Poppings Up

Popping InI first met Anthony Smith a good few years ago when he was a student on the long since disappeared Postgraduate Diploma in Antiquarian Bookselling course we used to run in conjunction with the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies (SLAIS) at London University.  A course long since disappeared, although we hope to reintroduce something similar before too long in a collaboration between the London Rare Books School, the ABA, and those involved in the History of the Book masters course run at the Institute of English Studies (watch this space).

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith

Prior to that, his grounding in the book-trade had begun with a holiday job at Hall’s Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells (now of course owned by Adrian Harrington – see Deck the Halls below).  A work placement at Heywood Hill in Curzon Street, long one of the most stylish and fashionable bookshops in the world, led directly to his being offered a full-time position.  After a long, successful and happy stint there, lasting some fifteen years, he moved on to look after the bookselling side of Slightly Foxed in South Kensington, another stylish and fashionable shop, its business underpinned by the thousands of subscribers to the elegant literary quarterly of the same name.

John MurrayAstonishing in a way, when the world believes that all such things have moved online, that shops like these (and a printed literary quarterly) can thrive and prosper, but so it is. And it’s important that they do. It is after all bookshops that create book-collectors – there’s nothing remotely like a tangible encounter with the real thing to provide the spark.

Anthony has now decided to draw on all that accumulated knowledge and experience to start up on his own – Anthony Smith Books.  He’ll work from home and online, issuing catalogues, but he’s always been a bookshop bookseller and he’s started his new venture with the vogueish experiment of a pop-up bookshop.  I found him this morning in rather august surroundings – the front room of 50 Albermarle Street – the home of course of the publishing house of John Murray since about 1812.  The very house in which Byron’s unpublishable memoirs were burnt in the fireplace upstairs, the very house of the publishers of Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, David Livingstone, Charles Darwin and so many more besides.

BannerDifficult to think of a more suitable location – and it all seemed to be working well when I wandered in.  Visitors, much interest, admiration, purchases, offers of books, and goodwill all round – and I suppose nothing sharpens the mind to a purchase quite so much as the knowledge that the ‘shop’ won’t be there the next day.  It’s a nicely chosen stock – mainly, although not exclusively, twentieth-century literature – including both some important books and some very notable scarcities.  I certainly found a few things to buy – books I haven’t had (or even seen) in quite a long while.  Anthony’s planning to repeat the exercise – perhaps a two-day pop-up every couple of months rather than a single day each month – but he needs (as we all do) to find his rhythm and a workable timetable of fresh acquisition, quotidian cataloguing, and putting the books into a shop-window (either online, in print, or in a temporary display like this one).

AlbemarleStreet1It’s an intriguing experiment, but one that looks as if it has every possibility of working.  Let us hope it does – it deserves to – it’s a splendid way of reaching out to new customers and perhaps too the sort of customers who don’t habitually haunt second-hand bookshops.  Anthony’s website with an online shop goes live next Monday (23rd March 2015) – http://anthony-smith-books.com/ – so you can all vie in being the very first to buy something from it.  You won’t of course be able to buy the books I’ve already bought: as I have said before, the best books rarely make it to life online (cultivate a bookseller who will give you first refusal).  I wish him every success – he deserves it.

Middle-Temple-Fair-posterIt’s the same kind of innovative thinking that lies behind the rolling worldwide pop-up bookfair planned by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (see World Rare Book Day below).  Here in London we shall be taking part with a pop-up bookfair in the rarified surroundings of the Middle Temple Library.  Quite literally a pop-up, rare books available to buy in just a two-hour window at lunchtime (Middle Temple Library Central Concourse, 12-2pm, Wednesday 23rd April 2015).  And as well as trying to reach out to the wider world and proffer strangers the chance of their first encounter with a rare and collectable book they can actually buy and own, we shall be raising charity funds for UNESCO literacy projects too.  It will be fascinating to see how it all works out.  Put it in your diary, I shall see you there.

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

Did She Die in Vain?

Cruikshank Detail

Detail of Castlereagh from George Cruikshank (see below).

Did she die in vain?  The answer to Tony Hancock’s question as to the fate of Magna Carta, the brave Hungarian peasant girl (which I’m pleased to see he is still posing in the British Library’s  new exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy), is not one easily answered.  When we reflect that only two (three or four at most – a couple are debatable) of the original sixty-three clauses agreed between King John and the barons at Runnymede in 1215 still have legal force and have never been repealed, when we look at ongoing attempts to ignore even those – two telling caricatures here bearing an identical message from a couple of centuries apart – then we may have leave to doubt.

It is not as if the original document ever had much legal force in any case. Within weeks, the Pope had issued a bull declaring it “null and void of all validity for ever” – so much for papal infallibility (and, yes, if you ask, I do very much consider it a matter both of faith and morals).

mini-carta-tony-blair

Peter Brookes, Magna Carta, Mini Carta. 2005. © The Times / News Syndication. British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent.

King John having accepted the Pope’s feudal overlordship, that should perhaps have been an end of it.  This, I suppose, gives rise to the related question of why it would take another 300 years for the final breach with Rome to come about.  (Things emanating from Rome always seem to end badly on these shores – from Julius Caesar to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which admittedly hasn’t ended badly quite just yet – but mark my words).

The version of Magna Carta which was eventually to become enshrined in English law was in fact the shorter 1525 version of Henry III – the one not accepted under duress – so perhaps we are all jumping the gun a little in celebrating an 800th anniversary, but the key point is that Clauses 39 and 40 of the 1215 version (the ones still having legal force) survive almost verbatim, combined together in the later document’s Clause 29.  I’ll give it here in a nineteenth-century translation from the Latin which has a bit more vigour than some of the insipid modern translations:

No free-man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his free tenement, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land. To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.

matthew-paris-map

Matthew Paris, [Map of Britain]. 13th century. © British Library.

Commentators over many years have made us certain that what we take from these words now would not have been what they meant or were intended to mean at the time: this was a far-off world, as much and as little recognisable today as this contemporary map of England, Scotland and Wales by Matthew Paris – although Paris himself took a robust and fairly modern view of the death of King John – “Foul as it is, Hell itself is defiled by the fouler presence of John”.

