Something about Frank Karslake

Frank KarslakeFrank Karslake (1851-1920) is remembered for a number of things.  In the wider world, he is remembered chiefly for having founded the Guild of Women Binders, which for a brief period either side of 1900 produced some exhilarating work, much admired,  much collected, and still capable of thrilling.  Less well remembered is that in parallel to the Guild, he also ran the Hampstead Bindery – its work perhaps less distinctive, but exquisite in itself.

Gwladys Edwards

Guild of Women Binders. Bound by Miss Edwards, possibly Gwladys Edwards. © The British Library Board.

Within the book trade and among its historians, he is further remembered as the founder in 1902 of the annual “Book Auction Records”, a work which in the days before such things had migrated online, was not only a rich repository of information (if sagely interpreted), but completely indispensible for the serious bookseller.  In its early years it was also often enlivened by Karslake’s own reminiscences and thoughts on the book trade of his time – these heavily drawn on in my earlier posts in the “Book-Hunters of 1888” series.  He was also the man whose single-minded energy and drive led to his founding the Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association (now the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association) in 1906, serving as its first Secretary until his death in 1920.  These are all, in their varying degrees, good things.

Johanna Birkenruth

Binding by Johanna Birkenruth, Guild of Women Binders. © The British Library Board.

Perhaps a greater thing – one that appears to be no longer remembered at all – is that in 1886, he founded the Society for the Suppression of Hydrophobia and the Amendment of the Dog Laws.  It was an event widely noticed in the press at the time and the agenda was simple: to stamp out rabies in this country by measures eventually including muzzling and licensing.  There had been twenty-six or twenty-seven deaths from rabies in London alone in 1885.  Public support was large: Karslake, still spelling his name Kerslake at this time, lectured on the subject, called public meetings, published his “Hydrophobia : Its Cause and Prevention” in 1890, and brought about decisive action.  By the turn of the century, the disease was all but eliminated in this country, although he returned to the subject once more right at the end of his life with “Rabies and Hydrophobia : Their Cause and their Prevention” (1919).

hampstead bl

Binding by the Hampstead Bindery. © The British Library Board.

Nothing to his discredit in any of this, far from it, but Karslake has not been a man universally admired.   The auctioneer Tom Hodge of Sotheby’s, writing in 1907 to his fellow book-auctioneer John Edmund Hodgson, outlined his reasons for refusing an invitation to a dinner of the new Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association: “I too have received an invitation to the dinner but I shall certainly not accept it … I consider it entirely a mistake and altogether inadvisable for Auctioneers  to be looked upon & ranked as one of the trade; secondly the Association is far too closely identified with its founder [Karslake] …  The Association, started by the Secretary, is an obvious attempt to reinstate himself in the good opinion of second-hand booksellers but until the Association absolutely eject him I do not see how it can ever get a good reputation …  I very much regret that many ever honest men have in any way allowed themselves to be coupled with Mr. Karslake.  I do not think you & I need care two pins about it beyond being careful to keep clear of it …  We are not of, nor in the trade & booksellers must be made to remember this …” (quoted in Frank Herrmann’s “Sotheby’s : Portrait of an Auction House” (1980).

Leaving aside Hodge’s general feelings about his best customers, there were clearly very specific issues with Karslake.  There is no mention at all of any of this in the ABA’s own centenary volume,  edited by Giles Mandelbrote and published as “Out of Print & Into Profit” (2006), in fact there is little mention of Karslake at all.  Curiously he is not even indexed in the booksellers’ section, although this he plainly was for most of his life.  The only passage of any substance comes from the late Anthony Rota, reiterating the tale of the famous dinner at the Criterion restaurant where the association was founded in December 1906.  Of Karslake himself he wrote: “The man responsible … was Frank Karslake (1851-1920).  A successful businessman, he is said to have made most of his money from land deals in North America, where he owned at least three ranches.  Around the turn of the century he returned to his native England and once more took up the trade which he had earlier found so satisfying.  Back in London, in 1902 he became founding editor of ‘Book Auction Records’ … which he published from his imposing house in Pond Street, Hampstead”.  As both Anthony’s grandfather and great-grandfather (Percy Dobell and Bertram Dobell) would have known and worked with Karslake on the ABA Committee, I think we have to take this as how the trade itself has historically viewed Karslake.

Beyond that, Karslake’s daughter Madge Karslake (1886-1962), who took over his duties as Secretary to the ABA, contributed some affectionate personal reminiscences to “Book Auction Records” after his death in 1920, but there is no clue there either as to what the issues that so enraged Tom Hodge may have been.

Karslake was born Frank Kerslake in Birmingham on 20th July 1851 and baptised on 12th October 1851 at St. Thomas – the son of John Kerslake, bootmaker of 41a New Street, and his wife Mary Anne Findon, whom he had married in 1843.  The spelling Kerslake was retained until the 1890s.  The family seem to have been prosperous enough: along with their five children, the Kerslakes had two domestic servants in 1861.  The following year, the family moved to London.  Shortly after, Mary Anne Kerslake died – according to Madge Karslake young Frank returned from school one day, “walked into the drawing-room, and there found the mother he adored, lying dead upon the sofa  … A born lover of books, to those ever dear companions my father turned for consolation in those early days of bereavement.  The treasured volumes were smuggled to his room to be read by the light of a candle; a forbidden possession which was kept hidden away, to enable him to read, long after the daylight had faded”.

In the autumn of 1867, according to Karslake’s own account, he was working in a “branch” of his father’s business in Coventry Street, “supposed to be learning the business.  But the occupation was one for which I had neither taste nor capacity”.  When his father let the premises to the bookseller David White, former assistant and subsequently manager of Henry George Bohn’s great bookselling business (where he had worked alongside Bernard Quaritch), the young Karslake prevailed upon White to take him on as an apprentice.  There may have been some slight reinvention in this account, Karslake’s father, who had remarried, seems to have been on his way down in the world by this time –working as the manager of someone else’s boot and shoe business by 1871 – but certainly Karslake went to work for White and followed him to Bond Street when White went into partnership with the well-known Frederick Startridge Ellis.  It was White’s system of cutting up and meticulously filing catalogue slips which was later to inspire “Book Auction Records”.

robson-kerslake-adAt some point in or about 1873, the young Karslake decided to set up for himself.  It was on 4th December of that year that he married Martha McGregor (1851-1924) at Caterham – she was the daughter of a sergeant-major in the Royal Artillery.  They were to have nine children, all of whom lived to adulthood.  By then he was apparently sharing a bookshop with a younger brother in Booksellers’ Row.  According to his daughter, Karslake then for some reason attempted to have an alternative career on the stage.  It was not a successful venture and by 1881 Karslake had returned to bookselling, this time in partnership with Bartholomew Robson, a bookseller he had known since their days in lodgings together (for whom see my post of December 24, 2015).  It was a successful partnership and the business in Coventry Street was plainly prosperous.  It is true that in James G. Nelson’s “Publisher to the Decadents : Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson” (2000) there is a claim that “Robson & Kerslake”, as the partnership was known, “often sold ‘under the counter’ pornographic books” – a claim echoing one made in Mary S. Lovell’s  “A Rage to Live : A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton” (1998) and repeated with more force in Colette Colligan & Margaret Linley’s “Media, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century” (2011) – but there are perhaps far too many good books now in major collections with a “Robson & Kerslake” provenance for this truly to be regarded as any major part of their trade.


Morning Post, 12th March 1891.

In 1892 Karslake decided to emigrate to California and begin a new life.  According to his daughter this was for reasons of health and on doctor’s advice.  Farmland for instantly profitable fruit-growing in Placer County, California, had recently been heavily advertised in glowing terms in the English press and this was Karslake’s destination.  On his own admission he borrowed £1,800 from David White – about £750,000 in today’s terms on the basis of average earnings (other measures are available) – “for a special temporary purpose”, although according to his daughter he was offered “what was considered to be a high position of trust with an English firm”.  For her, at the age of six, it was an idyllic time: “It was midsummer 1892 when we arrived in California, a beautiful time of year there.  My father had three ranches, and our house was built according to his ideas; and a perfect home it was.  From the long panelled drawing-room in which a hundred persons could stand up to dance, to the great play room and gymnasium on the top floor; everything had been perfectly planned.  The house stood on the height of a hill, and from the verandah there was a glorious view … thousands of peach trees in bloom … the matchless blue of a Californian sky”.

The idyll soon came to an end: “It was not long before my father realised that there was nothing in the post which he had accepted, and nearly four years later he decided to return to England, where he once again became a bookseller”.  The newspapers and archives of the period tell a rather different story.  The two eldest sons had gone on ahead, but the remainder of the family sailed from Liverpool on the “Alaska”, bound for New York, on the 9th July 1892 – the passengers still listed under the spelling Kerslake.  It was a spelling never used again.  Quite why the Kerslakes became Karslakes somewhere along the way is not explained. Perhaps it simply betokened a new start in a new life.  Perhaps the name had always been pronounced Karslake and the family had grown tired of correcting other people’s mis-spellings – I have sometimes felt the same way about my own first name – ‘Laurence’ spelt with a ‘u’, perfectly correct and wholly orthodox – and yet people insist daily on spelling it with a ‘w’.  But, for all that, to change the spelling of your name by a single letter in mid life is an odd and slightly suspicious thing to do.

SouthseaWhat Madge Karslake does not mention is that her father returned to England at least twice before bringing the family home for good in 1896.  He returned alone, as Frank Karslake, fruit-grower, in July 1893, and again in June 1895, this time as Frank Karslake, merchant.  And what he was doing on these return trips was touring round the country drumming up custom for his so-called ‘agricultural college’ – an institution of which he was variously described as both founder and principal – no mention at all of his being employed by anyone else.  The “Portsmouth Evening News” (17th August 1895), for example, announced that Karslake (Principal of the Placer County Agricultural Training College, Penryn, Placer County, California), was to give a public lecture entitled, “California, the Wonderland of the North American Continent” – the lecture to be illustrated with “80 Oxy-Hydrogen Lantern Slides of the scenery of the Yosemite Valley, The Sierra Nevada, The Big Trees, The Fruit Ranches, Orange Groves, Ranch Operations, &c., &c.  Any questions may be asked at the close of the Lecture. Tickets and Prospectuses of the College may be procured, free of charge …”.


London Evening Standard, 17th August 1894.

A subsequent report in the same newspaper (29th August 1895) gives the gist of the lecture: “The object of the College is to provide a place where British youths who emigrate to the far West may be taught their business.  Too often, he [Karslake] said, it had happened that parents had sent their sons out as a pupil to some colonial farmer, and paid a heavy premium in order that he might receive some practical training.  But the farmer having secured the money treated the youth as an ordinary farm hand, so that when thrown on his own resources the latter was not much better acquainted with colonial farming than when he left England.  Parents who sent their sons out to the Placer County College, however, could rely on their being thoroughly taught, and afterwards assisted to start ranching or fruit growing for themselves”.

