A friend and former neighbour recently asked me a question about a book I sold on her behalf years and years ago – not a question I could answer from memory. I descended to the cellar to comb through a bank of rusty old filing cabinets. Still (as yet) no answer to her particular question, but a number of other questions raised.
All those old invoices – thousands of them – from those pre-internet days when printed catalogues and roneoed monthly hand-lists were the staple of the trade. Lots of the names still familiar – old friends like Jonathan Potter, or Brian Lake of Jarndyce, or Julian Nangle in his Words Etcetera days – peripatetic even then, with addresses always soon out of date; invoices from the good people at Bayntun’s in Bath, and Marrin & Sons of Folkestone – both still going strong.
There were bills from book-trade legends like Charles William Traylen (1905-2002) of Guildford – a bookseller for eighty years – an invoice for £2,000 from him dated 1979 – that must have been close to an entire annual salary for a bookshop assistant back then. I played cricket with Charlie Traylen once – in what I think was the last of the old Guv’nors v Bibliomites matches, somewhere in the mid-1970s. He was skippering the Guv’nors. “Have we tossed up yet?”, I asked him. “No – we don’t bother with any of that. Just go and tell them we’re batting first” – and in those more hierarchical and deferential times, so we did.
I can recall going down to Guildford to collect the book – I seem to remember that the safe or strong-room where the valuable books were kept was rather larger than my entire shop. Was that the same day I called in on Thomas Thorp (1909-1999) on the High Street? I rather think it was. I found one of my regular customers, who lived down that way, dithering over buying what must have been the finest set of “Great Expectations” in the world – original cloth and nigh-on immaculate. “Should I buy it?”, he asked me. “Well, if you’re not, then I certainly am”, I responded (there was some demur over this from the Thorp staff, who had perhaps begun to sense that they might be able to offer it rather more profitably to other private customers, if only I would shut up for minute). My customer eventually heaved a sigh and bought it – and I’ve vainly nursed the hope over nearly forty years that it might one day come my way again.
Strange to think that these older booksellers I once knew were born over a century ago now, but then I had been trained – half-trained (or half-tamed) might be rather more accurate – by Hugh Ernest Jones (1895-1980) and Cyril Gordon Nash (1899-1982), both born in the nineteenth century. They topped and tailed their surnames to produce the old “Jon Ash” trading name.
There were early invoices from the late and much-lamented Peter Jolliffe (1947-2007) when he was still in Oxford – in those palmy days when we could still afford to buy his wonderful books. I can remember him delivering the first batch from his first list in person – I think the first time we met. There were also a couple of invoices from the well-known David Low (1903-1987), author of that highly engaging bookselling memoir “With All Faults” (1973) – bookselling and bookshops in London, Scotland, Ireland and France from the 1920s onwards, with an introduction by no less a personage than Graham Greene. A note from David on his stylish notepaper dated 24th February 1979 informed me that he still had a few hundred copies left of the 3,000 originally printed.
There were also multiple hand-written invoices and large numbers of books from K. C. Jacob of 8 Chapel Street, Warmington, Peterborough, of whom I can recall nothing at all. Does anyone? Was this Kate Caroline Jacob (1910-1983), whose death was registered some twenty miles from Peterborough in 1983? – or someone else altogether? There were also invoices for some relatively expensive books from Michael Lewis of Ashley House, Croscombe, near Wells in Somerset, with his Bewick letter-heading. I’m fairly sure he was someone I never met or visited.
And then some really rather nice books from Mary Crutch (1925-2004), née Carroll, of 10 Ardbeg Road, Herne Hill, in South London – can anyone enlighten us further about her?
Or does anyone have anything at all to tell of Mrs P. D. Leaver of Stratton St. Margaret near Swindon, who sold me an obscure pamphlet on London dialect for very little money in 1973. I have it still – it’s still the only copy I have ever seen (and it came with very good first edition of “Nicholas Nickleby” for a fiver). Was this the Penelope Diana Leaver, née Corbet, who served on Harrow Council for a time, taking charge of the resettlement of Ugandan Asian refugees in the borough in 1972? Or is this just a coincidence of names?
There were invoices from Derrick Nightingale (1926-2008) of Coombe Road, Kingston-upon-Thames – someone I do recall and whose shop I used to visit at least once a year. Also in Kingston was R. Wilson Rose – Raymond Wilson Rose (1928-1998), but I don’t think we never met.
D. S. Gunyon of Sandwich High Street was another bookseller from whom I bought a good number of books back in the 1970s. This was not a shop I ever visited, but it belonged to Dorothy Sibyl Gunyon (1909-1988), who seems to have come to bookselling in later life. Thesaurus (Jersey) Ltd. of St. Helier in Jersey was another regular supplier. The business was owned by Irene Creaton (1944-2015) – but again someone I never met. And who can recall the Beacon Book Company of Thatcham?
Lots of tiny invoices written in a minuscule hand by John F. B. Pragnell of Christchurch – I evidently bought a great many books from him, but can’t remember anything else. And there were invoices too from J. P. Krutina of Rottingdean – Joseph Peter Krutina (1907-1985), a bookseller who began his career in the 1920s, someone I think I would rather have liked to have met, but I’m fairly sure I never did.
Do get in touch if you have anything to add, stories to tell, or reminiscences to share – and if the response is either interesting or interested, I might well continue on into a further post with a raft of further names from that era.