To its original audience, the now ringing phrases of Magna Carta were probably just part of a list of specific remedies for specific grievances, all mixed in with perhaps more immediately pressing concerns over disseisin, mort d’ancestre, wainage, kydells, socage, burgage and scutage.  But words once written can come to have a spell of their own.  Although they certainly didn’t at the time promise trial by jury (it didn’t yet exist) or place any absolute ban on arbitrary detention, this is what over the centuries – by interpretation disguised as translation, by loud and frequent invocation, by precedent, and by common consent – they have come to mean.  Important to say too, that there is no guarantee of democracy here, King John was dealing with barons after all – it is at most a guarantee of the rule of law, but as Richard Godden of Linklater’s (who are sponsoring the exhibition) sagely says:  “It is common to encounter people confusing democracy with the Rule of Law. But history teaches us that, given the unpalatable choice, it would be better to choose the Rule of Law without democracy than democracy without the Rule of Law”.

george-cruikshank-liberty-suspended-

George Cruikshank, Liberty Suspended! With the Bulwark of the Constitution! 1817. © Trustees of the British Museum.

The excellent exhibition at the British Library, admirably curated by Dr Claire Breay and Julian Harrison, tells the full story of how by accident of history this text surviving in a handful of copies of crabbed Latin manuscript on vellum has become both our birthright and the founding document of modern liberty.  It explores the precursor documents, including the unique copy of the Articles of the Barons, listing the original demands, and most of the subsequent variations and incorporations.  Astonishing to see Thomas Jefferson’s own manuscript of the Declaration of Independence (1776), with a passage later excised which would have abolished slavery in the United States from the outset had but Congress allowed it.  Alongside it, one of the dozen surviving copies of the American Bill of Rights (1789), also on loan from the United States. Elsewhere the English Bill of Rights (1689), I suppose the nearest thing we have to a written constitution.  Later on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – and beyond these formal documents drawing on the Magna Carta legacy there is evidence all round of the movements which have drawn their inspiration from those founding principles – Chartists, Suffragettes, freedom campaigners everywhere across time and place.

Pynson Magna Carta

Folio Primo. Magna Carta. Edwardus Dei Gratia Rex, etc. 1508. © British Library.

The document’s iconic status did not come about all at once: noticeable that it doesn’t appear to be mentioned at all in Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John – and how much would we like to have Shakespeare’s take on Runnymede?  But even so, Magna Carta was already proving capable of dramatic surprises of its own.  It was first put into print (in Latin and Law French) by Richard Pynson in 1508 and then in an English translation (by George Ferrers) published by Robert Redman in 1534. The following year, Thomas More invoked it at his trial, apparently temporarily wrong-footing Thomas Cromwell.

boke-magna-carta

The Boke of Magna Carta, with Diuers other Statutes. 1534. © British Library.

The exhibition has Cromwell’s memorandum to himself to “Remembre the Auncyent Cronycle of Magna Carta and how libera sit Cam into the Statute”.  Numerous subsequent instances of appeal to its protection abound and are fully reflected throughout the exhibition – notably in the case of the irrepressible John Wilkes, whose image on teapots brought Magna Carta into many a home.

The most chilling item in the exhibition is not the executioner’s axe, nor even King John’s teeth, but a letter circulated in the higher echelons of government in 1947 by one Kenneth William Blaxter,  Assistant Secretary in the Colonial Office.  Responding to a proposal to make June 15th a public holiday throughout the empire (and in the USA as well) – a Magna Carta Day to celebrate Western liberty –

Blaxter

© National Archives. FO 371/61073

he cautioned that the holiday “might be used for purposes very different from those which we desire.  In some Colonies where ill-disposed politicians are ever on the lookout for opportunities to misrepresent our good intentions, its celebration might well cause embarrassment and in general there is a danger that the Colonial peoples might be led into an uncritical enthusiasm for a document which they had not read but which they presumed to contain guarantees of every so-called ‘right’ they might be interested at that moment in claiming”.  It’s the inverted commas around ‘right’ as much as the condescension that appals: I think we know which side he would have been lining up on at Runnymede – but he evidently got his way.

The exhibition ends with a passage through a dark corridor to the dimly lit shrine of the final exhibit – the vellum document itself (actually two copies of it, one illegible).  All rather hammy – as hammy as the old silent film of Beerbohm Tree hamming up King John for the first movie cameras ever to record a bit of Shakespeare (1899) – but at the same time genuinely and undeniably quite moving.

It’s not a matter of choice whether you go to this exhibition: it’s more or less mandatory.  You simply have to.  A pilgrimage you must make if you have any care at all for the important things in life and the potency of abstract principles.  We could probably have done without some of the props and gimmicks – the axe, the teeth, the bishop’s buskins or whatever they are – but other than that, it’s brilliant – as exposition, as exegesis, as exhibition. They are expecting record numbers, I’m pretty sure they will get them.

magna-carta-london

Magna Carta, London copy, 1215. Photography © British Library.

Posted in Exhibitions, Libraries | Tagged | Leave a comment

Remington Voyages

Remington Books 2Charming, invigorating, welcome and often indispensible as her company is on visits to other booksellers, particularly those working from home, there is just one tiny drawback in having my dear wife alongside me on such occasions.  That is the unfortunate opportunities this sometimes opens up for what we might call points of invidious comparison.

We found ourselves in the Sussex market town of Midhurst the other day – very pleasant, even in the rain – partly as an episode in the ongoing quest for perfect seasoned logs to keep the home fires burning (the ones available locally are apparently just lumps of wood – but that’s another story).  So obviously also an opportunity not to be missed to call on Philip Remington  (of Reg & Philip Remington), who is nowadays quartered in these parts.

PyratesNow, while the name Remington might merely suggest rifles or razors to some people, to those of us in the real world it means only one thing: the finest of fine books in the spheres of exploration, voyages and travel.  The firm can trace its origins back to that day in 1951 when Reg Remington was taken on by the Francis Edwards firm as a trainee, rising through the ranks to become in turn assistant to Herbert Edwards, then Edwards’ successor as head of the voyages and travel department, and then a director of the firm.  Meanwhile, his son Philip was undergoing his own vigorous training at the so fondly remembered Hodgson’s Auction Rooms on Chancery Lane.  In 1979 they joined forces to begin trading independently, taking on a shop in London’s Cecil Court in 1980, where they remained as one of its great adornments until 2002.

No.37AnsonThe ever jovial Reg, now in his eighties and living in St. Alban’s, is no longer quite so actively involved, but is still in daily contact with Philip. (Time for some memoirs from Reg? – he must have a story or two to tell).  Their website claims the combined experience and expertise of over eighty years between them, but by my reckoning this must now easily add up to over a  hundred.  It shows above all in the stock – quite, quite, superb. The great and the rare in their chosen field of early voyages, travel and the classics of exploration. My eyes pop at a lovely sixteenth-century Hakluyt – an Anson here – Cook’s voyages there – and just go on popping. A stock rooted in real experience, real expertise, real knowledge and the kind of taste refined and perfected over a lifetime.

