The End of the World

WorldsEnd3World’s End – well – not quite the end of the world, but at least as far as James II was prepared to ride out on his constitutionals down the King’s Road.  WorldsEnd2A district of London at the western end of Chelsea which gives its name to the World’s End Bookshop – a shop I’ve known under various owners over the years. The last incumbent, Steve Dickson, actually used to work for me in the long ago when the world was young, but for the last few years it has belonged to Giles Lyon, an active and energetic bookseller always out and about buying books.


Kaitlyn Mellini

I was deeply flattered when he called me a while back to ask if he could send his new assistant over to me one morning a week to be given some tuition in cataloguing. I was happy to oblige and Kaitlyn Mellini from Portland, Oregon, proved an apt, affable and willing pupil – a quick study as we used to say.  Having discovered for herself my weakness for certain types of recondite and largely unsaleable fiction, she offered me a book the other day – and I have to say that she had researched it and catalogued it so nicely that I couldn’t say no.  Not only that, but she made me want to read it too – which is the ultimate accolade in cataloguing.  I went over to the shop to pick it up and to see how she was getting on.  Giles was out (probably buying yet more books) and Kaitlyn was presiding over the shop – all neat and tidy, customers popping in and out, the books carefully arranged, pride of place given to a handsome newly acquired book-case for the more expensive material.

World's End BookshopIt’s the sort of shop that every neighbourhood should have and probably once did – catering for book-buyers of all kinds.  Genuinely serving the local community.  Quite a large stock crammed into a smallish space, but everything accessible.  Books at all prices.  Books of all kinds from the genuinely antiquarian to the cheap and cheerful second-hand.  A customer wanted a copy of “Brave New World” and was given a choice of anything from a paperback to a first edition. Whatever the question was, there was something to fit the bill, and Kaitlyn knew where to find it. I paid for my book and bought a couple of others as well – one to read, one to sell. A thoroughly pleasant and somewhat nostalgic afternoon, because I can remember a time when such shops as this were reasonably plentiful. They are no longer – use them or lose them.

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William Fletcher Wodson

Vignettes of items found (and shops visited) on a recent book-hunting trip.

Jonathan Potter Antique MapsA map this week – found and purchased on a visit to Jonathan Potter in Bath a couple of weeks ago.  Jonathan has been a friend and colleague for over forty years – he’s been mentioned on the blog before – but this was my first visit to his new premises in Margarets Buildings, tucked away between the Circus and the Royal Crescent. You can’t miss it – it’s bright orange. The stock as immaculate and as interesting as ever.  Jonathan has been a thorough student of maps since his teens and now has a lifetime’s expertise.  No-one better to advise you or to know a rare map.  Good to see him, as always – and an additional pleasure to find Helen Kershaw, a friend of more recent vintage, known from Rare Books School, acting as his Friday assistant.

The sort of map you might find anywhere, although I suspect probably won’t.  A map of York by the well-regarded local surveyor Robert Cooper, marking out the enlarged new boundaries proposed by the Parliamentary Commissioners to be established under the Reform Bill.  A scribbled note from a former owner suggests that the map originally appeared in the 1829 third edition of “The Stranger’s Guide through the City of York”, published at Henry Bellerby’s New Circulating Library.  I’ve not as yet had a chance to verify this, but I’m a little doubtful.  It doesn’t look like a guide-book map at all – there is nothing like the kind of detail necessary to guide a stranger through York’s complex street pattern.  The date also seems a touch too early for a map relating to the Reform Bill.  It has a topicality and immediacy of purpose which suggests that it was almost certainly published for separate sale.  My guess would be that someone probably had it bound into the guide-book in an ad hoc manner.

If that be the case, it may just represent a fragment of a lost career. What particularly took my eye was the name of the lithographer – Wodson.  A name, I very much regret to say, not to be found in “British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and their Principal Employers to 1850”.  Sorry about that – this will hopefully be redressed in our planned supplement – but it’s a name of sufficient obscurity for the lapse perhaps to be pardonable.

William Fletcher Wodson (1801-1860) was born at York on the 28th August 1801 and baptised there (at St. Crux) three days later.  He was the son of William Wodson, a cutler and surgeon’s instrument maker, and his wife Ann Fletcher, who had married in 1799.  His younger brother, Thomas Wodson (1803-1851), later became the publisher of “The Yorkshireman”.  Nothing is known to me of his early years, but by 1830 (probably earlier) William Fletcher Wodson was a bookseller and stationer on the Pavement in York. On the evidence of this map and a handful of prints in various collections, he was also a lithographer and printer. It was a short-lived business and the remainder of his career has little to do with maps, bookselling, or lithography (although his son later became a stationer).  It does however serve as a salutary reminder of how tough life can be for booksellers who forsake their trade – we’re really not fitted for life in the real world.  It’s also a story of endless nineteenth-century resilience.


