Seller, Pepys and the Seventeenth-Century London Map Trade


John Seller, A New Mappe of the Sea Coasts of England, France and Holland. 1675. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

A lecture given at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in the Cambridge Seminars in the History of Cartography series – 23rd February 2010. [This has wandered in by mistake from the companion Essays blog next door – click on the Essays tab above to find more of the same]. 

John Seller, Samuel Pepys and the London map-trade. Already something of a well-worn path. The principal authority on Seller, the late Professor Coolie Verner, noted – over thirty years ago now – “Much has been written about John Seller” – although he went on to add – “most of it … more fancy than fact”. Rather more has been written since, although the fact-fancy ratio probably remains constant.  For those of you unfamiliar with either the fact or the fancy, let me quickly introduce John Seller (1632-1697), instrument-maker, map-maker, chart-maker, publisher of the first sustained series of English maritime atlases, the instigator of a national survey of England and Wales, the publisher of our first celestial atlas, and writer on navigation.


John Seller, Novissima Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula. [1675].

In my view – in breadth of output and in legacy – the foremost English mapmaker of his time.  In the view of others, little more than a charlatan, a plagiarist and a fraud.  This was certainly Verner’s view: after years of study, he summed him up – Seller’s “primary difficulty was his basic dishonesty and lack of integrity … he scarcely merits the status accorded him in maritime history”.  A contentious, enigmatic, and disputed figure.


Sir Godfrey Kneller, Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty. 1689.

Samuel Pepys, I’ll assume you know: the great diarist, but here in his public role as naval administrator – and a voracious buyer, collector and professional user of maps and especially charts, most of which – some 1,100 of them – still survive in his library.  He knew and sought advice from the leading practitioners. He made enquiries across Europe.  He studied the maps and made his own indices of place names.  An expert witness, but here again, Pepys’ various thoughts on the map trade – in the diary, correspondence, minutes and memoranda – have already been exhaustively mined. Is there anything new to add?


John Thornton & John Seller, A Map of Some of the South and East Bounds of Pennsylvania in America. 1681.

Let me simply offer you a thought direct from John Seller, and his sometime partner John Thornton, on the nature of intellectual enquiry, and the perfecting of our knowledge and understanding: their map of Pennsylvania claimed to have been “Performed with as much truth, care and skill, as at present can be, leaving room for time, and better experience, to correct, and compleat it”.


John Seller, The Royall Citty of Tangier in Africa. Engraved by John Oliver.

Pepys of course knew Seller: he bought maps from him, sought his advice, commissioned him to collect books on navigation for the library.  He may indeed have known him uncomfortably well on one occasion.  In 1683, Pepys sailed on the expedition to Tangier. A few days out, the weather foul, he confided to his journal: “After dinner the weather continued bad … forced to sit in little Mr. Sellers’ side cabin upon the deck all afternoon to keep me dry and not sick”. This is usually said not to be Seller the mapmaker, but the ship’s muster confirms his first name as John and describes him as a “volunteer extraordinary”. And we know, because Pepys tells us, that Seller was much concerned in the expedition, because he compiled a special platt (a sea-chart) specifically designed for use on the voyage.  Why would this not be him?  Why would there be another “volunteer extraordinary” of exactly that name?  And the image of Pepys cooped up with Seller and trying not to be seasick over him is one I am reluctant to let go.

Because, in a way, Pepys was sick all over Seller.  It is on this voyage that we first hear the central charge, the crux of this long-standing accusation of dishonesty and plagiarism. It was en route to Tangier that the military engineer, Thomas Phillips, tells Pepys that Seller had produced his first maritime atlas, the English Pilot, from “old worn Dutch copper plates” bought “for old copper” – for scrap – and had simply issued “the very same platts … without a Dutch word so much as altered” in his “pretended new book”.


The London edition of Lucas Waghenaer, The Mariners Mirrour. 1588. “Thence to my bookseller’s, and found my Waggoners done. The very binding cost me 14s., but they are well done, and so with a porter home with them” (Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 22 July 1663).

But this is to jump ahead, we need to go back to the beginning to understand the context.  Pepys became secretary to the Navy Board in 1660.  His experience was limited and he chides himself early on: “I do perceive that I am very short in my business by not knowing many times the geographical part”.  But he was a man of method, “no man in England … of more method” reported one contemporary, and he learnt quickly.  He employed a man he called One-Eyed Cooper to teach him the rudiments: “I made him to show me the use of platts, and to understand the lines … to my great content”.  And he began to acquire maps and charts.

Most of those on sale in London in the early 1660s were produced overseas, mainly in Holland. Very few maps at all were being made in England and this was especially true of sea-charts. Here, the Dutch had an almost total monopoly.  This situation dated back to Elizabethan times: the only maritime atlas as yet produced in England was the 1588 Mariners Mirrour –the Waghenaer atlas.  In its Dutch, Latin and English versions (Pepys eventually acquired all three),  it had an almost unassailable authority, to the extent that, in England, all maritime atlases were simply known as “waggoners”, whether the original Waghenaer or later Dutch derivatives. There were no English derivatives, except in that the Dutch produced English-language versions – significant numbers of them – to supply the English market.

Where might Pepys buy maps in London? In the early 1660s, there were the three leading print-sellers – Peter Stent, Robert Walton and Thomas Jenner, who stocked maps as well as prints – Pepys certainly bought maps from Jenner – but maps were not a major part of these businesses. Let’s follow Pepys a little further afield.


Nicholas Comberford, [East Indies]. 1665. Manuscript. Vellum mounted on two hinged boards. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Monday 26th October 1663: “to St. Catharine’s to look at a Duch shop or two for some good handsome maps, but met none, and so back to Cornhill to Moxon’s, but it being dark we staid not to see any”.  St. Katharine’s was of course the dockside parish beyond the Tower of London,  its proximity to the river making it a likely spot to find sea-charts.  Now we know that there was a group of English chartmakers here, still making manuscript (rather than printed) charts or platts – a group now known as the Thames School, or the Drapers’ School.  Pepys recorded a visit “and so by water to Ratcliffe, and there went to speak with Cumberford the platt-maker, and there saw his manner of working, which is very fine and laborious”.  We know Pepys bought a number of charts from the these men – from John Burston, Nicholas Comberford’s apprentice, and later from Burston’s own apprentice, John Thornton, whom we have already seen working (somewhat later) with Seller. Pepys was still giving commissions and taking advice from Thornton thirty years later.


John Thornton, [England, East Coast, Spurn Head to South Foreland]. 1667. Manuscript. Vellum, mounted on two hinged oak boards. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Thornton is interesting because, probably under Seller’s influence, he was the first of these old-time chartmakers to make the transition from manuscript to print, but on this occasion in 1663, Pepys wasn’t in search of the Thames School – he was looking for “Duch shops”.  Sarah Tyacke suggests that given their dominance in the production of printed charts, the Dutch weren’t only supplying the London market but even had shops along the Thames to sell them. This is entirely possible, perhaps probable, but we have no historical record.  The only Dutch cartographic material I know with a London retail imprint is the atlas sold by an Englishman called William Lugger in 1640 – an English-language waggoner by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, the “Sea-Mirrour”, printed in Amsterdam, but sold, with an inserted title-page, by Lugger on Tower Hill.  [There were also, as Ashley Baynton-Williams now reminds me (2015), similar publications by Roger Rea in 1657, by William Fisher in 1658 and something similar produced at Great Yarmouth in 1660]. Lugger had died in 1658, but was succeeded by his apprentice and partner, William Fisher, who, like Thornton, later went on to work with Seller.  Lugger and Fisher were selling imported Dutch charts and perhaps what Pepys meant is not Dutch-owned, but Dutch-stocked shops.

A similar establishment, again near the Tower of London, was that of Francis Cossinet.  He published books on navigation, including Timothy Gadbury, “The Young Sea-Mans Guide”, in which he stated that he stocked “plats, cards, maps, [and] globes”.  There was only one globe-maker in England at this time (we come to him directly), but we assume that Cossinet also was selling mainly Dutch material – another “Duch shop”.  And in the 1660 edition of the Gadbury book, we find our first printed mention of John Seller: this is the world he came from.  Gadbury describes all the various nautical instruments and notes, “all these … you may be furnished withall at the first and second hand by John Sellers compass-maker, at the sign of the Mariners Compass and Hour Glass, at the Hermitage Stayers in Wapping”,  and, although he does not quite make this explicit, he had just remarked a few lines earlier that ‘instruments’ naturally included “plats for all places … as also cards and skins and Waggoners”.


John Seller, A Draught of Bombay. © Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

John Seller at the outset of his career, already with a reputation as an instrument-seller, and perhaps also selling platts and Dutch-produced waggoners.  We tend only to think of Seller in terms of printed charts, but let me show you this: a Thames-School manuscript chart of Bombay – by John Seller.  This one undated, but there are two similar ones in the same collection, both dated 1684.  Seller12This must be an approximate date for this chart and it probably relates in some way to Thornton’s printed chart of 1685.  The possibility certainly exists that Seller wasn’t the intruder into the chart trade he is sometimes portrayed as: “not a recognized platt-maker” in Verner’s dismissive words, but did in fact have some Thames School training.


Joseph Moxon (1627-1691).

We were following Pepys in his quest for “good handsome maps”. He met none: no Dutch shops? – or no Dutch maps?  It isn’t clear.  But then he went back to town, to Moxon’s – it was too dark to see anything, but I said just now that there was only one English globemaker, and this was he:  Joseph Moxon.

Seller14Moxon had trained in Holland under his father, a puritan printer.  Returned to England, initially as a printer, he began to study maps and globes and by the 1650s was retailing and starting to produce both.  He published “A Book of Sea-Plats” in 1657 – just six charts, reworkings of Dutch material, but the first English attempt at this kind of thing since Elizabethan times, a precursor of what Seller was later to do.  Pepys seems not to have bought these, although he may have had a set and later disposed of them as better and more recent material came to hand (as was his custom), but Pepys certainly bought globes from Moxon, both for his home and for his office – and was delighted with them.

In 1662, Moxon petitioned the King, “your petitioner with great industry, travell, and expence, hath found out ye perfect way of makeing globes, sphears, mapps, and sea-platts” and now seeks “to benefit his native country with ye most exact and perfect waggoner in the English tongue … so much necessary for our English seamen”.  He asked for royal encouragement, which was granted, and Moxon was sworn in as Hydrographer to the King, “for the making of globes, maps and sea-platts”.


Joseph Moxon, Americae Septentrionalis Pars. 1664. The first printed map to name New York and the new province of Carolina.

He clearly intended a full-scale maritime atlas – but this is the last we hear of it. His output of maps and charts from this point actually seems rather meagre. This may of course be deceptive,  survival rates are extremely poor. His map of North America survives only in a single known copy.  His later wall-map of the world survives only in fragments – and this is true of some of Seller’s output too, large wall-maps that we can’t know or judge because they no longer exist.

We note the prominence that Moxon gives to London in his imprint – it was still a rare thing to produce work of this sort in London.  But Moxon’s career at this point was severely interrupted,  as was that of every Londoner: the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Moxon lost his premises on Cornhill and probably his stock as well.


John Seller, A Mapp of the Two Hemispheres of the Heavens.

Seller too would have been disturbed by plague and fire, although the fire didn’t reach Wapping and his stock and premises would have been safe. But he did experience a wholly life-changing event. This is something of a digression, it seems not to relate to the map trade at all, but it’s an extraordinary and little explored tale.  One of the most baffling and wholly unexplained things about Seller, is that, in late 1662, at the age of thirty, already in a solid way of business (he had just taken on his third apprentice), he was taken into custody and arraigned on a charge of high treason.

Pepys gives some background: “All this day, soldiers going up and down the towne, there being an alarme and many Quakers and others clapped up”.  Hundreds were arrested. Pepys is sceptical at first, but later says “for certain, some plot there hath been”.  He even dreamt about it one night.  The outline was that a conspiracy had been put together by an alliance of dissident factions – the “satanical saints”, “fifth-monarchy men, anabaptists, independents, fighting quakers”, levellers and presbyterians too. The aims, apparently agreed by a secret council of six, were armed insurrection, the assassination of the king, the overthrow of government and the setting-up of a free state.

Most of those arrested were soon released, but some, including Seller, were brought to trial. Coolie Verner’s brief summary was that although Seller was a friend of the conspirators, he wasn’t involved in the plot and that there was “testimony that clearly indicated his innocence”. There was actually no such thing.

The trial took place at the Old Bailey on 11th  December 1662: six men in the in the dock – Thomas Tonge, a distiller, a “strong-water-man” and tobacco seller, former captain in Cromwell’s army; yeoman George Phillips; Francis Stubbs, a cheesemonger; James Hind, ship’s gunner; Nathaniel Gibbs, felt-maker – and John Sallers, compass-maker. The charges are put:

Hind, the gunner, immediately knelt before the court: “I am guilty, and humbly beg mercy of His Majesty” – but the rest plead not guilty.


Wenceslaus Hollar, Byrsa Londinensis, vulgo The Royall Exchange of London. 1644. Hollar later engraved maps for Seller – and Seller later had premises at the Exchange.