Quite what qualifications a forty-four year old bookseller might have for running an agricultural college – beyond the usual distressing tendency of booksellers surrounded by books on all manner of subjects somehow coming to believe that they know everything that’s in them – are not at all clear.  A year later, the “Manchester Courier” (Saturday 26th September 1896) carried an article bluntly headed, “Frauds on British Immigrants in California”.  It deals mainly with land fraud and the selling of ranches on false valuations – and it may perhaps be that Karslake was a victim of this himself – but the British Consul-General at San Francisco, a Mr Warburton, also specifically noted “the case of the Penryn Agricultural College … as to which there had been serious complaints.  This institution was suddenly closed by notice dated June 18 which the Consul-General gives in full … signed by one Frank Karslake. The student who brought this Mr. Warburton’s notice wrote:— ‘I regret to say that the majority of us are entirely without means, either to support ourselves or protect our interests’, and a later notice warned the students that no food could be supplied to them after June 30 last. ‘These unfortunate young men or boys’, says Mr. Warburton, ‘are thus thrown suddenly and without warning on their own resources, with very little prospect of obtaining employment’”.  Karslake and his family had arrived back in England on 13th March 1896, their adventure abandoned, but he was still lecturing on the merits of his college in Glasgow in April, and still advertising it widely in the press until the end of May.  In the whole of the “Manchester Courier” article he is the only person mentioned by name in respect of the frauds.  While it is possible that this was a well-intentioned enterprise which unfortunately went wrong, the available evidence would appear otherwise.

35 Pond Street

35 Pond Street, Hampstead.

Back in England, Karslake returned to bookselling with a shop on the Charing Cross Road and it was also at about this time that he acquired the imposing house in Pond Street. For a failed venture, Karslake seems not to have come out of it too badly.  The newspapers take up his story again in 1899.  A short piece in the “York Herald” (Saturday 18th November 1899), headed “Artistic Bookbinding”, continues, “As is well known, the higher branches of book-binding prove very remunerative, and a man who is strong and original can make a very comfortable living at it.  People prize their books so highly, and desire to see them so well adorned that they are glad to pay for original and artistic work.  Mr. Frank Karslake, who has two daughters engaged in book-binding, and intends to have two other daughters taught the craft, commends the Guild of Women Binders in London to the notice of parents with daughters whom they wish to learn a useful trade to enable them to earn a livelihood in a light and remunerative employment which  requires taste, skill, and thoroughness”.


Yorkshire Herald, 18th November 1899.

This sounds for all the world like a variation on the agricultural college scheme (or scam) – and almost certainly it was.  Karslake went bankrupt early in 1904 and the official hearings throw further light.  The “Manchester Courier” (Friday 19 February 1904) reported the matter with reasonable neutrality: “A sitting was held in the London Bankruptcy-court, yesterday, for the public examination of Frank Karslake, from whose statements and the Official Receiver’s observations it appeared that in December 1894, he opened an agricultural college in California, receiving students at an annual fee of 100 guineas, but the venture proved a failure, and he returned to England.  The debtor was now described as of Pond-street, Hampstead, and Charing Cross-road, bookseller.  He had also carried on a book-binding business, which was known as the Guild of Women Binders.  He advertised for and obtained lady pupils at a fee of 50 guineas each and agreed to teach them according to the system carried on at the Hampstead Bindery.  Also, after 12 months, if they made themselves proficient, to engage them at a salary of not less than a guinea a week, or to provide them with piecework.  The statement of affairs showed liabilities £2,769, of which £1,955 were expected to rank, and an estimated surplus in assets of £769.  The debtor further stated that his Californian college was killed through the Jameson Raid, the result of which was that young men went out to South Africa to fight the Boers, instead of entering his college and growing apples in California. (Laughter)”.

The “London Daily News” (Friday 19th February 1904) in a report headed “Lazy Lady Students : An Industrial Fiasco” added additional detail: “Mr. Frank Karslake, bookseller, of Charing-cross-road, said that amongst his ventures was a bookbinder’s business, started in May, 1898, at Pond-street, Hampstead, known as the ‘Guild of Women Binders’.  He advertised for and obtained lady pupils at a fee of 50 guineas to teach them bookbinding according to a system carried on at the Hampstead Bindery, South Hill Park.  Since January, 1901, he had received as premiums £2,405.  No doubt that business had resulted in a loss, although he never realised it until shortly before the failure.  What with the waste of gold and leather, and the fact that many of the pupils preferred reading novels to working, or learning to work, it was bound to be a loss.  It suffered from the want of a proper supervisor.  One of the main causes of his failure had been the war in South Africa, his business being mainly in luxuries, the demand for which consequently fell off.  The hearing was adjourned”.

Dividends were paid from time to time, but it was 1912 before Karslake was finally discharged from the bankruptcy.  The bankruptcy laws were draconian and it must have taken some sleight of hand to hang on to the house in Pond Street.  We can quite see why Tom Hodge took such a dim view.  And such then was the man who founded the ABA – an extraordinary mixture of a man, a man who did so many undoubtedly good things, but who was also, in all likelihood, a fraudster – and certainly an undischarged bankrupt theoretically disqualified from business.  Perhaps he was simply unlucky in his ventures – I am not at all sure.  David White, whose probity was a byword, remained a true and loyal friend.  Bartholomew Robson was among the first to join the ABA.  The trade as a whole was forgiving: in 1913 at the annual dinner of what had now become the International Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, “the thanks of the Association, together with a handsome service of plate, and a testimonial subscribed by 122 members, were presented to him”.  He died on 25th March 1920 – probate granted to his widow, his effects declared at a meagre £314.8s.4d.

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Do you not twitter Gentlemen?


© British Library Board

“Do you not twitter Gentlemen?” – what’s this then, a line interpolated into Shakespeare to bring him up to date and make him ‘relevant’?  Well, yes, that’s actually more or less what it is.  It’s a line from a fresh prologue written for “Othello” in 1660 to announce the fact that for the very first time Desdemona will be played by a real woman and not a “man in gown, or page in petty-coat”.  Although the general tenor of her introduction to the twittering gentlemen perhaps reminds us of how sage Noël Coward was in his advice to Mrs Worthington on the advisability of putting daughters on the stage, it’s now flagged up in the latest British Library exhibition as one the ‘iconic’ moments in the four-hundred year history of all things Shakespeare – “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”.

Vivien Leigh (as Titania)

Vivien Leigh (as Titania) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Old Vic Theatre, 1937. Photograph by J. W. Debenham. Courtesy of the Mander and Mitchenson Collection at the University of Bristol and ARENApal

It’s a commonplace that each generation reinterprets Shakespeare in its own way – and this exhibition certainly does that.  The exhibition notes are full of phrases like ‘institutional sexism’, ‘struggle for racial diversity’ and ‘creative reuse of film and digital media’.  Much of it tells us far, far, more about ourselves and our own crises of conscience and confidence than it does about Shakespeare, the theatre, and the nature of acting and illusion.  And much of it left me cold.  Inexplicable to me that in an overview of the twentieth-century global impact of  Shakespeare there should be no mention (unless I missed it) of the 1930s Paris production of “Coriolanus” which caused riots in the streets.  In fact there doesn’t seem to be much mention of the Roman plays at all – ‘small Latin and less Greek’ in our schools these days.  No mention either that I could see of Tom Stoppard’s breathtakingly brilliant “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern”, which must surely be at the top of anyone’s list of twentieth-century takes on Shakespeare.

Shakespeare First Folio

© British Library Board

But it doesn’t really matter at all what I think about some of the later ‘acts’ of the exhibition, because you are going to have to go and see it anyway for its opening riches.  A first folio – yes, of course – that seemingly least rare of rare books.


© British Library Board

But also the first quarto of “Hamlet” (1603) – one of just two known copies.  The first quarto of “Lear”.  The first edition of “Love’s Labours Lost” (1598) – the first book to have Shakespeare’s name on the title-page: a particular joy for me, this one – it was published by Cuthbert Burby, one of my remote predecessors as a bookseller with a shop in the Royal Exchange.  And there are extraordinary manuscripts too: Richard Baines’ damning deposition on the alleged atheism and perhaps worse of Christopher Marlowe – how truly shocking to see it – written just days before Marlowe’s death; John Manningham’s contemporary diary with a highly scurrilous and, one hopes, apocryphal story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the groupie.

Thomas More

© British Library Board

And above all – way above all – the only surviving lines of theatrical dialogue in Shakespeare’s own hand: Shakespeare writing lines for Sir Thomas More as he faces down the mob  in a wholesale revision of a play by Anthony Munday probably never performed – still a toxic subject, as the censor’s notes make clear – “Leave out the insurrection wholly and the cause thereof”.  Anne Boleyn’s daughter was still on the throne when Munday wrote it.  But what a loss to our understanding of the period. This is simply electrifying.  Go.  Stand.  Admire.  Pay homage.  Revere.

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Alias Johnson and Williams

A little quiet on the blog in recent weeks.  Not laziness, at least I hope not, but I’m rather immersed in a substantial piece of research.  When the late Ralph Hyde died last year, he left unfinished his catalogue of London parish maps – well over 500 maps identified, many of them already catalogued and extensively annotated, but the work as a whole incomplete.  As a tribute to his memory, the London Topographical Society has now enlisted the aid of a substantial group of volunteers from all over London to revisit the maps, confirm their present locations, find those listed but not fully catalogued, and to bring the work to completion.

My task, a fulfilment of a promise made to Ralph long ago, is to identify – at least as far as possible – all those responsible for making all these maps and the history of London they encapsulate: the surveyors, the draughtsmen, the engravers, the publishers, the printers and so on.  Hundreds of names.  The work progresses well.  A context and a background for the maps is being established.  Most interesting are probably the architects, civil engineers, district surveyors, builders and speculators who not only mapped these areas of London, but also built up large areas of them.  And, as you might expect, there are dozens of individual stories – all very human.  There are those who went on to wealth and honours and those (rather more of these) who did not: those who ended up bankrupt, in prison for debt, or compelled to emigrate to find a better life in far off climes.

There is sadness and frailty: the engraver and local historian Thomas Allen, who died of cholera; Alexander Bland, who produced a map of Clapham with his brother in 1849, but ended his days in the workhouse; the surveyor Michael Charles Meaby who was arrested and extradited from Lisbon in the early years of the last century to stand trial for conspiracy, fraud and perjury; William Fountain Meakin, whose row with a London cab-driver ended up in the courts and all over the newspapers; Charles Robert Badger whose “overbearing, litigious and exhorbitant [sic] line of conduct” caused the people of Lewisham to petition for his dismissal as District Surveyor – the “very respectably-dressed” Mrs Caroline Harris later threw a bowl of dirty water over him in the street; and Alderman James Ebenezer Saunders, caught up in a corruption scandal at the Metropolitan Board of Works.


© The British Library Board. Maps 188.v.25.

But of all the stories, I think the most sad is the one represented by this map.  It is a story I have touched on before, buried deep in the pages of “British Map Engravers”, but I didn’t at that time have all the details.  This is not in fact a map in the Ralph Hyde catalogue, as that concentrates on maps of complete parishes, but a map which captures a partnership between two engravers: Benjamin Smith – who does appear in the Hyde catalogue – and Joseph Bye.  They were together at this address in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell, in 1805 and this is their trade-card, depicting their neighbourhood and advertising their services as “map, historical, and writing engravers”.


