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.

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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 http://ilabpopupbookfairs.blogspot.co.uk/.

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 https://worldbookdaylondon.wordpress.com/), 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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Hours of Work

bayntuns A very pleasant afternoon out in Bath last week – an outing with a group of rare book librarians for a special behind-the-scenes tour of the famous Bayntun-Riviere bindery at George Bayntun’s on Manvers Street.  The tour was arranged as part of an ongoing let’s-get-to-know-each-other-better series of exchange visits between the booksellers of the ABA and the librarians of the Rare Books and Special Collections Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Ed Bayntun-CowardThe group of librarians was headed up by Tanya Kirk, Lead Curator of Printed Literary Sources at the British Library – but group seems rather an insipid word in the context.  Surely there must be a better collective noun for a posse of librarians. The rather obvious hush, shush, whisper or rustle of librarians have all been mooted, as have a stack of librarians, a shelf of librarians, a press of librarians, a catalogue or an index of librarians, a special collection of librarians, a collation of librarians, or even a google of librarians – but I like rather more a dewey of librarians, or a susurrus of librarians, and perhaps best of all, for this group at least – a sammelband of librarians.


Whatever we call them, there were around fifteen on the visit and before too long they were being handsomely entertained by Ed Bayntun-Coward with an inimitable fund of entertaining bookshop anecdote, some mild indiscretions concerning past customers (generally in the ‘persons of note’ category), and some glimpses into the long, rich and still evolving history of the Bayntun firm.  rubaiyatThe firm of course still incorporates large elements and living traditions of the businesses of both the great nineteenth-century bookbinder Robert Riviere (1808-1882) and the great Bath bookseller George Gregory (for whom see the post on George Gregory of Bath elsewhere on the blog).  And Ed comes up with some interesting thoughts too on the changing nature of the book-trade and the gradual transition of Bayntun’s from a fulcrum for selling to nowadays a fulcrum for buying.

ToolsThe bindery is a remarkable place – in a remarkable building (originally designed as a sorting office for the western mail).  The binding work is still all done by hand. The finishing executed with the aid of an unrivalled collection of tools (at least 15,000), some dating back to the eighteenth century and many still used on occasion.  rollsI can recall with delight the firm once repairing a nineteenth-century Riviere binding for me using Riviere’s own tools – exactly the same tools with which the binding had been first decorated a hundred years or more earlier.

LeathersThreadsWe are introduced in turn to all the many separate forwarding and finishing tasks of the bindery, all the pressing and sewing, all the different materials, all the technicality and precision, and all the unexpected complexities of organising the work-flow.  If Bayntun bindings seem expensive at first glance, they start to look like an absolute bargain when you factor in all the time, skill, craft and incredible care with which they are fashioned.

Some for MorrisDelights abound.  In one corner some boxes of tools specially made for William Morris long ago. How satisfying is that?

FinishingAnd here on a bench is a work in progress destined to appear in a well-known (a very well-known) television series at some point – sworn to secrecy on that.  And then in another corner, bathed in natural light, Tony Evans, the senior finisher, brings out a tour-de-force of the finisher’s art.  How long did that take him? – many, many hours, but Ed assures us that there is no better, more accurate or speedier craftsman in the country.

The afternoon breaks up, the librarians depart to revisit their collections with fresh and better eyes, and I manage to find a couple of books to buy to round off a delightful day – including an early Tennyson published by my very great hero of the nineteenth-century book-trade, Effingham Wilson (1785-1868).  Effingham WilsonA vocal champion of a free press – “It is like the air we breathe: if we have it not, we die”, a prime mover in the cause of popular education, contending that every child should “have that given to it which nobody can take away”, Wilson was a precursor of mine at the Royal Exchange.  I used to walk past his old shop every day.  When I wrote his life over twenty years ago for the Missing Persons volume of the Dictionary of National Biography it took hours, days, weeks and months of visits to distant archives to tease out the barest bones and basic outlines of his life.  Too many headache-inducing hours of microfilm and microfiche.  Too many hours of figuring out the arcane indexing of the old National Record Office and the labyrinthine byways of Somerset House. Too many hours in a draughty hangar of an archive somewhere rural in the north of England.  Nowadays you can find out all I found out then (and probably a great deal more) in under an hour on the internet – that pamphlet I never could find – now digitised and online – that photograph I knew of but never saw – digitised and online.  Here it is.  Research has changed forever, as has so much else – but bookbinding the Bayntun-Riviere way has not.  It’s very much alive and thriving in Bath.

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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.

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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).


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 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! 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.


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 –


© 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 copy, 1215. Photography © British Library.

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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.

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