Much of the action had taken place here at the Royal Exchange. The principal witnesses were William Hill, a government informer, and Edward Riggs, seemingly a conspirator granted immunity for his testimony.  Hill infiltrated the plot early on – he was introduced to the plotters on the New England Walk at the Exchange.  He describes the talk at various meetings – troops at Windsor and the Tower suborned, large numbers of sympathisers primed and ready, a secret arsenal of weapons in Crutched Friars.  Seller wasn’t present at any of these meetings, but Hill testifies that he and Riggs met Seller on the Exchange (where Seller was subsequently arrested). Riggs told Seller that Hill was looking for guns for thirty new recruits – and Seller told them that five- or six-hundred had been distributed the previous night, but more were arriving and Hill would be supplied.

Seller vehemently denied this, although admitted discussing a rumour about the guns with Riggs. He cross-questioned Hill: When was this?  Who else was there? He denied ever meeting Hill, but Hill counter-claimed that he was the one who pointed out Seller when he was arrested – and certainly knew him. Seller denied this too, “it was not he, but the other in white cloaths, that came and took me, that knew me”.

Riggs was a little vague: he broadly supported Hill’s account, but could not remember specific numbers being discussed, and couldn’t say whether Hill was in a position to overhear or not. This is key. Sir Orlando Bridgeman, the chief justice, explained two critical points of law: firstly, that two witnesses were needed – this is why Seller was so keen to discredit Hill, because on his own admission he had discussed the guns with Riggs on more than one occasion.  And secondly, that “though a man be but present when treason is spoken or designed or acted, if this man be present, and shew anything of approbation, his concealing of it is as much treason as he that did it”.

Seller was questioned from the bench: “Pray, what made you so busily enquire after arms if you were not concerned?”  The eventual summing-up was damning.   The jury took only an hour – all the accused guilty.

Seller responded, “I delivered no arms, if I had known where they had been, I would have discovered them, I begg mercy from the King”.  To which the only answer was the chilling “Tye him up, executioner”.  There could only be one sentence.  Eleven days later, four of the six were put to death.  At the scaffold, they all admitted complicity.  Hind, the one who had pleaded guilty, wasn’t executed – and nor was Seller.  I don’t know why.  We can only speculate.  It’s not hard to see why the jury convicted, but perhaps there was some doubt after all over Hill’s evidence and there was nothing else really to connect Seller with the others.  By April the following year, he was released on bail, petitioning the Duke of York about his pardon.  Later he petitioned the King to remit the accustomed fees for this, being in “impoverisht condicion by reason of his long restraynt … being thereby reduc’t to extraordinary exigencyses, for the mayntenance of his wife and foure small children … and still under conviction of that horrid cryme which his soule abhors, lives a languishing dying life”.

I don’t suppose we shall ever know the full story, but we sense that from here on Seller was a man in a hurry – and one desperate to prove his loyalty.  And it may well be that in this bizarre way he first came to the attention of the King and the Duke of York, who were later to back him so steadfastly in his enterprises.


The road westwards from London, as shown in John Ogilby’s Britannia, 1675.

His business recovered, he took on two new apprentices in 1666 and began to publish books on navigation.  The map trade – post-Fire – was changing.  Despite, or perhaps, because of the Fire – all that stock and libraries lost – there was an upsurge in interest. The booksellers John Ogilby and Richard Blome (and Ogilby had certainly lost everything in the Fire) announced new schemes for publishing English-made atlases. They went on at least partially to realise these schemes.  In Ogilby’s case these wonderful road-maps and the great map of London, published in 1675 and 1676.  Moxon’s former apprentices, Robert Morden and William Berry, both first appear about this time and both became major figures, as did another young mapmaker, Robert Greene, who later coloured maps for Pepys.  New talent, new ideas and fresh ambition were beginning to emerge.


John Seller, Practical Navigation : or, An Introduction to that Whole Art. Originally published in 1669, but here in a later edition. It remained in print until 1739.

And Seller joined in. In 1669 he published his own text-book, “Practical Navigation”, of which a modern editor has written, “As an instrument-maker and teacher of navigation it might be expected that Seller’s description of the various navigational instruments and of their use at sea would be exemplary and, within the limits of contemporary practice, so it is” (Michael Richey – 1993).  In the book Seller advertises not just instruments, but also “plats and charts for all parts of the world … globes and maps of all sorts … English waggoners, and charts of his own making, by him new corrected and published, with other new books describing the sea-coasts round the world” and, moreover, “I intend, with the assistance of God, and am at present upon making (at my own cost and charge) a Sea Waggoner for the whole world” – the first intimation we have of the “English Pilot”.

Seller21The first volume was ready by 1671 and Seller in his dedication to the Duke of York reiterated the old reliance on Dutch material: “we must see no further than their books direct us, nor how to avoid a shelf without a forreign pilot … none hath hitherto undertaken it … I thought it my duty, for the service of my countrey, to adventure on this great charge and trouble”. Although admitting that the work “hath the similitude of their [Dutch] Waggoners, which in all respects cannot be avoided, yet I have not made them presidential … but have principally observed, throughout the whole work, the informations and instructions of our ancient and modern navigators, to some of whom I am greatly obliged for the readiness in imparting what their own observations had acquainted them withal, and doubt not but it will be the continued practice of all ingenious mariners, still to communicate towards the perfection of a design so useful and necessary”.

The King immediately issued a proclamation in effect granting Seller a monopoly on all such productions for the next thirty years: “We … strictly prohibit and forbid all our subjects … to copy or counterfeit any of the maps, plats, or charts … and that no such books, maps, charts or plats … be imported from beyond the seas … as the persons offending will answer to the contrary, not only by the forfeiture of the said books, plats, charts, or maps, but at their utmost peril”.  A sweeping privilege and one which may have fuelled some resentment.  There may have been some only too keen to blacken Seller’s name.


The Atlas Maritimus 1675.

Two days later, Seller was sworn in as Hydrographer to the King.  A second volume of the English Pilot was published in 1672, and Seller’s instrument business was also flourishing.  In the same year he applied for a contract to supply the navy at Chatham with compasses and glasses, which was granted. And in 1675 his Atlas Maritimus was published, “Which with all other of my endeavours, for the promotion of the publick good of my countrey, in designs of this nature in maritime concerns, I commit to the favourable censure of the judicious, and subscribe my self, Gentlemen, Yours to serve you and my country, John Seller”.


John Seller, A Chart of the South-Sea. [ca. 1675].

But what exactly had he achieved?  We reach the crux of the matter.  Were these in fact new and English productions, or were these atlases simply Dutch ones in disguise?  Is it true, as Phillips told Pepys, that these were Dutch plates “without a Dutch word so much as turned into English, much less anything in the maps altered”; that Seller had bought obsolete plates for scrap and made them into a “pretended new book”.  Or, in milder variations of the charge also recorded by Pepys, that the maps had only been “refreshed in several places” or were “at best but copies of the Dutch”, or, again, “they say that even Seller’s new maps are many of them little less than transcripts of the Dutch maps”.

I hear an echo of Seller’s words from the dock at the time of his trial: “I would fain know, whether the bench and jury are satisfied with this evidence”? – a question that reverberates,  Seller then on trial for his life, and now for his reputation.

There was certainly some inescapable truth behind the charge.  Seller did acquire sixty or so Dutch printing plates to form the nucleus of his endeavour, and some of the earliest do look a little scratchy and improvised.  But was there another or a better way to start?  By common consent the Dutch made the best charts and these plates weren’t in any meaningful sense obsolete: they were plates published in his lifetime by reputed makers like Jan Jansson and Jan van Loon, later on supplemented by brand-new maps by Frederick de Wit.  It was in any case Pepys’ own view that all these seventeenth-century Dutch charts “borrow all from Waggener” and that this remained the case “till Seller fell to work and made some improvements therein”.  And in terms of revising and updating material, Seller undoubtedly had access to the very best existing sources, including a copy of Robert Dudley’s legendary “Arcano del Mare”, which Pepys was anxious to borrow from him at one time.

The supposition that Seller travelled to Amsterdam and somehow stumbled across obsolete plates being sold as scrap metal is, I suggest, somewhat ridiculous.  Let us look into the detail. When Phillips and Pepys were discussing this, they had a Seller atlas of some sort in front of them: “Seller’s book in 1668” is precisely what Pepys says.  But what was this?  The first volume of the “English Pilot” wasn’t published until 1671. Verner constructed an elaborate bibliographical argument for there having been an earlier and now lost 1668 edition, rather ignoring Seller’s statement in 1669 the work was “at present upon making” and indeed the royal proclamation of 1671 that the work was now finished.

Let me suggest an alternative hypothesis.  Seller was importing Dutch material – possibly as early as 1660, certainly by 1669, when he advertises “charts for all parts of the world” and “English waggoners”: these latter are plainly not the same as his own waggoner which was still “upon making”.  They can only have been Dutch-made English-language atlases.  Is it possible that what Pepys and Phillips were actually looking at was not a lost edition of the “English Pilot”, but an imported Dutch English-language atlas with an inserted Seller title-page?  No such thing survives – just as lost as and improvable as the hypothetical 1668 “English Pilot” – but at least we have a precedent, the Lugger atlas, and Seller was plainly stocking something very like it. This would make more sense of Phillips’ words – charts “without a Dutch word so much as turned into English”. Why would they have? – they were Dutch productions. Were Phillips’ strictures founded on a basic misapprehension?

I don’t know, but this gives us a far more plausible route for Seller acquiring his Dutch plates – in the normal course of his trade.  Did he simply say to his suppliers of charts and waggoners, why don’t I buy some plates from you?


Michiel Comans, [Dutch Attack on the Medway]. 1667. The Dutch fleet passing Sheerness, British vessels in flames off Rochester.

What we haven’t considered are Anglo-Dutch relations at this point.  These were years not only of extreme tension but actual warfare: – the Second Dutch war of 1665-67, the third war of 1672-74. For an aspiring worldwide mercantile power, the reliance on Dutch charts was no longer tenable nor possible. No wonder the King gave Seller every encouragement – and no wonder they were in a hurry. And if this meant Seller founding his English Pilot in pre-existing Dutch material, then so be it.

What of the charts themselves? However Seller began, by the time the “Atlas Maritimus” was published in 1675 – the collation is unstable, there are endless variants, but of the forty or so charts, more than half were brand-new – engraved for Seller in London by local engravers.  And,  as Pepys also records, before too long the Dutch were copying Seller: Joel Gascoyne pointed this out to Pepys at the time.


John Seller, A Chart of the North Part of America. [1673?].

And we can call on more recent witnesses – those who have studied the maps in detail.  Rodney Shirley reports of the 1671 “English Pilot” chart of the British Isles, this is “not a reworked Dutch plate, nor has it been directly copied from any particular Dutch map”.  And Philip Burden, in his masterly record of early maps of North America, the volume covering Seller’s career only published in 2007 and perhaps not yet fully assimilated into our thinking.  Here are some of his findings: of “A Chart of the North Part of America” (1673?) he says, “Seller was the first to depict James Bay correctly as one bay. All previous maps bore a double bay format … [he] did not slavishly follow Dutch sources” and appears actually to have been using the very latest Hudson Bay Company reports.


John Seller, A Chart of the Coast of America from New found Land to Cape Cod. [1674?].

Of another chart, “A Chart of the Coast of America from New found Land to Cape Cod” (1674?), Seller “adds St. John Isle, or Prince Edward Island, so poorly missed on the original and not replaced by any other cartographer to date. He also improves the depiction of the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland with English knowledge learned through John Mason … he extends the area of coverage westwards to take in the English settlements in New England”, etc.  Of another, “A Chart of the Sea Coasts of New-England New Jarsey Virginia Maryland and Carolina” (1676?) – “fine original work … completely new in composition … the earliest depictions of West Chester in New York, Fairfield and Norwich in Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island”. Of another: “no [earlier] printed or manuscript work is known to bear any resemblance”.  Of “A Mapp of New England” (1676): “arguably the first map of the area we now call New England … its immediate source is quite probably a manuscript map drawn up in December 1675”. And of yet another, “Seller does not slavishly copy Dutch cartography as is often portrayed … a swathe of new geography is inserted”.


John Seller, A Mapp of New England. 1676.

I accept that North America may be a special case – Dutch material was less plentiful, English interest rising fast (and we may care to speculate about Seller being so frequently on the New England Walk of the Royal Exchange at the time of his trial) – but I think the case is sufficiently made that Seller was rather more interesting and original in his work than some would allow.

By 1677, Seller seems to have made good headway in preparing charts and text for further volumes of the “English Pilot”, but then something happened.  In his preface to one of the new volumes (The Mediterranean), he announces, “Here I thought good publickly to advertise the reader, that for the better management of my so chargeable and difficult an undertaking, I have accepted the assistance of my worthy friends, Mr. William Fisher, Mr. John Thornton, Mr. John Colson, and Mr. James Atkinson as my copartners in the English Pilot, Sea Atlas, and in all sea-charts”.  He shares out the enterprise, principally with Fisher and Thornton.  And two years later there was a further re-alignment: broadly speaking, Fisher took over the rights in the completed works, Thornton in those still to be completed, and Seller retained his existing stocks.

