On Green Dolphin Street

On Green Dolphin Street

On Green Dolphin Street

One of the questions I toss in the air to the students at the start of the annual course on Modern First Editions at the London Rare Books School (link to the right) is this:  When a bookseller pencils a price in a novel or a book of poetry, is this in any sense – or on any level – an exercise in literary criticism?

The response generally (not just from the students but from my co-tutors) varies from the incredulous to the frankly aghast.  We are just booksellers after all.  Impertinent to have an opinion – that’s for the customers to decide.  But what I want the students to attempt over the course of the week is to prise open the conundrum of literary value and monetary worth – or vice versa come to that – and come fully to understand  the price which the market puts on a particular book.  That there is ultimately a conflation between these different notions of value.  That the esteem in which a book is held is just as cogent a factor as rarity or condition – in my belief more so.  That ultimately, we are, as it were, when we price a book, giving it an examination mark of some sort – a kind of collective and collusive judgement (as between buyers and sellers) on its merit.

Tindley & Chapman

Tindley & Chapman

What brought this to mind was a brief encounter with James Tindley of Tindley & Chapman the other day.  A favourite shop this for modern firsts enthusiasts.  Genuine depth to the stock of the collected authors – real breadth as to who those authors are.  Good, solid, books – decent condition, reasonably priced.   A thoroughly professional operation.  Bought a few books (as always).  Then found in the basement an attractive copy of On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks.  Named for the jazz classic (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, etc.) rather than the Lana Turner movie based on the Elizabeth Goudge novel.  Published only in 2001 at £16.99 and by no means uncommon (the best-seller by an already established author rule of comparative rarity), but a personal favourite, here signed by Faulks – and as yet awaiting a price.

“How much would you like for this”, I ask.  James looks at the book somewhat dismissively.  “A tenner”, he says, a touch mournfully.  Feeling that this is a little on the low side, I remind him that it is signed.  “Exactly”, he says, “ten pounds – have you read it? – Terrible! – bad even by the standard of his later novels, and that’s saying something”.  “Well, you know”, I say, “I’ve always regarded it as one of his very best” – and so I do.  I re-read it with real pleasure only a few weeks ago – even better second time around – one of the best novels of the early twenty-first century (in my view).  So who’s right? – and that twin question – What’s it worth?  as opposed to What is its worth?

Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park in Cecil Court

I was of course in Cecil Court again for Christmas Carols in the Court.   Opera Holland Park in Dickensian outfits underneath the gas-lamps.  Glorious renditions of all the old favourites.  Wine and mince pies.   Wildly enjoyable evening.   Highlights were perhaps Pinda Bryars (Mrs Tim) joyously leading a chorus of opera singers in a karaoke medley of Christmas pop – “All I Want for Christmas is You …”, replete with outré finger pointing.  And a senior colleague on the ABA Council, who shall obviously remain nameless,  serenading a word-perfect Noel Cowardly “Let’s Do It”  to the mystery blonde in the fabulous hat (aka the fabulous blonde in the mystery hat).   “Somerset and all the Maughams do it – Let’s fall in love”.   Another “you had to be there” evening.

Tim & Pinda Bryars

Tim & Pinda Bryars

Beyond that – a very good week.  Finishing touches now put to the first programme of Seminars on Book Collecting to be held in the Durning-Lawrence Room at Senate House in Bloomsbury (6pm on the second Tuesday of each month in term time).  A new co-operative venture run by the Institute of English Studies (IES) at London University and the ABA.  An excellent, an outstanding,  opening line-up – link to the outline details in the blogroll to the right.  See you there – and a very Merry Christmas and an entirely Prosperous New Year to all of you.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to On Green Dolphin Street

  1. Steve Liddle says:

    And a very merry Christmas to you and yours, dear friend. Probably a good idea to stay away from Cecil Court for a while – the locals are beginning to wonder if you are moving in.

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