The elder Benjamin Smith after George Romney, Milton Dictating “Paradise Lost” to his Daughters. Engraver’s proof, 1795. BM 1853,1210.617. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Benjamin Smith was born in London in 1774, the son of Benjamin Smith, the tolerably well-known stipple-engraver of portraits and historical scenes.  The younger Smith was apprenticed to the map-engraver Joseph Ellis in 1789 and subsequently worked in a partnership with Edward Jones as well as Joseph Bye.  Individually he is known for his maps produced for “Laurie and Whittle’s New Traveller’s Companion” (1806), for Robert Wilkinson’s “General Atlas” (1807), for Charles Smith’s “New General Atlas” (1808), etc.

The slightly younger Joseph Bye was born in December 1779 and baptised the following January at St. John Clerkenwell, the son of the printer, Deodatus Bye, and his wife, Elizabeth.  He was apprenticed in 1793 to Benjamin Baker of Islington, the man who was later to become chief engraver to the Ordnance Survey.  Bye subsequently worked for William Faden, as well as the chartmakers David Steel and John Purdy.  He also produced  a map of Spain and Portugal for Robert Southey’s “Chronicle of the Cid” in 1808 – a map which may just have some bearing on what happened next.

After 1809, both Smith and Bye completely disappeared from view for a long period of time.  Eight years later, two men named James Johnson and George Williams were tried at Dover for fraudulently uttering forged promissory notes.  The “Kentish Weekly Post” carried the story on 7th November 1817:

“Dover Sessions. — At a General Sessions of the Peace and gaol delivery, holden on the 4th inst. and following day, in the Guildhall, for this Town and its liberties, before the Worshipful William Knocker, esq. Mayor, Wm. Kenrick, esq. Recorder, and a Bench of Magistrates, the following prisoners were put to the bar, viz. James Johnson and George Williams, for uttering and putting away on the 15th September last, to Emanuel Levey, of Dover, silversmith, and dealer in foreign coins, two promissory notes, purporting to be of the Margate Bank, and of the value of 5£ each, with intent to defraud Francis Cobb and Francis William Cobb, well knowing the same to be false, forged and counterfeited …  After a patient investigation of several hours, both the prisoners were found guilty. The Recorder then made a very impressive appeal to the prisoners, recommending them to use the short time they had to live in making every atonement in their power, assuring them they had no hope of mercy; after which the Mayor, in the usual form, pronounced the awful sentence of the law upon them, leaving them for execution the 27th inst. There were four other indictments against the prisoners … it is said they are very respectably connected, but refuse all communication with regard to their family”.

The “Post” continued the story on the 25th November:

“The two unfortunate men, James Johnson and George Williams … will undergo the awful sentence of the law on Thursday morning next; all hope of mercy being now banished, although every exertion has been made in their favour.

These men attempted to break out of the gaol a few nights since. They had sawed off their irons and had filed the window bars asunder, and cut their blankets and formed them into the shape of a rope, and would have certainly effected their escape had they not been fortunately overheard by Mr. Mate, the keeper”.

And finally on the 28th November:

“Yesterday morning between ten and eleven o’clock the two unfortunate men, James Johnson and George Williams … underwent the awful sentence of the law at the usual place of execution near the turnpike-gate on the London Road.  At the earnest solicitation of the culprits they were conveyed from the prison to the place of execution in a post-coach, and upon their arrival there, being placed on a waggon, after a short time spent in prayer, the carriage was drawn off and the unfortunate men were launched into eternity.  An immense concourse of spectators were assembled from all parts the surrounding neighbourhood”.

A brief account in the “London Courier” the following day confirmed the details, but added a  telling note that “The unfortunate men were very accomplished, and spoke and wrote several foreign languages”.  It was only a week later that both the “Stamford Mercury” and the “Oxford Journal” added a further note: that the men “appeared quite resigned to their fate, and confessed their real names to be Joseph Bye and Benjamin Smith”.

Although only now made public, the authorities had apparently known this for some time. “Every exertion” had indeed been made to save the two engravers, as a bundle of papers relating to the case in the National Archives attests. There were petitions to the Prince Regent for clemency and commutation of the sentence to one of transportation on the grounds of the men’s deep penitence and previous good character – the signatures headed by the two Francis Cobbs whom they had attempted to defraud, as well as local magistrates and members of the jury. Williams (i.e. Smith)  had a wife and four young children. Johnson (i.e. Bye) had a sick and elderly father. Their parents did not yet know of their fate.

There was a letter from William Home Lizars and Daniel Lizars of the well-known Edinburgh engraving firm confirming that Smith and Bye had been employed as journeymen engravers by the Lizars from May 1815 until August 1817. During that time they had “conducted themselves in the most industrious, sober and respectable manner – they behaved themselves like Gentlemen and were a most striking example to all the other people we employ”.  Although only employed as journeymen, Smith and Bye were invited to dine with the Lizars and to accompany them on social excursions – “their conversation instructive and always virtuous”. The Lizars were willing to come south and plead for the men in person, “if it can be of the smallest avail”. There were letters from two of their landlords in Edinburgh. There were further letters from the Lizars and others, reiterating faith in Smith and Bye.  There were letters from Scottish ministers attesting to the probity of the Lizars.


© National Archives. HO 47/56/24.

Above all, there was a moving petition from Smith’s wife, Mary, recently delivered of their fourth child.  For the first time we get the full story.  In 1810, Smith and Bye had been offered lucrative work in Lisbon. The ship on which they were travelling to Portugal was seized by a French privateer and for the next four years they were held prisoner in France until the peace of 1814 – an interment which had completely broken their spirit. They had willingly gone to work for the Lizars as journeymen on their release, but could not forget that they were master engravers, with “educations superior to the station, to which they were reduced, and bred up to much greater comforts and comparative indulgence than their daily earnings could afford”. This “galling state” caused a momentary madness.  The “pitch of despair at their fallen condition” had caused them to plunge into criminality and had sealed their fate.

Posted in Antique Maps, Engravers, London Map Trade, Mapsellers | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Edinburgh 2016


A very warm welcome to Edinburgh last week – or at least the simulacrum of one.  The crackling log fire in my hotel room turned out on closer inspection merely to be some kind of video-loop with sound effects  on the  television screen.  It proved extremely difficult to turn it off – it just kept resuscitating itself again and again.  Isn’t it astonishing how irritating the smaller things in life can be?

logfireElsewhere there was  a table neatly laid out with kettle, coffee, milk, etc.  All very nice, very welcoming – except for just one thing.  Nowhere to plug the kettle in.  The nearest socket, the only socket, was on the other side of the room, half-way up the wall, above the bed.  To make a cup of coffee – and by now I was really irritated and doubly determined – I had to move all the furniture around.  And as for bedside lights – they were as resistant to being turned off as the bloody log fire. The only way to get rid of either of them was to take the key-card out of its socket to turn off  the electricity altogether and then rummage around in complete darkness.

grantshawEnough of this – I hadn’t come north as a hotel critic – I was here for books and booksellers – and the 2016 Edinburgh Book Fair.  The first person I ran into on Friday was Alan Grant (Grant & Shaw).  Good to see him looking chipper and cheerful – his books as immaculate as ever.  And then there was ‘retired’ ABA Secretary John Critchley in charge of proceedings (Sandy turned up later), a genial, courteous and unflappable presence, as ever.  Simon Beattie in the corner, with his eclectic mix of books we never knew we wanted.  Immediately noticeable that the Scottish rare book librarians were out in force and finding good things for their various collections – also noticeable the preponderance of Scottish material on display.  Support for the fair from the very top end of the trade – Ian Smith in charge of the Peter Harrington stand, Donovan Rees from Bernard Quaritch on the other side of the room.  A few words with Brian Lake and Carol Murphy from Jarndyce.

pharringtonA bit of a theme beginning to develop with just about everyone asking me how I was getting on without my lovely Dutch intern (for those of you not up to date on this, since just before Christmas Pauline has been ensconced in a full-time job at Peter Harrington).  Was I managing to cope?  Was I managing to get by? Was I alright?  Was I selling any books at all without her?  That sort of thing.  I was touched by all the concern, even if a little uncomfortable with the tone and tenor, not to say downright cheek, of the underlying assumptions.  I ran into Pauline the other night at the monthly seminar on book-collecting at Senate House – a thoroughly delightful talk from Julian Nangle on his peripatetic book-selling career, by the bye – she shares everyone’s  concerns (obviously), but is very happy in her new berth and enjoying it all immensely – lovely people, lovely books – you can find her in Dover Street.

edinburgh2016Very good to see Jonathan Kearns exhibiting at his first Edinburgh fair, with his egregiously esoteric stock.  It may not be for everyone, but if you are interested in the weirder and wilder fringes of fiction and culture – he is the man for you.  Bought a few books (seemingly as always) from Anthony Smithson (Keel Row Bookshop).  Heard some interesting ideas from Derek Walker (McNaughtan’s Bookshop) on building up the fair next year.  A few words with Ian Marr, who brings his books all the way up from Cornwall every year.  Handed out a few copies of the draft revision of the ABA Code in the hope of getting some feedback from members from all different parts of the trade.

FlyingScotsmanAlways a delight to see David Steedman (Robert D. Steedman) – another bookseller whose books are always immaculate.  Found something to buy from Cooper Hay (again as almost always).  A word with Richard V. Wells from Teignmouth, who was clearly having a very good fair – as were others (sales were apparently up something like 20% on last year).  All was business and bustle downstairs in the PBFA room – a couple more books bought there. Back again on Saturday morning for another look round and one final purchase (how had I missed this on Friday?) – short stroll down to the station and on the train home. Mission accomplished – some excellent fresh stock, old friendships renewed, new ones nurtured.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (9)

 bookhunters926 — Mr Molini.  The next figure in our sequence is deftly characterised by Karslake — “In the foreground, standing up, white-haired and soft-hatted, is the late Mr. Molini, an amiable, much-respected bookseller, of Italian descent, and, like Stibbs, a bit of a ‘character’.  All day long he did nothing but munch biscuits, which he carried about in a side-pocket; giving him, so somebody said the other day, the appearance of a rabbit”.


Frederick Fowler Molini

Frederick Fowler Molini (1818-1895) was born in the City of London on 21st February 1818 and baptised at St. Lawrence Jewry on March 25th of that  year. He was the son of Charles Frederick Molini and his wife Elizabeth Blain, an Anglo-Italian bookselling family already established in London as well as Florence.  Molini was largely brought up in Paternoster Row, where his father had a shop for many years, later moving to 17 King William Street, off the Strand, by the mid 1840s. The younger Molini appears to have taken over the business, by now at 27 King William Street, after his father’s death in 1860.