Bell’s New Weekly Messenger – 15th September 1833

In 1833, it was reported in “Bell’s New Weekly Messenger” that Wodson had disappeared from York without leaving a forwarding address. His creditors eventually caught up with him in Cheltenham, where he had married Anne Elizabeth Milner in September 1831. The couple baptised sons there in 1833 and 1835, the younger dying at the age of eight months. At exactly this time, Wodson was imprisoned for debt, a new career as a furniture broker in Cheltenham having already ended in failure.  At a hearing in November, it became apparent that he had given power of attorney to a brother-in-law, William Henry Milner, with whom he was now in partnership as a confectioner and lozenge-maker. Milner had seemingly sold property and collected debts owing to Wodson to the tune of some £500, but then paid off all his own debts before handing the balance over to Wodson.

Eventually discharged in March 1836, Wodson returned to York and appears to have set up a school of some sort. He was at 21 High Ousegate in 1840, but this venture too ended in failure and he went to ground again in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1841. Financial misfortune still dogged him.  His share of the family estate, together with all his other assets (“if any”, the formal notice gratuitously added), was ordered to be sold by auction at York in 1843.  A dividend of 3s.9d (just under 19p) in the pound was eventually distributed to his creditors in 1847.

His wife had died at Newcastle in 1845, and Wodson once more re-emerged in York, listed on the 1851 census as a solicitor’s clerk.  Thereafter he went back to Newcastle, described somewhat nebulously in the 1850s as an agent – and there he died, after a short illness, on 11th January 1860.

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A Binding by Lucien Broca

Broca Binding The first in a sequence of vignettes of books found (and bookshops visited) from a recent book-hunting trip.

They say you can’t judge a book by looking at its cover, but we know that this is not always true.  Sometimes there is little else that it is needful to judge – as in the case of this superb binding of about 1900 by the London bookbinder Lucien Broca.

Yes, yes – I know it’s another Harrison Ainsworth novel and I’ve repeatedly promised never, ever, to buy another one (see the previous “Bound by Worsfold” post from earlier this year), but I wasn’t going to turn this down when I ran into it at Bayntun’s in Bath last week.  Magnificent shop, magnificent bindings – if you don’t know it, stop reading, drop what you are doing, and go there right now. It was the last stop on my latest book-hunting tour – as indeed it was the first stop on my first ever book-hunting safari over forty years ago. Still in thrall to the place.

All I can say in my own defence on the Harrison Ainsworth front, is that Bayntun’s had two of his novels bound by Broca and (a) this one was a title I’ve not come across before, and (b) I had the iron will and self-control not to buy them both.  As to Broca – he was, I suspect, comparatively little known until the revelation in Marianne Tidcombe’s “Women Bookbinders, 1880-1920” (1996), that the finest work of the well-known and much-lauded bookbinder Sarah Prideaux (1853-1933) – that from the years following 1894 – was in fact executed for her, following her designs and instructions, by an anonymous trade finisher, one Lucien Broca. There are pictures of Prideaux bindings all over the internet – attributions to Broca, not so much.

BrocaStampBroca’s own work, signed with his own stamp, is relatively uncommon. As far as I can make out, there are just four or five examples currently on the market. There is apparently no example in the British Library – at least not in its database of bookbindings – although the Folger has a superb Broca binding on a 1619 “Midsommer Nights Dreame”.

Information about Broca himself is even more scant. He was French, a handful of listings in London street directories between 1875 and 1901, a short partnership with Simon Kaufmann in 1876-1877, not much else – so I’ve done some digging.

Lucien Broca (1839-1910) was born in the tiny French village of Sorbs in 1839.  He first appears in London in Frith Street, Soho, in 1875, remaining there until 1879 and working with Simon Kaufman (1856-1897) in the middle of that period – Kaufmann a native of Koblenz and generally described as a dealer in “plush leather and fancy goods”, rather than a bookbinder.

Broca then disappears from view, at least as far as the street directories are concerned, until 1890.  I assume he was working for other people during this period. In 1890, he re-appears in Shaftesbury Avenue, initially at Nos. 46-47 (1890-1891), then at No. 154 (1892-1896).  It was also in 1890 that he married Florence Mary Rummery (1872-1947), the London-born daughter of a grocer’s assistant – a girl of eighteen and more than thirty years his junior.  There was perhaps something covert about this, as on the 1891 census return she is still described as single and as living at home with her parents.  Her occupation is given as a bookbinder’s book-sewer, and I can only assume that she was Broca’s assistant. They had their one and only child, Lucien Jean (John) Broca (1895-1968) in the spring of 1895.

Broca then disappears from the directories again until 1901 – he was perhaps working more or less full-time for Sarah Prideaux at this period.  In 1901-1902 he was in Percy Street, by now described as an “art binder”, living over the workshop with his wife and son. His final appearance as a bookbinder in the directories seems to have been in 1904, by now in Gerrard Street, still in Soho.

From there I can only assume that this master craftsman, by now in his sixties, was struck by some failure of health, hand or eye, which prevented his continuing to work as a binder.  He ended his days, from at least 1907, selling confectionery on Chiswick High Road, the business continuing for a time under his widow. He died on 30th December 1910 at a nursing home in Merton and probate on his meagre effects of £233.17s.3d was granted to his widow the following October.