Remington BooksIt would be evident, even at first glance from a wholly untutored eye, that, on the whole, these books are more rare, more beautiful, more important, in better condition and more valuable than anything I might currently have in stock (first point of invidious comparison).  It is also obvious that Philip’s book-room is considerably tidier than mine (second point of invidious comparison).  He modestly claims that it has been specially tidied up for the occasion under instruction from his own wife after having read my comments on this treacherous topic in earlier posts on the blog.  I rather doubt this: he might have eased a book or two backwards or forwards on the shelf, but I remember the shop – that was always immaculate.  This is proper old-time bookselling where sloppiness simply isn’t allowed.

Philip Remington

Philip Remington

Philip in fact rather misses having the shop: he liked the discipline of heading to work each morning, arriving in a new day, being busy all that day, talking to customers, but then closing the door and leaving work behind until the morrow.  His laptop is a constant and invasive companion now (and he has a sleek and stylish laptop – third point of invidious comparison).  I advise him to get up in the morning, leave the house, walk round the block, arrive at work, and then repeat the process in reverse to arrive home in the evening (not that I would ever dream of doing this myself of course, but it seemed like a sound and kindly thought when someone offered it to me when I made my own transition from having a shop to working at home).

It’s also apparent that the books here are confined to the book-room and haven’t seeped, leaked and crept out into very corner of the house (fourth point of invidious comparison).  Philip and I fall into chat about old days and new ways, the way booksellers do: respective memories of Hodgson’s in the seventies; the importance of really listening to customers – learning more from them than they will ever learn from you; selling books then and selling books now.  The importance and apparently overwhelming need of customers to have a photograph of everything now, as if the expert words and advice of an experienced cataloguer are somehow no longer enough.  If Philip were to tell me that something was a beautiful copy in a contemporary binding, why would I need a whole suite of photographs to prove it? – that’s what it will be.  And there are great practical difficulties  in actually photographing books, or at least in photographing them well – this is not easy even for professional photographers.  Philip’s camera is of course much better than my little point-and-click contraption (fifth point of invidious comparison)– the sort of camera that looks as if you might need a Ph.D. in photography just to turn it on.  And he appears to know all about Photoshop (or at least his daughters do) – sixth point of – well, you know, I’ve stopped counting by now – this is becoming chastening.

In the meantime, although our specialisations don’t overlap to any great extent, I’ve managed to find a few things to buy – a glorious little children’s atlas (the last copy of which I had was forty years ago), a book with a most unusual binder’s stamp, a book with some early commercial attempts at colour printing, and a couple of folding maps.

We turn for home (via the log-shop) – promises renewed to tackle some of the invidious issues raised in the course of a very happy and decidedly instructive hour.  The stock here at Tooting Towers  will be tamed (and photographed) – all in good time – but for now the name Remington stands for serious and genuinely antiquarian bookselling done with skill, taste, style (and tidiness).  If your thoughts turn to the epics of travel and the rare books of exploration, then here is your starting point – www.remingtonbooks.com.

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

John Pollack (1918-1985)

pollack signatureJ. Pollack – it’s a distinctive signature frequently seen on British pulp fiction paperbacks of the mid twentieth century (at least if you can find them) – a stylish, clever, sought-after and readily recognisable commercial artist – although I’ve never come across any kind of account of Pollack himself. Another case of having to delve into the archives.

Just Like a DamePollack’s work would of course scarcely pass muster these days: at first glance these designs seem to represent the very worst of what we have come to know and understand as the objectification of women – although that may be a slightly facile view.  Look again, click to enlarge, and these Pollack women are invariably self-possessed, self-assured, knowing and strong – we somehow know from the outset that it is the stiff-lipped, chiselled and puzzled tough-guy men, even more tightly corseted into stereotypical characteristics and behavioural expectations, who are probably going to end up as victims.  You've Got It ComingThe 1940s and 1950s are nowadays a far-off world – a world where men were men, etc. – cruder perhaps, certainly rather less sensitive, but also far more innocent, happily more reticent, and by no means without subtlety.  Always wrong to judge out of context.

You Find HimBut who was J. Pollack?   A local man as it turns out – John Pollack, born within walking distance of here in South London, on 27th May 1918 – the second son of Montague John Pollack (1882-1959) and his wife Elsie McCulloch (1886?-1952), who had married in 1912.  His father, apparently known as Monty in the family, had been a musician before the war – something of a youthful prodigy on the cello in the 1890s – and more recently a rifleman in the 3rd Rifle Brigade, awarded the British War and Victory Medals.  His own father, Oscar Pollack, was a Prussian-born professor of music and language who had settledMake Mine a Virgin in Birmingham with his Austrian wife, Melanie Thekla Amalia Johanna Huschell, the couple having married at the British Embassy in Vienna in 1880. Melanie Pollack was a fine singer and to judge from the local newspaper coverage the Pollacks’ annual concerts were quite a feature in the Birmingham life of the period.

Champagne and ChoppersJohn Pollack’s mother, Elsie McCulloch, was the daughter of Allen McCulloch, a Scottish doctor who had settled with his Chester-born wife Jane Griffith at Tarporley, where Elsie was born and raised.

Records are scant, but the family were living at 188 Elmhurst Mansions, Edgeley Road, Clapham,  close to Clapham High Street station, both before and after the Second World War.  The FixI’ve not uncovered anything of John Pollack’s schooling or training but by 1947, still living with his parents, he was advertising himself as a commercial artist in the London telephone directory.  In 1948 he married the nineteen-year-old Betty Leggatt, daughter of George John Leggatt – a barrister’s clerk at the time of his marriage to Sarah Ann Wheeley in 1914.

1950 Telephone Directory

Harley Street HypnotistThe
married couple lived with John’s parents at Elmhurst Mansions at least until Elsie Pollack’s death in 1952, later moving to 4C Elms Road, opposite Clapham Common, and then – by 1965 – slightly southwards again to 19 Lycias Road, a quiet street of bay-fronted terraced houses south of the Common.

Look Out For LouellaJohn Pollack’s working style clearly developed over the years, as is evident from the 1960 cover for “Harley Street Hypnotist”, but I’ve not come across many of these later examples. He died aged sixty-six in February 1985, his widow surviving him for twenty years or more.  That is about as much as I have been able to uncover – but I believe there were a couple of children, certainly some nephews – any further information gratefully received and acknowledged.

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

Oranges & Lemons

Mirabile dictu!  Another new shop!  – the second post on the blog in a row to celebrate one, although once again the use of the word ‘new’ perhaps needs more than a grain of qualification.