Frederick Molini was certainly a serious and respected bookseller.  He dealt mainly in French and Italian books and in 1866 supplied the British Museum with forty-two works by or relating to Dante, as well as frequent further treasures, like the first edition of the “Pensées de Mr. Pascal” sold to the Museum for seven guineas in 1870. On occasion he also acted as the Museum’s agent at auctions.  In 1865 he married Maria Pyatt Donne (1846-1926), the daughter of a silver engraver, at Camberwell, and although two children died in infancy, his elder daughter, Edith Beatrice Mia Molini, lived on until the 1950s.

Molini1870Quite how ‘indecent’ the prints and books were that he was charged with ‘scandalously selling and uttering’  in 1875, it is now impossible to say. The Society for the Suppression of Vice (founded by William Wilberforce and subsumed into the National Vigilance Association in 1885) had tipped off the police that Molini’s business at his new premises at 37 Soho Square should be looked into.  A police stooge, a civil engineer named Harrison, was sent in and “after some conversation several purchases of indecent books and plates were made, for which high prices were charged”.  A promise was also made that in a week or two an album might be available, “the most lovely work of art that had ever been seen, but the price of it would be £200”.  Chief-Inspector Harnett rapidly applied for a warrant to arrest Molini and to search the premises. Twenty-one books and 295 prints were seized.  The highly respectable firm of Dulau & Co., who also traded from 37 Soho Square, were mortified when initial newspaper reports involved them in the case.  Retractions were duly made, while Molini was sent for trial.  There it was claimed that the material in question must have been smuggled in from the continent, “as it was impossible that such things could have been brought over to this country in any other way”.  The plea was guilty, Molini’s lawyer admitting that “he could not for one moment contend that these pictures and books were not indecent”.  In mitigation, he made several points illustrative of the curious moral compass of the time — the books were all in foreign languages and rather expensive: there was therefore little danger of their corrupting the servants or falling into the hands of the poorer classes, which appears to have been the most important thing.  Several character witnesses were called on Molini’s behalf, it was also noted that he did not advertise this kind of material, but he was still sent to prison for two months (without hard labour) and fined a hefty £50.

The remainder of Molini’s career, until his death in 1895, passed less molested by the pages of the popular press.  He lived variously in Camberwell, Streatham and Peckham, in later years describing himself as a literary agent, as well as a bookseller.

BertramDobell27 — The seated figure in a round hat just beyond Molini is something of a mystery.  Roberts identifies him as Mr H. Stevens, but Henry Newton Stevens (19) is plainly seated on the opposite side of the table and has already been discussed. The other commentators are silent, but in that Roberts mistook Stevens for Bertram Dobell (1842-1914), it may be that this is simply a case of the transposition of the two names.  Known portraits of Dobell were made later in life and from different angles.  It is impossible to be certain, but this may be him and we would be surprised at his absence from the picture — he was a regular in the rooms.  Frank Herrmann recounts in his history of the auction-house that on one occasion “little Bertram Dobell, bookseller and poet” tried jestingly to open the bidding on a very valuable lot with a bid of one shilling. Tom Hodge, at the rostrum, chided, “Come, come, Mr. Dobell, you ought to know better than that”.  Exuding injured innocence, Dobell replied, “I’ll give a shilling for any lot, Sir”.  Hodge let this pass, but a few lots later a bundle of worthless books came up for which there was no bid.  “A shilling to Mr. Dobell”, announced the auctioneer.  Dobell protested that he had made no bid, to which the answer was that the entire room had heard him say that he would give a shilling for any lot — and Hodge kept him to his word for the remainder of the day.

Dobell1891Dobell was born at Battle in Sussex in 1842, the son of a journeyman tailor who later became disabled.  His early life was unremittingly hard and difficult, but starting out in life as a grocer’s errand-boy, later a porter, brought up in poverty, without much education, Bertram Dobell used his newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop (opened on meagre savings and some outside help in 1868) as a platform to start a book business that was to become one of the most famous in the world.  Issuing his first catalogue in 1876, he was the first bookseller to find premises on the Charing Cross Road, opening a shop at No. 54 in the newly built and just opened street in 1887.  A second shop across the road at No. 77 followed in 1894.  His life story — the rediscovery of Thomas Traherne, the rescuing of James Thomson, his own reputation as a poet, etc. — has often been rehearsed.  The easiest point of reference is the biography (compiled by his great-grandson, my friend and colleague the late Anthony Rota) in the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, but he was memorialised even in his own lifetime in Samuel Bradbury’s 32-page tribute, “Bertram Dobell : Bookseller and Man of Letters” (1909).  Arthur Quiller-Couch noted that, “He is at pains to make his second-hand catalogues better reading than half the new books printed, and they cost us nothing”.  On his death in 1914, the “New York Times” blazoned the story under a quadruple-tiered headline, the first element loudly proclaiming, “DOBELL, FAMOUS BOOKSELLER, DEAD”.

Bertram_DobellAs A. Edward Newton described him, “Old Dobell is in a class by himself — scholar, antiquarian, poet, and bookseller.  He is just the type one would expect to find in a shop on the floor of which books are stacked in piles four or five feet high, leaving narrow tortuous paths through which one treads one’s way with great drifts of books on either side.  To reach the shelves is practically impossible, yet out of this confusion I have picked many a rare item … and let me observe that the prices of this eighteenth-century bookshop are of the period”.  Dobell was also the founder of a distinguished bookselling dynasty, a son, a great-grandson and a great-great-grandson all in time were to serve as presidents of the ABA.


Frederick Locker-Lampson

28 — Mr F. Locker-Lampson (1821-1895) — another poet — “On the right of Mr. Molini, seated, is the aristocratic figure of Frederick Locker-Lampson, poet and bibliophile, whose splendid Rowfant Library has just been acquired by Dodd, Mead & Co. of New York.   I remember Mr. Locker (as he was then), chatting with me on booky matters, and saying “Don’t you know there is a social revolution going on?”  He was referring to the breaking up of the old private libraries, and their acquisition by the new rich men.  Upon another occasion I tried to tempt him with some bibliographical rarity, and, with a most expressive shrug of the shoulders and inflection of the voice,  he said, ‘No! I’m getting old’” (Karslake).

Waddy1872Born at Greenwich Hospital into a naval family, Frederick Locker became Locker-Lampson after marrying his second wife, the children’s writer Hannah Jane Lampson, daughter of Sir Curtis Lampson, of Rowfant, Sussex, taking the Lampson name to succeed to the family estate. Originally a clerk in a broker’s office, later at the Admiralty, he became a man of leisure and substance when in 1850 he married his first wife,  Lady Charlotte Bruce, daughter of the Earl of Elgin — the man who brought the Elgin marbles to England.  His first book of poems, “London Lyrics” (1857), was a popular success, much reprinted in the nineteenth century.  His talent was essentially modest — vers de société and vers d’occasion — Thackeray once told him, “I have a sixpenny talent, and so have you; ours is small-beer, but, you see, it is the right tap”.  Aside from Thackeray, he was also a friend of Trollope, Lord Lytton, Matthew Arnold, the Brownings, Carlyle, George Eliot, Dickens and Tennyson — his daughter Eleanor married Tennyson’s son Lionel in 1878 (her second husband was Augustine Birrell).

It is as a book-collector that he is now chiefly remembered.  Roberts knew him well and described his collection in some detail: “The late Frederick Locker-Lampson, whose lamented death occurred whilst the earlier pages of this book — in which he took much interest — were passing through the press, was an ideal book-collector.  He cared only for books which were in the most perfect condition.  The unique character of the Rowfant library, its great literary and commercial value, and its wide interest, may be studied at length in its admirable catalogue, which of itself is a valuable work of reference.  Mr. Locker, for it is by this name, and as the author of “London Lyrics”,’ that he will be best remembered, devoted his attention almost exclusively to English literature, although of late years he had devoted as much attention as his frail health would allow to the formation of a section of rare books in French literature.  It would be impossible to describe in this place all the many book rarities at Rowfant; we must be content, therefore, with indicating a few of the more interesting ones: Alexander Pope’s own copy of Chapman’s translation of Homer, 1611; one of the largest known copies of the First Folio Shakespeare, 1623; an extensive series of the first or early quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays, about fifty in number — including the spurious plays — many of which were at one time in the collections of Steevens, George Daniel, Tite, or Halliwell-Phillipps.  The library is rich in other writers of the Elizabethan period — of Nash, Dekker, Greene, Gabriel Harvey.  There are also a long series of the first editions of Dryden; the earliest issues of the first complete edition of “Pilgrim’s Progress”; of “Robinson Crusoe” (the three parts); of “Gulliver’s Travels”, besides about a score of other ‘editiones principes’ of Swift, Pope, Goldsmith, Fielding, Richardson, Johnson, Gay, Gray, Lamb, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Thackeray, Dickens and many others. The two early printed books of especial interest are the “De Senectute”, printed by Caxton, 1481, and Barbour’s “Actis and Lyfe of the maist Victorious Conquerour, Robert Bruce, King of Scotland”, printed at Edinburgh by Robert Lepruik in 1571. The room in which the books are kept is virtually a huge safe; it was at one time a small ordinary room, and it has been converted into a fireproof library, with brick walls within brick walls; the floor of concrete, nearly two feet thick, and a huge iron door, complete an ingenious and effective protection against the most destructive of all enemies of books — fire”.


Edward Walford

29 — Mr E. Walford. The last identified figure in this portrait of the sale-room, seated at the table in an inverness-cape and gazing intently at the auctioneer, is Edward Walford (1823-1897), antiquary, journalist and prolific author, responsible for perhaps a hundred separate publications.  Born at Chelmsford, educated at Charterhouse and Balliol, ordained in 1848 and sometime schoolmaster  at Tonbridge and Clifton, his earliest works were school-masterly or theological — for example, “A Series of Progressive Exercises in Latin Elegiac Verse” (1847) or “The Holiness of a Christian Child” (1850).

He soon turned to more general works of reference, especially in the compiling of biographical notes and sketches: “Hardwicke’s Annual Biography for 1856 : Containing Original & Selected Memoirs of Celebrated Characters who have Died during the Year” (1855); “Walford’s Records of the Great and Noble” (1857); “Photographic Portraits of Living Celebrities, with Biographical Notices by E. Walford” (1859).  In 1860 he compiled the first edition of his “The County Families of the United Kingdom”, published annually for half a century or more.

walfordHe later turned increasingly to topography as a topic, writing pieces for “The Times” under the byline “Londoniana”.  When Walter Thornbury, author of “Old and New London” (1873 onwards), died in 1876, Walford completed the final four volumes of that endlessly popular history by 1878, going on the write “Greater London”, published serially between 1882 and 1884.  His relations with his contemporaries were not always smooth.  He could be cantankerous.  A friend remembered him as “the most facile of all journalists. There is probably nothing he could not have done had he set his mind to it.  His besetting fault was a singular angularity of temperament — a stubborn obstinacy of honesty, so to speak— which bred enemies where he ought only to have enjoyed friendship.  It is said of Matthew Arnold that he believed Edward to the most honest man alive” (Edinburgh Evening News, Tuesday 23rd November 1897).