This is invariably interpreted to mean that Seller was in severe financial difficulties,  bankruptcy looming, and that he was compelled to take on partners and then release his rights.  Quite what the evidence for this is, I am not sure.  Seller still had his contract to supply the navy with compasses.  He was still taking on apprentices, seven more in the 1670s, and he was just about to embark on another and even more expensive exercise – hardly the action of a man in desperate financial straits.  But he had been working all out on the project for a good few years and may genuinely have needed assistance.  He may have felt he had taken it as far as he could go – time to hand on.  There may have been practical issues of handling and distribution. Or, he may simply have grown tired of the sniping and set out to prove a point.  This is what he did next.


John Seller, Kent actually survey’d and delineated. Originally published in 1681 as part of Seller’s “Atlas Anglicanus” project, and here in a later, early eighteenth-century edition, with revisions by Herman Moll.

He now issued proposals, in partnership with the surveyor, John Oliver, and the engraver, Richard Palmer, for a completely fresh survey of the whole of England and Wales – the first since Elizabethan times.  “Having consulted all mapps already extant, and finding so great a deficiency therein, we thereupon thought our selves … obliged to undertake this great and elaborate work”.

Pepys applauds – “very good matter” – as does the King, who still seems wholly to approve of Seller’s work so far, and in 1679 allows the partners the duty-free import of paper.  The work, already begun, proceeds apace.  By the end of 1681, seven maps (London, and six south-eastern counties – by no means the whole country, but a large swathe of it) have been produced.  And then the project dies. This time, I suspect that the money really had run out.  He had driven himself to the brink in the service of his country.

There seems to be a puzzling absence of contemporary comment.  Pepys says nothing and nor does that other seventeenth-century diarist, Robert Hooke, the scientist, and, like Pepys, a serial buyer of maps who knew everyone in the map trade.  Hooke had helped Ogilby greatly on the road maps and was frequently in company with Robert Morden, William Berry and others. When Robert Greene set up shop in 1675, Hooke was among his first customers.  A witness we would like to hear from.

Hooke must certainly have known Seller, but I can only trace a single possible mention. A two-word comment in July 1675 – “Sellers kind”.  This is not much to build on.  But someone Hooke does refer to, again and again, is John Oliver, Seller’s partner on the county surveys.  Not just a surveyor, but the King’s Master Mason, and, like Hooke, a sworn surveyor to the City of London, charged with staking out the new lines of the streets after the Fire, and measuring and adjudicating on the thousands of property boundaries that needed to be determined.


John Oliver, A Mapp of the Cityes of London & Westminster & Burrough of Southwark with their Suburbs. London, John Seller, [ca. 1680].

Relations between them weren’t always cordial.  Hooke speaks of Oliver’s treachery in 1673, and subsequent entries are terse: “Oliver a rascall”; “Oliver a villaine”; “Oliver a dog”; “Oliver a devill” – but this blew over in time and they seem to have reached an accord. They dine together. They agree on a joint approach to the City Corporation over their fees. They go to Bartholomew Fair together and see a tiger for 2d.  And actually there is a connection with Seller, because Hooke helped Oliver with the map of London that appeared alongside the county maps of the national survey.

“To Sir Chr[istopher] Wrens. Rectifyd errors with Oliver. Talked with Sir Christopher” – and again, “Early to Sir Ch. Wrens. Rectifyd mistakes with J. Oliver. All of the right hand”.  And here, in one room, we have the three men who did most to rebuild London after the Fire – the men who knew the fabric of London better than anyone alive – conferring over and approving a map shortly to be published by Seller.  No “lack of integrity” about this map at least.

Seller32A reason for supposing that Seller was financially badly wounded by the national survey is the nature of his subsequent output – almost all smaller and cheaper pocket atlases, miniature versions of his earlier work, the “Atlas Minimus”, the “Anglia Contracta” and pocket-books “usefull for merchants and marriners”; pocket almanacks too.   Symptoms, on the face of it, of waning ambition as well as much-reduced circumstances. But, this too may be deceptive.  His catalogues continue to advertise a wide range of instruments, now for land-surveying as well as navigation – theodolites and surveying chains – and also now optical instruments (telescopes and microscopes – these presumably not of his own manufacture), but he was still in a substantial way of business.  So there may be another way of viewing this final period. Perhaps he was simply looking for a new market. He had tried new, impressive and expensive productions, but now wanted broader appeal. A theme that runs through all the pocket books was one of education. They were addressed to altogether more unsophisticated readers, there is a repeated deliberate naivety about them, and Seller was not himself naive.  He had become a populariser and an educator and, this too, in its own way, is something new and rather commendable.


John Seller, A Mapp of the World. [ca.1684]. “A mapp of the world shewing what a clock it is (at any time) in any part of the world, and to know where the people are riseing, and where they are at dinner, where at supper, and where going to bed all over the world”.

To conclude, let me return to some final remarks from Pepys.  I think it’s noticeable that most of the derogatory remarks about Seller are Pepys reporting what others have said – remarks he records, but may not necessarily have agreed with.  When he speaks in his own voice, we get a slightly different tone.  On one occasion he made a note to himself, “Enquire also among Seller’s antagonists what they have to reproach him with in his undertakings”. He sums up on one occasion:

“till Seller fell into it we had very few draughts, even of our own coasts, printed in England, but all our English masters, even upon our own coasts, as well as elsewhere, sailed by the Waggener printed by the Dutch”

This is the essential point: “we must see no further than their books direct us”. This was a matter of national strategy and, perhaps the end justifying the means, it worked.  As eventually completed by Thornton over twenty years later, with complementary volumes by Seller’s son, Jeremiah, and his most celebrated apprentice, Charles Price, the “English Pilot” became, as Philip Burden says, “one of the great English atlases”.  Portions of it remained in use throughout the eighteenth century.  Captain Cook navigated the coast of Java by these old charts by Seller and Thornton in 1770 – and praised them.


Greenvile Collins, Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot. 1693. Published by William Fisher’s son-in-law and successor, Richard Mount.

And as to the reservations, well here is Pepys’ own recipe for compiling sea-charts: “The only way ever to do such a thing well, were to have it done by three several persons, severally at the same time … and a committee of persons appointed to sit upon their daily works, and upon comparing them, to conclude what is to be fittest to be taken as good, and where it is needful to have any piece of work done over again”. Pepys of course was ever the bureaucrat – chart-making by committee.  A recipe dreamt up in relation to the survey of the British coastline carried out by Captain Greenvile Collins in the 1680s and eventually published in 1693.  It could never have been done this way.  Pepys had reservations about Collins all along and opposed his being given an official title by Trinity House because this might bring with it “an accountableness for all his mistakes and their consequences”. The cautious bureaucratic reflex again and precisely why it needed the drive and energy of outstanding individuals to make things happen.  The King was perhaps more percipient than his advisers in backing both Seller and Collins and giving them his support.  Moxon, for all his greater repute, hadn’t delivered the goods – and Seller did.

Seller and Collins did bring to an end the reliance on Dutch material. That was now over. The Collins atlas, like the “English Pilot”, remained in print for a century.  Whatever the misgivings of the experts, those who had to rely on these productions – the ship’s masters – liked them and bought them. And theirs is an inescapable voice.


From William Elder, A Coppy Book. [ca.1690].

And Pepys bought them too and here perhaps actions speak louder than words.  We know that Pepys routinely disposed of material deemed obsolete, outdated or otherwise unworthy – newer and better maps would be bought to replace them.  And Pepys didn’t discard his Sellers. To this day, Seller is still one of the best represented of all the mapmakers in his library.

Let me leave you with something of an epitaph, a little anagram on his name that Seller sometimes attached to his publications: “John Seller – Here’s no ill”.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (4)

bookhunters4To judge from the record number of visitors to the blog in recent weeks you have all greatly enjoyed the exuberant guest posts from my charming and highly talented colleague, Pauline Schol – as have I.  That’s obviously enough of that.  Needless to say, Ms Schol has now been grounded and confined to the British Library until she has finished her dissertation on George Orwell’s collection of pamphlets.  You may or may not hear from her again.

Normal service has now been resumed and we return to the sale-room of Messrs Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in that year of grace 1888.  Once more following the Roberts enumeration, we come to:


Bernard Quaritch

(7) Mr B. Quaritch – this is of course the great Bernard Alexander Christian Quaritch (1819-1899) himself, seated in prime position just below the rostrum.  So much has already been written about Quaritch that it seems nugatory to try to add more.  We have already seen him referred to by ‘The Graphic’ as ‘the Goliath of the trade’.  A whole chapter of Frank Herrmann’s history of Sotheby’s is simply titled ‘The Quaritch Era’ – he was certainly their biggest customer at this time.  You all know his story: born near Göttingen on 23rd April 1819, trained in the book-trade in Germany, arriving in London in 1842, armed only with a letter of introduction to Henry Bohn – and that much quoted and possibly apocryphal conversation:  ‘Mr Bohn, you are the first bookseller in England, I mean to become the first bookseller in Europe’.  By 1847 Quaritch had set up on his own and was soon on an upward trajectory that would make him not just the first bookseller in Europe, but in the world.  On his death in 1899 ‘The Times’ reported, ‘It would scarcely be rash to say that Quaritch was the greatest bookseller who ever lived. His ideals were so high, his eye so keen, his transactions were so colossal, his courage so dauntless, that he stands out among men who have dealt in old literature as a Napoleon or a Wellington stands out among generals’.

Bernard QuaritchI’ll confine myself to repeating a story told by Frank Karslake, who lived near Quaritch in Hampstead, and would often meet him (even at eighty years of age) waiting for the 8.30 omnibus into town: ‘Years ago Mr. Quaritch was asked why he never took a holiday. He replied that it was because his shop was to him a continual holiday.  Pointing to his books, he said, These are my grouse-moors;  my yacht;  my trips to Norway;  my ascents of the Alps;  these are my recreations’.  Quaritch died, still in harness, on 17th December 1899 at his home at 34 Belsize Grove. His estate was valued at £38,782.4s. The legendary business still survives and remains among the foremost names in the trade.   

Frederick Startridge Ellis

Frederick Startridge Ellis

His reputation is such that most of his contemporaries have largely been shunted to the sidelines in accounts of the period, but as we have already seen with Alexander Railton and James Toovey, there were some other very formidable booksellers in late nineteenth-century London.  Although by now retired, one man whom Quaritch probably did regard very nearly as an equal was his great rival (and occasional collaborator at post-auction ‘révisions’), Frederick Startridge Ellis (1830-1901) of New Bond Street.  When Ellis retired through ill-health in 1885, Quaritch wrote to him, ‘You and I are really the first (if not the only) bibliophiles in England … Your name and mine will go down together in the annals of bookselling; and I am presumptuous enough to say, our reputation is like Bayard’s ‘Sans peur et sans reproche’ … Your success has been due to your tact, excellent diplomacy, and above all to your commercial genius; furthermore you were gifted with an eye for beauty …’.

An eye for beauty – Ellis certainly had that.  Friend and publisher of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and  William Morris (he held the co-tenancy of Kelmscott Manor), friend to Swinburne, Burne-Jones and John Ruskin (whose ‘Stray letters from Professor Ruskin to a London Bibliopole’ (1892) were addressed to Ellis).  In later life he became a textual critic and editor, compiling ‘A Lexical Concordance to the Poetical Works of P. B. Shelley’ (1892), as well as editing many of the Kelmscott Press books and proof-reading the Kelmscott Chaucer.

Much of the Ellis stock had been sold at Sotheby’s on his retirement, realising some £16,000 (Quaritch was a major buyer), but the business at 29 New Bond Street, which could trace its origins back to 1728 and was the oldest bookshop in London, was continued by a nephew:

Gilbert Ifold Ellis

Gilbert Ifold Ellis

(8)  Mr G. J. Ellis –Gilbert Ifold Ellis (1858-1902), standing just behind Quaritch, bare-headed and ‘intellectual-looking’ in Karslake’s phrase.  Gilbert Ellis was the son of Edward Ellis, a hotelier, and his wife Catherine Jane Ifold.  Educated at the King’s School in Peterborough, he worked for the publishers Chatto & Windus before joining his uncle F. S. Ellis at some point in the 1870s.  He first crossed swords with Quaritch in 1884, when, aged just twenty-five and standing in for his uncle at the Syston Park sale, he put up a fierce fight for the Mentz Psalter, the Fust & Schoeffer Psalmorum Codex of 1459 on vellum, eventually bought by Quaritch for a then world record price of £4,950.  He bought largely again at the sale of his uncle’s stock (including a First Folio for £405) and soon developed a reputation in his own right as a sound judge, working in partnership with Robert Victor Elvey (1858-1934) as ‘Ellis & Elvey’ between 1887 and 1897. Copies of their General Catalogue of Rare Books and MSS : On Sale at 29 New Bond Street (1894) are to be found in a number of libraries, the title-page showing the interior of the shop – cluttered desk, glass-fronted and revolving book-cases, and a Turkish carpet.

Gilbert Ifold Ellis

Gilbert Ifold Ellis

Ellis himself compiled a fine catalogue of the impressive collection of Sir Thomas Brooke in 1891 and also continued his uncle’s publishing activities, publishing Rossetti and working with William Morris, as well as producing ‘The Letter in Spanish of Christopher Columbus … announcing the Discovery of the New World : Reproduced in Facsimile from a Unique Copy in the Possession of the Publishers’  (1889).  Morris was also a good customer, buying a Flemish manuscript psalter from Ellis for £325 in 1895.