1887

Manchester Courier – 31st January 1887

I suppose Pickering & Chatto can actually trace its history back to that day in 1810 when William Pickering (1796-1854) was apprenticed to the book trade at the age of fourteen – certainly to 1820 when he first set up in business for himself.  Andrew Chatto (1840-1913) came later – he acquired the Pickering business on the death of Pickering’s son, Basil Montagu Pickering, in 1878.

Michael Brand

Sussex Express – 8th May 1953

What is nowadays Pickering’s sister firm, Marlborough Rare Books, is a mere stripling in comparison, founded as recently as 1947 – but that’s still stretching ‘new’ a little far.  What is genuinely ‘new’ is that the two firms have recently descended from their eyrie high above Bond Street – an office accessible by the smallest lift I’ve ever encountered – a 12mo of an elevator – to emerge blinking into the sunlight of premises at ground floor level.  A shop (well more or less a shop, see below) – but not in the West End, as we might expect, but across in the old heart of London – those ancient streets within the city walls, that single square mile of the City of London itself.

St Clement EastcheapA delight to seek them out – this is very much my own terrain – those streets with mediaeval names, some dating back even to Roman times, those narrow passages, lanes and hidden courtyards, where I have spent most of my working life.  The twin firms of Pickering and Marlborough have re-located to St. Clement’s Court, just a couple of hundred yards or so from where my old shop used to be (now standing empty, I note).  What joy, what pleasure,  that the antiquarian book trade is now represented in the City once more – and by businesses of such real distinction.

SignThey are to be found tucked away behind the old church of St. Clement Eastcheap, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire (which started nearby) and completed in 1687.  And yes, it is the St. Clement’s of “Oranges and Lemons,  Say the Bells of St. Clement’s” – despite what the parishioners of St. Clement Dane may have to say – we City folk know it in our bones – and the reference to St. Martin in the next line more or less proves it (St. Martin Orgar used to stand just across the way, close enough for the parishes to be united after the Great Fire).

OvermantelThe two book businesses now occupy the old vestry of the church, itself seventeenth-century, and with a beautiful contemporary carved wooden overmantel, very school of Grinling Gibbons, to prove it.  The arched windows look out on the tiny old graveyard.  I say tucked away – hidden might be more accurate.  It can be approached only down a narrow passage-way to the north of the church.  A white signboard as you emerge from the passage is your only clue.  You are then faced by a blank door and have to ring for admittance.  Whether this quite counts as a shop is a moot point – but they keep regular hours and seem very happy to greet a visitor.  Dickensian we might call it and tend to think of it, but these streets and buildings were old before Dickens was young.

Jolyon Hudson & Jonathan Gestetner

Jolyon Hudson & Jonathan Gestetner

It is a place that will go straight to the top of any list of London’s secret treasures – secret it is, and full of treasure.  There I found Jonathan Gestetner, Jolyon Hudson and Ed Smith busily engaged in what they always do, what the two firms have always done.  Cataloguing away. Dealing in rare and important books.  Yesterday they were gathering together some prize material to ship out to the California Book Fair.  Woman MPPickering & Chatto strong in philosophy, social science, medicine, politics, the stock currently enlivened with some spectacular suffragette and women’s studies material (examples from a couple of recent catalogues).  Books not just rare but endlessly interesting, books which tell us things we didn’t know, books we have never seen before, books not just rare but also unusual (the two are by no means the same).

SoundPark DriveThe complementary Marlborough stock is just as fascinating – architecture, illustration and the decorative arts, some fabulous old games and peepshows, some really rare topography – and especially books on London.  Jonathan has been collecting books on London for a lifetime (see A Lost Balloon View of London elsewhere on the blog) and dealing in them for the last twenty-five years or so.  AnthemWe have been talking and trading London books with each other for longer than I can remember – and yet he always, always, manages to come up with something I’ve never seen before.  There were several yesterday – one I had to buy, the others I was content to covet.

Ed Smith

Ed Smith

A thoroughly enjoyable hour, a few books bought – a forgotten novel by a woman member of the Dobell family – but Dobell the poet or Dobell the bookseller? (work to do on that one), the forgotten memoir of a highly articulate nurse in the Great War – books I simply didn’t know and couldn’t have guessed at.

This is a bookselling of a very high level.  Books acquired with taste, skill and real flair – a real sense of what matters, a sense of what counts.  Books beyond the obvious.  Go and seek them out.

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

Deck the Halls

Halls ExteriorAlways a matter of rejoicing to hear of a new bookshop opening, rather than yet another one closing.  Not that Hall’s Bookshop on Chapel Place in Royal Tunbridge Wells is strictly speaking a new bookshop.  Reuben Hall first opened his doors for business in something like 1898 and Hall’s has been a much-loved institution ever since – one of the proper old-fashioned country bookshops.

When Lloyd’s Bank threatened to redevelop the site in 1988 they were eventually forced to back down in the face of public outcry – and you know how difficult it is to get a bank to see sense. The shop has passed through various hands in the course of its history – from Reuben Hall to his friend Charles Avery in 1922, then to his assistant Harry Pratley (ABA President in 1959-1960), who started work in shop at the age of fourteen, at some point in the ’thirties. The shop made the short move from No. 18 Chapel Place to No. 20-22 Chapel Place in 1938 and since then, successively under Elizabeth Bateman, who went to work for Harry in 1955 and took over in 1967, and then Sabrina Izzard, who joined the firm in 1981 and took over in 1983, it has probably always looked much the same.

I last passed by some six or seven years ago – the old shop much as it had always been. Creaking and cluttered, a little gloomy I seem to recall, but crammed with stock at reasonable prices and the very image of a film-set old bookshop.  Sabrina decided to retire about a year ago and the future of the shop must at that point have looked uncertain, but the news soon leaked out that an in some ways surprising new owner had been found.

Adrian Harrington, formerly of Chelsea and Kensington, president of the ABA in 2001-2003, president of ILAB in 2008-2009, and long one of the most influential figures in the trade, had taken the decision to close down his London shop and relocate – lock, stock and barrel – to Tunbridge.  But not just to move his own very successful rare book business, Adrian was determined from the outset to keep Hall’s alive as the traditional second-hand bookshop and focal point of the town it had always been.

Harrington SignThis needed some careful planning and the premises needed much work.  A new roof for starters.  Slowly over the last year, Hall’s has been reborn. The floor has been raised a couple of feet to increase the height of the basement sufficiently to open that up as a gallery for posters, prints, maps, and engravings. The upper floor is being made over to house Adrian Harrington Rare Books and the ground floor completely refurbished to become – well, what it always was – Hall’s Bookshop of Royal Tunbridge Wells – a twenty-first century version, perhaps, but still proudly boasting the old 10p Bargain Box outside.