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A. & C. Black’s Colour Books

A couple of further questions from Mark Godburn.Inman Bibliography

Most of you will know and will have come across the A. & C. Black Colour Books published in the early years of the last century. The first of them, Mortimer Menpes’ “War Impressions” – the text by his daughter, Dorothy Menpes – was published in May 1901 and is generally regarded as the first British book to make use of the recently developed “three-colour” process to furnish the full-colour plates. Hundreds of further titles followed, all richly illustrated in the same manner.

Richard Bagot : The Italian Lakes. Pictures by Ella Du Cane.We know a great deal about these handsome productions from Colin Inman’s 1990 bibliography and collectors’ guide. We know about the authors, like Dorothy Whistler Menpes. We know about the illustrators, like her father, Whistler’s former studio assistant, Mortimer Menpes.  We know about Richard Bagot and Ella Du Cane who combined to produce “The Italian Lakes” in 1905.  We know about Albert Angus Turbayne and his colleagues at the Carlton Studio, who produced many of the distinctive and stylish cover designs. We know quite a bit about the printers and the print-runs. But what we do not appear to know is who actually manufactured the cloth binding cases.  The answer is most likely to be found in the A. & C. Black Archive at the University of Reading – but Mark lives in Connecticut – so his question is, “If anyone knows who was the bindery for the A&C Black Colour Books in the 1900-1920 period, please email me”.

Edwin Drood dust-Jacket“Also, a follow up to an earlier post about early jacketed books that are unlocated today, someone saw the Charles Dickens “Edwin Drood” (London, 1870) in jacket back in the 1980s in a display case, apparently in California. They thought it was at the Huntington Library, but the Huntington doesn’t have it. If this jogs anyone’s memory about where the book might actually be today, I’d like to hear from you”.


Many thanks, Mark Godburn

North Canaan, CT


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Real Books, Real People

A week of book-fairs and nowadays a whole series of related events – visits, talks and tours – all under a festival heading of “Rare Books London 2017”.  No sparing of effort, much time generously given – applause and a heartfelt thank-you to all concerned.

Maggs ExteriorHighlight for me was seeing most of the great and good of the rare book trade in Bedford Square the other evening to celebrate the return of the full Maggs Brothers operation to central London.  When Maggs left their grand old premises in Berkeley Square, some eighteen months ago now, we were all left feeling a little bereft – a flotilla without a flagship.  A toehold was kept with the little shop in Curzon Street and the intention to return in full strength was always made explicit, but the months dragged by.

MaggsWindowThe new premises are on the south side of Bedford Square – at No. 48, you will need to know this.  I may be imagining it, but they seem even grander than the old ones.  The building was actually acquired about a year ago, but fitting out a listed building for a new purpose in life is not done without much time, expense and anxiety.  Consents are needed to do this, that, or the other, to a listed building – and Ed Maggs and his colleagues were concerned above all to get everything right – that’s always been the Maggs ethos. Where changes have been made they have been minimal, sympathetic, and all intended to restore the building to what it would originally have been, not what it had become with the hotchpotch alterations of the passing years.  There were issues over floorboards and railings, delays and setbacks from suppliers – and that’s not to mention the sheer logistics of moving perhaps 100,000 books out of London into storage and then back again.


Maggs SignFor all the anxiety and tension this must have entailed, it’s all worked – and worked supremely well.  There are finishing touches still to be put – the sign outside (permission needed) is a temporary one until the real thing in real slate can be manufactured – but inside it already looks as if Maggs have been bookselling there for the last 100 years.  The displays are perhaps a little more consciously “curated” than in the past, but that’s the modern way.

MaggsModernBook-fairs are all very well and certainly have their uses – I could barely carry home my purchases at Olympia yesterday and today’s bags from the PBFA fair were even heavier – but fairs can never be the bedrock on which a flourishing rare book trade is built.  They are the icing.  They don’t create collectors.  I was forcibly reminded of this only the other day when putting the finishing touches to an insurance valuation of the book collection of a good customer and friend of mine who died, some years ago now, but far too young.  He would never have started collecting as seriously as he eventually did unless he had got to know me gradually over the years by dropping into my old shop when he was passing.  I could never have helped him put together such a valuable collection through chance encounters at book fairs.  To do these things needs friendship, trust, collaboration and a fixed abode.

MaggsOldBooksOnly good bookshops can initiate and build these things – as Robert Harding noted the other night in his welcoming speech (Ed Maggs’ voice had apparently given way) – it’s all about real books and real people.  That’s the Maggs way and, in my time and in my view at least – Maggs has not only been a good bookshop, but the best – the very best.

They are back in town.  Welcome home.  Bloomsbury now, rather than Mayfair – we can hear the geographical axis of the trade shifting accordingly.

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Gertie Wentworth-James

girldownstairsI picked this up at a book-fair the other day – a little tatty and unprepossessing, I know.  “The Girl Downstairs” by Gertie de S. Wentworth-James – the story of Rosabel Sayer – educated, comely, resolute, plucky, and an altogether rather superior parlourmaid, who comes to the aid of a somewhat dysfunctional family living in the London suburb of Hambledon at the end of the District Line – a lightly disguised Wimbledon, where the author herself once lived. It’s all rather enjoyable until the author remembers that she is supposed to be writing a romance and Rosabel herself is swept off her feet by a grocer’s deliveryman (who of course is no more what he seems than she is).