Ellis & Elvey

Ellis & Elvey

Ellis visited the United States in 1899 to find new customers and became a member of the Grolier Club.  He never married and was still living with his parents at their house in Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, when he died prematurely at Dover at the age of forty-three on 6th February 1902, leaving an estate valued at £7,628.11s.9d.  His former assistants James Joseph Holdsworth and George Smith continued the business, while Sotheby’s arranged the eight-day sale of his collection later in 1902, producing a ‘Catalogue of the Choice Stock of Rare Books, Illuminated and other Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. etc. formed by the late Mr. Gilbert I. Ellis’.  A history of the firm by George Smith and Frank Benger was published as ‘The Oldest London Bookshop : A History of Two Hundred Years’ in 1928.  It was an old-fashioned business – even in the 1920s transactions were still recorded in copperplate in monumental ledgers and, according to Percy Muir, even the introduction of blotting-paper was seen as a reluctant concession to ‘the devastating inroads of modernism’.  The firm’s archive, including fourteen day-books and thirty-nine letter books, survives at UCLA.

James Roche

James Roche

(9) Mr. J. Roche – peering out from behind Ellis, unnoticed by the editors of ‘The Graphic’ (who confuse Roche with James Westell) but spotted by Roberts and Karslake, is the hatted, bearded and bespectacled figure of James Roche. Karslake gives a brief account: ‘He was a most amiable man, with a habit of interpolating the phrase ‘of course’ into almost every sentence he uttered. This was probably caused by nervousness, for he told me himself that he was one of the most diffident of men. He started in business in 1850, as a dealer in three-volume novels, and this brought him into close contact with such firms as Bentley’s, Hurst & Blackett, Tinsleys, &c., and he literally teemed with stories of the early days of [George Augustus] Sala, Albert Smith, [Edmund Hodgson] Yates, and all sorts of literary hacks, journalists, and other small fry of the world of letters, most of whom are now dead, lost, famous, or forgotten’. 

A man with whom one would gladly have swapped a tale or two, but his diffidence evidently extended to communication with officialdom: the archival trail through the usual sources of information, the census returns, etc., is patchy to stay the least. He was evidently born in the London parish of St. Luke, Old Street, in the late 1820s and was said to be seventy or so years of age when he died in 1900. He probably married Mary McCarthy in 1848 and is said by several different sources to have first opened his bookshop in 1850.  In 1851 he was living with his wife and an infant son in Bethnal Green.

Mudie's Library, New Oxford Street

Mudie’s Library

For many years he had a shop at No. 1 Southampton Row, a little corner shop at the junction with High Holborn, where he was living with his wife and seven children in 1871. He issued his Catalogue 19, ‘A Catalogue of Miscellaneous, New, and Second-Hand Books, in all Classes of Literature, comprising History, Biography, Travel, and Fiction’, from that address in 1880. He subsequently moved to a shop at 38 New Oxford Street, next door but one to the mighty Mudie’s Library and probably a very shrewdly chosen spot, even if dwarfed by his new neighbour. His business may have been a relatively modest one, although he sold a copy of the ‘Nuremberg Chronicle’ (1493) in contemporary pigskin to the American collector John C. Wilson in 1890.

Roche-AdvertHe died at his home at Westbrooke, 376 Brixton Road, Kennington, on 17th December 1900. Probate was granted early the following year to his sons Godfrey Roche (1856-1908) and Edmund Ernest Roche (1863?-1922), his effects valued at £5,017.16s.7d.  The sons continued the business for a number of years, selling large numbers of books to Winston Churchill in 1906.

To be continued …

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Music To Buy Books By

Pauline ScholHello.  It’s me, Pauline Schol, again.  The Guv’nor won’t admit it, but he’s a little bit miffed that the blog got about ten times more visitors than usual after my post last week – “Well, if that’s what they want, then you’d better do it again this week, hadn’t you, clever clogs”.  I think he’s only pretending to be miffed, but I’ll leave him watching the cricket for now: First Day at Lord’s, or something – I thought that was the State Opening of Parliament?  English and peculiar anyway.  Rare jongens, die Engelsen (of waren dat de Romeinen?)

twirlsDifferent customs. Here I am enjoying the sunshine at the Bristol Book Fair last weekend (doing “that weird European sun thing you do”, as he puts it).  I’ve been to some book-fairs before, but this was my first outside London – and the first to which I could bring my freshly-trained and slightly more professional eye.  A bit startled by the women on stilts who greeted us with a flurry of twirls – wasn’t expecting that.  Managed eventually to navigate Laurence past them (he was clearly rather taken) and start looking at some books. There was live jazz music in the background by now – more on that later.

Bristol Book FairThe first thing: I can’t tell you how kind and how friendly everyone was – people coming up to me to congratulate me on the blog-post, offering advice and guidance, asking about my MA course, asking about my future plans – yes, I will be looking for a full-time job in the rare book trade in the autumn, once my MA dissertation is finished (on George Orwell’s amazing personal collection of pamphlets in the British Library).  Do get in touch.

Anthony SmithsonI enjoyed meeting Anthony Smithson (Keel Row Bookshop) and talking to him about the York Antiquarian Book Seminar in September.  I’ll be attending that with Anthony and his colleagues on the faculty.  The Guv’nor thinks it’s time I learnt how the younger generation of booksellers are re-inventing bookselling for the twenty-first century. Really looking forward to it.

AntiquatesI also enjoyed chatting to Tom Lintern-Mole (Antiquates). It’s good to see there are more young people entering the book-selling world.  Although I wonder how he manages to sell his books without being on his stand? Perhaps he has invented some ingenious new way of long-distance bookselling.  Is that what they will teach us at YABS?

As for the books, we were soon finding the odd thing here and there.  A Rupert Brooke, some John Betjeman, a Muriel Spark, an Agatha Christie, etc.  What I can’t yet quite understand are the vagaries of pricing – books that seem to have few or no flaws sometimes seem very underpriced. I thought I had finally started to figure out which authors sell better than others, but then some titles are more popular than other titles – how do booksellers remember all this?

edward-everardA pleasant evening out on Friday night, stopping first to pay homage to the fabulous art-nouveau façade of the old Edward Everard printing works on Broad Street – chromatic tiles, images of Johann Gutenberg and William Morris, the Spirit of Light, etc.  The Guv’nor would of course have written the entire blog about this and Everard’s (almost certainly tedious) complete family history, ignoring the fair and all the nice people there completely.

Then food, wine (and more wine) – all enlivened by a bizarre conversation with my father (he thought I was in London, I thought he was in Rotterdam, but as it turned out we were both in the Bristol area).  Too late and too far for him to join us for supper, but a cab took me out to the airport in the morning to meet him for breakfast before he flew home. Lovely interlude.

samplerBack at the fair, we really got into our stride on the second day. A signed Tom Stoppard, a nice late Trollope in cloth, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse, the UK edition of this week’s hot topic, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and a whole bunch of folding maps from Arthur Hook – including this wonderful old sampler.  I found a lovely book by Evelyn Sharp that the Guv’nor was thrilled to bits with (see his post called ‘Tracking Miss Banks’ for his account of this extraordinary ‘rebel woman’).  Best of all, I managed to stop him buying any more of those weird and totally unsaleable books he likes to blog about – you know, what did he call them the other week, ‘The Books You Never Knew You Didn’t Want’ – well, apart from the one he bought because it was bound in calf in a rather unsettling shade of deep pink, that is. He claims that isn’t actually why he bought it, but he hasn’t yet offered any more convincing reason.

Photograph BooksThe most attractive and interesting stand at the fair (we both agreed on this – new eyes and old eyes) was that of Richard V. Wells, with his display of nineteenth-century books illustrated with photographs (we put the catalogue up on the new ABA website just the other day – do have a look).  Richard V. WellsWonderful things of real historic interest, visually arresting, very modest prices – at least I thought so.  He had a good fair, thoroughly deserved – and I’m looking forward to cataloguing the one we bought.

musicThe music and entertainment continued on Saturday. Very mixed reviews around the hall for this. Some people plainly liked the music (let’s just call it eclectic, shall we) – a perfect background and a jaunty accompaniment to put everyone in the mood for book-buying.  Others were almost apoplectic – “Can’t hear ourselves speak … It’s driving my customers away”, seethed one with a liberal use of what I suspect may have been very bad language from the north of England.


Fair Managers

“This is what happens when you put hippies in charge of book-fairs – you need a right-wing sociopath to run a decent book-fair”, darkly and disturbingly murmured another (who also wishes to remain anonymous).

It takes all sorts – we had a wonderful time.  But perhaps something a little more book-related for next year?  This type of thing perhaps (click to enlarge)?  We departed with just about as many books as we could carry. Some of them you can already see on the brand-new ‘Recent Acquisitions’ page I’ve just added to the Ash Rare Books website.

bookish-entertainmentGreat time. Great space. Lovely books.  Lovely people. Thank you to all concerned for all the work put into organising it – especially the fair managers Will Goodsir and Graham York. I’ll be seeing you all again.

Pauline Schol

Posted in Blogging, Book Collecting, Book Fairs, Booksellers | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two Hundred Hours at Ash Rare Books

Books Everywhere!

Books Everywhere!

A guest post by Pauline Schol

Having finished six courses as part of the MA in the History of the Book at the Institute of English Studies (London University), I and my fellow students were offered a chance to be launched into the real world of book-selling. Five of us were placed with five different booksellers across London and this is how I found myself travelling down to Tooting Bec on a Tuesday morning in May.

Pauline Schol with Nemo

With Nemo

I had been placed with Laurence Worms who doesn’t have a shop any more and nowadays works from home.  Although most booksellers work from home, I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect that most of the clichés I had in my mind would turn out to be true. Walking through Laurence’s front door, I found myself in a house crammed full of books. Books everywhere!  Books in every nook and cranny!

Dealing with the most important thing first, Laurence made sure I was holding a cup of tea within a few minutes. Standing in his ‘office’ – in fact a conservatory practically overflowing with books – holding my tea, I didn’t think the cliché could become any more of a cliché … until Nemo, the big black cat, walked in. As the weeks passed, Nemo and I would become the best of friends and he started turning up in the conservatory earlier each day. As I have come to know, all antiquarian bookshops have a cellar that should not be seen by the general public. Laurence, too, seems to have such a cellar. This mythical place, strictly off limits to the intern, is the storage place of the prints and quite possibly other mysterious items.

The first one and a half days I received a crash course in cataloguing. On the afternoon of the second day we went to the Olympia Book Fair, one of the biggest international book fairs. Not knowing that the Guv’nor used to be the president of the ABA, and is still a very active member of the ABA council, I was surprised to find him greeting and being greeted by virtually everyone present at the fair. Being thrown in at the deep end was both a little scary and very exciting.  Walking from stand to stand Laurence would say: “So, tell me what to buy”. Looking at the prices in the books my jaw dropped. This being my first real introduction to the world of buying antiquarian books, I naturally assumed these prices were normal. This illusion was quickly done away with when we visited the more affordable PBFA fair. Clearly, normal people can also afford to buy antiquarian books. We ended the weekend with a short visit to the Bloomsbury Ephemera Fair where another new world opened up to me.

churchillDuring the MA course we hadn’t dealt with prints or maps, let alone ephemera, in any depth, so the ephemera fair was an eye-opener. When thinking of ephemera, I would normally just have thought of posters and pamphlets. The stands at the fair, however, were filled with postcards, stamps, Victorian letterheads, notepaper, autograph letters and much, much, more. Although I expected the purchase of maps and prints, I did not expect we would be leaving the fair with a lovely old press photograph of Winston Churchill.

After the fairs it was time to start preparing the Ash Rare Books Summer 2015 catalogue. It was interesting to see some of the books going through their entire ‘process’. After having bought them, we catalogued them together, photographed them, edited the catalogue and sent it off to the printer. Most of the orders were packed and sent through the post, but a few were bought by regular customers and old friends  and were delivered in person. We went to see one of the customers together, taking the books he had ordered off the catalogue.

This can be interesting ...

This can be interesting …

The Guv’nor appears to have his own way of cataloguing – this can be interesting. It can also be quite tricky, but his guidelines are very clear (he’s working on writing them down for the York Antiquarian Book Seminar – YABS), and after practicing I think I’ve got the hang of it. One thing that has remained quite an obstacle is the measurements, which are given in very clear centimetres, but also in the quite, to my continental mind, incomprehensible inches.

High Tech

High Tech

His eccentric and old-fashioned way of doing things resonates in more than just his cataloguing rules. On his desk he has two, rather old, computers – one (the one held together with string and sticky tape) may conceivably have been made in the present century – at least it’s connected to the internet; the other one, in contrast, is in museum condition. That’s where it belongs – it has never in its life been connected to the outside world. This isolated computer contains the database programme through which we generate the catalogue descriptions. After finishing them, they have to be transported to the other computer which can send them out into the world via the Ash Rare Books website and elsewhere. As it dates from an era in which memory sticks did not yet exist, I have had the pleasure of reliving my childhood and using a floppy disk for this task. Naturally, I thought this was a little outdated, but he assures me that you can, indeed, still buy floppy disks – he produced a brand-new packet from somewhere. He appears to be entirely unaware that he’s probably the only person in the country still using them. Bless!  Although making fun of his methods, the floppy disk does the task quite efficiently.