Adrian and Jon

Adrian Harrington and Jon Gilbert

Finding ourselves in that part of the world last week we obviously called in to see how things were going.  Adrian’s son-in-law, Jon Gilbert (author of the prize-winning Ian Fleming bibliography) was at the helm, his charming, coffee-bearing and pastel-haired daughter home for the university holidays and helping out.  The Harrington team had finally managed to get the shop re-open a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Still work being done – Adrian turned up before too long with yet more shelving for upstairs. It will still be a week or two before all the books are ferried over from Kensington and the top floor opens. They’re still waiting for a proper broadband connection and more than a bit hampered by that.  And the basement  gallery wasn’t quite ready – but it will be very soon.

Halls GroundIn the meantime, there were still plenty of books to look at – for the most part the best of the old Hall’s stock, but all now reshelved and reorganised.  I was soon building up a very nice little pile.  Even on a dismal Tuesday in that never-never land between Christmas and New Year, there were plenty of local passers-by popping in as well.  One after the other they chorused their delight that this was still going to be a bookshop.  Some had feared that the extensive refurbishment work  was all looking so smart that the intention could only be to turn the place into yet another coffee-shop.  Others loved how light and airy the place now was, how accessible the books were, how much fun it was  – and all rather warmer than it used to be too.  There are boxfuls of books going out and coming in every day.

BargainBox

The Bargain Box Restored

To be sure there will be the occasional dissenting voice, it’s not hard to love the way the place used to look. Many of us were nourished on creak and clutter, it’s in our bones – but loving the look and buying the book are perhaps two different things. Those feasts of clutter just don’t work any more, that’s why they have virtually all disappeared. Proof and pudding.

A cheque for two full Hall’s carrier-bags of books (a pretty decent haul these days) was my modest contribution to all that the refurbishment must be costing. This is a bold move.  This is a brave move – and one much to be applauded. It deserves all our support – the sort of country bookshop that has created generations of book-collectors has become all but extinct. Let us hope that this is the turning of the tide and its day is about to return.

Hall's makeover

The Makeover

Posted in ABA, ABA Past Presidents, Book Collecting, Booksellers, Bookshops | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fred W. Rose (1849-1915)

Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877. © British Library Board.

Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877. © British Library Board.

Fred W. Rose is of course widely known for his Victorian satirical caricature maps. Reproductions of his Serio-Comic War Map for the Year 1877, with its alarmingly tentacled Russian octopus, are nowadays one of the British Library’s best-selling lines. You may even recall Tim Bryars and myself talking about Rose on television in the BBC 4 Beauty of Maps series a few years ago (although this was mainly Tim, you would have to have been very wide-awake to catch my fleeting contribution).  The maps have been subjected to considerable analysis elsewhere (see for example Tim’s The Avenger, not the Octopus: Fred Rose’s Other Map of 1877 piece from last year on his excellent Unto the Ends of the Earth blog).

Widely known for his work, certainly, but we search high and low for any information at all about Rose the man himself.  I’ve rather lost count of the number of people who have asked me to come up with the biographical goods – Tim certainly, Marleen Smit, who was also in the television programme and has written and lectured on Rose, Ashley Baynton-Williams, who has likewise written about him – and quite a few others.

The Avenger : An Allegorical War Map for 1877. © Bryars & Bryars.

The Avenger : An Allegorical War Map for 1877. © Bryars & Bryars.

I have tried without success to answer the basic question of who Rose actually was on a number of occasions.  The problem is that there were 232 Frederick Roses recorded in England and Wales on the 1881 Census returns (as well as sixteen Frederics, forty-one plain Freds, fifty-three half-hidden as Fredk, and four more in Scotland).  Even removing those too young to have been producing maps by the 1870s, the possibilities are wide.  None gives artist, illustrator or caricaturist as an occupation, but the sporadic and occasional nature of the known maps suggests that this was not a full-time occupation for Rose.  There was no real basis for choosing one Fred Rose over another.

For some time I had my eye on Frederick William Rose (1848-1910) of Clerkenwell as the most likely candidate: aged thirty-three in 1881 and employed as a lithographic printer – correct middle initial, the right sort of age and certainly connected with printing if not with caricature. But there was a lack of any supporting evidence. It was right to be cautious.  It was another Frederick William Rose altogether.

The Fox Hunter at Fault or a Scrambling Breakfast – a sketch by Thomas Rowlandson from the Rose Collection. © Trustees of the British Museum.

The Fox Hunter at Fault or a Scrambling Breakfast – a sketch by Thomas Rowlandson from the Rose Collection. © Trustees of the British Museum.

The answer, when it finally came, turned out, as so often happens, to have been hidden in plain sight all along.  The Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum appears to have nothing at all by Rose in its collections.  No point in pursuing him there, we thought – and yet there was, because what the Department does have is Rose’s own rather attractive personal collection of over 160 prints and drawings – drawings by Thomas Rowlandson, Constable, George Morland, James Duffield Harding, the Westalls, David Roberts and Walter Greaves, as well as etchings by William Strang and numerous studies by earlier masters, including Guercino,  and even a Rembrandt sketch. The whole collection was presented to the Museum in 1943 by Rose’s eldest son, Eric Hamilton Rose.  This followed the earlier gift of numerous Japanese prints, etc., from Rosamond Rose, Eric’s wife.  The biographical notes attached to these bequests are cursory, but there is an address in Kensington for Fred W. Rose and the names of both his son and daughter-in-law – any one of which could and should long since have rapidly led to his identification.

In fact that is not where I found him.  It was the chance discovery of a letter published in the Pall Mall Gazette on 19 August 1896 which eventually led to the right man. The letter, signed Fred W. Rose, made a witty complaint about the writer not having been allowed to take sketching materials into Kew Gardens on a Sunday, as painting was apparently not allowed in the Gardens on that day.

The letter proved the key, because it gave the Kensington address at 4 Cromwell Crescent – an address which soon led to Frederick William Rose (1850-1915), an almost exact contemporary as well as a namesake of the printer, but occupying a rather more exalted station in life.  Born at Paddington and baptised at Holy Trinity on 3rd July 1850, this Frederick William Rose was the son of Major Hugh Munro St. Vincent Rose of Glastullich and Tarlogie (1800-1867), Twelfth Lancers, J.P., D.L., and landed proprietor, and his wife Frances Walrond Roberts (1819-1908), daughter of the Reverend Edward Roberts of Lyme Regis, who had married in 1836.  [Correction: Although the baptism did not take place until July 1850, Rose was actually born on 12th November the previous year.  The official registration of his birth has not been traced, but I am very grateful to Rod Barron (see postscript below) for pointing out the announcement in the Morning Chronicle (15 November 1849) to that effect]. Fred W. Rose spent his early years at 3 Park Place Gardens, Paddington, with his parents, three older siblings, a manservant, a lady’s maid, a nurse and a cook.  The wider reaches of this prosperous Scottish family included Lachlan or Lauchlan Rose, the inventor of Rose’s Lime Cordial.