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The ABA Code (2)

aba_logo_2011As a follow-up to the previous post, let me first of all thank all of those who have been in touch, both publicly and privately, to make a large number of very interesting and some rather  important points.  I am extremely grateful.  To bring everyone up to date, I can now report that after a cordial discussion, the ABA Council has agreed unanimously both to revise and update the Code and to augment and strengthen it.  I have been asked to pick a small team to get down to the detailed line-by-line work, which I am the process of doing.  We have a remit to consult widely both within the trade and outside it, amongst collectors, rare book librarians, etc.

I am not going to attempt here and now to answer all the various points made – only those which seem to me to reflect the more serious misgivings or misunderstandings – but all of them will be given full consideration as we set about redrafting the Code for the twenty-first century.

Moving the portions of the Code which impact only on booksellers’ relations with each other to a separate ‘Trade Courtesies’ section seems not to be controversial, but also including something on the civility ABA members should show to their customers by way of open, honest and courteous dealing (as one of my colleagues put it) would appear to be a popular thought. Some of the comments on expectations of mutual help and collegiality are in fact already covered in the application-form to join the ABA and elsewhere, but it would do no harm to include something in the Code itself – and, although it will remain a Code and not a wishy-washy mission statement, we shall certainly try to redraft it in a more positive way and more explicitly with a view to promoting all things mutually beneficial.

I found some of the comment on buyers of rare books already being adequately protected by general consumer legislation or buyer protection provided by the likes of ABE or eBay somewhat naive.  No amount of this kind of ‘protection’ will help if you don’t know and can’t recognise when the book arrives that the book is not the ‘first edition’ it purports to be, the dust-jacket is wrong, and that the ‘author’s signature’ is a fake – these things will generally only come to light when you try to sell it in years to come.  Of course most (but by no means all) of this kind of misdescription on the cowboy sites is ignorance rather than deliberate deception, but since when has ignorance been any kind of excuse for taking people’s money under false pretences?  As for the thought that these sites “skew commerce protections in favour of buyers over sellers” – this is frankly nonsense: they are skewed in favour of no-one but their corporate owners.  Have you ever tried reporting something listed on these sites which is plainly fraudulent?  Did you even get a reply – let alone any action?  The owners neither know nor care.

Would you get a reply if you reported something like this to the ABA Standards Committee? – Yes, of course you would.  Would you get action? – Yes, of course you would.  The ABA’s disciplinary procedures are all laid out in Appendix A at the end of our Articles and Rules.  Are Disciplinary Panels ever summoned?   Very rarely is there a need, I am pleased to say, but when it comes to it, when there is a case that needs answering, yes, of course they are – and appropriate sanctions applied.  Are there booksellers whose membership has not been renewed? – Yes, indeed there are (although I must make it quite clear that most ex-members have left of their own volition for reasons quite other than disciplinary ones).

The concept of ‘fair and informed’ pricing seems to cause some confusion.  It was never intended to protect or favour sellers over buyers – quite the opposite – let alone to suggest that we were trying to maintain some kind of cartel.  As one of my colleagues noted, “Anyone who seriously thinks us capable of running a cartel should come along to a Council meeting!”  All that was ever meant was that members should be able to justify a price (both when buying and selling) – that our prices should never be ones which we would be embarrassed by, or ashamed of, if closely questioned by our peers. There is obviously a case for rewording this clause to make this completely clear.

The rather casual assumption that ABA members’ prices are higher than those elsewhere is one that in personal experience I have not actually (by and large) found to be true.  Many of my best buys have come from ABA colleagues.  Better copies cost more, of course, and stock-holding booksellers who need to serve a wide clientele and maintain a generous breadth of stock will need to price at a level which allows them consistently to replenish that stock – paying fair prices – rather than come up with the odd lucky bargain once in a blue moon.  Certainly the most egregious examples I come across (almost daily) of people trying it on with outrageous prices are the internet cowboys, not ABA members.

Carefully selected and edited photographs may or may not be helpful, but they are simply no substitute for a proper catalogue description and probably serve only to take transactions outside the scope of the Trade Descriptions Act (1968), but the point about ‘sins of omission’ in descriptions is well made.  This is something which should be addressed in the new Code.  A problem here – although one possibly beyond the scope of the Code – is an over-reliance (among both booksellers and collectors) on unsound bibliographies, generally but not invariably the older ones, those distinguished more by enthusiasm than by bibliographical common sense, which make a fetish of every chance variation between copies and generate alleged ‘issue’ points for which there is no cogent evidence of chronological priority at all.  It can’t be dishonest to ignore these false points.

The acknowledgement of the granting of trade discounts between professional colleagues appears to have led to some kind of feeling that booksellers can afford to give a discount to anyone and everyone. This would only be possible if we over-egged all our prices to begin with – a wholly counter-productive policy in these days of internet transparency. The assumption misses several basic points.  Giving a colleague a discount is a professional courtesy – it ceases to be one if you are giving the same discount to anyone else who asks.  But the major point is that the courtesy is fully reciprocal – the cost of doing it is fully counterbalanced over time by the discounts received in return – an arrangement from which our customers naturally benefit and which frequently aids the efficient transfer of the right book to the right collector.  You can judge for yourself who that right collector may turn out to be – the one who responds positively and immediately to an offer saying, “Thank you so much for thinking of me”, or the one who wants to spend a month haggling over the price.

Pre-fair trading at bookfairs (although rarely a frenzy – the extent is exaggerated – more a matter of Dealer A knowing more than Dealer B, or having a customer back home for a book when Dealer B does not) is admittedly something which makes me uncomfortable, especially when the public are being charged for admittance.  The ABA used to try to outlaw it, some dealers decline to take part, but given the cost of exhibiting at major fairs, the exhibitors – especially the larger ones – need to buy well as well as sell. Without it, the major fairs would probably not be staged – and I’m not sure how that would really benefit anyone.  In truth, as someone who tends not to exhibit at fairs, simply to queue up for admittance at opening time along with everyone else, I have never felt particularly disadvantaged. The books I buy would be a great deal more expensive if I had to pay what the exhibitors are paying to be there: a basic stand in a secondary position at Olympia this year will cost £2,190, the largest well over £10,000 – plus all the extras, additional shelving or glass cases, telephone lines, the transport, the accommodation, and all the rest.

I seldom go to auctions these days: telephone bidding, online bidding, undisclosed reserves, staggering ‘premiums’ for services by and large not rendered, exemptions from almost all consumer legislation, and as for the in-house terms and conditions – well, simply compare and contrast the average auction-house conditions with those of the ABA Code – these have all made it difficult to buy to resell in that arena.  But let us be quite clear, improper collusion between dealers is illegal, outlawed variously and serially, albeit somewhat opaquely, by the Auction (Bidding Agreements) Acts (1927 & 1969), the Competition Act (1998), the Enterprise Act (2002) and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (2013).  The auction-houses have all the weaponry they need to protect their clients, the vendors, from any fraudulent conspiracy taking place under their gaze and on their premises: they are handsomely paid to do so, and thereafter it is a matter for police and lawyers.

Customer confidentiality and rights to privacy, although covered in large measure by the Data Protection Act (1998) – and although I have never heard of case where these have been infringed by any of my colleagues – are something the Code should address and the revised version will certainly do so.  We shall also look to include something on best practice when dealers are selling on commission or on consignment.  We should probably spell out with greater clarity what happens in the case of transgressions. Many of the clauses will be strengthened.  And there will also probably be more on identifying and indelibly marking such things as facsimile leaves.  But the debate is ongoing – please let me have your further thoughts. As our President points out, “There is little point in having a code of conduct if it doesn’t reflect the concerns of our customers”.

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The ABA Code

The ABA Code of Practice, reproduced in full below, was introduced in its modern form in 1997.  We felt at the time that it was that it was pretty robust – certainly stronger at that time than any of the comparable codes then applied by similar bodies, not just in the world of books, but across the antiques field in general.  It has served us well and our Standards Committee, introduced at the same time, has done quiet but effective work behind the scenes.  Complaints have been dealt with.  Honour upheld.

The Code has not remained static – the clauses on plagiarism and provenance, for example, are more recent additions – but the world moves on apace and we now work in a rather different environment.  The internet was only just beginning to make an impact back in 1997.  All such codes need to be revisited from time to time and following some discussion at the last ABA Council Meeting, I have been tasked with undertaking an initial review.  The need for this was reinforced at the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), at which I was substituting for our normal representative, Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop).  A discussion there focussed on the need to re-examine our various codes of practice in the light of modern circumstance – some of our colleagues in other organisations have already tightened their codes considerably.

Looking at the Code in detail again, after an interval of some years, I was struck by a number of things.  Firstly, reflecting its distant origins and antecedents – it was very much based on earlier codes drawn up by the International League (ILAB) and our colleagues overseas – is the way in which our general obligations to the public at large and our specific obligations to our colleagues in the trade have been muddled together.  My first recommendation shall be to separate these out more clearly, but this is perhaps a minor matter.

The second is that much of the Code is advisory rather than mandatory – many of the clauses contain an advisory ‘should’ rather than a mandatory ‘must’.  I now feel that in almost all cases a ‘must’ would be preferable. What we need above all in this global and internet age is to distance ourselves ever more clearly from the soi-disant booksellers (you have seen them all on ABE, Amazon and eBay), who acknowledge no professional code of practice at all and have never been willing to submit themselves to the judgement of their peers by joining a reputable trade association.  It is perhaps not a matter of ‘should’ any more.

Elsewhere, we might well now look at strengthening the Stolen Property clause, with requirements (at least for material of any significant value), for the exercise of formal due diligence checks, for following the joint ABA/CILIP guidelines on library thefts, the retention of records for a period of years, requiring signed warranties from vendors, taking and retaining photo ID, etc.  The codes of some comparable bodies are now much stronger in this regard, as they are on such things as import and export regulations, which may also need to look at.

There may also be a case for incorporating references to recent legislation – statutory regulations on money-laundering, dealing in tainted cultural property, and so forth, have all been introduced since the Code was first published – although we have to be careful here not to give the impression we can police or even investigate activities which are plainly criminal. We do not have the statutory powers, we can do no more than co-operate with the proper authorities – these are firmly matters for the constabulary.

We might look at some fresh clauses, perhaps something on restoration and repair, possibly requiring or requesting members to record all repair work on material of significant value and to keep, where appropriate, before-and-after photographic records.  These will all be matters for discussion and detailed line-by-line work in committee.  Such things are always a collaborative exercise – consensus on what is wise, necessary or desirable has to be negotiated and agreed.  Such regulation can only be imposed by consent.  The point of raising these matters here is to give you all a chance to comment, to make suggestions, and to have your say – whether or not you are one of the surprisingly small number of booksellers (perhaps only 10% of UK booksellers) who have signed up to the Code by joining the ABA.  What would collectors like to see in our Code?  What would all those non-ABA booksellers like to see in the Code which might persuade them to join?  What do ABA members themselves have to say?  How strong would we like the Code to be?  Does it need to be strengthened at all?  But let us at least collectively try to assemble something which will stand us in good stead for the next twenty years.  I shall be happy to collate all suggestions received and put them forward – just click on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the foot of this post.


aba_logo_2011ABA Code of Good Practice

This Code for members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association applies to all commercial transactions in which they are engaged. It is intended to regularise such transactions and to ensure that they are conducted according to the highest professional and ethical standards. Members are also subject to the Code of Usages and Customs of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Although similar in intent and purpose, the two Codes are not identical: should any dispute over interpretation arise, the ABA Code shall take precedence in all instances except where the matter in dispute lies between members of different national associations affiliated to the International League.

