Lines of Thought

culI’m not sure whether there is, or even whether there should be, a recognised collective noun for a bunch of booksellers, although the googleweb thrums with suggestions – a bind or a binding; a blessing (thank you);  a case;  a chapter – which has a certain historical basis, although it makes me think of printers rather than booksellers;  a commission;  a dickens or a trollope (but not apparently a shakespeare or an austen);  a doze of bookfair exhibitors;  an eccentricity;  an extinction (a little bleak);  a generosity (thank you, again);  a madness (speak for yourself);  a mildew (a little harsh); a poverty (a little too truthful) ; a quire;  a ream;  a remainder – which is quite clever;  a ring (careful!); a scruff (ouch!);  a set;  a shelving;  a shuffle;  a signature;  a stack;  a stealth (don’t know where that one came from, although it has a ring to it);  a treasure;  a volume (not least for the noise they make when assembled together), or even a whinge of booksellers (cruel). No doubt you can think of others – perhaps a corduroy or a tweed of booksellers.

Whatever we call ourselves, there was a gathering of many of our brightest and best at Cambridge University Library the other day. I won’t pick out names – but many of them have featured here on the blog at one time or another.  We had been invited there to celebrate an anniversary.  The library is celebrating its six hundredth anniversary this year (yes – 600 years – pause to consider that).  It’s a slightly arbitrary anniversary – to be precise, it is six hundred years since the first recorded mention of the library – two bequests were made to it in 1416, which implies that the library was probably already something of a feature in university life. There was even a library catalogue by 1424, although admittedly only listing 122 volumes.  Big oaks, little acorns – there are now over eight million items and more than 128 miles of shelving.


© Cambridge University Library. Geoffrey Chaucer, The workes of Geffray Chaucer newlye printed, wyth dyuers workes whych were neuer in print before. 1542. Sel.2.2, f. clxvii.

We assembled at the small exhibition which has been running all summer – “Lines of Thought” – a selection of some of the greatest and most interesting treasures.  Mark Purcell, Head of Research Collections, welcomed us with a generous and gracious tribute to the quiet but important part the book-trade makes in the building of great libraries. We met and mingled with the librarians and discussed what we do and what they do.  All exceedingly pleasant and good things shall surely flow. Lines of communication firmly established.  And the consensus was that more libraries should host receptions for the trade – in fact all libraries should, preferably weekly.

There was some intrigued speculation on who had and had not been invited – and why.  But I gather it was simply a matter of the librarians inviting booksellers they knew personally or had bought from recently.  Certainly it was an impressive group of the trade’s most scholarly and studious.


© Cambridge University Library. UMZC 17/Col/8/y/26, Columbia livia – domestic, almond tumbler. UMZC 17/Col/8/y/9, Columbia livia – ancestral, rock dove. Objects on loan from the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

As for the exhibition itself – small, as I say – not a vast number of books and two of them on closer inspection turned out in fact to be dead pigeons.  Close inspection was mandatory – the lights were low, very low.  Conservators are good people of course, but they do sometimes forget that the point of conserving things is to enable them to be seen.   Apparently people visiting the exhibition have taken to using their mobiles as torches, which rather defeats the object.  No such bad behaviour from the booksellers, obviously.

Isaac Newton

© Cambridge University Library. Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica. 1687. Adv.b.39.1, p. 3 and facing added leaf.

With so much wealth to pick from, the selection of what to include in this anniversary exhibition must have been far more searching and exhaustive than the question of which booksellers to invite. But under six basic themes – roughly communication, science, faith, history, genetics and anatomy – we were given the key moments  in the history of human thought.

Charles Darwin

© Cambridge University Library. George Montbard, Watercolour caricature of Charles Darwin in the ‘Gallery of Ancestors’, ca.1871. MS DAR 225: 178.

So many eye-catching things that it’s difficult to single a handful out – a Gutenberg bible and a first folio in the same room. The great works of Copernicus, Galileo, Halley – and Isaac Newton’s own copy of the “Principia Mathematica”, heavily annotated. A Stephen Hawking draft typescript for “A Brief History of Time” just across the way to bring us up to date.

Much on Darwin and then even more on Darwin of course – hence the pigeons (his observations on selective breeding were largely drawn from the work of pigeon-fanciers).  A curious display-case on one wall  with the great literature of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer – and Margaret Drabble (I make no comment).


© Cambridge University Library. Printing plate for Porto-Bello: or a plan for the improvement of the port and city of London. 1789. Maps.17.G36.

And a personal favourite – an eighteenth-century copper printing plate for a rather crude map of London. The etching and engraving unsigned, the workmanship far from the best, but how nice to see an actual printing plate for a map after spending so many years studying the engravers of such things.  All in all, a very pleasant day out.  The most enormous thank you to all concerned.  Do try and catch the exhibition if you can – it’s only on for a couple more days, but there is a very interesting online version too which will hopefully stay up longer (

Posted in Antique Maps, Booksellers, Exhibitions, Libraries, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

W. J. Adams of Fleet Street


Fleet-Street and St. Dunstan’s West. – Mid-Day. 1851.