Ospisdale House

Ospisdale House. © Dr Julian Paren and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons licence.

The Rose family subsequently moved to Thicket Road, Penge, where Fred Rose spent his boyhood.  The Morning Post of Saturday 2nd November 1867 announced his appointment to a clerkship in the Legacy Duty Office at Somerset House, an office where he was to spend his entire working career, eventually rising to become Assistant Principal.  At the age of twenty-one, on 27th June 1871, Rose married Catharine (Kate) Ross Gilchrist (1850-1932), second daughter of the late Daniel Gilchrist and his wife Jane Reoch, in a Highland wedding at her grand family home at Ospisdale House, near Dornoch, north of Inverness.

The young couple lived first at 9 Kensington Crescent, but by 1873 had moved to 4 Cromwell Crescent, where Fred W. Rose (as he generally signed himself) was to live for the remainder of his life.  The house still stands and can be seen from the main road into London from Heathrow as you near Earl’s Court.

Comic Map of the Political Situation in 1880. © British Library Board.

Comic Map of the Political Situation in 1880. © British Library Board.

To judge from Rose’s handling of Disraeli and Gladstone in the Comic Map of the Political Situation in 1880, we might suppose (although it’s not entirely one-sided) that he was politically a Conservative.  I assume he must be the Frederick W. Rose reported in the press  as the chairman of the Holland Ward Conservative Association in Kensington in 1883-1885. Any lingering doubt on this score is removed by the disobliging references (perhaps surprising in a relatively senior civil servant) to both Joe Chamberlain and W. E. Gladstone in Rose’s Notes on a Tour in Spain (1885), published by the recently formed and rather obscure publishing house of T. Vickers Wood.  The nature of other Vickers Wood publications suggests that this may have been a species of vanity publishing, although the book, dedicated to Rose’s mother, was positively reviewed in the Morning Post, whose reviewer found it “bright and unpretentious”.

4 Cromwell Crescent

4 Cromwell Crescent

Rose clearly liked to travel: he refers to earlier tours in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.  He could evidently speak French and German and had taken the trouble to learn some basic Spanish and some Spanish history before setting out.  He and his wife seem readily to fall in with and befriend other travellers of various nationalities. The leisurely tour took in Barcelona, Montserrat, Tarragona, Valencia, Cordova, Granada, Seville, Madrid, Toledo, Salamanca, Valladolid, San Sebastian and elsewhere.  While it is interesting to discover that he thought a loaded revolver a necessary companion on a trip to nineteenth-century Spain and that he and his wife liked to collect bric-à-brac, the book is, on the whole, somewhat lightweight.  Rose clearly shared many of the period prejudices and condescension of his race and class towards foreigners (unless aristocratic) and the lower orders in particular. He clearly had an eye for the ladies, although not an especially generous eye.  There is rather too much on railway carriages, the price of railway tickets, hotels, exchange rates and petty triumphs in haggling, although his determined attempt not to prejudge bull-fighting and the subsequent fully detailed denunciation of it is to his credit.  The intended humour is somewhat ponderous: his nocturnal experiences suggest to him that Burgos could usefully be spelt without the ‘r’ and the ‘o’.  It is only when he discusses art that he really finds an original and knowledgeable voice, being prepared, for example, to depart from the accepted view of Goya. The book is illustrated with his own lively sketches which are perhaps its most enduring and attractive feature.

Kate Ross Rose

Kate Ross Rose

His wife hardly appears at all, only stepping into the foreground of the narrative on a couple of occasions:  once when she appears in the evening wearing a shawl in ‘our’ tartan to the amusement of the other hotel guests, and once where she cleverly snubs a flirtatious, ‘impudent’ and ‘brazen-faced’ girl in a cigarette factory – a curious incident for Rose to think worth recording.

One way in which Rose wasn’t a typical specimen of the British traveller abroad was in his knowledge and appreciation of modern French literature, in particular Théophile Gautier and Émile Zola, both of whom he refers to with evident familiarity.  Conservative in politics, but with an avant garde taste in novels, Rose’s next book was to be very different in tone.  Written under the pseudonym ‘Martius’, His Last Passion : A Sensational and Realistic Story of English Modern Life (1888),[i]  is of interest not least in being one of only a handful of publications from the short-lived Hansom Cab Publishing Company.  The publishers somehow squandered the massive profits  which they must have made through the outstanding success of Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab and soon went bankrupt, but they must have looked for similar success from Rose’s deliberately sensational novel.  It certainly caused something of a furore.  I haven’t read it, chiefly because I can’t lay my hands on a copy (the British Library copy has apparently been ‘mislaid’), but contemporary reviewers give us the gist:

“It is a novel which describes dangerous liaisons among married people in high life— where plots and counter-plots of illicit love and passion are mingled, and is sure to find many readers”  (Wrexham Advertiser).

“It contains no murder, no mystery, but is a too faithful description what is almost ‘free love’ among a few members of the upper circles” (Burnley Gazette).

“To those who delight in the exposure of frailty among the upper ten, His Last Passion … will prove most fascinating reading. The characters are so natural that they would appear to be drawn from life, although there no trace of the fiction being founded on any well-known scandal. The author is evidently a Society man, and his descriptions of the interior of West End houses, and the manners of their occupants’ somewhat fast circles, are intensely graphic … It cannot be commended to the young” (Northampton Mercury).

“The plot abounds in love intrigues of a reprehensible character, and the borders of decency are all but overstepped” (Hampshire Telegraph).

“The author of His Last Passion admits that it may be objected against him that he has not depicted a single perfect character. He is only partly right. His characters might very fitly be described as perfect fiends … the parading of the details of three or four adulterous liaisons through the greater part of a book cannot be atoned for by the tacking on of so trite a moral at the end” (Aberdeen Journal).

“One of the most sensational, and at the same time one of the best stories we have read for a long time. The plot is exceedingly clever, the characters are all well drawn, and the incidents are grouped together in a way that shows both genius and skill on the part of the author” (Leeds Times).

“There is not one character pourtrayed by the writer that does not outrage our moral sense … If this be the first book written by Martius, let us hope, on public grounds, that it may the last” (Fife Herald).

Rose himself wrote, “From an ethical point of view, I know it would have been better  to bring upon my characters a greater punishment than I have done.  But I write for men and women of the world who know that comparatively few liaisons lead to a public scandal with all its bitter consequences”.  They were words which were soon come back to haunt him.

