on putting ourselves across to the rising generation. She is very good news indeed.

A Brief History of a Bookshop Collector

Julian NangleOn Tuesday 8th March 2016 we shall entertain a man who appears to deal not so much books, as in bookshops. Julian Nangle opened his first bookshop, called Words Etcetera, in Theberton Street, Islington, forty years ago. At the last count he has opened and closed eleven bookshops since then, all but one using the same trading name. He has also issued over 190 book catalogues in that time (mainly in his usual fields of Modern First Editions, Illustrated Books and Poetry). His catalogues have long been distinguished by his idiosyncratic personal introductions and musings on his life, his business, the book trade, the passing seasons, and the world in general – a collected edition of which he has recently published as “Personal Note”.

PoppyNangleJulian will talk of these adventures in bookselling and, a published poet himself, include reference to his private publishing venture, Words Press – a largely poetry driven enterprise. His talk will weave in and out of the various places he has settled only to move on a little later. His nomadic nature has not gone unnoticed within the trade and he will give some background to these moves. He has had bookshops in London, Brighton, Dorchester, Blandford, London (again, Museum Street this time), Weymouth, Blandford (again), Bridport, the Isle of Wight, Chichester and Alhurin el Grande (Spain).

I have known him on and off since Islington days and it’s not even as if the pace has slowed much over the years. The blog records that we went to see him at his home in Dorchester four years ago and he appears to have moved twice more since then. Why? You might ask, we certainly do ask, as does he himself, since his favourite method of bookselling is actually to sit at home and create book catalogues.

Collecting Cricket

ChrisSaundersApril is the time for the oiling of bats, the oh so gentle preparatory flexing of a muscle or two, the anxious glance at the cricket flannels, and the day or two of diet as we ponder whether we can still fit into them – all the dawning hope of a new season, our memories of past failures muted, the eternal delusion that our best days are yet to come. We have not had a session on any kind of sporting books before and no-one better to lead us out on to the field than Christopher Saunders on Tuesday 12th April 2016.

Chris worked as librarian for six years until he got fed up with taking orders. He then started a general secondhand bookshop in Wells, Somerset, building up a speciality stock whilst doing that for eight years. When the lease ended he built an office behind his home and has dealt solely in cricket books and memorabilia for the last twenty-five years. His fund of anecdote (see his occasional “Random Recollections” on the ABA website) assures us that this will be as entertaining as it is informative.

The Photography Market – Early Travel and Exploration

RolandBelgraveTuesday 10th May 2016 brings us Roland Belgrave, whose career began with a two year internship at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It was in the photographic archives of this fantastic collection that he became truly captivated by the inherent power of the photographic image. On returning to London he completed a Masters in the History of Art before entering the antiquarian book trade, running the photographic department of Shapero Rare Books in Mayfair for seven years, producing a number of catalogues and exhibitions. He now deals on his own account as Roland Belgrave Vintage Photography and helps to build many private and institutional collections.

Roland will be discussing the fascinating pioneers of early photography, providing an introduction to the commercial value of early albums and published photo-books, and looking at trends for the future.

Book Collecting in Cairo

GregoryBilottoThis is the only seminar still to be confirmed, but hopefully will bring us Gregory Bilotto on Tuesday 14th June 2016. Greg is a Ph.D. student at SOAS and a specialist in Islamic architecture, who has lived and studied in Cairo.  He was a prize-winner in this year’s London University Anthony Davis Book Collecting prize and will be talking about collecting books in a place and a culture which very few of us will ever have experienced.

Books, Cracks, and Squeezing a Rainbow

RogerTreglownThe final seminar of the series will take place on Tuesday 12th July 2016. Just to prove that we are nowhere near as metrocentric as he always tries to make out, it will be given by my old friend from the north, Roger Treglown – a valued colleague on the ABA Council over so many years, and a quondam companion, native guide and interpreter on some of my safari trips north of Watford. Simply one of the nicest and most decent men in the trade. His talk will take the form of thoughts and reminiscences on his thirty-five years in the business. Beginning as a specialist in  books on chess in 1980, he now deals across the board in antiquarian books, pamphlets and ephemera from an office in Macclesfield.  He has been a member of the ABA Council for fifteen years, managed the ABA Chelsea Bookfair Committee for thirteen years and has been a member of the ABA Olympia Committee for five years. He has also been the Honorary Librarian of the Association since 2004. When he is not buying, cataloguing, and hopefully, selling books, he spends his time rock-climbing, or (rather less inexplicably) enjoying the very occasional glass of shiraz.