Just back from a delightful couple of days in the north of England working through an extraordinary private collection of early British tourist and guide-books.  My co-author Ashley Baynton-Williams and I are planning on an online supplement of addenda and corrigenda to our “British Map Engravers” and, although we have only been told of a mere handful of ‘missing names’ since it was published in 2011, we both felt that there must be more.  We also felt that, if anywhere, we would probably find them amongst the numerous ad hoc maps locally produced for local guides.  We jumped at the chance to get to work on this collection.

We were right in our assumption and shall now be adding entries for John Beck of Leamington;  Joel Bennett of Southampton, for an attractive map made to accompany the fourth edition of John Bullar’s “A Companion in a Tour round Southampton” (1819);  William Gill Brown of York for a couple of plans made to accompany a guide published by Henry Sotheran in York in 1852;  James Chapman, also of York;  the splendidly-named Appleyard Ginder of Canterbury;  the York lithographers William Roger Goddard and his partner John William Lancaster; the well-known wood-engraver Orlando Jewitt, now to be included for a plan of Ripon Cathedral; John Lavars of Bristol;  the artist Philip John Ouless of St. Helier and his collaborator H. Walter; that English pioneer of lithography David Redman, and possibly James Williamson of Lincoln, although strictly speaking he falls just outside our cut-off date.  A dozen fresh names to add to the 1600 or 1700 already in the dictionary – a few more than we hoped, considerably less than we feared.

We saw many other delightful things of course – I was particularly taken with a plan of Cambridge by Friedrich Schenck of Edinburgh – a little jewel of early colour printing made to accompany “The Pictorial Guide to Cambridge” (1847) – but we always like to come across pictures of old bookshops and here is the frontispiece to “Adams’s Pocket London Guide Book”, published by W. J. Adams of Fleet Street – undated but evidently one of the spate of new London guides brought out to try and cash in on the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Edward Litt Leman Blanchard

Edward Litt Leman Blanchard

The text to the book is by the always interesting Edward Litt Leman Blanchard (1820-1889), king of pantomime, peerless and tireless hack – he who once wrote,

“Those that work are the illustrious,

And those most noble are the most industrious”.

The frontispiece is captioned “Fleet-Street and St. Dunstan’s West. – Mid-Day” (although the clock outside the watchmaker William Halksworth’s premises, next door to Adams, is very far from mid-day).  It was engraved by ‘Delamotte’ –Freeman Gage Delamotte of Red Lion Square – a regular contributor to Adams’ publications, but it is the publisher William James Adams (1807-1873) himself who interests me.  He is the almost wholly forgotten man behind the story of Bradshaw’s Railway Guides – those indispensible handbooks which so informed the travel and coloured the imagination of generations of British readers.

Michael PortilloMichael Portillo has done it on television more recently, but here is Israel Zangwill planning his holidays in the 1890s – “I would travel for weeks in Bradshaw, and end by sticking a pin at random between the leaves as if it were a Bible, vowing to go where destiny pointed. Once the pin stuck at London, and so I had to stick there too, and was defrauded of my holiday”.

The Bradshaw was as ubiquitous and as necessary as the latest app. Andrew Lang complained in 1892 that the older families nowadays never added a book to their ancestral libraries, “except now and then a Bradshaw or a railway novel”.  The Bradshaw turns up everywhere in fiction – in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”, in Max Beerbohm’s “Zuleika Dobson” (one of the two books in Zuleika’s ‘library’) and in Erskine Childers’ “The Riddle of the Sands” – “an extraordinary book, Bradshaw, turned to from habit, even when least wanted, as men fondle guns and rods in the close season”. And they were loved most of all by the crime writers – to disprove an alibi, to project a theory, to hinge a plot. There are Bradshaws in the Sherlock Holmes stories, in Agatha Christie, and in all their lesser brethren.  Here’s the conspiracy-obsessed William Le Queux in 1919 (I include this chiefly to please a friend):

“That gave me a further clue. I took down a Bradshaw, and, glancing at the train by which the little fat man had travelled, made an interesting discovery.  It was the Newcastle express.  I began to see why the mysterious little man had booked to Peterborough.  That afternoon I ascertained that the parrot’s cage in the house in Lembridge Square sported a broad ribbon of yellow satin … An hour after midnight came another air-raid alarm – the second to coincide with the appearance of the yellow ribbon” (Sant of the Secret Service).