The authorship of one of the books we bought at Olympia turned out to be quite a mystery. After extensive research online we made our way to the British Library to take a look at some other copies of Recollections of a Police Officer. You may well already have read the resulting ‘Mysterious Waters’ feature here on the blog about the journalist called Russell who was behind the ‘Waters’ pseudonym.

He’s told me I can write the blog this week – Why not? – I now seem to be doing everything else around here. He’s got his feet up watching the cricket, a position he gives every indication of remaining in for the rest of the summer. He’s tried explaining cricket to me (at interminable length) – but it’s all complete Double-Dutch as far as I’m concerned – and I’m Dutch.

Although Laurence is one of the many booksellers who work from home, I couldn’t have been placed with anyone better. I have not only gained some real knowledge of cataloguing, researching books, etc., but also on ‘who is who’ in the book world, what events are taking place and, not least, the breathtaking amount of work involved in building and launching the new ABA website, which I’ve been helping him with.

By far the most important thing I have come to know is that book-selling is very much about networking, about knowing the right people: the guy behind the counter at the post-office, who knows exactly what brand of cigarettes he smokes, or the man at the Greek restaurant who greets us exuberantly after the Tuesday book-collecting seminars that are organised by Laurence and Prof. Simon Eliot at Senate House. This must be the reason why people in the book trade love to get together after book-fairs, lectures, shop openings or any other kind of book-related event. I have yet to come across a bookish event that is not accompanied with food and wine (and more wine).

bristol-book-fairThe MA was supposed to prepare me for an academic life, but this practical work experience course has persuaded me to try to pursue a career in book-selling. Being with Laurence for the past two months has been such a pleasure. In these two months in the book trade I have been able to handle and have come across so many more books than in all of the MA courses combined. Since the focus of the MA is really on books in codex-form, I didn’t know much about prints or maps, both of which are among Laurence’s specialities. He has taught me all about illustrative techniques, etchings, engravings, lithographs, etc. In the last few weeks I have been given my own projects in assembling illustrated books and cataloguing them. Using the HTML-code Laurence has written for his website, I have been able to create new web-pages for each illustrator.

Pauline Schol

My name’s Pauline Schol

Thinking back to the introductory seminar to the internship, Laurence opened his lecture to us by saying that the very first piece of advice he was ever given about working in the rare book trade was to “cultivate your eccentricity”. He claims always to have ignored this – you can make up your own minds about that! During my eight weeks in the book trade I have met a fair number of eccentric people, but all of them are kind and passionate about their work and it has made me really want to become a part of this world.

If I can prise him away from the cricket, we shall see you all at the new Bristol Book Fair this weekend – really looking forward to that!  My name’s Pauline Schol, by the way. Cheers!

Posted in Blogging, Book Collecting, Booksellers, Cricket, Libraries, Mapsellers, Printsellers | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Very Shocking Shocker

Death and the WomanIt was Simon Beattie who kindly put us in touch with a dealer on the continent who had this for sale.  Not something he wanted, but thought we might.  Quite what grounds he had for thinking this, I’m not at all sure – lurid, criminous, obscure author, published by a trio of even more obscure publishers, set in a vividly realised 1890s London, inscribed by the author, no copies on the internet  – nothing at all there to appeal to me that I can see.  As Simon himself likes to deal in ‘The Books You Never Knew You Wanted’ (see his delightful blog of that name: link in the Blogroll) – I suppose this by definition probably makes Death and the Woman one of those books you never knew you didn’t want – but then (to judge from recent sales) that’s probably becoming a fair summary of most of our stock.

Death and the WomanDeath and the Woman. A Dramatic Novel  – by Arnold Golsworthy (1865-1939).  Yes, it’s  Golsworthy, not Galsworthy.   Never heard of him, to be truthful, but a bit of delving soon came up with some answers.  He was born on 25th September 1865 at 1 Foubert’s Place (just off London’s Regent Street – a cut-through to Carnaby Street) and baptised Arnold Holcombe Golsworthy at Whitefield´s Memorial Church on 22nd April 1866. He was the youngest of the half-dozen or so children of Thomas Golsworthy, a hosier (later a shirt-maker) originally from Holcombe in Devon, and his wife Elizabeth Storer Steel, herself a staymaker (and the daughter of another), who had married in 1854. A brief spell in Australia early in their marriage no doubt led to the naming of Elizabeth Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney Golsworthy.

According to a 1904 interview which appeared in the West Gippsland Gazette (not, I fear, all that widely read outside of Warragul), Golsworthy was educated at a private school in Hampstead and later at Paris and Osnabruck.  On leaving school he entered the Civil Service, later working in an insurance office.  After a first appearance in print in the Westminster & Lambeth Gazette, he then became a writer for Pick-Me-Up magazine and fairly soon its dramatic critic, writing a widely popular Through the Opera Glass column under the pseudonym ‘Jingle’:

“In appearance Mr Golsworthy is a pleasant, gentle-faced man of moderate height and build. The eyes, brown and very humorous, are perhaps his most noticeable feature.  For the rest he is three years on the right side of forty; married, very fond of Paris, and highly ‘accomplished’.  He reads and writes in three languages, and has more than a bowing acquaintance with at least three others. Where books are concerned he is omnivorous, and the literature on his shelves runs with a pleasing width of range from Plutarch (his favourite author) and Herodotus, to the last French novel.  When he is not working, he is out in the tennis court or the cricket field …”.

I’m perhaps a little sceptical about some of this – I can’t quite see the family finances running to what sounds like an expensive education, but certainly his ‘Jingle’ column had brought him a measure of contemporary fame and he comes across in the interview as droll and pleasantly self-deprecating.

He first came to notice with a well-received one-act play called My Friend Jarlet, co-written with one E. B. Norman, which was put on as part of the evening entertainment during Canterbury Cricket Week – a review in The Era (6th August 1887) calling it “a clever little play”.  Further plays followed, co-written with Norman and also his Pick-Me-Up colleague, Henry Reichardt.  By now describing himself as a professional shorthand writer and journalist, he married Jessie Ada Killick (1865-1949) – herself the daughter of a London hosier – in 1890. Their only child, a son, Ernest Edgar Golsworthy, was born in 1892.

The ButterflyThe following year Golsworthy departed in a new direction as the founder and co-editor of that delightful 1890s periodical The Butterfly – probably the one thing for which he is still sometimes still remembered.  The Bristol Mercury caught the mood – this “dainty little magazine is very different from its contemporaries, and, turning over its luxurious pages, it is not difficult to understand why its success should have been so decided from the start.  It is doubtful whether pen and ink art was ever seen to such advantage as in these pages of superbly reproduced drawings by leading artists.  The MermaidMr Maurice Greiffenhagen … supplies the frontispiece of the present number in the shape of a fanciful study of a mermaid sinking languidly through the waves which is as delightful as anything of its kind could well be … published at the low price of 6d, the new magazine is a marvel of cheapness”.  Evidently too cheap – it only lasted ten numbers before folding (although it was briefly revived in 1899-1900 by Leonard Raven-Hill and Grant Richards).

Proceedings for bankruptcy were commenced against Golsworthy, then living at 2 Solent Road, West Hampstead,  in January 1894. Although the receiving order was rescinded a few months later, he seems from that point on to have looked for more viable commercial outlets for his talents.  He stepped up his writing of short stories and amusing essays for magazines like Black and White, The Country House and The Idler and also commenced on a series of sensational novels, of which Death and the Woman was the first.

The Country HouseThere is something puzzling about its original publication in 1895: no copy of that edition appears to be known, it is not represented in any major library worldwide, the reference books are completely silent and – both before and after publication – the 1898 edition pictured here was very specifically referred to as a new book.  Were it not for a barbed review in the Glasgow Herald of 24th October 1895, I doubt we should know of the existence of an 1895 edition at all.  “Thoroughly horrible”, the Herald found it, and worse still, “there is no mystery”: to add injury to insult the brief and dismissive review also gives away the ending.  I have half an idea that the book may simply have been rapidly withdrawn and then rewritten to some extent before being announced as a new book a couple of years later.

The critics were kinder this time round, although still found the book disturbing. “Mr. Golsworthy knows how to cater for those who would sup their fill of horrors and purchasers of this gruesome narrative will not complain … the reader, like the spectator at a melodrama, is admitted to the secrets which perplex the actors. This adds to the interest rather than otherwise, and often lifts the book on to a higher level; but, at best, it is a very shocking shocker …” (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 25th May 1898).

Detective AssassinIt is in truth a very odd book.  A psychological thriller we would call it now and that it genuinely is. The action opens in the Blue Anchor, a little-favoured dockside pub in the East End, and alternates between there and more fashionable parts of London.  The dialogue is good – as far as once can judge the authentic sound of late Victorian London – the writing a little melodramatic but entirely professional, but the plot, well, far-fetched doesn’t really quite cover it.  All the interest is in the two principal characters – a strange and haunted private detective and master of disguise, and the raven-haired Ella Osborne, tall, graceful, “more than ordinarily beautiful” – half innocent, half calculating, half guilty, rescued from a circus in youth, half demure, half wild-child – she’s somehow innocently disposing of a body in the front cover picture. Nothing quite like her in the whole of Victorian fiction and worth a read on her account alone.

Although not made explicit in the book itself, the striking cover picture is actually by the great Sydney Herbert Syme (1865-1941) – or Sidney Herbert Sime in the spelling he later preferred: he was born on 15th November 1865 for all those of you who have been looking for this (or feel inclined to correct Wikipedia or the ODNB). Well known of course for his peerless illustrations for William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, and above all Lord Dunsany.

Un GritoGolsworthy followed up with Hands in the Darkness (1899) – a tale of buried treasure and murder at Hampstead, replete with secret subterranean passage, a cataleptic Frenchman, etc.  A Cry in the Night (also 1899) was well reviewed as “a good example of the old ‘shilling shocker’ expanded to the size of an ordinary novel.  We begin with the customary murder, for which, on this occasion, there at first seems even less motive than usual; then we have the false clues and the amateur detective; and at last the discovery of the criminal in an unexpected personage  … superior to many of its class” (Yorkshire Post, 11th July 1900); “Told easily and without any tiresome digression … Altogether a capital tale” (Western Times, 23rd January 1900); “The writing is exceptionally good for this class of literature” (Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 14th January 1900).

La FolliaAlthough translations of these sensational novels continued to have some success abroad, Golsworthy’s star was perhaps by now in decline. A humorous book, The New Master (1901) was apparently received with a “chorus of approval”, and he was listed as a playwright in Who’s Who in the World (1910-1911), but A Little World (1913) – a microcosm of the world found in a single suburban London street – was published under an ‘Arnold Holcombe’ pseudonym.  He was still working as a drama critic for The Bystander in 1917 and writing for the Sunday Pictorial the following year, but beyond the publication of The Fanatic : A Drama in Verse (1925) he is little heard of thereafter.  He died at his home at The Nook, Langley Lane, Ifield, Sussex, on 29th March 1939, leaving a modest estate to his widow, Jessie.