Make a note of the dates in your diaries. Do it now – no, not later – now, right now (you know what you are like). See you all there.


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Cataloguing for Booksellers

cataloguingThere are days when I gasp in admiration at the sagacity, sophistication and sheer scholarship of some of my colleagues in the rare book trade. A perfectly catalogued book is a beautiful thing. There are other days (I am afraid rather more of them) when I weep in despair at the utter ineptitude of so-called booksellers who fail so dismally at this basic task of our trade.

I mean the typical sort of booksellers you find listing their wares on ABE, or the Amateur Bookselling Experience as we have come to think of it.  One of the things I found myself wholly unable to explain over the summer to my delightful intern was why otherwise reputable booksellers continue to list their books there and in so doing lend credibility to a website which should long ago have sunk beneath the weight of the amateurs, charlatans and algorithm-chasers who infest it.  It’s owned by the ‘tax-efficient’ and grasping Amazon, the creation of Jeff Bezos – a man who is alleged once to have instructed one of his minions “to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job” (see Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store”, 2013, p.234).  The minions have been making a fine fist of doing that of course. Where that leaves people who list or buy on Amazon or ABE is for them to decide. As someone else in the book says, “You don’t work with Amazon, you work for them”.

A side-effect of all this is that standards of cataloguing in the book trade are in a spiral of decline. I suppose we all make a start by imitating the examples before us, and as newcomers copy all the sloppy habits of the bulk of the denizens of ABE – of course there are exceptions, but bad money always drives out good, as we all know – there is only one way this can go. I became involved in what might be called remedial work for the ABA some years ago and that time went back to the basics of bibliography and the various sets of rules drawn up by the great libraries of the world, to try to determine an outline guide to best practice.  After a long gestation, this is now about to be published (sixty-four pages of it, with illustrations) – it’s currently at proof stage and out with my friends and colleagues Simon Beattie, Pinda Bryars (Bryars & Bryars), Justin Croft, Roger Gaskell, Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop) and of course Pauline Schol (with whom I have been discussing cataloguing all summer), for final checking before it goes to the printers. My deepest thanks are due to them all, but especially to Roger Gaskell, who has manfully been trying to keep me on the bibliographical straight-and-narrow over many years now.

The first batch of copies will be handed out next month to all the students at this year’s York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS), where Simon and Justin will once again be teaching. After that it will go on general sale – £10 a copy, plus £1.50 postage in the UK (if you don’t mind it coming in a plain manila envelope rather than full packaging) – part of the proceeds to go to the ABA Benevolent Fund. Let me know if you would like one.

*** The booklet is now on sale on this link:

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (5)

Sotheby's 1888

To pick up from previous posts and continuing our journey around the sale-room, we come to:

BookHunters5(10) Mr. W. Reeves – seated to Quaritch’s left and puzzling over the quarto currently on offer is the veteran William Dobson Reeves (1825-1907), born into the London book trade over sixty years earlier.  His father, also William Reeves, also a bookseller, had married Frances Dobson at St. Margaret Westminster in 1822.

Throughout most of his career, Reeves was in partnership with Osborne Turner (1825-1887), himself the son of a London vellum-binder, trading as ‘Reeves & Turner’. The partnership was established in 1851 and after short spells at various addresses in Chancery Lane, the partners found a more permanent home at 238 Strand in 1856, subsequently moving to larger premises at 196 Strand from 1867 onwards.  Between 1867 and 1887 they had further premises at 100 Chancery Lane, where Osborne Turner presided over a separate department dealing in legal books.