George Bradshaw

George Bradshaw

The Bradshaw was of course the invention of the eponymous Mancunian George Bradshaw (1800-1853), map-engraver turned publisher, and Bradshaw is rightly and duly honoured – but it was his London agent W. J. Adams of Fleet Street who was his chief apostle.  It was at Adams’ transformative suggestion that the initial price was halved and that publication became monthly.  It was Adams who soon became the lead publisher.  It was Adams who commissioned Blanchard to compile a whole series of travel guides to lure people on to the trains and who more or less invented the concept of rail travel for pleasure  –  “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the London & Brighton Railway” (1844); “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the London & South Western Railway” (1845); “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the South Eastern Railway” (1846); “Adams’s Illustrated Descriptive Guide to the Watering-Places of England, and Companion to the Coast” (1848); “Adams’s Pocket Descriptive Guide to the Lake District” (1852) and so many more.  As early as 1848 he published Edwin Lee’s “Continental Travel with an Appendix on the Influence of Climate, the Remedial Advantages of Traveling [sic]”.

bradshaw 1842Adams became even more of the guiding figure after Bradshaw’s untimely death (he died of cholera in Oslo in 1853) – and it was Adams who expanded the range of the Bradshaw companions, timetables, guides and separately published maps to cover the railways and cities of the world.  And for light reading on the journey – Blanchard and Adams combined again to publish “The Carpet Bag, Crammed Full of Light Articles, for Shortening Long Faces and Long Journeys” (1852).  It was Adams, in essence, who made the Bradshaw the national institution it became.  The whole story of the Bradshaw phenomenon is there in the picture.

Adams DetailAs for William James Adams himself, little is known.  The Wikipedia entry for George Bradshaw, although to some extent acknowledging Adams’ importance,  still gets his name wrong (William Jones Adams).  He was born in Westminster on 12th June 1807, the son of Thomas and Susanna Adams, and baptised at St. James Piccadilly. His early life beyond that remains wholly obscure. He married Sarah Hoole (1813?-1877), the daughter of an engineer, at All Saints Poplar 14th March 1831 and when their  first child Henry John Adams (1831-1881) was baptised early in 1832, W. J. Adams was described simply as a mariner. Quite how he progressed from there to becoming Bradshaw’s London agent in 1841, initially at 170 Fleet Street and then from 1843 at 59 Fleet Street remains unknown.

Bradshaw1842sampleOne of his comparatively small number of non-railway specific publications was “Compendium of the Improvements Effected in Electric Telegraphs, by Messrs. Brett and Little, with a Description of their Patent Electro-Telegraphic Converser” (1847), which suggests he was  a man entirely comfortable in the machine age.  And he was a man obsessed with work, one of Blanchard’s “most industrious” – although when his children were small the family had homes in Poplar and then Newington, by the 1850s they were all living right there on the premises at 59 Fleet Street.

The eldest son was trained in lithography and his younger brother William Robert Adams (1846-1917) was soon employed as his father’s assistant.  Both became partners in or about 1868, when the firm became ‘W. J. Adams & Sons’. The only daughter, Catherine Sarah Adams (1844-1861), died tragically of consumption at the age of seventeen.  Aside from his publishing, Adams was a famously efficient passport agent, able to produce a passport with all the necessary visas in next to no time. He became a freeman of the City of London in 1856 and he was also the senior churchwarden at St. Dunstan in the West, just across the street, in 1869. He died at 59 Fleet Street on 21st December 1873 and was buried at Norwood on the 27th, leaving a considerable estate valued at something under £9,000.

The business continued unchanged as ‘W. J. Adams & Sons’ at 59 Fleet Street beyond his own death and that of his elder son in 1881, until William Robert Adams retired to Dorking in 1901, the enterprise then reverting to the Blacklock family, Bradshaw’s original partners in Manchester. And at this point, the Bradshaw was still only halfway through its illustrious history – the guides continued appearing until 1961.

Posted in Antique Maps, Booksellers, Bookshops, Engravers, Forgotten Authors, Mapsellers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hyman Kaner (1896-1973)


Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Good to run into lots of friends and colleagues – old and new – at London Rare Books School last week. Not least, Paddy Elliott of Madoc Books in Llandudno. I mention him in particular because Llandudno (handsome seaside resort on the north coast of Wales, for those whose geography isn’t all it should be) bubbled to the surface again just a few days later.

I was asked if I knew anything further of the author and publisher Hyman Kaner of Llandudno, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago as one of the publishers who commissioned artwork from H. W. Perl.  Well, no – not really – but the various available accounts of him are all a little sketchy and I can fill in a few gaps.  And it’s an excuse to show some more Perl covers.

Kaner first surfaces on the 1901 Census returns as the five-year-old Haim Isaac Kaner, eldest son of Carol Kaner and his wife Debora or Deborah, née Weisental. All three were born in Romania, but by this time were living in London.  A family tree gives Hyman’s place of birth as ‘Gulatz’ – presumably the large port of Galați on the Danube.  Carol Kaner had a tobacconist’s shop at 48 Cambridge Road, Mile End, where the family lived with a second son, Israel Isidore Kaner, who had been born in London two years earlier.

A surviving school admissions record shows Hyman Kaner being enrolled at Enfield Road School in Hackney on 19th March 1906, noting his date of birth as 19th August 1896 (a date later given as 13th August 1896 when he died in 1973 – I’m not sure which is correct). His previous school had been Settles Street, where Perl himself was a pupil for a short time. Kaner stayed at Enfield Road until 1908 and, as we shall see, his early education evidently served him well.