On  5th April 1891, Census Night, Fred and Kate Rose were at home with their three sons (all educated at St. Paul’s), their cook, a housemaid and a lady’s maid.  It was to be one of the family’s last evenings together: three weeks later, on 25th April, Rose filed for divorce, citing his wife’s adultery on 21st April 1891 at the Castle Hotel, Tunbridge Wells, “and on divers other occasions in March and April”.  Scandal and bitter consequences.  The divorce was not contested, but there was a dispute over the custody of the two younger sons. Quite why Rose chose publicly to humiliate his wife in this way – and humiliation it would have been in 1891 – is not known.  Unless it is a purely middle-class view of the gentlemanly thing to do, the done thing was for the husband always to accept the blame in such circumstances.

Karl Muck

Vanity Fair caricature by ‘Wag’ of the German conductor Dr Karl Muck. 1899.

He must have been very angry indeed and it may in part have to do with the identity of the other man – Arthur George Witherby (1856-1937) – Oxford educated, trained for the law, journalist, editor and himself a gifted caricaturist, best known as ‘Wag’ of Vanity Fair, a magazine he later came to own.  Leslie Ward (Spy), the magazine’s best known illustrator, remembered him as “a very clever caricaturist and draughtsman, but he is equally clever as a writer; in addition to which he is a good sort and keen sportsman”.  Fred Rose probably didn’t quite see it that way. Witherby married Kate in 1894.  She appears to have lived much abroad and died in France in 1932.

Rose’s second novel, I Will Repay, appeared in 1892, dedicated to Tolstoy in tribute, and published under his own name by another short-lived publishing house (another which specialised in avowedly modern fiction) – Eden, Remington & Co.  It was as controversial as its predecessor – a novel based on the Jack the Ripper murders and an exploration of ‘epileptic mania’.  Removed from Whitechapel to Rose’s more familiar and more fashionable side of town, the book is a serious early attempt at understanding the making and psychology of a serial killer.  Prefaced by an admission that his earlier novel should have expressed ‘more emphatically my own personal disapproval’ of adultery, it is an uncomfortable read.  In particular, it is difficult not to guess at  a portrayal of his former wife in his description of a somewhat vacuous woman married to a dry old stick, a fading beauty of a certain age, who toys with the idea of a liaison with the killer.

Angling in Troubled Waters

Angling in Troubled Waters : A Serio-Comic Map of Europe. 1899. © Jonathan Potter Ltd.

There is an interesting passage, obviously drawn from personal experience, describing the pleasures of being a pseudonymous author and hearing your work discussed by people who have no idea that the author is present in the room.  And there is a fascinating account, again probably drawn from personal experience, of a very bohemian party hosted by the secret mistress of the killer’s father.  The reviews again were mixed, but they were smaller in number and the tone mainly negative.  Although Rose returned to making his caricature maps, he never wrote another book.

John Bull and his Friends : A Serio-Comic Map of Europe , 1900. ©Barry Lawrence Ruderman.

John Bull and his Friends : A Serio-Comic Map of Europe , 1900. © Barry Lawrence Ruderman.

In tandem with his career in the Civil Service, Rose had been active in company promotion – his name was prominent, for example, in the formation of the Civil Service & General Bread & Flour Supply Association in 1879. He retired in his fifties, and took up various directorships. At the time of his death he was a director of the Canadian Mining Corporation, the Casey Cobalt Mining Company, and other cobalt enterprises.

Rose MemorialHis eldest son, Frederick (later simply Eric) Hamilton Rose (1872-1947), who donated the collection to the British Museum, went into the City, married well, made a fortune, lived at Wytham Abbey near Oxford and subsequently bought Leweston Manor near Sherborne in Dorset, where he bred Guernsey cattle and collected violins.  Rose’s only daughter, Muriel Hope Rose (1873-1940), was still living at Cromwell Crescent at the time of her death. The two younger sons followed their grandfather and two uncles into careers in the army.  They were among the seasoned troops sent immediately into the fray when the Great War broke out – and among the first to die.  Captain Ronald Hugh Walrond Rose (1880-1914) was killed in action in October 1914, posthumously mentioned in despatches by Field Marshal Sir John French, while his elder brother, Major Launcelot St. Vincent Rose (1875-1914), was killed in action the following month at Fleurbaix.  They are commemorated in twin memorial stained glass windows erected by their mother in Creich Parish Church at Bonar Bridge, while Ronald Rose’s moving diary of the early months of the war is now heavily featured on the Dornoch Historylinks website.

It was the final bitter twist of Rose’s life – that a man who had made so light of the interplay of the Great Powers in his caricature maps should immediately lose two sons when the game ended and Europe began to unravel.  He himself died a few weeks later on 3rd January 1915.

Postscript (19th December 2014):  Excellent news. The map dealer Roderick M. Barron ( www.barron.co.uk), who specialises in satirical maps, tells me that he is working on a book on Rose and has a great deal more fascinating material about him than the basic facts given above.  (He also has a copy of His Last Passion and all of the known maps). Over to Rod to fill us all in on the rest.

i]  A work sometimes attributed to Telemachus Timayenis, the Greek-American scholar noted for his anti-semitism – a mistake I believe arising from Timayenis having edited an American edition for his Minerva Publishing imprint. I have no doubt it was by Rose.
Posted in Antique Maps, Forgotten Authors, Mapsellers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Honey & Wax

Honey and Wax Catalogue

Honey and Wax Catalogue

It may strike you as curious, as it certainly strikes me, that in over three years of blogging about visits to other booksellers, I have never yet had occasion to describe this operation in reverse – a fellow bookseller coming to visit me.

This is because, by and large, they simply don’t – at least not on business. There are booksellers who occasionally come socially for parties, supper, or a Sunday lunch.  There have been very occasional (fingers-of-one-hand) and notable exceptions, but there is only one bookseller – a man in a quiet and private way of business – who regularly calls.  He routinely comes to see me once or twice a year and just as routinely happily departs with a bagful of books.  But this blessed example is not one that anyone else follows – at least until last Saturday.

Yes – a visit from a bookseller – and not just any old bookseller, but the altogether delightful Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers (www.honeyandwaxbooks.com) of  Brooklyn, New York.  Yes – a bookseller (and fellow blogger) from all the way across the Atlantic – here on a quickfire three-day visit to London.

The first time I received a catalogue from Heather I very nearly decided to give up bookselling – the books so exquisite, the association copies so tantalising, the taste so manifest, the catalogue so stylish, the books so beautifully photographed.  It put my feeble efforts to shame – she puts us all to shame.  This is how it should be done.