1a. DESCRIPTION AND DISCLOSURE. Members are responsible for the identification and accurate bibliographical description of all material offered for sale. All significant defects, restorations and sophistications must be clearly indicated. Unless the parties agree otherwise, a full and prompt refund shall be available to the purchaser of any misrepresented material. Members must understand and be responsible for the proper use and interpretation of the technical terms of the trade.

1b. AUTHENTICITY. Members shall vouch for the authenticity of all materials offered for sale. Should it be determined that such material is not authentic or is questionable, then it shall be returnable for full refund, or on some other mutually agreed terms. Material shown not to be authentic, or of disputed or undetermined nature, shall not again be offered for sale unless all facts concerning it are disclosed.

1c. PLAGIARISM. Catalogue descriptions and images are a species of intellectual property: members or their representatives should not steal or plagiarise from their colleagues; any quoted material should be acknowledged, and if substantial use is made of another bookseller’s text or images, permission should be sought in advance.

2. PRICING. Members are responsible for the professional, fair and informed pricing of all material offered for sale. Members should ensure that the selling price of all material offered for sale is clearly indicated. Material not for sale, or reserved, or being processed, should be appropriately segregated.

3. OFFERS TO PURCHASE must be fair, informed and honest. The offer should be valid either for an immediate transaction or for a stated period.

4. STOLEN PROPERTY. Members shall be responsible for passing to the buyer clear title to all material sold, and shall not knowingly purchase, hold, or attempt to sell stolen material. They shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that material offered to them is the property of the seller. They shall make every effort to prevent the theft of antiquarian books and the distribution of stolen material. To this end, when making purchases from private individuals or institutions, members are advised to:-

♦ record the vendor’s name and address,

♦ record details of significant purchases,

♦ make payments by cheque wherever possible,

♦ ensure that this record be signed and dated by the vendor.

5. EXTRA RECOMMENDATION. If a bookseller unwittingly purchases, in good faith, and with due diligence having been exercised, material stolen from another bookseller, it is recommended that, all legal proprieties having been observed, the material should be returned to the bookseller from whom it was stolen, but that he should pay to the purchaser one half of the price paid to the thief. This constitutes, between two booksellers, a “gentleman’s agreement”.

6. PRESERVATION. Members are committed to the preservation and study of historical materials and should not break complete and intact copies of books or manuscripts. It is recommended that wherever possible members record in identifiable detail and publish in their descriptions all observable marks of prior ownership (including details of binding) in any way illustrative of provenance or origin, as well as maintaining a full and permanent record of all matters relating to the purchase, provenance and subsequent sale of individual items of manifest interest or value.


The following are the standard terms approved by the Association:

Catalogues. The contents of catalogues should be priced and books should be genuinely available at that price subject to prior sale. Costs of carriage and insurance are normally extra.

Offers for Sale. It should be made clear at the time of offer whether or not this is subject to prior sale. If the offer is not subject to prior sale, an option should be assured for a specified time.

Payment. Members must pay colleagues in the trade in full for all materials purchased either (a) within thirty days of date of invoice or (b) within seven days of receipt of goods, whichever term is the later unless otherwise agreed.

Bank Charges. The supplier must be paid the full amount of his invoice; the buyer is responsible for all clearing and bank charges relating to the transaction.

Damage in Transit. Damage or loss in transit is the sender’s responsibility. Members should attend to the careful and appropriate handling, packing, shipping and insurance of material to ensure that it reaches the buyer in the same condition as when purchased.

Returns. Any article may be returned if it does not correspond with the seller’s description. Returns should be advised as soon as possible. The cost of returning material incorrectly described shall be the responsibility of the seller. The material should be in the same condition as when supplied.

On Approval. Consignments “on approval” requested by a prospective buyer must be supplied with a clear indication of the term allowed for a decision. When this term elapses the sale shall be deemed to be concluded if the goods have not been returned. If returned, postal and insurance charges both ways should be borne by the prospective buyer. Members who ask for material “on approval” or “on consignment” shall hold themselves responsible for such material from its arrival until returned or fully paid for.

Trade Discount. Members should permit any other members of an association affiliated and in good standing with the ILAB to buy any material offered for sale (i.e. priced) and should extend to such buyers the customary and reciprocal trade discount of at least 10%. Although not a formal arrangement, members are encouraged to offer comparable terms to members of other antiquarian associations.

8. VALUATIONS. Valuations must be fair, honest, impartial and expert. Members offering valuation or appraisal services shall be responsible for being conversant with and complying with whatever local or national fiscal regulations may be in force. Fees should be by prior arrangement.

9. AUCTIONS. The Association opposes all forms of malpractice at auction. No member shall engage in any activity, or be party to any covert or undisclosed agreements, whether with buyers, sellers, or auctioneers, that artificially distort the price paid in open sale. No member shall for any consideration agree with other persons not to bid at auction, or take part in a private re-auction of lots bought at public auction. Furthermore, every member shall pledge full support to the Council of the Association in its opposition to the activity of any ring within the trade in antiquarian books.

10. AUCTION COMMISSIONS. Members who accept commissions to purchase books or other materials for a client at auction will be expected to inspect the material prior to the sale and will not rely solely on information supplied by the auctioneer. Members should, of course, also exercise the utmost discretion and eliminate any risk of conflict of interest. Unless otherwise agreed before the sale, a commission fee, on the hammer price, of 10% is normally charged on successful bids only and all consequent invoices will be for immediate payment. The member is also responsible for collating and verifying the description of the material bought and returning to the auctioneer material which is defective or wrongly described where such defects and mis-descriptions are covered by the terms and conditions specified by the auctioneer. It is strongly recommended that terms between the member and the client are agreed and recorded in writing before, or on acceptance of the commission.

11. BOOKSELLER’S PREMISES. Members or their representatives should never solicit custom in another bookseller’s shop, book fair booth, or place of business without the introduction or consent of the proprietor.

12. EXPORT AND IMPORT REGULATIONS. Members are required to observe all restrictions, regulations and controls regarding the import or export of rare and valuable antiquarian books and manuscripts in whatever country or countries they transact their business.

13. INVESTMENT SCHEMES. Members must not promote antiquarian and rare books, or allied materials, as investment vehicles in themselves, or as part of investment schemes.

14. COMPLAINTS AND DISPUTES. Complaints and disputes regarding Association members are to be resolved in accordance with the precepts of this Code and under the disciplinary rules and procedures of the Association. Formal complaints against members should be made in writing to the Chairman of the Standards Committee of the Association. Customers can ascertain the procedure for such complaints through the ABA Office. Breaches of the Code may constitute grounds for reprimand, censure, the imposition of a compensation order, suspension or expulsion from the Association.

15. SUPPORT FOR THE CODE. All members are requested to place the shortened display version of this Code* in prominent view at their principal place of business. All members are required to pledge their full support to the Association in promoting and upholding the provisions of the Code. All members are likewise under a formal duty to assist the Standards Committee of the Association in any investigation that may be made. Any obstruction or wilful non-disclosure of relevant information shall of itself be deemed a breach of the Code.


The display of the Association’s badge pledges members to:-

  • the authenticity of all material offered for sale
  • the expert and proper description of all such material
  • the disclosure of all significant defects or restorations
  • the clear, accurate and professional pricing of all material
  • and the fairness and honesty of offers to purchase
Posted in ABA, Book Collecting, Booksellers | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Book-Hunters of 1888 (8)

BookHunters08(21) Mr Dykes Campbell – Top-hatted, in the far corner, back to the room, diligently scouring the shelves, is James Dykes Campbell (1838-1895), a well-travelled and well-to-do Scottish merchant of a literary bent.  Born in Port Glasgow into a shipping family, he spent a working life in Canada, India, and then in Mauritius, where in 1875 he married Mary Sophia Chesney (1856-1938), daughter of General Chesney, who commanded the island garrison. Following a European tour in 1878, Campbell retired from business in 1881 to concentrate on his literary pursuits from his flat at 29 Albert Hall Mansions.


James Dykes Campbell

Campbell was a collector of modern poetry.  In 1862, while still in Toronto, his admiration for Tennyson led to his privately publishing a well-meaning but illicit edition (“Poems, MDCCCXXX-MDCCCXXXIII”) of the early Tennyson poems omitted from the 1842 collected edition.  Tennyson subsequently went to court to prevent copies being sold by the London bookseller and publisher John Camden Hotten (“Hotten : Rotten, Forgotten”, as George R. Sims memorably summed him up).  Campbell had better fortune with Robert Browning, who became a friend. The forger Thomas J. Wise later recalled how Campbell came to complete his Browning collection in 1886: “I was invited by James Dykes Campbell to dine at his flat in Albert Hall Mansions, Kensington Gore. The only other guest that evening was Robert Browning.

Thomas J. Wise

Thomas J. Wise

After dinner Campbell and I sat smoking in the bow-window of his study, which overlooked the grounds in which the band of one of the then popular Exhibitions was playing; Browning, not smoking, strolled round the room looking at the contents of the bookcases which occupied two of its sides. ‘I see you have everything of mine, Campbell’, he observed. ‘No’, replied Campbell, ‘I still lack ‘Pauline’’.  ‘Oh, that gap can soon be filled’, said Browning; ‘the other morning I happened upon two copies of it; one of them shall be sent to you tomorrow’”.  To his chagrin, Wise, who had actually been present when Browning discovered the two copies in his father’s old trunk, was unable to obtain the second copy, which Browning wanted for his son. He had to wait two years and pay well over £20 for the copy which finally made its way into his library.  It may well have been this incident which led to Wise producing his type-facsimile of “Pauline” a few months later – printed for him by Richard Clay & Sons in one of his earliest, possibly his first, contact with a business with which his relationship which was to cause so much mischief.

BookHunters08KeyCampbell became Honorary Secretary of the newly founded Browning Society, but his chief fame is as the biographer of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  His thoroughly researched biographical introduction to E. H. Coleridge’s edition of the “Poetical Works” (1893) was separately published the following year as “Samuel Taylor Coleridge : A Narrative of the Events of his Life”.  It has been described as “a landmark in the history of the genre in that it defines the standards of scholarship, accuracy, documentation, and impartiality by which every biographer of Coleridge has since been measured” (Alun R. Jones).  Campbell and his wife moved to 40 West Hill, St. Leonard’s, in 1889 and later to Walton Lodge, 9 Beulah Road, Tunbridge Wells, where he died on 1st June 1895. He is buried in the churchyard at Frant.