In 1911 the Kaners were living in cramped accommodation (just three principal rooms) at 141 Balls Pond Road, Islington. Carol (now Charles) Kaner is no longer a tobacconist but working as an assistant in a draper’s shop. In a marriage of fifteen years, five children in all had been born, with four still living  – the boys Hyman and Isidore, as they are now named, have been joined by daughters Rosie and Vera.

By the 1920s, Hyman Kaner was still living at home with his parents at addresses in Bethune Road, Stoke Newington, and Sanderstead Avenue, Hendon, but in 1926 he married Lily Hashfield (1902-1965), the London-born daughter of a Russian mechanical engineer and his Polish wife. Her father, Morris Hashfield, generally in tandem with his business partner Hermann Allbrook, is known for a number of patents taken out for improvements relating to sewing-machines, double-loop stitching, chain-stitching, fur and glove sewing, looper-shafts, machine-stitched buttonholes, mechanical embroidery, etc.

Two sons, Philip Gerald and Peter Alan Kaner, were born 1927 and 1929, both births registered at Edmonton, as was the marriage. The birth of a daughter, Daphne, was registered at Hendon in 1933, but in the interim the Kaners had been living at Leigh-on-Sea, on the Essex Coast, where Hyman Kaner was recorded in directories as Hyman Kaner, B.Sc., A.S.A.A., incorporated accountant. He is generally reported to have been a civil servant, rather than an accountant, but both were probably true at different periods.

In 1937 his “A New Theory of Goodwill” was published by Pitman – this must be ‘goodwill’ in the business sense used by accountants, rather than some utopian scheme for spreading happiness: it was followed in 1938 by “Balance Sheets Explained, Analysed, and Classified : A Guide for Investors, Professional Men and Students”, again published by Pitman.

The family had been living in North London – Clifton Road in Crouch End, then Cranbourne Gardens in Hendon in 1938-1939, but Kaner next appears in Llandudno. He was presumably among the 5,000 employees of the Inland Revenue (plus their families) who were sent there as a perceived safe area in 1940.  Apparently over 400 hotels and guest-houses were requisitioned to accommodate them, while a similar number of civil servants from the Ministry of Food descended on nearby Colwyn Bay (someone must have written a comic novel about this, surely).

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

In or about 1944, Kaner began to write and publish his own work – a very mixed bag, mainly but not exclusively crime, mystery and science fiction.  As a number of the books are undated the sequence is far from clear.  Some appeared in hardback, some in paperback, some in both forms. I suspect his first essay at self-publishing was in fact “Is Capitalism a Failure?”, billed as the first title in the “Progressive Thought Series”, printed for him by a local firm in Conway and the only one of these titles not expressly published by the Kaner Publishing Co.  I am not at all sure that any more titles appeared in the series, and he seems quickly to have decided that he might make his points better by the use of fiction.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

The topically-titled collection of short stories “Fire-Watcher’s Night” (1944) was billed as the first in a new “Red Band” series – and may indeed have had its genesis in nights of fire-watching. The series is labelled “completely irregular” by the British Library and I don’t know which, if any, of the following titles were also part of it.  Hubin notes that some of the four stories are “criminous”, and one at least “Cuthbert Pistlethwistle and the Ghost” sounds like a ghost story. It is said that the collection was later reissued under the title “The Professor’s Drug” – the title of one of the other stories.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Perhaps it was too many years of staring at balance sheets that led to the wittily titled “Squaring the Triangle and other Short Stories” (1944).  It comprises ten stories, including “Love at Dark Sight”, “Psychomigrology”, “Slimming” and “War Flash, A.D. 1975”.  The six stories in various styles of “Hot Swag” (1945) include “The Passing of the Dictator” and “Returning a Wife”.  Not all of the stories in “The Naked Foot” (1945 or 1946) are new.  These were followed by “A Lady Screams”; “The Cynic’s Desperate Mission”, “The Terror Catches Up”; “Ape-Man’s Offering” and “An Alibi Too Much” (all apparently 1946).  Some of the stories had appeared before, but new ones included “Prize-Winning Bride” and “Emergency Wife”.

twilightAll of the above titles are scarce, some exceedingly so, but for reasons that are not at all clear (perhaps simply a matter of over-production in the first instance) Kaner’s two best-known titles, his novels “The Sun Queen” and “People of the Twilight” (both 1946), are also much the most common.  Both are science fiction, the first, incorporating (we are told), “many novel theories and ideas”, sees Roger Marshall and his girlfriend Joan Lorimer teleport themselves into a sunspot and find the Sun Queen engaged in a terrible war against the Black Knights and the evil superstition of the Rock God.  In the second, Professor Hayton discovers a gateway drug to an amazing and idyllic parallel world – but shatters the peace and happiness of a lost race.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Although Kaner produced one more collection of his own stories, “Ordeal by Moonlight” (1947), including “A Deal in Husbands”, he now switched briefly to publishing the works of others. There were a handful of popular favourites – Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (1947); R. M. Ballantyne’s “Martin Rattler” (1947); W. H. G. Kingston’s “Manco, The Peruvian Chief (1948), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” (1949). There were some short stories from Hamilton Enterkin in “Dames out the Ring” (1948); a book called “Guns Up – Pronto!!”(1949) from Jeffrey Parlick, and, most notably, some science fiction from John Russell Fearn in the form of “The Slaves of Ijax” (1947) – as well as three westerns from the same hand: “Rustlers Canyon” (1947);  “The Avenging Ranger” (1948) and “Yellow Gulch Law” (1950). This last title was published at Harrow after the Kaners had returned to the London area in or about 1949. In that year they were living at 70 Gayton Road, Wealdstone, with Morris Hashfield also in residence.  Kaner’s publishing career then came quietly to an end with Cliff Rogers’ “The Dame Laughed” (1952).