Heather O'Donnell

Heather O’Donnell

She has the pedigree.  Curatorial assistant at the Beinecke.  An academic background (taught English at Princeton).  And then several years in the New York office of the redoubtable Bauman Rare Books.  One of her tasks there was to go through the daily pile of  incoming catalogues and it was there that her ideas of what a catalogue could and should be began to formulate.

I couldn’t imagine that she was going to find anything very much worthy of her attention on my impoverished shelves – but she said she wanted to come,  a couple of other London booksellers who work from home had bizarrely declined a visit on the basis that their books were in disarray – and so she fitted me into her itinerary of the great and good of the London trade.

One of the things I really hate when I go and visit another bookseller is that moment when you seize on something you want only be told – Oh, no, sorry – that’s already been sold, we haven’t packed it yet, or, That’s just been reserved for someone else.  Sloppy, sloppy, work – that’s certainly not going to happen here, I thought.  As chance would have it, I had just sent out a catalogue a couple of days earlier – so it was perhaps the only day in the year on which there might be some books on the shelves which had already been ordered.  Before Heather arrived I diligently went round and put them all to one side on the packing table.

All except the one on the upstairs landing, of course, which I forgot.  You all know what’s going to happen next – it was the very first thing she saw.  I think this is the loveliest thing I’ve found since I came to London, she called gaily down the stairs.  Oh no!  Oh woe!  Wince!  Already promised elsewhere.  Ah well – it perhaps wasn’t quite as nice as it looked at first glance – and to her enormous credit she took the disobliging news very much more graciously than most of us would have done.

Thankfully she kept looking and gradually a little pile built.  Then we topped it off with something altogether more rare and precious, which she carried away with her.  The other books now posted on to Brooklyn.  A successful visit for me – I hope she thinks so too.  And if some of you think this might all be a rather heavy-handed hint that I might like you to come and buy some books – well so it is.  But check out Heather’s website too.

Posted in Booksellers | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Designer Bookbinders 2014

St Bride Exhibition

Always a jolly evening at the annual prize-giving for the Designer Bookbinders Competition, held again this year at the ever engaging St. Bride Foundation – a feast for the eyes, old friends and new abounding, happy winners of prizes.  I had a particular interest this year in having been roped in at the last minute (the President was indisposed) to select the recipients of the four ABA Highly Commended Certificates.  No difficulty in choosing them: I was genuinely surprised that some of them at least hadn’t already been selected to win some of the top awards.

Bec Britain - Breakfast at Tiffanys

Bec Britain – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Let’s start with them (click to enlarge the images): Bec Britain’s bejewelled, witty, sensuous and stylish take on this year’s set book, Breakfast at Tiffany’s;  Simeon Jones’ abstract and sinuous (but also bejewelled) interpretation of the same book – I really liked this one;  Adelene Koh’s Big Tomato in the Big Apple, again for the set book (think about it – re-read the book if you have to) – delicious;  and Sarah Ruddick’s eye-catching, dappled, rippled and shadowed approach to her open choice book (Sweet Thames Run Softly).  Highly Commended? – indeed they are – rather more than that actually – clever and wonderful pieces of work.

Simeon Jones - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Simeon Jones – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Wonderful and clever as they are, not one of them has any conventional lettering (you know: author, title, that sort of thing).  This was why some years ago I initiated my own prize – the Ash Rare Books Lettering Award.  Year after year the books in this otherwise always enjoyable annual exhibition either had no lettering at all, lettering that was purely perfunctory, lettering that was wholly ill-chosen – completely wrong in size or style (or both) for the design, or – in the case of traditional hand-lettering – simply rather poorly executed.

Adelene Koh - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Adelene Koh – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I understand all the reasons for this, my bookbinder friends have explained it all again and again. Traditional hand-lettering is damnably difficult and, apart from anything else, designer bookbinders simply can’t afford to carry a range of lettering tools to suit all books and all styles on all occasions.  This is of course where the professional binderies score – they have the craftsmen, they have the volume of work, they have the years of practice and routine to perfect the technique, and they have the tools.

Sarah Ruddick - Sweet Thames Run Softly

Sarah Ruddick – Sweet Thames Run Softly

Even so – a binding without lettering always seems to me be a bit of a lost soul.  A mute and incomplete design. Books are all about letters and text after all.

Every year I live in hope of giving the award to something superbly hand-lettered in the traditional way – taste and technique in tandem. But if there is something in the competition along those lines it has generally already been scooped up to receive either the Finishing or the Gold Tooling Prize (and there is a very distinct bias on these occasion for spreading the awards around).  Conventional lettering ruled out, I then tend to look for something which really attempts to integrate the lettering into the design – something quirky perhaps, something off-beat possibly, but above all something well-executed which doesn’t duck the lettering issue. Something which confronts the possibilities and makes virtues out of difficulties.

Patricia Grillo -Breakfast at Tiffany's

Patricia Grillo -Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Here’s this year’s winner – another Breakfast at Tiffany’s – but one which announces itself.  One that ticks the boxes above.  I love the way the rickety-rackety lettering echoes and shadows the rickety-rackety stairs and railings.  I love the way it complements the cat.  I love the way it balances the design, blends with the design, is the design. I like it more and more the longer I look at it.  Very well done to Patricia Grillo – a very deserving winner.

Chris Hicks - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Chris Hicks – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Lots of other prizes of course.  I won’t list them all, but these are the ones which took my eye as well as those of the official judges. The Shepherd’s Falkiner Fine Papers Prize went to Chris Hicks for his witty set book, with tiny lettering across the belt, and complete with its own matching handbag.

Luke Hornus - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Luke Hornus – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Luke Hornus took the Arthur Johnson Award (judged by Bernard Middleton) for his beautifully executed and thoughtful black-and-white pictorial, the splashes of red particularly effective.

Ann Tout - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Ann Tout – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The  Prize for Finishing given by the St. Bride Foundation went to Ann Tout for her stylishly rendered dancing girls, again on Breakfast at Tiffany’s – a fabulous piece of work.

Nicky Oliver - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Nicky Oliver – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The Folio Society donates two top prizes for the set book (as well as the sheets of books to be bound).  Second prize went to Nicky Oliver – stripes of glitter and a tiny champagne glass, while the first prize went to Hannah Brown for her high heels and shiny shoes – a highly popular choice to judge from the acclaim – acclaim repeated all over again with even greater intensity when the same book was awarded the Mansfield Medal for the Best Book in the Competition.  Well done to her.

Hannah Brown - Breakfast at Tiffany's

Hannah Brown – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

There are good pictures of all the winning books on the Designer Bookbinders’ website – and do try to catch the exhibition – it’s on until the 5th December.

Posted in ABA, Bookbinders, Exhibitions | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment