The ABA occasionally awards someone with an honorary membership. These are most often given to luminaries from outside the immediate world of rare book dealers, but who are deemed nonetheless, as the citation runs, to have rendered “signal service to the antiquarian book trade”. Far more rarely is the honour given to one of the ABA’s own members – and the only grounds here are that they should have rendered truly “exceptional” service to the Association.
The ABA Council voted unanimously to make this award to Paul Minet just a fortnight ago. Undoubtedly long overdue. A small party – myself, past-presidents Adrian Harrington and Raymond Kilgarriff (himself one of just a handful of booksellers to have received this honour), together with Adrian’s wife, Hermoine, and John Critchley from the ABA office – was despatched to Sussex to make the presentation and to give Paul the accompanying badge. Paul was extremely ill and no longer able to speak, but plainly understood our mission and favoured us with the occasional truly radiant smile as we took it in turn to pay him tribute. A week later, as most of you will know by now, he died.
I suspect he was the most widely-known member of the trade of his generation. I first met him when I sold him a store-room full of books for pence each perhaps forty years ago. Stephen Foster, whom I was chatting to yesterday, can remember meeting him as a boy on a book-buying trip with his father to Salisbury Market back in the sixties. Paul was there exhibiting with Gerry Mosdell and the other pioneers at the first-ever PBFA monthly fair in London in 1972 – and a familiar presence at all sorts of bookfairs down the years. At various times he sold books in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places right across the south of England. Everyone knew Paul – no-one had a bad word to say – and of course we knew him, if not in person, then through his monthly Book Chat column in the Antiquarian Book Monthly Review, which he founded in 1974. He ran the magazine for years, was its star columnist – and no-one has ever come near to replacing it as a truly popular, occasionally outspoken, and thoroughly read (rather than simply admired) book trade journal.
In truth, this whole President on Safari thing was originally his idea. When he became president in 1998, he mentioned something to me about trying to get round the country to see as many members as possible during his presidency. I’m not sure quite how far he got – but a number of people I have visited in the last few months have said that he was certainly the last acting president they had seen in their immediate vicinity. And it was as president, as John Critchley reminded us last week, that he took John on and revitalised the ABA Office.
We owe him so much. We recall his quiet and discreet generosity. His sense of fittingness and probity. We enjoyed his Late Booking : My First Twenty-Five Years in the Secondhand Book Trade (1989) – an engaging memoir of bookselling in all manner of forms – and his lifelong pursuit of the ideal browsing bookshop. His Bookdealing for Profit (2000) was already then grasping the nettle of where the internet was taking us and prophetic of its probable impact on the trade. He was ABA treasurer as well as president. I doubt that the ABA centenary history, Out of Print & Into Profit (2006), would have appeared without his silent work behind the scenes. He also contributed three of the most readable essays in it – he could write enviably well, as natural a journalist as he was a bookseller.
And there was so much else to his busy and bustling life – trustee of the Huguenot Society and the French Hospital at Rochester, feoffee of Chetham’s Library, publisher of reprints, editor and publisher of The British Diarist, and who knows what else. A man burning with energy and ideas.
Thank you Paul – you were our conscience and our mirror. Our thoughts are with Sheila and his family. Paul Piers Brissault Minet FSA (1937-2012) – Requiescat in Pace.