The Kaners subsequently moved in succession to Chiswick, Twickenham and Barnes. Lily Kaner died early in 1965 – Hyman now simply referred to at the granting of probate as a chartered accountant. He himself died at Hendon on the 21st August 1973, shortly after his seventy-seventh birthday.

Posted in Book Collecting, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors, Pulp Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Assertive Cataloguing

Reese description

Photo via Aaron T. Pratt @aarontpratt

My attention was recently drawn to this rather assertive, not to say pugnacious, example of cataloguing from the excellent William Reese Company of Connecticut.  A little barbed for some tastes, perhaps, but the point is a well-made and timely one.  It may also provide us with a useful model and a way forward in attempting to deal with the relentless accretion of false bibliography which is cluttering up the internet: there is scarcely a collected author about at least one of whose books some demonstrably untrue – or at least highly dubious – claim is not being made.


The William Reese copy

It is timely, first in that I am due next week to give lectures at the London Rare Books School on both “Bibliography in the Book Trade” and “Cataloguing in the Book Trade”.  This will provide a useful case-study in how these things can go wrong.  By my count, there are currently five different copies of this Brooke pamphlet listed on the internet stating that it was “limited to only 500 copies”;  “published in an edition of only 500 copies”; “only 500 copies printed”, or some variant of that formula.  All five appear on the appalling ABE, home of bibliographical iniquity, which comes as no great surprise, but it is more than a little alarming that two also appear on the ILAB website.  Quite who has copied whom, or whether perhaps all these descriptions derive from some earlier misconception now disappeared from the listings, it is impossible to say.  Certainly there is no credible source for the claim.

Keynes 28

From the Keynes bibliography

The Keynes bibliography is quite unambiguous that 20,000 copies were printed and the earlier Danielson bibliography does not bother listing the pamphlet at all – all five sonnets had previously appeared more than once elsewhere – although this is the earliest form in which most people would have encountered them and the pamphlet has an interest and a particular resonance all of its own.  The “500” mistake – and I have no doubt that it is a mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead – presumably derives in some fashion from the fact that only 500 copies were printed of Brooke’s “Poems” in 1911.  Take away the inverted commas and the statement that Brooke’s poems were first printed in an edition of 500 copies is both true and thoroughly misleading.

We all make mistakes – I know that full well.  I discovered something of a howler of my own while researching the lecture: a case of actually being misled by the bibliography itself and not double-checking in the index.  But spotted and quickly corrected and some mistakes are more culpable than others.  This “500” error is a serious one.  It implies that the pamphlet is far more scarce and therefore more valuable than it actually is and, perhaps worse, there is an implied suggestion that the culprits know rather more of these matters than other booksellers, who quite properly make no mention of the supposedly small number of copies printed, and are thereby made to look as if they are the ones who have not done their homework.

What makes matters worse in this instance is that three of the culprits go on to say that “this scarce pamphlet is Brooke’s third appearance in print”; “This was Brooke’s third appearance in print” or “His third overall appearance in print” – a claim even more extravagant and extraordinary than the “500 copies”.  If we exclude the prize poems privately published at Rugby, the corrected reprints of the 1911 “Poems”, the “Appius and Virginia” offprint, the probably earlier “War Poems” privately printed for Lady Desborough, the probably earlier American copyright copies of “1914 and Other Poems”, as well as the possibly earlier American-published play, “Lithuania” – which is rather a lot to exclude – then it might just be possible to claim the pamphlet as his third separate publication or his third conventionally published book of poems – but that is clearly not the same thing at all as his “third appearance in print”, for which to be true we would also have to exclude the dozens and dozens of Brooke’s lifetime contributions to periodicals – “The Meteor”, “The Phoenix”, “The Vulture” and “The Venture” at Rugby, “The Westminster Gazette” and “Saturday Westminster”,  “The Cambridge Review” (well over thirty contributions to that alone between 1907 and 1913), as well as contributions to “Basileon”, “The English Review”, “The Modern Language Review”, “The Nation”, “The Gownsman”, “The Spectator”, “The New Age”, “The Eye Witness”, “The Poetry Review”, “The Cambridge Magazine”, “Rhythm”,  “Internationale Monats-Schrift für Wissenschaft Kunst und Technik”, “Poetry and Drama”, “The Blue Review”, “New Numbers” and “The New Statesman”.