Plausible – it’s not.  Virginia Woolf – it’s not – it really isn’t.  But I will say that if we wanted a take on the reality of women in the workplace a century ago, or the routine experience of being hit on by employers past, present and prospective, then Gertie Wentworth-James might well be a more reliable guide than Virginia Woolf, or even Dorothy Richardson.

artistThis edition is undated, but was published, or strictly speaking distributed, by T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd. – the Manchester brothers, remainder-dealers turned publishers, Thomas Abel Pemberton (1888-1965) and Edwin Pemberton (1891-1965) – from their pre-1947 Blossom Street address.  It perhaps dates from about 1939 or 1940.  I don’t recognise and can’t make out the signature of the cover artist – Douglas Long-something? – suggestions very welcome. [PS – It’s Douglas Constable. My thanks to Andrew Parry for deciphering it. Born in South Africa, Douglas La Coste Constable (1881-1930) died at Hampstead in December 1930, which suggests that the Pembertons may have retained the artwork from the original 1926 edition]

marsbarNo particular reason for buying it – and the Mars Bar advertisement on the rear wrapper is singularly unappetising – except that Pemberton material tends to be pretty scarce and this seemed to be distinctly earlier than anything else I’d seen from them.  As it turns out, it appears to be unrecorded.  The only other copy of the book I can trace is the British Library’s 1926  edition, published by the Federation Press of Arthur Gray and Frederick Matthew Mowl (a.k.a. “Gramol”), about whom I’ve written before.  There are appear to be no copies at all of this Pemberton edition in the BL or elsewhere – none in any major library worldwide and none on the internet – which raises some interesting questions about the meaning and value of rarity in the rare book trade.  Is this book rare? – Certainly.  Is it valuable? – Certainly not, although I shall hope to improve a little on the couple of pounds I paid for it.

I suppose what intrigued me was the conjunction of the author’s high-flown name – G. de S. Wentworth-James – with this kind of ‘popular’, not to say ‘pulp’ fiction.  I’d not come across Gertie Wentworth-James before and thought at first that I was tracking down a completely forgotten author.  Actually there is already a fair amount of information about her out there and most of passably accurate.  According to “The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction”, she was the author “of about fifty-five smartly witty novels, self-consciously progressive especially about sex, published between 1908 and 1929”, which is true enough, although the number of titles may be a little inflated by the number of her books which were reissued under changed names.

As to the “self-consciously progressive” content, her books were certainly thought a little risqué at the time and a number were banned from public libraries.  A writer for “The Sketch” (2nd April 1919) noted that “Miss Wentworth James is a woman with very decided individual views, and she is not afraid of expressing them. ‘I don’t write what is called ‘the healthy novel’’, she told me once. ‘Indeed, I don’t like ‘healthy’ novels. Those I have read always deal with murder, robbery, blackmail, and abductions. It’s wonderful what a lot of crime it takes to make a really ‘healthy’ work of fiction”.

Gertrude de Soilleux Wentworth-James (1874-1933) was her full name, although the “de” and the hyphen seem to have been optional and the spelling of “Soilleux” tends to be variable.  She was born at Kensington in West London on 29th March 1874 and baptised as Gertrude Soilleux Webster at fashionable St. Mary the Boltons on 4th May 1875 – her parents given as John William Webster and his wife Emilie.  I have not been able to trace anything at all of the earlier history of her parents and things may not have been quite as they seem.  Her father is described in the parish register as having “no occupation” – a man of private means perhaps, although he is conspicuously not described as a “gentleman”, which would normally have been the case if that were so.  Whoever he may have been, he died or disappeared shortly thereafter and mother and daughter were left to make their own way in the world.

In 1881 they were living in Hackney, her mother recorded as a Londoner of thirty-six years of age, having a private income apparently sufficient for them to retain a single servant.  Ten years later they had moved to Willesden, the young Gertrude now a music student, while her mother is described as an authoress – if so, I have not traced anything written by her.  Presumably putting her musical training to good use, the 1901 census finds Gertrude, now twenty-six, employed as a “drawing room entertainer” at Smedley’s Hydropathic and Boarding Establishment at Matlock in Derbyshire.  What opportunities this may have given her to study life from an unusual and offbeat perspective we can only surmise, but she soon after began to publish short stories and articles as Gertie de S. Webster – for example, “Paula’s Piano” for “Pearson’s Magazine” in 1902, and “How the East End Amuses Itself”, which appeared in “Cassell’s” in  October 1904.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

In the spring of 1904 she had married Herbert Wentworth-James (1876?-1934) at Wandsworth. His antecedents seem to be as obscure as those of her parents, but he was himself the author of a number of short stories for the magazines, born in London and most often described as a journalist.  Gertie continued to turn out stories under her married name, the titles becoming distinctly more adventurous – “The Man Mamma Recommended”, “The Man the Other Woman Wanted”, and “My First Affair” all appeared in “Smith’s Magazine” in 1907.  At about this time her husband was working as publicity manager for the Remington Typewriter Company and it may not be coincidental that her first novel, “The Wild Widow”, published by T. Werner Laurie in 1908, attracted a great deal of press coverage.  The reviews were mixed: the “Manchester Courier” (29th May 1908) summed up the plot – “A second-rate type of Bohemian lady, in order to raise money, claims that the body of a dead man is that of her husband.  With the insurance money thus secured, she goes to Monte Carlo, wins at the tables, invests wisely, and makes a fortune … A certain air of reality is found in the story, despite improbable incidents”.  A couple of days earlier, “The Bystander” (27th May 1908), had been far more positive, with a feature and a photograph of “A Promising New Author”– “The story is packed full of life and mirth and humour.  Chiefly feminine in characterisation, it presents a living picture of modern womanhood.  The central character, Mrs. Orlitson, is suspected from the first to be a monster … Miss James has succeeded in weaving an attractive novel based on a somewhat implausible coincidence, but she keeps her secret so darkly that one is bound, when, at the end of the book, it is disclosed, to forget its crudity in sheer amazement at its audacity … thoroughly up to date, and clever in a new-womanish sort of way.  Miss James must write some more, avoiding, if possible, crude coincidences and bombshell revelations. Her powers of sketching character are undeniable, and her dialogue is witty and suggestive”.

It became a success and was published in America, as were number of her early books, and there were French and Spanish versions too (“Une Étrange Veuve”, “Una Viuda Extraña”).  There followed a rapid series of colourful and successful novels and by 1911 she was living with her husband and her mother at The Turret, Wimbledon Park Road, with a resident parlourmaid and a cook, boldly proclaiming herself a novelist and brazenly admitting to be being thirty-two years of age (she had just turned thirty-seven).  She was already close to the peak of her fame – “Her vivacious style and fresh and unconventional plots have given her books a huge circulation”, reported the “Ballymena Observer” the following year (26th July 1912).


The Price. New York : Mitchell Kennerley, 1911. © Babylon Revisited Rare Books.

The books were colourful in quite a literal sense – a riot of colour, in fact – “Red  Love” (1908); “Pink Purity” (1909); “Scarlet Kiss” (1910); “White Wisdom” (1910) – “a commentary of various phases of society life, and a sidelight on some of the ways of the smart set … The story itself really concerns Louise Hedin, who is abandoned by her well-to-do parents and brought up in a London slum” (Dundee Courier, 28th September 1910); “Crimson Caresses” (1918) – originally published as “The Price” (1911);  “A Primrose Prude” (1919) – originally published as “The House of Chance” (1911); “Purple Passion” (1915), “Violet Virtue” (1916), “Golden Youth” (1916), and the rather more prosaic “Green Grapes” (1918), this last perhaps redeemed by its subtitle – “Green Grapes : Dealing with the Devilish Doings of a God” – one of a number of rather good subtitles, including “Scarlet Kiss : The Story of a Degenerate Woman who Drifted”; “The Lesson : A Story of Love, of Bohemia, and of Human Philosophy” (1910) – “unusual and decidedly clever” (Dundee Courier, 27th December 1910); “The Cage Unbarred : Being the Story of a Woman who was Dull” (1913) – “the usual dull story of a dull heroine who goes wrong because she is too dull to keep right.  She has a husband who takes her seriously.  Life with him is full of those commonplace nothings which inspire red-headed heroines to wander forth in search of excitement” (The Tatler, 12th February 1913), and “The Thing : Being the Story of a Girl who Thought about Things and Tried to Understand Them, and Who at Last Saw Life with Open Eyes” (1921) – “fewer melodramatic passages and a generous curtailment of the osculatory passages might make this novel worth reading, and it might possibly not” (Aberdeen Press, 22nd September 1921).

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Elsewhere there is a nod to her own origins with “Diana of West Kensington” (1909), and a stream of such catchy titles as “The Piccadilly Puritan” (1917), “Barter” (1912) – later republished as “Miss Mercenary” (1919); “The Devil’s Profession” (1914) – “The devil’s profession is the running of a bogus lunatic asylum in which sane people are confined” (Pall Mall Gazette, 22nd April 1914);  “Man-Made Morals” (1915) – “a mixture of ‘sloppy’ sentiment and up-to-date (up-to-date, that is, before the war) shocks” (Manchester Courier, 12th April 1915); “The Wife Who Found Out” (1915); “The Man Market”(1917) – “I had the supreme misfortune to be born a woman …”; “Maiden Madness” (1919); “A Very Bad Woman” (1920); “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” (1923), and “A Mental Marriage” (1926).  There were a couple of translations into German and Swedish, and at least half a dozen of her novels appeared in Dutch versions.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

Some of her later work has a certain following among admirers of science fiction and fantasy – E. F. Bleiler lists four titles, including the reincarnation novel “The Soul that Came Back” (1922), while the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction adds a fifth – “Girl Everlasting” (1927).  “The Television Girl” (1928) has attracted a certain amount of academic interest (see for example Professor David Trotter’s “Literature in the First Media Age” (2013) and his 17th October 2012  post on “The Literary Platform” blog).  It’s a clever predictive story of Skype, or something very similar, as imagined from the 1920s – a false connection to an unknown woman of mystery leads to romance, or, as it was advertised at the time, “a famous doctor falls in love with the face of a girl flashed on to the screen of his televisor”.

wifewho“The Scarlet Kiss” was turned into a British silent film in 1920, while “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” became a Warner Brothers movie in 1925.  In the same year, her 1913 novel “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Work” was given the full Hollywood treatment – a film starring the great Lionel Barrymore alongside Marguerite De La Motte, a huge star in her day, best-known for her many roles opposite Douglas Fairbanks before her career crashed and burned with the coming of the talkies.  A showing of the film at the Pier Theatre Cinema in Chichester was written up by the local rag as “Gertie Wentworth-James’ enthralling romance of a shop girl, who longs for luxury and ease” – and I dare say (naming no names) we have all known shop girls of just such an inclination.  “How she obtains her wish and what happens when fate presents the bill are told in this gripping drama of love and suspense” (Chichester Observer, 25th August 1926).

lobbycardFor all of these seeming indications of success, her career and her sales were by now in reality in sharp decline.  There can be no other reason for her turning out a potboiler like “The Girl Downstairs” for the likes of Gray and Mowl – the worst-paying publishers in London – in 1926.  Ill health was also beginning to affect both her and her husband.  A final flurry of novels in the late 1920s was followed by little more than a curious account of her near death experience titled “Neither Unpleasant nor Painful : What it Feels Like to Die ”, which appeared in the “Edinburgh Evening News” (Tuesday 13 September 1932).  She never fully recovered and died on 22nd April 1933 at Hammersmith Hospital, her death causing barely a ripple in the press. The money too was gone, her estate was declared at a meagre £150 or so.


Health & Strength. 10th March 1934.
© Tilleys of Chesterfield.

Far more widely reported was the death of her husband exactly twelve months later.  By now general editor of the magazines called “Health and Strength” and the naturist “Health and Efficiency”, he had been completely unable to reconcile himself to the loss of Gertie.  He took advantage of his housekeeper being away on holiday to seal his flat airtight with some kind of webbing and then to turn on, but not light, the gas-fire. It was a death as lurid as that in any of her novels.  She was a woman who must have known what it was to be loved.

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Lost Books – Lost Jackets

A guest post and a request for help from Mark Godburn,  author of “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets” (Private Libraries Association & Oak Knoll Press, 2016)

I am looking for the whereabouts of the following books, all of whichDrood have early dust-jackets. These books were reported decades ago and are on the Tanselle list, but no one seems to know where they are today. I would like to find the books to get modern images.

  1. Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (London, Chapman & Hall, 1870). First edition, green cloth, printed jacket. Reported in the 1930s and used as a frontispiece in John C. Eckel, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens (1932).
  2. Aubrey de Vere, Irish Odes and Other Poems (New York, Catholic Publication Society, 1869). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket.
  3. englandCharles MacFarlane and Thomas Thomson, The Comprehensive History of England (London, Blackie & Son, 1856-61). 4 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968. [See image of an unjacketed set.]
  4. Henry Beveridge, A Comprehensive History of India (London, Blackie & Sons, 1862). 3 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968.
  5. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (London, Longmans, 1860). Illustrated jacket. Reported by John Carter in 1931. This book was owned by Thomas Balston of Duckworth & Co., and was offered for sale in a Scribner’s Book Store catalog in 1936 for $35.
  6. Don Juan [John E. Wheelock], In Search of Gold: The Story of a Liberal Life (New York, H. W. Thompson, 1884). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket that was meant to be opened and used as a flap-style jacket.

The following book was not on the Tanselle list but was sold by the German auction house Zisska & Lacher in November 2014, auction 64, lot 1608, for 600 pounds.

  1. Johann Carl Osterhausen & Georg C. Wilder, Neues Taschenbuch von Nurnberg (1819 & 1822). 2 volumes. Original dust-jackets and red slipcases. I am trying to find out who bought the set to get images.

Please contact me at if you have any information. 

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London Rare Books School 2017

London Rare Books School

I’m always telling people that booksellers learn something new every day – and it’s true, they do.  There is no upward limit to how much one might know about all of the books on all of the subjects written and circulated in all the periods of book history – and all of the authors and all of the publishers – but there generally comes a point in a bookseller’s career – and it can take years to reach this point – when you suddenly realise the full and enormous extent of what you don’t know.  You need to know an awful lot already, simply to be able to map out the vague outlines of all the things you don’t know – and then to realise that your knowledge will only ever be fragmentary.

You might in a lifetime hope to master a small portion of it – a specialist expertise in this topic or that – but even there you will still be surprised and still be discovering new things as long as you live.

We tend to learn simply by handling lots of books, taking little lessons directly from the material here and there, discovering interest and significance as we go along.  It’s the best way to learn – a gradual accumulation of knowledge and expertise.  It’s true what they say – you can’t learn to be a bookseller in a class-room.

But – and this is a big but – once you have reached the stage where you know enough to know (and to accept) how little you really know, you should also by now have learned that you can draw on the expertise of others to block in some of the more obvious gaps.  And you should probably also have learned who the people are that have that expertise.

I’ve been involved with and watched the London Rare Books School grow steadily year-by-year from its inception some ten or eleven years ago.  Its hallmark has always been that the intensive week-long courses are taught by the people we all know and all accept have just that expertise.

The School has been expanded to three weeks this year –just look at the courses on offer and who the teachers are.

Week One : 26th- 30th June 2017

Provenance – taught by David Pearson – the David Pearson who wrote “Provenance Research in Book History” (1994, reprinted 1998 and still the standard work).  Is there anyone that might teach it better? And the same goes all the way down this list.

The History of the Book in India – taught by Graham Shaw, former Head of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library, author of “Printing in Calcutta to 1800” (1981)

Scholarly Editing: The Example of Shakespeare – taught by John Jowett, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, Deputy Director of the Shakespeare Institute, and academic editor of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works (1986-87).

The Printed Book in Europe, 1455-2010 – an overview of the origins, spread, and impact of printed materials in Europe – taught by Simon Eliot, Professor of the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and the founding director of the London Rare Books School.

History of Book Illustration – taught by Elizabeth James, head of the National Art Library Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Rowan Watson, former Senior Curator at the National Art Library.

Week Two : 3rd-7th July 2017

The Medieval Book – taught by Michelle Brown, Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies, a Fellow of the Courtauld Institute, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and formerly Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library.

A History of Reading – an exploration of the nature of reading as it emerged in the late eighteenth century in the western world, and developed in the context of an industrial and then an advanced industrial society – taught by Dr Shafquat Towheed, who has taught at Nottingham University, the Institute of English Studies (University of London), and with the Open University. He  is currently a Senior Lecturer in Book History.

Introduction to Bibliography – taught by Dr Andrew Zurcher – fellow, tutor, and Director of Studies in English at Queens’ College, Cambridge.

The Queer Book – the course outline for which begins, “The invention of moveable type is the greatest aberration in the history of communication” – taught by Brooke Palmieri, whom some of you will no doubt recall from her time in the book trade, now completing her Ph.D. and editor of “Printing History”, the journal of the American Printing History Association.

History of the Book in Scotland – taught by Andrew Nash, Reader in Book History and Communications at the Institute of English Studies, and formerly Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading.

An Introduction to the Modern Rare Book Trade – again this year to be taught by myself and Angus O’Neill, president-elect of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, with guest appearances from others – we enjoy it more and more each year and the students are always a delight.  It’s a course intended for librarians and collectors who need to engage with the rare book trade – we shall tell you all our secrets – as much as it is for embryonic or inexperienced booksellers.

Week Three : 10th-14th July 2017

Medieval Women and the Book – the evidence for the role of women in the creation of medieval manuscripts, as scribes, illuminators, patrons and authors – taught by Michelle Brown (see above).

The Digital Book (don’t say we don’t keep up) – taught by Dr Daniel Boswell, who joined University College London’s Department of Information Studies as a Teaching Fellow in September 2015 to work as part of the MA Publishing team within the UCL Centre for Publishing.

European Bookbinding –  from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings themselves to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade – taught by Nicholas Pickwoad, adviser on book conservation to the National Trust since 1978, Chief Conservator in the Harvard University Library 1992-1995, Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, which is dedicated to the history of bookbinding. He gave the 2008 Panizzi Lectures at the British Library, was awarded the 2009 Plowden medal for Conservation and is a Fellow of the IIC and of the Society of Antiquaries.

History of Colour Printing – one of the new courses this year – taught by Elizabeth Savage, Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Book History and Communications, awarded the Wolfgang Ratjen Prize in 2016 for distinguished research in the field of graphic art, and “Printing Colour 1400-1700: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions”, which she edited with Ad Stijnman, was recognised at the IFPDA Book Awards. She was previously Munby Fellow in Bibliography, Cambridge University, and she has curated exhibitions at the British Museum and Cambridge University Library.

The Book in the Renaissance – the impact of printing at the dawn of the early modern era – taught by Paolo Sachet, who  obtained his Ph.D. at the Warburg Institute, while working as a consultant in the London antiquarian book trade.  He is currently a FCS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto di Studi Italiani, Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano).

The courses are taught in small groups (maximum of twelve on each), so that everyone can see and handle the material, there are a number of bursaries available to help with the fees in cases of need – and of course the courses are not just for booksellers or would-be booksellers – there will  be librarians, academics, art-historians, collectors, museum curators, print enthusiasts and literary and cultural historians and bibliophiles of every ilk.  If you really don’t think that you have anything to learn from any of these people, then you would be quite seriously wrong.

All the details here:

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The Lighter Side of Larkin

Like an Enormous Yes

News to some of you, perhaps, that the poet Philip Larkin had a lighter side – but indeed he did.

D. J. Roberts. Photograph ©Harpreet Kalsi.

D. J. Roberts. Photograph ©Harpreet Kalsi.

It’s this affirmative side of his life which is explored in a new exhibition at the National Poetry Library on the South Bank – an exhibition called “Larkinworld” – put on by my friend, the artist D. J. Roberts (

As he writes, “The show is very much my personal take on Larkin’s world, and to many it may seem surprisingly upbeat.  This is because I have always had an unusual relationship with Larkin … I respond to many of these poems rather differently to the way it is clear Larkin intended”.  It is the special sense of place – the landscape and townscape in Larkin – to which the artist responds – “Psychologically Larkin’s world may often be one of morbid obsession, but physically it is a world of bars and shopping malls and cinemas, and this is the world I identify with”.

LarkinworldIt’s a very thoughtful, intriguing and understated exhibition.  Beyond Roberts’ own exquisite little sketches – and the splendidly affirmative “Enormous Yes” of his neon sign – there are simply scattered through it little clues, suggestions and quiet symbols of Larkin’s wider life.  “I’ve selected records, books, images and ephemera that conjure up for me Larkin’s world” – things mentioned in his writings, some excerpts, the places he knew, his interests, the writers he admired, his fondness for cricket, and some friends.

All What JazzIt’s a world of music – Larkin wrote extensively about jazz of course, well beyond his “Daily Telegraph” pieces collected in “All What Jazz” in 1970.  There’s his poem “For Sidney Bechet” – “Like New Orleans reflected on the water” (you can listen to a recording of Larkin reading this) – but oddly, even bizarrely, this highly revered jazz critic, generally regarded as an apostle of “trad”, is also on record as saying that he thought Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” just about the best song ever written.  And we all know what began “Rather late for me / Between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”.  There is homage too to Billie Holiday and Bix Beiderbecke (who was played at his funeral) – and a display of Larkin’s own unpublished blues lyrics.

Larkin Books

And it’s a world of books.  There are nods to some of Larkin’s literary heroes – Dickens, Hardy and Surtees – but what pleased me most when I was asked about lending some books for the exhibition was that I was able to come up with some of Larkin’s favourite light reading.  I never knew Larkin, but I did know his friend and bibliographer, the late Barry Bloomfield.

Philip Larkin & Barry Bloomfield.

Philip Larkin & Barry Bloomfield.

Both librarians by trade, they shared a taste for vintage old-school detective fiction.  Among Barry’s books was an almost complete collection of the sixty or more mysteries written by the Brentford school-mistress Gladys Mitchell, featuring her psychoanalyst sleuth Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley – “dry without being shrivelled, and bird-like without being pretty”.  She was a particular Larkin favourite and although most of Barry’s books were shelved elsewhere, the Gladys Mitchells were kept in the Bloomfields’ guest bedroom so as to be readily at hand when Larkin came to stay.

Gladys Mitchell, “Merlin’s Furlong”. London : Michael Joseph, 1953. Jacket design by B. G. Yates.

Gladys Mitchell, “Merlin’s Furlong”. London : Michael Joseph, 1953. Jacket design by B. G. Yates.

I was so pleased that I still had a couple of them left in stock (she is quite heavily collected by the cognoscenti) so as to be able to offer a choice for the exhibition. I can’t quite claim that Larkin read this one in bed – but he would certainly have seen it and been able to so had he wished.

Do get along to the exhibition if you can – it’s illuminating and thought-provoking – and Larkin’s reputation doesn’t diminish.  It’s on until the 28th April 2017 at the National Poetry Library, Level 5, Royal Festival Hall – details here at

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School Pieces

Detail from The Progress of Education (R. Harrild, 1810) © John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Detail from The Progress of Education (R. Harrild, 1810)
© John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

A request for help from Jill Shefrin

Jill Shefrin is a Canadian independent historian and bibliographer of children’s books and ephemera published in Britain in the long eighteenth century.  She’s currently preparing a descriptive bibliography and historical study of “school pieces” or writing blanks, and she’d love to hear from anyone holding any English, Irish or colonial American examples.  Although they are today called writing blanks or writing sheets, in the long eighteenth century they were most often described as “school pieces”.

Rich Man and Lazarus (William Mason, n.d.) © Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Rich Man and Lazarus (William Mason, n.d.)
© Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Elegant engraved sheets published between about 1660 and 1860 and filled in by children with examples of their best handwriting, often at Christmas (accounting for their alternative name of “Christmas pieces”).  Relatively few examples survive, but there appears to have been a longstanding and thriving market for school pieces.  Jill has identified over fifty English and Irish printsellers who offered them for sale over two centuries, but only a few have survived in more than single copies. Attractive and often colourful, one would think they were the preserve of wealthy and aristocratic children, but in 1840 the Morning Chronicle reported that on Christmas day in the Clerkenwell workhouse “one of the overseers, has generally supplied the children with Christmas pieces to write for prizes”.

Jill Shefrin

Jill Shefrin

Jill’s The Dartons : Publishers of Educational Aids, Pastimes & Juvenile Ephemera, 1787-1876 (Cotsen Occasional Press, 2009), was awarded the Justin G. Schiller (Bibliographical Society of America) & the F. J. Harvey Darton Award (Children’s Books History Society).  She has taught the Children’s Books course at the London Rare Books School since 2008 and is a Senior Research Associate at Trinity College, University of Toronto.  She’s currently also an RBC Foundation Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Library, working with their extensive holdings of school pieces, but she’s interested in seeing any and all examples.

You can contact her—and find out more about her work—through her website

Jill Shefrin / /Senior Research Associate in Arts, Trinity College, University of Toronto

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