PalmersBoy(22) Palmer’s Boy – “The youth training for bibliographical honours is known as ‘C. S. Palmer’s boy’” noted Karslake, and the fact that both he and Roberts could remember this much about the boy after a gap of some years seems to imply that he was not an unfamiliar figure in the rooms. I have no idea at all who he was, but his master must have been Clement Sadler Palmer (1854-1917), whose bookshop was at 100 Southampton Row.  A specialist in genuinely antiquarian material, Palmer had been born over his father’s bookshop at 18 Paternoster Row – his father being Ebenezer Palmer (1808-1887).  An uncle, Samuel Palmer, was a historian as well as a bookseller and printer, and compiled the Palmer Index to “The Times”, while another bookseller uncle, Joseph Palmer, has been called “the father of stamp collecting”: the boy, whoever he may have been, would not have lacked for mentors.  Clement Sadler Palmer had married Martha Elizabeth Millns (1858-1943), the daughter of a grocer from Barking, in 1884, but none of his eventual nine children would have been of an age to be the youth depicted here. Nor would a cousin, Ernest Stanley Vinall, who became Palmer’s apprentice in the 1890s.

At some point after 1901 Palmer gave up his shop and took up work as a “book expert” and cataloguer for Sotheby’s, “a charming, rather retiring man” according to Frank Herrmann’s history of the firm.  Palmer died at his home in Teddington on 10th December 1917, his personal effects stated at just £209.

William Chadwick Neligan

William Chadwick Neligan

(23) Dr Neligan – seated on the near side of the table, but with his back to the action, engrossed in his catalogue, is the bespectacled, top-hatted and well wrapped-up figure of Dr Neligan, “an erstwhile collector”, according to Karslake.  This must be the Reverend Doctor William Chadwick Neligan (1793?-1887), the well-known Irish antiquarian, collector, and rector of St. Mary Shandon in Cork.  I gather there is an essay on him somewhere in the pages of the “The Irish Book Lover” (Vol. VII, pp. 21-23, September, 1915), in its “Great Irish Book Collectors” series.  But this raises a problem, because by the time this wood-engraving was published in “The Graphic” of 26th May 1888, Dr Neligan had been dead at least six months – he died in Cork at the age of ninety-four in the latter part of 1887.  So – whatever the origins of this picture of a book-sale at Sotheby’s, whether Paget drew it from the life in one or more sessions, built it up from composite sketches, or perhaps worked it up from a photograph, we have to accept that the players in the scene are most probably the Book-Hunters of 1887 than those of 1888.  The blocks for a relatively large and complex piece of work such as this would no doubt have taken some time for Williamson to engrave; there may have been a delay in finding a suitable opportunity to feature the picture in the magazine, or it may even have been held back for a time in deference to the passing of Dr Neligan.

Gaining his degrees from Trinity College, Dublin, Neligan was a well-known figure in the Irish community, very much a part of the Protestant Ascendancy: one of his sermons was quoted  at length in the “Cork Examiner” (Monday 24th January, 1842) – “l would rather see the angel of the Passover, walk over us at midnight, till a cry, shrill and piercing, should ascend from every mother, and a groan deep and mournful from every father, because there was one dead in every family.  I would rather witness this, than see the spirit of Popery revived amongst us, and her hand lifted up to blight all that is fair, to crush all that is beautiful, and destroy all that is lovely in our country”.

Beyond that, Neligan was a highly successful collector of antiquities and coins as well as books. He wrote the occasional monograph, e.g. “A Brief Description of a Rare French Testament by the Doctors of Louvain, Printed at Paris, 1662, including some Notice of the Bourdeaux Testament of 1686” and seems to have sold and rebuilt collections throughout his later years.  Some “highly interesting antiquities”, including a “magnificent Roman lamp”, as well as illuminated manuscripts, were sold by J. Davy & Sons in 1851. Sotheby’s sold part of his library in 1854 and another portion in a two-day sale in 1872. Again in 1878 Sotheby’s produced a “Catalogue of Roman, Saxon, Irish & Other Antiquities; Bijouterie in Gold and Silver, the property of the Rev. William C. Neligan” – and there was still much left to disperse after his death.  Davy’s sold the “Works of Art and Objects of Antiquity, Comprising the Collection of Silver Plate & Antiquities of the late Rev. William C. Neligan”, while a four-day sale at Sotheby’s in July/August 1888 was led off by “Valuable Books & Manuscripts : including the Remaining Portion of the Library of the late Rev. William C. Neligan”.   

Charles Hindley

Charles Hindley

(24) Mr C. Hindley – immediately behind Dr Neligan, poring over a large book and seemingly oblivious to all else, is the bookseller Charles Hindley (1845-1900).  All Karslake has to say of him is that he “married one of the three handsome daughters of Mr. Poole, of Booksellers Row”.  No doubt Karslake’s recollection of the three handsome daughters was accurate enough, but he was mistaken as to their father.  On 2nd May 1874, Hindley in fact married Emma Jane Holmes (1851-1940), the eldest of the three daughters of another Booksellers’ Row bookseller, Percy Holmes (1826?-1884).  Originally from Sheffield, Holmes came south with his father, William Holmes, who had a bookshop at 31 Holywell Street (Booksellers’ Row) at least as early as 1839.


Sussex Advertiser, Tuesday 27th March 1855.

Hindley himself was also born into the trade. His father, also Charles Hindley, was a bookseller in Brighton with a James Dykes Campbell, Clement Sadler Palmer, William Chadwick Neligan, Charles Hindley, Earl of Warwick, timeless line in advertising for stock (see illustration). The younger Hindley came up to London as a young man to work for Reeves & Turner (see above). The 1871 Census finds him living in Barnard’s Inn, his occupations described as “compiler of indices, cataloguing, and other literary matters”.  He had already at this time compiled “The Book of Ready-Made Speeches … With Appropriate Quotations, Toasts, and Sentiments” (1869) and a catalogue of the Catnach Press, published by Reeves & Turner in the same year.  In 1871 he was editing “The Old Book Collector’s Miscellany : or, A Collection of Readable Reprints of Literary Rarities” (1871-1873).


Manchester Courier, Saturday 11th November, 1905.

Another compilation for Reeves & Turner in that year was “Curiosities of Street Literature, Comprising ‘Cocks’, or ‘Catch pennies’”.  By 1876 he had his own shop at 8 Holywell Street, moving to No. 41 in 1884, where he remained until his death on 17th March 1900.  His later publications of note included “The Life and Times of James Catnach” (1878) and “A History of the Cries of London” (1881).  He was, as the attached little piece from the “Manchester Courier” says, “a maker of books” as well as a seller of them – and the piece itself – “the little cavernous shops glowed with books” – is a charming recollection of the last days of Booksellers’ Row before it was taken down as part of an “improvement scheme” at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

(25) Earl of Warwick – Right at the back of the room, facing the auctioneer, is George Guy Greville (1818-1893), Fourth Earl of Warwick and Fourth Earl Brooke.  As Frank Karslake remembered him, “a courtly gentleman, quite of the old school.  Thirty-two years ago he came into my shop one day and bought a Fourth Folio Shakespeare, a beautiful copy in the original calf, for £20, and put it under his arm, just as it was, and walked away with it.  I think he told me he had the other three folios at Warwick Castle, and wanted it to complete the set”.

WarwickCastleExteriorEducated at St John’s, Oxford, M.P. for South Warwickshire 1845-1853, Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria, and married to Anne Charteris, daughter of the Ninth Earl of Wemyss, the Earl of Warwick was more than just a ‘courtly gentleman’.  He is remembered for his rebuilding and ‘gothic’ improvements at Warwick Castle, as well as being a major collector of arms and armour. And his book-collecting was considerably more serious than Karslake implies.

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

Aided by the scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889), the Earl assembled a superb collection of Shakespeare material, including a first folio and twenty-six quartos.  Four years after his death in 1893, the collection was sold in its entirety to the Folgers for £10,000 – their first major acquisition – the sale handled by Sotheran’s in conditions of utmost secrecy, with a flurry of cables, code-names and code-words.  Henry Clay Folger summed up the collection in 1914: “The beautiful library of Shakespeareana from Warwick Castle, most comprehensive, is essentially valuable for its manuscripts, manuscripts about Shakespeare and his life, the original notebooks of early commentators, and best of all, early manuscript copies of the plays.  Indeed, the catalog claims every known copy before 1700”.

Final instalment coming shortly …

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2015 in review

A Happy, Prosperous and Productive New Year to you all – thank you for coming, thank you for following, thank you for reading, and let’s look forward to 2016.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (7)

bookhunters7Continuing on from the previous instalment, we reach (17) Mr Walford — one of two Walfords in the room, the two muddled by the editors of “The Graphic”, but this bookseller seated at the table next to Edward Cambridge Stibbs, looking anxiously towards the auctioneer, is undoubtedly Robert Walford  (1830-1899).  As Frank Karslake reminisced some years later — “Next to Mr. Stibbs is the late Robert Walford.  His business was founded in 1850, at 320 Strand, (now pulled down), in conjunction with his brother, Mr. Osborn Walford, who still survives.  He died on Oct. 21, 1899, in his seventieth year, and his sons continue the business.  Mr. Walford was a man of commanding presence, and essentially a gentleman, coming of good stock, and having for cousins those well-known antiquaries and littérateurs Cornelius and Edward Walford.  He had, I am convinced, one of the kindliest of natures, accompanied by a witty, pungent tongue that could give utterance, without a shadow of offence, to biting phrases that no one else would dare to make use of.  Once, at a country sale, a very well-known bookseller, who is still alive, asked Walford if he could give him a match to light a cigar. ‘Certainly’, replied Walford, handing him a box, ‘I always carry some about with me for cadgers’.  But the merry twinkle in his eyes when he said such things robbed them of all their sting.  He once said, with regard to malicious gossip, that he always did what he considered right, and didn’t care a fig for what people said about him behind his back.  And you never heard backstairs gossip from him. What he had to say was said to your face, like the man that he was. He was one of the fraternity whom we may all be sorry to have lost”.

Robert Walford

Robert Walford

The Walford Brothers business probably began a few years later than Karslake suggests — 1855 was the family tradition — while the author and serious book-collector Cornelius Walford (1827-1885), whose ‘extensive and valuable library’ was  dispersed in 1886, was his eldest brother rather than a cousin. The historian and antiquary (29) Edward Walford (1823-1897), seated on the opposite side of the table, was perhaps only a distant cousin, but will be given his own separate treatment in due course.  Robert Walford was born at Witham in Essex and baptised there on 20th December 1830.  His parents, both Londoners, were the naturalist Cornelius Walford (1804-1883) and his wife Mary Amelia Osborn (1804-1877), who had married in 1826. Osborn Walford (1828?-1920) was the elder of the two book-selling brothers, but perhaps the junior partner — his first trade was that of a hair-dresser. The partnership almost came to an early end: an announcement in the “London Gazette” went so far as formally to announce its dissolution in March 1861, but perhaps common sense and family feeling prevailed at the last minute . The renewed partnership was to endure for over forty years and the business name of ‘Walford Brothers’  for considerably longer.