William Dobson Reeves

William Dobson Reeves

From the outset the business had encompassed publishing as well as bookselling, building a list that included not just law books, but music, freemasonry, natural history, poetry, some of the books of William Morris, and especially reprints of early texts, e.g. ‘The Old Book Collector’s Miscellany : or, A Collection of Readable Reprints of Literary Rarities’ (1871-1873) – this edited by Charles Hindley, to whom we shall come in turn. 

reevesturnerReeves married Emma Holmes (1830-1902), housemaid to surgeon in Clerkenwell and originally from Great Marlow, in the latter part of 1851: another generation of bookselling Reeves was soon on the way.  The 1861 Census captures the growing family still living over the shop at 238 Strand, which abutted directly on to Temple Bar, but by 1871 a separate family home had been found at 160 Stockwell Park Road, Brixton.

When Osborne Turner died early in 1887 his share in the business was taken on by his son John Turner (1861-1894), until the son’s own death only seven years later. The lease on 196 Strand expired at around the same time and Reeves in his final years in the trade simply shared premises with his son David Eno Reeves (1865-1941), who by now had his own business at 5 Wellington Street, close to Sotheby’s.  Writing in 1895, Roberts reminisced about the old shop, which stood on the south side of the Strand, opposite St. Clement’s church: ‘here for about a quarter of a century was a famous book-haunt, and one of the very few successful ones which have existed in a crowded thoroughfare.  It always contained an immense variety of good and useful books, priced at exceedingly moderate amounts, and the poorer book-lover could always venture, generally successfully, on suggesting a small reduction in the prices marked without being trampled in the dust as a thief and a robber’.

William Dobson Reeves

William Dobson Reeves

William Dobson Reeves retired to 28 Avenue Road, Prittlewell, Southend, where Emma died in 1902.  Frank Karslake later went down to Southend to interview him for the first volume of ‘Book Auction Records’ in 1903.  Reeves died a rather sad death in his eighty-second year on 17th March 1907: by now very frail he suffered bouts of unconsciousness, one of which caused him to fall on the fire.  According to a report in the ‘Chelmsford Chronicle’, he died the following morning from the shock of the severe burns inflicted.  Frank Karslake attended the funeral on behalf of the newly formed Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association (later to become the ABA) – ‘He was the doyen of bookselling, and one of its most highly-respected members’.

One of the executors of an estate valued at £8,243.9s.5d. was another bookselling son, the third William Reeves (1853-1937), who had opened his own shop on Fleet Street as early as 1875.  Although he published in other fields, including the authorised English translation of Karl Marx’s ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ in 1888, edited by Friedrich Engels (who was a customer), this William Reeves specialised in music, producing over 300 books in the field. Moving to the Charing Cross Road in 1900, the music firm was to prove long-lived, the company finally being dissolved as recently as 2002.   

Lord Brabourne

Lord Brabourne

(11) Lord Brabourne – standing behind Reeves and next to James Roche is the first private buyer we have encountered.  Heavily bewhiskered and wearing a silk top hat is Lord Brabourne (1829-1893), or, to give him his full name, Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, 1st Baron Brabourne.  The descendant of a long line of Kentish baronets, educated at Eton and Oxford (where he was President of the Union), Knatchbull-Hugessen was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Sandwich from 1857 to 1880.  He served as a whip under Palmerston, becoming Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office in 1866, a position he held under both Lord John Russell and Gladstone.  In 1871 he became Under-Secretary for the Colonies and in 1873 a Privy Councillor.  In 1880 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Brabourne of Brabourne. On  becoming a peer he became a Conservative and joined the Carlton Club.  Knatchbull-ApeHe was a man of sufficient national celebrity to feature in a ‘Vanity Fair’ caricature in 1870 – a study by ‘Ape’ (Carlo Pellegrini) looking almost like a satire on Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In the world of books, he is far better known as the author of a successful string of children’s books and fairy stories, said later to have inspired the young Tolkien.  These included ‘Stories for my Children’ 1869; ‘Crackers for Christmas’ 1870; ‘Moonshine’ 1871; ‘Queer Folk’ 1874; ‘River Legends’ 1875 – illustrated by Gustave Doré; ‘Whispers from Fairyland’ 1875, etc. After the death of his mother, Brabourne inherited ninety-four letters written by his great-aunt, Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra. These he published as ‘Letters of Jane Austen’ in two volumes in 1884, with introductory and critical remarks ‘mainly notable for their diffuse irrelevance’ (ODNB).

whispersAs his presence in the room suggests, he was also a well-known book-collector.   Part of his library, which ‘abounded in topographical works, scarcely any English county being unrepresented’, was held in May 1891, raising over £2,000.  After his death in 1893, Puttick & Simpson dispersed the remainder in a three-day sale, issuing a ‘Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the late Rt. Hon. Lord Brabourne’.