Posted in Book Collecting, Forgotten Authors, Pulp Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mysterious Waters

detective-officer“I returned to Scotland Yard to report …” – an opening to a sentence which anywhere in the English-speaking world can only mean one thing – that we are about to enter the realm of that peculiarly English, much-loved, and perennially popular school of detective fiction based on the exploits of the ‘Detective Branch’  of the Metropolitan Police, originally established in 1842 with a complement of just two inspectors, six sergeants and a number of constables.  It became the ‘Criminal Investigation Department’ in 1878. This particular sentence in fact comes from a story published in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal in August 1849 as the second in an irregular series which ran between 1849 and 1852 under the general title of Recollections of a Police Officer.  And they are the very first detective stories in English literature – the word ‘detective’ itself (according to OED) only used as a noun in English from 1850 – in these stories the earliest formulation is invariably ‘detective-officer’, before mention is made of a ‘brother-detective’ in 1851. We know of course that there are earlier fictions with claims to priority as tales of detection – stories in Chinese, in Arabic, Voltaire’s Memnon (1747 – better known as Zadig, ou, La Destinée), William Godwin’s Things As They Are, or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), the anonymous Richmond; or, Scenes in the Life of a Bow Street Officer (1827) and above all, of course, the three stories published in the USA by Edgar Allan Poe and featuring the amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin – The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1844).  All honour to them, they make their own case, but deep in our English hearts we know there is only one proper sort of detective – the Man from the Yard – and it is only with these modest tales in Chambers that we reach the real thing – the first professional detective in English fiction. usa-1852Ten of these stories were subsequently published in unauthorised editions in New York in 1852 and 1853, under the title The Recollections of a Policeman.  All eleven, plus a twelfth which had not appeared in Chambers, were then published in London as Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer in 1856, with a second series of eight further stories added in 1859. second-seriesThe stories purport to be the reminiscences of a genuine detective.  He is called Mr Waters – just plain Waters to his superior officers.  He has no first name, although his American publishers had for some unknown reason christened him Thomas, and the ‘authorial’ prefaces to the English editions are signed C. W.  His first appearance in Chambers preceded the Inspector Bucket of Dickens’ Bleak House by some years and the Sergeant Cuff of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone by many more.   The stories are the work of a journalist named William Russell, the inventor of the first Scotland Yard detective in fiction.  Pause for a moment.  Reflect on this.  Think of all the legions of his successors.  See how many you can name off the top of your head.  Consider our library shelves and our television schedules past and present shorn of these stock figures and how very different our popular culture would be without them.  It is difficult to overstate the importance of this. One might have thought that this priority would have brought Russell some measure of fame and a modicum of fortune.  A knighthood might not have been amiss – such after all was the reward of another Victorian journalist, his namesake and contemporary Sir William Howard Russell of The Times, by most measures the first modern war correspondent, present in the Crimea and at the relief of Lucknow.  Surely there will be an entry for Russell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – maybe a Wikipedia entry at the very least.  But no – Russell, the progenitor of the English detective story, has none of these things. His priority in these matters has been known and understood at least since John (Jake) Carter’s New Paths in Book Collecting exhibition at Bumpus in 1934, where the English book editions were displayed, but when Eric Osborne, who had first written about Russell in 1932, came to write an introduction to a facsimile reprint of the 1875 collected edition for the Covent Garden Press in 1972, he could find only this to say: “In searching for biographical details of William Russell for the present foreword, I found a mystery almost as baffling as any of his ‘Waters’ assignments. Even the British Museum Catalogue, which goes to great lengths to differentiate authors with fairly common names, could find no more to say of him than ‘miscellaneous writer’.  I could not find his birth and death dates and no reference book offered any details”. russell-1851-hackney This remains the case.  Until now, that is – remember that you read it here first.  There are still huge gaps to fill in and more strenuous research required, but here is Russell on the 1851 Census return – just at the time the stories were appearing in Chambers: he is described as a married man aged forty-six, born in Southampton and now living at 9 Southgate Place, West Hackney, by profession an author, a “Writer for Chief Periodicals” to be precise.  His wife, Eliza, aged thirty-eight, was also originally from Southampton – and the household was completed by a young housemaid named Harriet Thorndyke (rather an appropriate name in a crime-writer’s house). William Russell is a common name, and whether this makes him the William Russell who was baptised at Millbrook on the outskirts of Southampton on 25th May 1806, the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Russell, is not certain, although this is the only likely candidate I have found.  Whether he was the William Russell who married Eliza Sherry at All Saints, Southampton, on 27th November 1830 – the bride baptised on 12th January 1812 at the same church – is also far from certain, but the names, dates and places are a pretty good fit. I can find no trace of Russell on the 1861 Census returns, but by 1871 he was a widower, lodging in the house of a diamond-setter at 9 Caledonia Street, just across the road from King’s Cross Station, now described simply as an author born in Southampton.  His age appears to be given as fifty-eight, but the record is faint and it may actually read sixty-eight:  he may also have docked a few years from his real age to make himself more acceptable as a lodger – or his age may simply have been a polite but complete guess on the part of the  householder in answer to the census enumerator’s question. Discrepancies of this sort are legion. He was probably the William Russell whose death at the age of about seventy-two was registered at Islington (which would have been the registration district for Caledonia Street) in the final quarter of 1876 – but, yet again, this would require further confirmation. The barest bones of a life, but something at least for future researchers to build on.  But what of the stories themselves?  Russell was I think acutely aware of the novelty of what he was doing and the opening up of perhaps unfamiliar moral and fictional landscapes. His preface to the 1856 collection is anxious to make a case for the honour and courage of this new breed of  ‘peace-officers’, although they are not conventional heroes of the battlefield.  He is anxious too to defend the ‘stratagems and disguises’ employed by the detective-officers, apparently recently rebuked by a judge, as legitimate ‘ruses de guerre’, squarely addressing a distinctly felt English unease at anything smacking of professional spies or unsporting ways.  He is also still unsure enough of his audience to seek to stress that the stories will in no way encourage anyone in pursuing a criminal vocation.  A final necessary assurance is that the stories do not contain a single line that might ‘raise a blush on the most sensitive cheek’. The scene set, Waters introduces himself – a man brought down in the world by adversity, “chiefly the result of my own reckless follies”, and compelled to join the Metropolitan Police  “as the sole means left to me of procuring food and raiment”.  His success in capturing “the perpetrators of an artistically-contrived fraud”, brings him to the attention of a senior officer, who hints at some knowledge of his previous life and misfortune.  Waters is instructed to don plain clothes – the birth of the fictional plain-clothes officer – to interview a dowager lady and then to infiltrate a gang of “blacklegs, swindlers, and forgers”.  Patience and a cool head bring success and with it the added pleasure of bringing to book the man responsible for his own downfall. These aren’t of course fully polished examples of the classical whodunit – we would not expect it.   But ruses, stratagems and disguises there are, as well as bafflement and patient procedure. Waters’ work is as often to prove the innocence of someone against whom the evidence is overwhelming (he relies much on instinct as to guilt or innocence) as to solve a mystery without obvious clues.  The prose is sometimes both arch and prolix in the Victorian way (both G.P.R. James and Bulwer Lytton are mentioned in one story), the women too often given to simper and swoon (although often showing more adroitness, verve and resilience than the men), but the dialogue is often strong and authentic sounding, with some persuasive slang (‘hush-money’,  ‘the rhino’ – both terms of greater antiquity than might be supposed). There are distinct flashes of humour, often self-deprecating.  There is perhaps too much reliance on coincidence and chance recognition.  Credulity is sometimes stretched – Waters’ casual employment of a young wastrel who turns out to be both a superlative actor and an outstanding ventriloquist raises an eyebrow, but the stories rattle along, they entertain, they amuse – and the best of them would readily translate into a popular period television series.


© British Library Board

Russell is thoroughly at home and at ease in his milieu and went on to make a career of this kind of writing.  A familiarity with the niceties and absurdities of the law, together with an undisguised contempt for its more incompetent and slovenly practitioners, inclines me to think that his journalistic experience must have included some time as a court reporter.  This is an impression reinforced by his Leaves from the Diary of a Law-Clerk, advertised as being by the author of Recollections of a Detective Police Officer, published in 1857 and in its way perhaps just as original – a forerunner of the courtroom drama.  It’s written with verve and wit – tales of an heiress bilked of her fortune until a dramatic intervention in court, or of a temptress who could get away with murder – and does.  In this context, it is interesting to note that Professor Stephen Knight of Melbourne on his personal blog (1st February 2013) has suggested that Russell may also have been the author of the similar stories collected in The Experiences of a Barrister by S*** ****** ******, D.C.L. (1856). To judge from its use in future advertising, Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer was plainly Russell’s most successful work – it was translated into both German and French and spawned numerous imitations – and it was a genre to which he would return.  The Experiences of a French Detective Officer appeared in 1861 and Undiscovered Crimes in 1862.  Experiences of a Real Detective by Inspector F, a collection of eleven stories, also appeared in 1862.  Allegedly edited by Waters, the opening is by now more confident:   “‘Detective’ literature, if it may so be called, appears to have acquired a wide popularity, chiefly, I suppose, because the stories are believed to be, in the main, faithfully-told, truthful narratives.  I have read them all and need hardly say have discovered mistakes which proved to me that the best and most popular of them were the handiwork of a literary man, not the record of an actual experience …”.  Urged by friends to record his genuine experiences, the inspector makes the acquaintance with a “gentleman who writes for the best of the London periodicals”, who promises to assist in their publication.  Russell appears to have forgotten by this stage that his alter ego Waters was a detective and not a journalist – and the reappearance of the ventriloquism motif in one of the stories rather settles their fictional nature. Autobiography of an English Detective appeared in two volumes – sixteen stories – in 1863. Although again attributed to Waters on the title-page, the autobiographical detective is now called Clarke.  The opening story, A Detective in the Bud, is, like many of these tales, set in a period prior to the setting up of the Detective Branch, in this case as early as 1819. Forced at the age of fifteen by his step-father to join the Metropolitan Police – “only the name of which is modern, the vocation itself being as old as corrupt, civilized and uncivilized humanity” – the young Clarke, disgusted at his situation, finds himself embroiled in the hunt for a radical on the run after the Peterloo Massacre, a man whom Clarke has both personal and political reasons for not wanting to find – Russell is entirely capable of surprise, real tension and forthright social commentary.   In the event, the novice policeman both shelters and helps the radical escape – and is then blackmailed by another prisoner into allowing him to escape as well.  A dramatic if not auspicious start to a detective career.

© British Library Board

© British Library Board

A number of other works appeared under the Waters pseudonym, most notably The Game of Life (1857) – later republished under the title Leonard Harlowe – a first-rate piece of work, a really cracking tale of a breathtaking and audacious Victorian identity theft.  There was also work which came out under Russell’s own name – Extraordinary Men : Their Boyhood and Early Life (1853), followed by Extraordinary Women : Their Girlhood and Early Life (1857); Eccentric Personages (1864), Leaves from the Journal of a Custom-House Officer (1868), etc.  And, if that were not enough, there was also a wholly separate sequence of nautical tales published under the pseudonym of Lieutenant Robert Warneford R.N. – Tales of the Coast Guard (1856), Tales of the Slave Squadron (1860), Running the Blockade (1863) – this a fascinating and absolutely topical glimpse of the American Civil War through cotton-starved English eyes – The Phantom Cruiser (1865) and others.


© British Library Board

This is a man who deserves rather more attention. In My First Trip across the Atlantic, one of the stories in Autobiography of an English Detective, we meet a new character: “I knew that he was a gentleman of the press, a writer of books, and if I did not misunderstand him, had written or concocted, whichever may be the right term, pantomimes for the stage – Mother Goose, Harlequin Hunchback, or some such nonsense …”.  A little later the gentleman of the press turns out to be called – Russell.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (3)

Sotheby's 1888

Once more following the Roberts enumeration round the room, we come to:

James Rimell

James Rimell

(4) – Mr J. Rimell. Not noted by the editors of The Graphic but picked up by Roberts, is the bespectacled and bearded figure of James Rimell (1821?-1900), bookseller of Oxford Street – “highly- successful and widely-known” in the words of Frank Karslake, who had “very pleasant personal recollections of him” .  I’ve not traced Rimell’s exact date of birth, but he was born in one of the less fashionable parts of Kensington late in 1821 or early in 1822, the eldest of the children of James Rimell and his wife, Maria Ann Burrell, who had married at St. James Piccadilly in April 1821. His father was originally a grocer, but switched to bookselling in mid life and is credited with founding the family firm in or about 1841.  The younger James Rimell married Emma Parsons in that same year and his father was certainly recorded as a bookseller at that time.

Rimell400The James Rimell shown here at Sotheby’s was soon heading the firm – his father appears to have died in about 1845 – and had premises at 54 Goodge Street in 1846.  At first in a modest way of business, his bookselling prospered and flourished and at some point in the 1850s he moved to a large and handsome shop at 400 Oxford Street.  By 1861 his son George James Rimell (1842-1924) had joined him, the name of the business eventually becoming James Rimell & Son.  Another son, Henry William, died tragically young at the age of eleven in 1859 while the family were on holiday at Sandown in the Isle of Wight, where Emma Rimell had been born and brought up.


Morning Post, Tuesday 19 December 1865

The business increasingly specialised in illustrated books and books on the fine and applied arts.  The title of an 1879 catalogue gives the flavour: Catalogue of illustrated & other second-hand books : on architecture, angling, painting, sculpture, engraving, etching, ornament, costume, scenery, portraits, sporting, travels, early woodcuts, and general literature : also a few new and cheap remainders, at greatly reduced prices : on sale at the prices affixed by James Rimell & Son.

Castlebar-HillEmma Rimell died at 400 Oxford Street a few days before Christmas in 1879. A niece from the Isle of Wight was pressed into service as a house-keeper, but in 1883 Rimell re-married, his new spouse being Mary Walker, née Kent, herself a widow.  The business moved to  91 Oxford Street, and Rimell himself was now living at Holland Lodge on Castlebar Hill (now 62 Castlebar Road) in Ealing, a fine house he had bought some years earlier but had previously let out.  Rimell retired in favour of his son on 30th June 1895 and died on 13th August 1900. Probate was granted to his widow and son – his estate declared at £17,874.14s.7d.

The firm, by now one of the leading London bookshops, later moved to Shaftesbury Avenue and subsequently to Duke Street, St. James, continuing to specialise in the fine and applied arts. It was  James Rimell & Son who were Major J. R. Abbey’s principal agent in gathering together his extraordinary collection of English colour-plate books in the 1930s.

Edward Grose Hodge(5) Mr E. G. Hodge – calmly surveying the room and controlling the proceedings is the auctioneer, Edward Grose Hodge (1825-1907). Formerly the junior partner in Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, on the Yorkshireman John Wilkinson’s retirement in about 1885, Hodge – long kept in the shadows by Wilkinson, it is said – emerged as the head of the house and it was he who presided over the extraordinary succession of major sales which occurred at this time.