Robert Walford

Throughout Robert Walford’s lifetime the firm occupied the same premises at 320 Strand, with Robert and his extensive family (and his parents too for a number of years) all living over the shop. He had married Caroline Jane Frisby (1829-1900), the daughter of a Cambridge college servant,  at about the time partnership commenced, in the mid 1850s, and she already had two children of her own. These were rapidly added to and there seem never to have been less than eight children in the house over the next quarter of a century.

Walford was a well-known and highly regarded figure.  When he died after a long illness in 1899 a newspaper as far afield as the “Edinburgh Evening News” (Wednesday, 25th October 1899) mourned his passing: “One of the best-known booksellers in London has passed away, in his seventieth year, in the person Robert Walford, of the Strand. He was the youngest of three brothers [sic — in fact there were also two younger brothers] — one of whom still survives. The best known was the late Cornelius Walford, who, like Sir Arthur Mitchell, took up subject after subject, and never rested till he had become an authority on it.  The famous business in the Strand, built up by Robert and his brother Osborn, is the place to which all the European and American libraries come for their first editions, in which county histories are hoarded as if they were bullion at the Bank England, and where you can see some our statesmen (strictly incognito) playing the part the book-hunter”.

Probate of an estate valued at £8,104.18s.0d. was granted to a son, Arthur John Walford (1866-1943), who had formally joined the business in 1883, and who now became Osborn Walford’s partner.  Osborn retired in 1901 and another of Robert’s sons, Bertie Cornelius Walford (1873-1919), became a partner in turn. The business was compelled to move to 6 New Oxford Street in 1901 as the result of redevelopment work in the Strand. Arthur John Walford continued alone after Bertie’s death in 1919 and was still alive to see a final move to 69 Southampton Row in 1942, where the ‘Walford Brothers’ business remained until at least the mid 1950s, run by a man called George Albert Warne — a man remembered by Paul Minet, in perhaps less sensitive times , as ‘Fatty’ Warne.  

henry(18) Henry — up a ladder and with his back half-turned to the room is Henry the auction-room porter. There is now very little hope of identifying him further, which is a pity because he is probably the person in the room we would most like to hear from — no-one like the porter for knowing exactly what the sub-text of an auction might be.  As a complete guess, I might nominate Henry Banfield, a man of he right sort of age, described as an auctioneer’s porter on Census returns, and living just the other side of the Strand from Sotheby’s Wellington Street premises in the 1880s.

Henry Newton Stevens

Henry Newton Stevens

(19) Mr H. Stevens — seated next to Robert Walford  is Henry Newton Stevens (1855-1930), curiously identified as Bertram Dobell by Roberts, but correctly by both “The Graphic” and Frank Karslake.  Stevens I have written about elsewhere — he was to become the first president of the ABA in 1907 — but, for convenience, I shall recapitulate here.  He was born in Camden Town, London, on 7th June 1855, the only son of the celebrated, indeed legendary, bookseller Henry Stevens of Vermont (1819-1886) and his wife Mary Kuczynski, née Newton (1819-1891), who had married at St. Pancras the previous year.

The elder Henry Stevens had arrived in London in the mid 1840s and rather set the book world ablaze, virtually inventing ‘Americana’ as a bookselling category, helping to build some of the world’s greatest libraries — finding material for John Carter Brown, James Lenox, Pierpont Morgan, Henry Huntington, William Folger and others — and founding a business which passed on standards of bibliography, expertise in the rarest of books, and scrupulous collation to his son, Henry Newton Stevens, grandson, Henry Stevens, and great-grandson Henry Robert Peter Stevens. His papers are now at Yale.

Henry Newton Stevens was brought up in London, the family recorded at 2 Byng Place, Tottenham Court Road, on the 1861 Census return — his father simply described as ‘literary’ by way of occupation.  In 1864, his step-sister, Pauline Ann Kuczynski, married the recently widowed and wildly eccentric vicar-poet, Robert Stephen Hawker of Morwenstow, which must have lent some colour to family gatherings. The 1871 Census return records the young Henry Newton Stevens at school at Nassau House in Barnes.

henry-stevens-advertHe may not originally have intended a career in the rare book trade. When he married Lucy Elizabeth Baker (1856-1907), daughter of a local bootmaker, at Holy Trinity, Clapham, on 15th August 1878, he was described simply as an accountant. (His father was described in the parish register as an American literary agent).  A son, also Henry Stevens, was born the following May — the young couple’s address given as Vermont Cottage, Paragon Grove, Surbiton, in a newspaper announcement.  They were still in Paragon Grove in 1881, at which time Henry Newton Stevens was described as a commercial clerk.  It is possible that he was already working for his father in this capacity — he was certainly doing so by 1885 when the firm became known as ‘Henry Stevens & Son’, the business moving at that time from 4 Trafalgar Square to 115 St. Martin’s Lane.  Henry Stevens senior died at his home in Upper Avenue, Regent’s Park, on 28th February 1886. Henry Newton Stevens was described as an ‘antiquarian bookseller’ — an earlyish use of that phrase in its modern sense — when the will was proved (the personal estate valued at an exceedingly modest £151.12s.6d).

The business moved to larger premises at 39 Great Russell Street in 1888 — the year that this image was engraved.  He was ‘as upright as his father was slippery’ according to one account and soon began to acquire his own reputation for expertise and scholarship. Among his later publications were “Lewis Evans : His Map of the British Colonies in America. A Comparative Account of Ten Different Editions Published between 1755 and 1807” 1905; “Ptolemy’s Geography. A Brief Account of all the Printed Editions down to 1730” 1908; “The First Delineation of the New World, and the First Use of the name America on a Printed Map. An Analytical Comparison of Three Maps” 1928. Formal recognition of his authority and stature came with the award of an honorary master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1923, at the instigation of William L. Clements.

Meanwhile the business had expanded with the addition of his own son, Henry Stevens III, who became a partner in 1907, and a further partner in Robert Edward Stiles (1869-1937), the son of a local piano dealer who had worked with Stevens since at least 1891 and became a partner in ‘Henry Stevens, Son & Stiles’ in or about 1905.


Henry Newton Stevens

Stevens’ home life was evidently less fortunate and less straightforward. In 1898 or thereabouts he left his wife and set up a separate establishment at 3 The Paragon, Richmond, with Marie Levy (1865?-1943), one of the many daughters of Joseph Levy and his wife Rosa, whose premises at 110 Waterloo Road were variously described as an eating-house, a hotel or a coffee-house.  The couple had four daughters between 1900 and 1905 before they able to marry in 1907 (on the death of his first wife) and set up a new home in Upper Norwood. Their daughter Dulcie later married Roland Tree, who became a partner in the business, in 1924. Henry Newton Stevens died on the 26th April 1930. Probate was granted to his widow, Marie, his son Henry, his son-in-law Roland Arthur Louis Tree, and to Charles Stanley Meadows, an insurance official . His estate was valued at £10,237.15s.2d.

Bartholomew Robson

Bartholomew Robson

(20) Mr Robson — The various commentators are for once in agreement that this rather severe-looking figure is a Mr Robson. Despite his being one of the leading London booksellers of the time, Roberts makes no mention of him at all in the text of “The Book-Hunter in London” (1895), while Karslake says merely that “The next seated figure is that of Mr. Robson, of Coventry Street”.  This reticence is mystifying, because of all the people in the room, Karslake must have known Bart Robson the best and had most to say about him.  They had known each other at least since 1871, when as young men venturing out into the book trade they were boarding together in the same lodging-house in St. Pancras, and, back in the days when Karslake was still spelling his name Kerslake, they were partners together, trading as ‘Robson & Kerslake’, for at least ten years, probably more.

Perhaps there had been a serious rift, such things happen in partnerships, but, as against that, Robson became a founder member of Karslake’s ‘Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association’ (soon to become the ABA) in 1906, when others did not — but then Kerslake/Karslake is a mystifying man.  He deserves and shall get a full-length treatment of his own on another occasion.  To judge from the frequency with which ‘Robson & Kerslake’ labels turn up in provenance notes, they were pretty good booksellers — this full-page advertisement from an 1894 directory shows their ambition — and Robson was known throughout his career for the fine condition of his stock.  The partners also dabbled, perhaps rather more than dabbled, in pornography, but that too can wait for a separate piece on Karslake.       

Bartholomew and Emily Robson at their home at Lifford Lodge, Addiscombe – about 1912. © Property of Felicity Fuller (Lang Family) – Emily Lang was a niece of Bartholomew Robson.

Bartholomew and Emily Robson at their home at Lifford Lodge, Addiscombe – about 1912. © Property of Felicity Fuller (Lang Family) – Emily Lang was a niece of Bartholomew Robson.

His former partner, Bartholomew Robson (1846-1928), was actually baptised Bartholomew Robson Swinyard, son of William and Martha Swinyard, at Horsham in Sussex on 3rd January 1847.  That is also the name he was married under and the one given in probate records after his death in 1928.  Elsewhere the Swinyard was simply and completely dropped. His father had been a somewhat peripatetic and perhaps erratic pipe-maker and Robson was brought up mainly by his uncle, also Bartholomew Robson, a schoolmaster in Jamaica Row, south of the Thames, and a man who gave public lectures on English poetry to the workers of the waterside in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. The younger Bartholomew Robson was already trading for himself as a bookseller when he married Emily Bird (1849-1936) in 1872. She was the daughter of an Essex cowman and formerly a housemaid in Brighton.

The Robson family home at  Lifford Lodge, Addiscombe – about 1912. © Property of Felicity Fuller (Lang Family) – Emily Lang was a niece of Bartholomew Robson.

The Robson family home at Lifford Lodge, Addiscombe – about 1912. © Property of Felicity Fuller (Lang Family) – Emily Lang was a niece of Bartholomew Robson.

Robson had set up for himself in Castle Street, off St. Martin’s Lane, in 1869 or 1870.  On one slow day in the bookshop he determined to stay open, all night if necessary, until he had made a sale.  Sometime after midnight he enticed in a local restaurant-owner, who having bought one book for a very handsome five pounds, then grew enthusiastic and bought more and more at the same price.  The books were delivered before breakfast the next morning to the absolute fury of the restaurant-owner’s wife — throughout his career Robson could relate only that ‘her flow of language’ had to be left to the imagination.

 robson-kerslake-adHe moved to Cranbourn Street in Soho, in 1873, later joining forces with Frank Kerslake in Coventry Street in the 1880s.  Kerslake left London for his mysterious four-year Californian adventure in 1892, but seems to have retained an interest in the business (his name continues to appear both in advertisements and in the rate-books for Coventry Street until 1895). On his return in 1896, now spelling himself Karslake, he set up his own business on the Charing Cross Road, while Robson remained in Coventry Street, trading as Robson & Co., until 1918. Subsequently in Hanover Street, the business was turned into a limited company in 1922, with Frank Bathurst as managing director, although Robson may himself have retired somewhat before that date.  He died at his home in Addiscombe on the 22nd January 1928.  Probate was granted to his widow as Emily Robson Swinyard — his effects stated at £1,530.18s.4d.

Post updated January 2017 to include two family photographs of Bartholomew Robson and his wife and home, reproduced with the generous permission of Felicity Fuller (Lang Family), whose grandmother was a niece of Bartholomew Robson.

To be continued …

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