William Ward(12) Mr W. Ward – to Lord Brabourne’s right and mistakenly taken for James Westell by the editors of ‘The Graphic’ – a mistake rectified by both Roberts and Karslake – stands William Ward of Richmond (1829-1908), in a low hat.  He must be the ‘William Ward (of Richmond)’, established 1875, who is listed in contemporary directories as a dealer specialising in fine art, illustrated books and prints, with premises at 28 Southampton Street, off the Strand.  The ‘Sheffield Evening Telegraph’ of 9th June 1894 carried a report of him successfully offering a Turner watercolour of Sheffield to the corporation for £21.

Unless I have completely the wrong man, his main occupation was actually as an artist himself, so describing himself on census returns, and exhibiting occasionally at the London shows.  He was born at Thornton Heath in Surrey in 1829, married Augusta Ellen Clark of Newbury in the 1850s, and was living in Islington described as a ‘painter in watercolours’ with three young sons in 1861.  After a spell in Twickenham, the by now rather larger family eventually settled at 2 Church Terrace, Richmond, where William Ward was to live until his death in 1908.  Probate on an estate valued at £3,566.0s.2d was granted to his second wife, Sarah Ward; a daughter, Helen Enid Ward, and his eldest son, William Clark Ward, who was himself a fine art dealer.

Walter James Leighton

Walter James Leighton

(13) Mr. Leighton – to Ward’s right and looking rather worried, as well he might – he did not know it yet, but one day he was going to become President of the ABA – stands the bare-headed and rather nondescript looking figure of Walter James Leighton (1850-1917).  I have written about Leighton before (see both the ‘Past Presidents’ section of the ABA website and the piece called ‘A Blocking of Leightons’ here on the blog), so I shall just quickly recap.  Leighton was born into the very heart of the London book-trade, certainly the third and quite probably the fourth generation of a family of London book-binders.  He was first cousin to the celebrated John Leighton (1822-1912), artist and designer, and the wider family almost certainly included Jane and Robert Leighton of ‘Leighton, Son & Hodge’, the well-known Victorian publishers’ binders, as well as the ‘Leighton Brothers’ (George Cargill Leighton, Charles Blair Leighton and Stephen Leighton), pioneers of colour printing.  Born at Westminster on 2nd August 1850, Leighton was a son of the bookbinder James Leighton (1802-1890) and his wife Annie Fordham (1827?-1868), who had married in 1847.  The immediate family firm had been founded by his grandfather John Leighton (d.1857), who had occupied premises at 40 Brewer Street, Golden Square, since at least 1819.  It was here that Walter Leighton spent his early years – and indeed the whole of his working life.

leightonadvertWalter’s mother died when he was just seventeen, by which time he was already training in the family business, which had by now diversified into book-selling as well as book-binding.  In 1883 he became a full partner in the family business, which became ‘James & Walter James Leighton’ for a few years before reverting to the earlier ‘J. & J. Leighton’ style after his father’s death.  The business, which came increasingly to concentrate on antiquarian books, remained at 40 Brewer Street until Leighton died in 1917.  Probate was granted on 8th August 1918 – his effects stated at the staggering sum (by book trade standards) of £344,392.15s.4d – nine times greater than the sum left by Quaritch, twelve times greater than Toovey, and vastly more even than Edward Grose Hodge.  Far greater too than the estate of Lord Brabourne, which was valued at under £14,000 in 1893.  Perhaps time for a re-evaluation of the pecking-order in the late Victorian and Edwardian trade: the ledgers and stockbooks of the firm for the period 1896 onwards are held by the British Library. leightonprobate The business survived until 1937 – at various times its  customers had included Gladstone, Carlyle, Michael Faraday, Sir William Osler, William Morris and Lord Birkenhead.