WesternDailyPress06041915I think what is actually meant or what lies behind this “third appearance” remark, perhaps its genesis, is that this might be thought the third appearance in print of these particular poems.  If we exclude their appearance in the eighty-seven copies of the unpublished American printing of “1914 and Other Poems” produced to secure copyright, and in Lady Desborough’s “War Poems”, both of which probably pre-date the pamphlet, this may be true of four of them, but certainly not the fifth.  All five of these war sonnets first appeared in the fourth issue of Lascelles Abercrombie’s fairly obscure quarterly “New Numbers”, published in deepest Gloucestershire in December 1914, and were then posthumously reprinted in the London edition of “1914 and Other Poems” in June 1915, before appearing in the pamphlet in November of that year.  In the interim Brooke had both died and become suddenly famous – hence the spectacular leap to a print-run of 20,000 copies – with Dr Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s, quoting from “The Soldier” (If I should die) in his Easter sermon in April 1915.  This led to the poem being printed, in full, in the press both at that time and again three weeks later when news of Brooke’s untimely death began to filter through.

GloucesterEcho27041915Here it is in the “Western Daily Press” on Tuesday 6th April 1915 and in the “Gloucestershire Echo” on Tuesday 27th April 1915.  It certainly also appeared elsewhere in the newspapers of the day and in the Poetry Bookshop’s “Georgian Poetry 1913-1915”, published in November 1915 and which may also pre-date the pamphlet.  Whichever way you look at it, this “third appearance in print” claim is complete and utter nonsense.  It is not even true of one of the poems , let alone of Brooke’s entire published output.  The appearance of this wholly implausible, improbable and untenable claim on these public websites damages the reputation of the book-trade as a whole.

The second way in which this highlighting of malfeasance is all rather timely is that the finishing touches are currently being put to the ABA’s new set of Guidelines which will accompany its Code of Practice.  Regular readers will have seen my posts on this topic from earlier in the year.  For some years past there has already been an injunction in place against plagiarism and the lifting of other booksellers’ catalogue descriptions, which is another aspect of this, especially if carried out in so uncritical a fashion.  I do not believe for a moment that the culprits in this case – none of whom, I must make clear, is an ABA member – have all independently come up with these “500 copies” and “third appearance in print” claims.  Someone has plainly been cribbing.

Just as pertinently, there has always been a general instruction in the Code that “Members are responsible for the identification and accurate bibliographical description of all material offered for sale”, which of itself covers the case fairly adequately, but – for the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say – we now intend to add the following sentence to the Guidelines: “They must have access to the most appropriate and up-to-date bibliographical resources and demonstrate their skill and scholarship in using them.  References must be sufficient and appropriate, and misleading statements or implication through selective quotation, omission, or uncritical use of outdated sources is strictly unacceptable”.

This is a testing standard, especially as much of our bibliographical inheritance may indeed be outdated, in particular the older point-mongering collectors’ guides.  I doubt very much that this applies to the Keynes bibliography of Rupert Brooke, but this was first published in 1954 and last revised (as far as I am aware) in 1964 – over fifty years ago.  I have no reason at all to doubt his figure of 20,000 copies for the pamphlet: he was at school with Brooke, began collecting his work at that time, and was familiar with his circle.  Although he does not give an explicit source for the 20,000 figure, an acknowledgement in the preface of help received from the publishers, Sidgwick & Jackson, “for information concerning the printing of Brooke’s works”, strongly suggests that the figure was taken direct from the publisher’s archive.  But even so, after this lapse of time, it may be worth someone having another look.  It’s the “uncritical use” of sources, wherever found – on the web or on the shelves – that is the problem.

Postscript: For a measured response from the always-worth-listening-to Jim Hinck of the go-to website for finding books, viaLibri – visit his own blog at

Jim makes some excellent points, of course, and there is little to disagree with, but to respond briefly: No – I certainly don’t hold the internet responsible for the creation of duff bibliographical information – there was plenty of that around before, especially, as I say, in the “older point-mongering collectors’ guides”. But the internet has caused its far more rapid and far-reaching dissemination and I am by no means as sanguine as he is that these examples can ever now be extirpated (see my “Not Peevish” post of 20th December 2013 and then check today’s online listings of “Dombey & Son” – I’m still waiting for someone to show me a copy of the book where Captain Cuttle’s hook is on his right arm).

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Rare Books London 2016 – Notes from a Young Collector

Kayleigh BettertonA guest-post from Kayleigh Betterton

As we come to the end of yet another London International Antiquarian Book Fair, the fifty-ninth ABA summer Fair to be precise, collectors’ pockets are feeling a little lighter and our Twitter feeds are now full of Instagrammed photos of illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings and dealers behaving badly at the exhibitors’ wine reception.  Customers and dealers alike are now making their way back home to unpack their treasures, or, if you’re in any way like Benjamin, to revel in the fact that ‘ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects’ … even if you’re now having to survive on Waitrose Essentials pasta for the rest of the month in order to ‘balance out the books’, so to speak.

