Grand Masters

Rick Gekoski

Rick Gekoski

Busy again this week at the London Rare Books School.  The Modern First Editions course this week.  Lovely to see the students held rapt for ninety minutes by the grand master of the game, Rick Gekoski, as he produced some extraordinary books, explored their narratives as electrifying pieces of living history, regaled us with anecdote, and gave us his thoughts on the past and future of the trade.  At the feet of the master.  Worth the course fee for that alone.

Angus O'Neill

Angus O’Neill

Followed by me on the entire and surprisingly long history of the dust-jacket – and today by Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop) with a fascinating talk on the precise measurements of rarity and collectability – and then his chilling treatise on the dark arts that sometimes confound us – trickery, fakery and forgery.  I think I’m enjoying this more than anyone.  This afternoon, the excellent and inimitable David Chambers (Hon. Mem.) on private press books – the Senate House Library has produced some stunning things for us to gawp at and handle (under supervision).  Let’s begin with a Kelmscott Chaucer in original boards shall we?  Is it allowed to criticise the William Morris spacing? – if you are David Chambers it is – another grand master.  Now I know I’m enjoying this more than anyone.

Jon Ash in Cullum Street

Jon Ash in Cullum Street

Elsewhere Rowan Watson and Paul Goldman are teaching An Introduction to Illustration and its Technologies – evidently a highly popular course this one – recognise some fellow booksellers on it. Dr Arnold Hunt and Giles Mandelbrote (Hon. Mem.) are teaching The Early Modern Book in England.  Professor Michelle Brown is there teaching Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 : Palaeography, Codicology and Contextualisation.  And there’s my old friend Alan Cole teaching The History of Writing.  Realise with a start that I am pretty sure I met both Alan Cole and David Chambers in my very first week as a bookseller over forty years ago – they were both good and regular customers of my predecessors, Hugh Jones and Cyril Nash (hence Jon Ash)


Cyril Nash and Hugh Jones – about 1970

– and both began their collecting in that ridiculously small and ludicrously overcrowded shop in the City of London where I learnt my craft.  I think it was David who took these ancient pictures. [Later note: In fact the one to the right was taken by Alan in 1967].  How strange to find us all teaching together on the same day in the same place forty-one years on.

Tomorrow we have Julian Rota (Bertram Rota), who better? – how many generations has that family graced the trade? – on Manuscripts, Letters & Literary Archives, twinned with Inscriptions, Annotations and Associations.  Then an excursion to visit our members in Cecil Court – the students with carte blanche to ask any questions they wish – even the hardest ones.  Followed by another highlight of the week, when Maggs Bros. put on a reception for all the students and give them a free run of Berkeley Square for the evening.  Food and drink will flow – how kind and generous of Ed Maggs – and what, on the whole, a kind-hearted and welcoming bunch our members are.

Elsewhere, last week’s post has produced a flurry of correspondence on Spooner’s Zoological Map of the World.  Those notable collectors, John Spear and Adrian Seville, have fleshed out the story (via John Windle) – pointed out where the rules can be found – and a pretty awful poem describing the animals,

“From crag to crag, the Chamois leaps,

The Weasel lurks mid pine trees high,

The Stoat through rocky crannies creeps,

Nor heeds the Viper lurking nigh”

 – pointed out variants, and a later version played with an unorthodox four-sided north-south-east-west teetotum.

And I’ve found another Spooner advertisement – “As a mode of instruction, and as the means of amusement, this game is presented with equal confidence, both to parents and to children, in the full assurance that to the former it will afford all the satisfaction, and to the latter all the amusement, which either can desire” – yeah, right.  The kids must have seen straight through it.

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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