To be continued …

Roberts Key Plate

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Edinburgh Era


LNER PosterAway to Scotland for a rather special rare book trade occasion last week.  A retirement party for our old friend Elizabeth Strong (McNaughtan’s Bookshop) – not just a retirement party but also a welcome party for Derek and Anna Walker, who are taking over this much-loved bookshop on Haddington Place from Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Strong

Elizabeth Strong

A big day for her, but perhaps an ever bigger one for them. The closing of one era, the opening of another – a passing on of the baton from one generation to the next.  A time for celebration.  A time for reflection.  A goodish crowd of bookish folk.   Edinburgh stalwart Ian Watson (John Updike Rare Books) was there.  Cooper Hay had come over from Glasgow.  Andrew Hunter (Blackwell’s Rare Books) was up from Oxford.   Family, friends, customers.  A few choice words from our president, Oscar Graves-Johnston.  A few words of farewell, welcome and introduction from Elizabeth.  A few words of appreciation and anticipation from the Walkers.

Ian Watson, Cooper Hay

booksI’m personally not at all sure about this ‘retirement’ business.  Do booksellers actually do this?  How does it work?  What do you do all day?  I don’t fully understand a lifestyle which doesn’t revolve around books.  I can’t bring to mind too many booksellers who have retired (or indeed could afford to), although Peter Miller (also present) is one.  He too, like Elizabeth, has taken to painting as an alternative to bookselling (a number of Elizabeth’s pictures were on display).  I remain mystified, but, ah well, different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  Let us wish them well and all power to their paintbrushes.

Oscar Graves-Johnston, Peter Miller

Oscar Graves-Johnston, Peter Miller, etc.

The evening slowly adjourned to a nearby restaurant, where about twenty of us sat down to continue to talk books and other matters.  My mind drifted back over the years to when I first took over an existing bookshop – and all the decisions it entailed. You obviously don’t want to alienate the existing customers: they are the food on your table.  So, gently does it in terms of making changes.  I was too young (just twenty-three) to have any particular notion of  how I wanted  to set my own stamp on the business, so I suppose I just let the business evolve in its own way for the first few years.  But of course what I did not fully realise that many of the existing customers were going to become alienated anyway, not because I changed anything (beyond repricing the books priced in shillings and pence into their decimal equivalents, a change which the rest of the country had adopted somewhat earlier), but because I was simply someone new, someone different, someone young.  What I also did not realise is that any existing bookshop will also have a great many ex-customers, who have slowly drifted away over the years, not necessarily for any particular reason beyond perhaps an over-familiarity with the existing set-up – the way we all neglect the over-familiar and the ever-present.  These are customers that can be lured back.  With hindsight, I could and should perhaps have been braver in making changes.

Derek & Anna Walker

Derek & Anna Walker

I like the look of Derek and Anna.  Derek’s considerable experience with Charlie Unsworth and at Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford will stand them in good stead. They have their own ideas. They are good ones.  Derek recently wrote in the ABA Newsletter, “The open shop is essential to the future of the rare book trade”.  How right that must be.  No doubt I have said it before, but it is shops and shops alone which create new collectors.  That first and overwhelming experience of real books and real people.  That moment of magic, of epiphany.  Book-fairs and the internet are at best for the already converted, the latter treacherous and imponderable for the beginner.

Supper2Derek went on to write that they aim “to offer good books of all kinds, secondhand as well as antiquarian and rare, with an emphasis on scholarship, intellectual history, and fine and early printing”.  There should be a place in every city for a shop such as this – there really should.  The Walkers also talk of a return to the old-fashioned printed catalogue.  Yes, please!  More to learn from these than any other source.  And this is not be wholly retrograde – of course cyberspace has much to offer too – Anna has professional experience in social media – we look forward to McNaughtan’s on Twitter.

Derek again: “Rare and collectable books are a luxury good that is actually good – and they need to inspire aspiration, not hide from those who aren’t already connoisseurs”.  Quite right.  I think Edinburgh may just be in luck.  Let us wish this new/old enterprise every success.  Get along there and see for yourselves.


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