Born at Phillack, near St. Ives, in Cornwall, Hodge was the son of Thomas Hodge and Eleanor Grose, who had married in 1806. He joined Sotheby’s as a young man in 1847, initially as a clerk, lodging with his elder brother, himself a clerk to a copper smelting business, and working his way up.  He married Elizabeth Giddy Grose Browne at St. Austell on 20th October 1852 –and was to retain strong links with his native Cornwall all his life.  He became a partner in the auction-house in 1864, by this time living in Islington with a growing family.

Karslake thought that the engraving captured him particularly well – “a ‘speaking likeness’ of  him as he was at that date.  As you look at the portrait you can almost hear him saying, ‘Well, gentlemen, what shall we say for this very fine copy?’” – he apparently had a habit of conjuring up little eulogies for the really big books before taking the first bid.  A journalist for The Sketch interviewed him in 1895, finding him both reticent and modest, adding that although Hodge had not mentioned this himself, he was believed to have knocked down the highest-priced book, the highest-priced print, the highest-priced manuscript and the highest-priced coin ever sold.  (The book was the Mentz Psalter, the Fust & Schoeffer Psalmorum Codex of 1459 on vellum bought by Quaritch at the Syston Park sale for £4,950 in 1884). He believed London to be ‘the emporium of the world’ and that it would remain so, simply because there was more money in London than anywhere else.


From The Sketch, 1895

Speaking of the sale of the Althorp Library to Mrs Rylands (see previous post), he noted interestingly that all the various sums quoted and speculated on were very wide of the mark, although he certainly believed it to have been the largest figure ever paid for a library in this or any other country.  Hodge was increasingly suffering from ill-health by this time and when in 1896 his son Tom became a partner he more or less retired.  He died at his home at 9 Highbury Place, Islington on 16th May 1907 – his estate declared at a staggering £126,198.18s.11d – very much more than any of the booksellers in the room.  Plus ça change.  It was also twice as much the estate of his former partner, John Wilkinson, who had died in 1894.


James Toovey

(6) Mr J. Toovey – again not noted in The Graphic and inexplicably almost wholly obscured by the rostrum is the top-hatted figure of the bookseller and publisher James Toovey (1814-1893), one of the few booksellers of the period who might be said to have inhabited the same sphere or in any way to rival Bernard Quaritch.  They were the two great booksellers of Piccadilly.

Toovey was baptised at the London church of St. Clement Dane  on 5th June 1814, the son of Thomas Toovey, a carpenter in nearby Chichester Rents, and his wife Charlotte.  His father found work with the local printers (he is described as a printer’s joiner in a later record) and James Toovey was apprenticed to a bookseller (Richard Beckley) at the age of fourteen in 1828. Once set up on his own, Toovey first came to notice in the 1840s as a publisher of religious texts, catechisms, and lives of saints.  He published John Henry Newman’s The Cistercian Saints of England (1844) and others in this series from his address at 36 St. James Street, as well as the future cardinal’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), by this time having moved to 192 Piccadilly.  Although never wholly abandoned, this kind of publishing was soon to give way to antiquarian bookselling.  It was also in 1845 that Toovey married Eliza Mary Ann Palethorpe, a daughter of the late Joseph Palethorpe, a physician.


177 Piccadilly

His next and final shop, from 1854 onwards, was at 177 Piccadilly – William Pickering’s old shop (Basil Montagu Pickering worked with Toovey for a time) – and for the next forty years it was to become one of the leading bookshops in London.  He came to be recognised as both scholarly and a great authority on bindings, especially old French red morocco, and acquired many notable books on visits abroad. Dismissed by some as a mere ‘leather-merchant’, Karslake sets the record straight: ‘a man of consummate taste, and repute credits him with having been a genial host’. Henry Huth, a discriminating collector if ever there was one, was a frequent visitor and a good customer.

Toovey bought the famous Gosford Castle library in 1878, cataloguing the Aldines in a special catalogue (Bibliotheca Aldina)  in 1880. He sold the French portion of this Irish library in Paris for some £12,000 in 1882, with a further portion being auctioned in London in 1884 for over £11,000. 

James Toovey

James Toovey

Now a widower, he retired in favour of his son, Charles James Toovey (1848-1925), at some point in the mid 1880s, probably in 1885 when his son’s name starts to appear in the local rate-books, but then took the unusual step of becoming a collector himself – hence, I imagine, his presence in the engraving.  He was by this time living in some splendour at Burnham Abbey near Eton and adorning his books with his bookplates – monogram, gilt, grapevines, and the punning motto, ‘Inter folia fructus’.

He died in September 1893, in his eightieth year, and that point the trade stock was sold off, an event which caused ‘a good deal of fluttering in book-collecting dovecotes’ according to the Pall Mall Gazette. The ten-day sale of over 3,000 lots at Sotheby’s in February and March 1894 realised just over £7,000, but his son, who retired from active trade at this time, had kept back the best of the books – the private collection, which included, it was rumoured, the finest first folio in existence. Toovey’s estate was eventually valued at £28,764.1s.2d. The private collection was eventually sold to J. Pierpoint Morgan in 1899 and the younger Toovey never had to work again.

Roberts Key Plate


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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (2)

Sotheby's 1888

Returning to The Book-Hunters of 1888, following the Roberts enumeration round the room we come to:


George James Snowden

(1) Mr Snowden – The figure in the foreground at the desk, pondering a great deal of paperwork, is the auctioneer’s clerk, assiduously recording the proceedings.  His name is variously given as Snowdon or Snowden and his initials as G. or G. S., but as far as I can make out his name was actually George James Snowden (1853-1910).  Born In London, he was the son of a master tailor and originally trained as a printer and compositor before joining Sotheby’s, where he became the Senior Sales Clerk at the age of twenty in 1873.  It was a post he was to retain for the rest of his life, frequently bidding against the room on behalf of anonymous commission bidders.  It was he who had forced Bernard Quaritch up to an unprecedented bid of £3,700 on a Gutenberg Bible at the Syston Park Sale in 1884 (although the room was not yet done and the eventual hammer price was £3,900).  He lived in Deptford and later Brockley with his wife Rosa and died in the summer of 1910.  He was popular with the trade and Karslake speaks of his “unfailing courtesy, bred in the very atmosphere of the place”.


Abbots Langley

In a later volume of Book Auction Records, Karslake gives an account of a charity dramatic entertainment put on by Snowden and his West Kent Amateur Comedy Company at St. George’s Hall in 1905.  The evening was to raise funds for the Booksellers’ Provident Institution – a charity founded (according to Timperley) on 20th December 1836, “for the mutual assistance and support of decayed booksellers and booksellers’ assistants, being members of the trade, and of their widows.   For the support of this very laudable institution, all the principal booksellers, printers, and bookbinders of the metropolis became subscribers, either by donation or annual subscription”.  By 1845 the Institution had the funds to begin building a handsome retirement retreat with seven almshouses at Abbots Langley, near Watford.  It still survives (nowadays known as the Book Trade Benevolent Society or more simply as the Book Trade Charity) and still serves its original purpose.  The site at Abbots Langley now has an additional eighteen bungalows, four town-houses, four flats and a gatehouse as well as the original almshouses.  Given these kind of resources, I wonder now why the fledgling ABA (founded in 1906) felt that one of its first and most important tasks was to create its own separate Benevolent Fund, because it is plain that the rare book trade was actively supporting and fund-raising for the older charity (and presumably antiquarian booksellers were occasionally benefitting from its largesse) only a year earlier.

Snowden’s entertainment was an attractive double-bill of H. J. Byron’s long-popular The Upper Crust and the interesting early Pinero one-acter, Hester’s Mystery, plays twinned together since their first performances in 1880.  The hall was packed and most of the luminaries of the trade were there.  Snowden was given a warm ovation at the end but with “his natural modesty he declined the invitation to make a speech” (and it was nearly midnight).  The sum of £40 had been raised for the Institution and – as we were discussing ways of raising money for the ABA’s charities in Council only the other day – here is Karslake’s suggestion: “We want more of this kind of thing in bookselling.  Why should not the younger members of the trade form a Booksellers’ Dramatic Club and give two performances yearly for similar purposes?  I am much too busy to take any share in the work myself, but will gladly collect the names of any who like the idea, and will call a meeting of them. The feeling of comradeship evinced on the 14th [December 1905] was a very delightful feature, and the matter should not begin and end there”.  There we are.  Not too late to pick up on this 110 years on.  Over to you, young booksellers – you know who you are.  I await my invitation.


Edward Daniell

(2) Mr E. Daniell – the elderly gentleman sat behind the auctioneer, “patriarchal” Karslake justly calls him, is the octogenarian bookseller, printseller and publisher Edward Daniell (1807-1892).  Born in London and the son of a Baptist cabinet-maker, Daniell originally had premises in Wigmore Street, but by the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Bowring in 1835 he was working from 53 Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, which remained his business address until his death at his home in Islington in 1892.  An 1838 catalogue of some six thousand second-hand books survives in the British Library and 1851 saw the publication of Daniell’s Musical Olio; or, Catalogue of his Miscellaneous Collection of Second-Hand Music, but Daniell was principally known for his expertise in old prints, especially portraits. A Catalogue of a Highly Interesting Collection of Engraved Portraits appeared in 1850, followed by The British Gallery of Historical Portraits (1854). Later highlights were Daniell’s Portrait Catalogue (1871) and Portraits of the Parliamentary Officers of the Great Civil War : Being the Facsimiles of a Rare Series Published in 1647; with New Brief Biographical Notices (1873). He had a staff of three in 1871 and a separate print department at 32 Cranbourne Street, Leicester Square, in 1877. Various of his numerous sons and daughters assisted him in the business, some starting businesses of their own, most notably Frederick Bowring Daniell (1853?-1932), who took over the Cranbourne Street premises and became a leading authority on early prints, later undertaking the external cataloguing of this kind of material for Sotheby’s.  Edward Daniell’s youngest son, Walter Vernon Daniell (1858-1928), who himself advised Sotheby’s on manuscript material, took over at Mortimer Street and became president of the ABA in 1911.


Alexander Balderston Railton

(3) Mr Railton – the bearded and bare-headed figure in the corner, looking almost as if he is just a passer-by who has wandered in to observe the proceedings for a minute or two, is the bookseller Alexander Balderston Railton (1844-1904).  Accounts of the book trade at this period tend to focus on Bernard Quaritch to the exclusion of his rivals and contemporaries, but a bookseller like Railton could boast a pretty impressive CV of his own.  Born in the Gorbals in 1844 and left fatherless when his father died only a few months later, his early life must have been limited in possibilities, but at seventeen he was working in a Glasgow bookshop.  At twenty-three he moved to London to work for Henry Sotheran, then at 136 Strand.  Working his way up in the rare book world, he eventually became the manager at Sotheran’s, which by now had premises at 37 Piccadilly and 140 Strand (as well as a branch in Manchester for a few years).


Sotheran’s 1870

In 1891 Railton discovered a First Folio in a coach-house at Canwick Hall in Lincolnshire.  Legend has it that an assistant handed it to him saying, “No good, sir, it is only old poetry” (we have all known assistants of this calibre).  It was the famous copy now known as the Vincent Folio – inscribed by its first owner, the herald and antiquary Augustine Vincent, with a note that he had received it from the Jaggard family, who of course had printed it.  Of all the multiple copies of the First Folio acquired by Henry Folger, this was his favourite and the first listed in his own enumeration.  He paid a then record of $48,700 for it and thought for some reason that it must have been the very first copy printed.  As far as he was concerned it was simply “the most precious book in the world”.

In 1892 it was Railton who engineered the purchase of the great Althorp Library by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands to become the foundation of the magnificent  library she wished to assemble in memory of her husband – now of course known across the world simply as The Rylands in Manchester.  American buyers were also interested and after an inspection Railton wrote to Mrs Rylands that the Althorp Library “stands first in the private collections of the world and its loss to England would be nothing short of a national calamity” (see D. A. Farnie, ‘Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908), Founder of the John Rylands Library’  in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library  71:2, pp3-38, 1989).  The price soon agreed was probably £210,000, but may perhaps have been as high as £255,000: on the basis of average earnings, even the lower of these figures equates to some £85 million today.  It was and still is thought of in the rare book trade as the greatest sale ever made and there is a nice account of it by my colleague Beatie Wolfe on the ABA website under the title, The Greatest Book Sale of All Time?   It is said on good authority that Railton and Sotheran’s accepted a commission of just one per cent from Mrs Rylands, while Sotheby’s, acting for Earl Spencer, extracted nine per cent from him.  Plus ça change.

Railton became a partner in Sotheran’s on the retirement of the elder Henry Sotheran in 1893. If the Althorp Library had a weakness it was in the lack of really important manuscripts (as a perhaps slightly piqued Bernard Quaritch pointed out at the time).  Any perceived lack was spectacularly remedied in 1901 when Railton procured for Mrs Rylands Lord Crawford’s superb manuscript collection (some six thousand rolls, codices and tablets) for a price of £155,000. Sotheby’s were not involved on that occasion, but, in Frank Herrmann’s words, “It was, if anything, an even more astonishing purchase”.