fostersAnyway, enough philosophising, this year’s theme at Olympia – The Gothic – was a popular one; with stalls sporting a wide and varied range of Gothic works (although I’m not entirely sure if the PBFA dealers down the road at the ILEC got the memo …).  Peter Harrington put on a fine display, as per, with their Gothic display-case featuring the first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula”, with its impressive yellow cloth, amongst others.  On the Thursday evening, when Laurence and I had a wander round, they were also relating the story of Sammy Jay’s discovery of Mary Shelley’s copy of “Frankenstein”, inscribed to Lord Byron, as their Gothic anecdote for the weekend.  Stephen Foster, on the other hand, had a collection of exquisitely bound Jane Austens on display; with the celebrated Hugh Thomson 1894 edition of “Pride and Prejudice” and J. M. Dent’s “Northanger Abbey” (at least it’s Gothic pastiche) taking pride of place on his shelves.

congaBy the time I arrived back at Olympia on the Saturday, the tours were in full flow; with Jonathan Kearns giving an energetic talk about all things Gothic. Whereas Ben Maggs and Alice Rowell from Maggs Bros. were taking a more decadent route – with a tour and talk about the Book Beautiful (I hear that green velvet waistcoats and a glass of prosecco in hand were an obligatory aspect of this one). Here they are in all of their dapper glory, and as one Twitter user pointed out, looking ready to start a bibliophiles’ conga line … now that really would be a sight to behold.

silverpointsSpeaking of Maggs … They had a fab nineteenth century display on show this weekend (probably courtesy of Alice, a fellow lover of all things fin-de-siècle).  John Gray’s “Silverpoints”, with the cover, initials and typography designed by Charles Ricketts, was especially tempting and was much talked about at the 1890s Society meal on the Friday evening.  Maggs also had another beautiful Ricketts-designed work for sale, the first book published by the Vale Press in 1894, “Hero and Leander”. With woodcuts, initials and borders all designed by Ricketts and Shannon – another prime example of late nineteenth-century publishing.

bladesI did have my eye on an early twentieth century Pseudonym and Antonym Libraries reprint poster, featuring Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic Girl and Bookshop design, up for sale. However alas, it became the-one-that-got-away, when after a brief five-minute lap of the PBFA Ibis Hotel hall, I went back to discover that it had already been sold!  Do not fear though, I didn’t leave empty-handed … I chanced upon a lovely miniature of William Blades’ “The Enemies of Books”, published in 1985 by the Catherijne Press and as I had appropriated Blades’ title for my own MA dissertation, I thought that it was an opportunity not to be missed.

The fair also allowed us to spread the word about the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles: the more observant of you may have noticed our new flyers nestled in amongst the dealer catalogues at the fair.  flyersThe flyer had details about the launch party (check out the new Soc’s blog for more details – and with it, we’re hoping to trap and seduce a new, young, breed of bibliophile. That said, Robert Weaver of Dulwich College and Jonathan Cooper of Papplewick School, have already begun this process by catching them early and could both be found on Saturday, giving their boys a tour of the fair.  Cooper’s boys, the Bibliomaniacs, were even trying their hand at dealing and had been made honorary members of the PBFA. When I caught them towards the end-of-play on Saturday, they informed me that they had been doing a roaring trade and had nearly sold all of their stock. A hopeful and heart-warming note to leave the fair on.

With this in mind, I will now leave you back in the safe blog-posting hands of Laurence, however I’m hoping he will be kind enough to let me guest-post again with more information about the UoL’s new Society … so please do watch this space.

Kayleigh Betterton is a book-collector and ardent Victorianist; dividing her time between teaching at a school in South London and writing her PhD thesis. She is passionate about educational research partnerships between the state and independent sector and is also writing about the psychologies of collecting in the fin-de-siècle. She is a member of the Half-Crown Club, a book-collecting society that meets at the Athenæum, and is also the founder of the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles.

Posted in ABA, Book Collecting, Book Fairs, Booksellers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

H. W. Perl (1897-1952)

Redheads Are Poison

© Look and Learn

The artist H. W. Perl is chiefly known to aficionados of British post-war pulp fiction.  He was one of the most prolific artists in that genre, working for almost all the leading publishers – and he was quite simply one of the best – one of only a handful of pulp artists remembered and collected in his own right (click on the images to enlarge).  He is one of only a few artists who, at least at his best, could truly be said to rival Reginald Heade as the best of the entire bunch.  dangerous-damesWhile it is true that Perl’s work can be very uneven in quality, this is also true to some degree of his colleagues and chief rivals – Heade himself, David Wright, John Pollack and Brab (Oliver Brabbins) – and likely to derive from sheer pressure, pace of work, and hammering deadlines than any real failings in technique.

borrowedloveWhat is distinctive about Perl at his best – unlike the brazen perfection of Heade and Wright’s fantasy women – is that the Perl Girls, as we think of them, at least look like real women: women we can imagine having real lives behind the falsities of the pin-up pose – women who might be up for a laugh or a drink in the pub; women we can even imagine quietly reading a book; women with everyday concerns for friends and family, or who might once in a while have a momentary doubt as to what the posing was about.