64 Ritherdon Road

In private life, Railton married Marion (Minnie) Vallance Laird, a milliner and herself a fatherless Glaswegian, in 1872.  They lived with their two children (a boy and girl both bearing the same names as their respective parents) at addresses in Brixton and Balham, and in 1899 moved to a recently built semi-detached at 64 Ritherdon Road – I mention this merely because it is literally round the corner from where I sit.  I’ve just strolled down to take a snap.  It’s just a few doors from where my old cricketing companion Robert Frew used to live.  We played for a team somewhat prophetically called the President’s XI (or the President’s IX in the year of the dyslexic secretary).  Prophetic in that although it wasn’t a team of booksellers (more lawyers than booksellers, I seem to recall), three of the regulars eventually became presidents of the ABA – Robert (dashing bat, quondam wicket-keeper), myself (ponderous opener, right-arm swing) and Brian Lake (loopy spinner) – and I think a couple of other future ABA presidents also turned out for us at least once or twice, certainly Peter Miller and probably also Jonathan Potter.  

I digress, but I wonder now whether these Book-Hunters of 1888 also sometimes kept each other’s company in their social, leisure or recreational hours.  I suppose they must have done.  It’s what chaps do.  It’s how the world goes.

Railton and his family moved to Sutton in Surrey shortly before he died at the age of sixty in September 1904.  Probate was granted for the then handsome sum of £7,827.4s.11d.  A contemporary recalled the “delight and enthusiasm with which he would impart bibliographical information from his own vast stores”.  He was also apparently an earnest worker for Christian causes in his spare time, while an obituary notice in The Athenæum recorded that “his personality won the regard of all who came in contact with him”.  He was certainly one of the greatest booksellers of his or any other era.

More to come …

Roberts Key Plate

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Middle Temple Crimes

UNESCO World Book dayWhen I first wrote about a World Rare Book Day on the blog only last September (see the post of that title) it was an idea still in the making.  The charity tie-in with UNESCO was hoped for but not confirmed.  Most of the events not even thought of.  I am just absolutely thrilled that it has all come together so successfully.  Huge congratulations to all concerned, especially my good friends Norbert Donhofer, Sally Burdon and Barbara van Benthem – you can see the full extent of what they have achieved on the official blog at

I very rarely exhibit at book-fairs – in fact I never thought I would again. The chronic low-level back-pain of a life spent too largely in lugging boxes of books around has exacted its toll.  But how can I not be part of this great day?  It’s St. George’s Day. It’s Shakespeare’s birthday.  It’s even the anniversary of the birth of James Tregaskis, president of the ABA in 1910 (not many people will know this).  I can surely get a single bag of books up to town and join in this worldwide salute to colleagues and collectors everywhere.

What a day it is going to be.  It is all turning out just as imagined, kicking off with a Shakespeare first folio on display in Sydney.  An antiquarian book plaza in Tokyo.  Events as far afield as Cape Town and Moscow – Zurich, Vienna, Budapest, Milan, Munich, Paris, Antwerp, Copenhagen and elsewhere – books on a barge in Amsterdam, books at Haarlem Central railway station, a pop-up of pop-ups in Sweden, a fair at the Middle Temple Library here in London, and then across the Atlantic to New York, Chicago, Washington, Delaware and Seattle – and ending up, as good booksellers everywhere always do, in the pub. This one in Portland, Oregon.

Although we shall only be a dozen or so dealers at the Middle Temple Library (full details at, the range and diversity will be enormous – from mediaeval to modern and every successive stage of life and letters in between.  An instant showcase of everything the rare book trade in this country has to offer – and it’s a book trade in very good shape.  I’ll be particularly proud to be exhibiting alongside some of the very best of our really outstanding younger dealers. Traditions of the scholar-bookseller are in the best of hands – and we really do want to reach out to fresh audiences.

What to take along? I obviously can’t compete with the stunning Books of Hours from A Venue of Art, but will try to entertain. As you probably know, I deal mainly in first edition literature of roughly the last two hundred years, so I shall be bringing along some typical things from stock – a rare early Tennyson, an uncommon little Dickens which most people won’t know, probably some Trollope and Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde – a first edition of The Importance of Being Earnest, and moving on into the twentieth century, some Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, a first edition set of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, a first edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a first edition of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and a few other like things, perhaps some Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes if there is room in the bag. I’ll also be bringing along a map or two, almost certainly of London.

thief-in-the-nightBut as the fair is at the Middle Temple, I thought I might develop a suitably criminous theme. The Dickens is based on a real-life poisoning case, but – although it is by no means the most valuable book I shall be bringing along – my nominated highlight shall be this: A Thief in the Night – the first edition of a 1905 Raffles title from E. W. Hornung.  We all love a good mystery and what better than Raffles – that perfect English blend of crime, cricket and high society.  This is actually the American edition, which may seem odd – but it is a very, very, much more attractive book than the British equivalent, and of course it has all ten of the wonderful plates by Cyrus Cincinnati Cuneo (1879-1916), only one of which (for some unknown reason) appeared in the London edition.  Cuneo of course died in London appallingly young from blood poisoning in those days before antibiotics from a scratch acidentally inflicted at a party in Chelsea.  His dancing partner in trying to catch her hair-comb as it fell gave him an accidental scratch to the nostril.

This is the edition to have and it’s a wonderfully well-preserved copy – the delicate white enamelling of the full moon against which the hansom cab is silhouetted is usually badly chipped and flaked.  I’ve priced it at just £150, although every time I look at it I think it should be more – my great-grandfather used to drive a London hansom-cab after all.  I’d recommend buying it very soon before my pencil comes out.

Dr ThorndykeThat Edwardian period before the Great War was a particularly rich one for crime and detective fiction – it wasn’t all just Sherlock Holmes.  Here’s a 1909 Doctor Thorndyke mystery from Austin Freeman. Thorndyke was of course truly the first of the modern scientific detectives – Freeman consciously introduces the book as “a somewhat new departure in this class of literature”.  Four of the plates are what he calls ‘micro-photographs’ of the forensic evidence – some fluff from the crime scene blown up for analysis under full-on magnification, specimens of hair follicles, a sample of sand found on the murdered woman’s pillow, etc.  It’s one of the great classics of the genre and an attractive copy of the first edition.  Priced at £400.

I’ll have some other similar things and some much cheaper ones too. Agnes Miller’s The Colfax Book-Plate (1927) at just £25 – the only murder mystery I know in which the whole case hinges on a book-plate (the ex-libris label some owners put in their books).  And at £40, William le Queux’s The Broadcast Mystery (1924), which gives us a fascinating glimpse right inside the BBC in the very earliest days of its broadcasting history.

Bandit in PetticoatsI also occasionally dabble in what can only be called pulp fiction.  Here’s A Bandit in Petticoats,  a quirky pre-war example from about 1930. The evil Rudolph Blotton – the Blot of Park Lane and Throgmorton Street – is overheard scheming at a charity ball by that ‘slender ray of loveliness’, Phyllis Hemley.  Complete tosh, but the most enormous fun.  But the thing is, it’s also almost certainly the rarest of all the books I shall be bringing along.  As far as I can tell there is not a single copy of it in any of the major libraries of the world – and the only copy of it you will find on the internet is this one.  I’ve obviously offered it to the British Library – but they turned it down.  This may mean that they do have a copy somewhere after all, but that it’s hidden away among the colossal number of books which no-one knows they have (or can ask to see) because they have never been catalogued – either that, or they didn’t want to meet my price of £40, which for an otherwise unrecorded and possibly unique surviving copy of a book can hardly be excessive.  Turn up on Thursday and it could be yours.  Ten per cent of all my sales on the day will be going to UNESCO literacy projects – so don’t even think about haggling.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (1)

Sotheby's 1888

I spied a copy of this print in the ABA Office a few weeks ago.  The scene is in Wellington Street off the Strand and the date is 1888 – it was first published in “The Graphic” of 26th May of that year under the title A Book-Sale at Sotheby’s Auction-Room and what makes it particularly interesting is that letterpress captions in the margins identify (not always without ambiguity of placement) sixteen of those present – mainly of course the leading booksellers of the period.

It was engraved by “Williamson” – probably the Scottish engraver David Wallace Williamson (1838-1908), who was working in London at this time – from a wash drawing by “H.M.P.”, evidently Henry Marriott Paget (1856-1936), a regular contributor to “The Graphic”, “The Sphere”, and other leading periodicals of the day. The original drawing apparently came up for sale at Bonham’s a few years ago.  I thought at first that I’d not come across the engraving  before, but subsequently realised that this couldn’t be true.  Perhaps more accurate to say that I’d not seen it at its full double-page size before.  It is reproduced in Frank Herrmann’s “Sotheby’s : Portrait of An Auction House” (1980), which sits on my shelves  – reproduced both in the book and on the jacket.  And it was reproduced much earlier in William Roberts, “The Book-Hunter in London” (1895), which also sits on my shelves.  What is interesting about the Roberts version, re-titled A Field-Day at Sotheby’s, is that he provides an outline key (see below) taking the number of people identified to twenty-nine – the identifications not completely matching those originally given in “The Graphic”.

The scene was reproduced again in William Carew Hazlitt’s “The Book-Collector” (1904), this time in a fresh engraving from the original drawing (then in the possession of Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge), identifying the artist and with the Roberts key, but without further commentary.  Then the image appeared yet again in the second volume of “Book Auction Records” (1905), on this occasion with some editorial reminiscence from the bookseller Frank Karslake, essentially the man who founded the ABA in 1906.  Karslake was at that time both editor and publisher of “Book Auction Records” and politely notes that the Roberts key-plate “is not quite accurate”.  He has made “strict personal enquiries” and “the names now given are correct throughout”.  That said, he doesn’t name everyone and there are still a couple of matters left unresolved.

None of the commentators identify the particular sale taking place and it is possible that the view is a composite one, put together from sketches made on separate occasions.  I don’t think this is the case and actually suspect that the drawing was made from a posed photograph of some sort.  My reasons for thinking this are the comparative lack of figures in the foreground (either seated or standing), the way that most of those present seem to have been pushed round in an unbalanced way to the far wall (although the accompanying text in “The Graphic” gives another explanation for this), the odd positioning of a several significant figures behind the rostrum and out of sight of the auctioneer, and perhaps most telling of all, that beyond his hat, beard and catalogue, the features of one of the booksellers named by Roberts, “Mr J. Toovey”, probably the second most important bookseller in the entire room, are almost wholly hidden behind a corner of the rostrum.  I find it difficult to think of a reason for Paget depicting James Toovey in this way unless following a photograph.

Over the coming weeks I shall attempt to follow the Roberts enumeration round the room and to bring some of these Victorian booksellers back to life – my word, these men handled some fabulous books – but in the meantime, here is the full original account of what’s going on from “The Graphic”.


The scene represented by our artist in the engraving will probably be unfamiliar to the majority of our readers.  It represents the interior of Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge’s Sale Room, at No. 13, Wellington Street, Strand, during one of their interesting sales of valuable books, and contains characteristic portraits of the principal London dealers and others who are in the habit of attending the sales held there.  

Although books, of course, take the prominent place at these sales, the rooms are not exclusively devoted to them; sales of rare prints, autograph letters, coins, and other articles of antiquarian interest being of frequent occurrence.  The order of procedure is generally after the following: –  Soon after one o’clock p.m., the auctioneer takes his place in the rostrum, and business commences. The first lot is placed upon the table and examined, and is immediately bid for by one of those present; should it happen to be of value a brisk competition for its possession at once arises, and the bids follow one another in quick succession till it is ultimately knocked down to the highest bidder.

The auctioneer depicted in the engraving as officiating on the present occasion is Mr. E. G. Hodge, of the above-mentioned well-known firm of literary auctioneers, who, attended by his clerk, Mr. Snowdon, is offering a quarto volume, which at the moment is being critically scrutinised by Mr. Reeves overlooked by Mr. Stibbs, two veteran booksellers; the lot is evidently of interest to Mr. Walford, seated upon the left of Mr. Stibbs, and who is keeping a sharp eye upon the auctioneer to see that his bidding is not overlooked. Mr. Quaritch, the Goliath of the trade, may be noticed in his usual well-chosen seat just beneath the auctioneer’s desk, but upon this occasion he is not wearing his wide-awake hat (or “buying hat”, as it is jocularly termed).  It is here that the books are usually placed upon the table by the porter who takes them from the shelves at the side, where they are replaced as soon as sold.  It is for this reason that most of the buyers collect at this spot, or are seated upon that side of the auction room.

Mr. Hodge is a brisk and cheerful salesman, and keeps the attention of all the buyers well engaged from first to last (which is an essential point in a successful auctioneer), and consequently invariably obtains good prices for the goods he sells. The lots being put up and knocked down extremely rapidly it is very dangerous for any buyer to have his attention for an instant taken off the sale, as a slight inattention is frequently rewarded by the loss of a desirable book; instances of this kind often occur.

It is in this room that so many famous and historical libraries have been dispersed within the last few years. Among the principal may be enumerated the unrivalled Beckford and Hamilton Collections, which together realised upwards of £85,000; the Syston Park library, famous for its rare editions of the classics, its Gutenberg Bible, and Codex Psalter of 1459, the latter volume being remarkable as having realised the highest price of any single book that has ever been sold by auction, viz., £4,950; the Osterley Park Library, famous for its Caxtons, and many others too numerous for us to notice here.

Roberts Key Plate

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