HAMILTON True Life Stories

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Some of them, it is thought in his family, were modelled on one of Perl’s own glamorous and confident sisters-in-law – others look more as if they have been culled from movie magazines: I’m fairly sure I’ve spotted two or three Marlene Dietrichs and at least one Carole Lombard  amongst his prodigious output, while an experienced collector points to Jean Kent as another of his favourites.

The Chef

“The Chef”, exhibited at the Royal Academy by Hyman W. Perlzweig. © Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

Little enough is known about some of Perl’s rivals and colleagues, but at least the basic outlines of their lives have been established.  But of Perl – until now – until a recent comment on the blog popped up out of the blue from a member of his family and made everything clear – nothing at all appears to have been established, not even what the ‘H’ and the ‘W’ stand for.  H. W. Perl is in fact a pseudonym – well, almost a pseudonym, barely a pseudonym – the artist who exhibited three pictures at the Royal Academy between 1938 and 1940 as Hyman W. Perlzweig (his real name) can only be said to have been hiding in plain sight.

Asher Perlzweig, The Herzl March. © Library of Congress.

Asher Perlzweig, The Herzl March. © Library of Congress.

Hyman Woolf Perlzweig was born in the East End of London on 28th May 1897, the second child and second son of Asher Perlzweig and his wife Sarah Stern.  His parents came originally from the eastern reaches of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, but met and married in Jarosław, now in south-eastern Poland, due east of Kraków.   Asher Perlzweig (1870?-1942) was a cantor or precentor at the Vine Court Synagogue, a highly accomplished musician who had trained at the Cantorenschule in Vienna, at the famous Vienna Conservatoire, and also at the Guildhall School of Music.  Many of his compositions and arrangements were published and he has his own entry in “The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History”.

Maurice Louis PerlzweigThere is also an entry for his eldest son, the pulp artist’s big brother, Maurice Louis Perlzweig (1895-1985), an even more famous figure, a founder of the World Jewish Congress, later Director (in New York ) of its International Affairs Department, and its representative at the United Nations, the draughtsman of many documents submitted to the Commission on Human Rights.

74 Blackstock Road

74 Blackstock Road

In 1903 the growing family – there were to be eight children in all – moved to Finsbury Park,  in North London, where Asher Perlzweig officiated at the Finsbury Park Synagogue.  By 1911 they were living at 74 Blackstock Road, a busy thoroughfare off the Seven Sisters Road – a part of the world not unknown to my own family: my Uncle Harry was the mayor in these parts back in the day.  The atmosphere in the cantor’s home, as recalled by Maurice Perlzweig in a series of interviews given to Peter Jessup in 1981-1982 for Columbia University’s Oral History Research project, was an intellectual and a European one, “though we spoke English at home, [it] was not only influenced by the Polish background of my mother, but also the Viennese background of my father”.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

But the children were soon assimilated and went happily enough to local schools: “The one thing about it that my father didn’t like was that … they taught me to play football and cricket, which he thought were rather barbaric forms of activity … But generally I got on very well.  For example, I have no recollection of anti-Semitism”.

Hyman probably did not share Maurice’s sporting prowess (Maurice was a champion sprinter), as he apparently had something of a hunched back and a concomitant weak chest all his life.  He was firmly rejected for active service in the Great War.  Nor apparently did he follow Maurice to London and Cambridge universities, but he did win a scholarship of some sort to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

The Lost Kingdom

The Lost Kingdom

The 1920s represent something of an undiscovered blank in his career, but his first book illustrations – at least the first known to me – appeared (as by Hyman W. Perlzweig) in Samuel Gordon’s “The Lost Kingdom : Or, The Passing of the Khazars” (1926), a novel about the destruction of the legendary kingdom of Khazaria – a potent symbol (on both sides of the argument) in the quest for a Jewish homeland, in which his eldest brother was such a powerful voice.  There were also some children’s illustrations in at least one of F. & M. Spurgin’s “Golden Year” annuals, published by Art & Humour Publishing in the 1920s.

Hyman W. Perlzweig, Self Portrait. 1933. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

Hyman W. Perlzweig, Self Portrait. 1933. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

By 1930 or so, perhaps earlier, and now simply as H. W. Perl – a contraction also favoured by his youngest brother Max, who formally changed his name to Perl in 1950 – he was producing dust-jackets for Harrap’s “Shilling Library” series.  He had also begun on his career as a pulp-fiction artist, initially for the publishers Arthur Gray (1889-1960) and Frederick Matthew Mowl (1887-1949) who had begun publishing in the 1920s, originally as the Federation Press, operating from at least 1926 from Gramol House, Farringdon Avenue – the ‘Gramol’ being a combination of their two surnames.  It was as Gramol Publications that they began really to saturate the market for cheap paperback fiction of various kinds and in bewildering numbers.  For the purposes of dating their enormous output, they were listed in telephone directories at 54 Fetter Lane (1928-1929), then successively from 13 Bread Street Hill (1929-1931), 3 Duke Street (1932-1936) and 67 Chandos Street (1936-1937).  There were hundreds of titles published as Gramol Mystery Novels, Gramol Thriller Novels, the Gramol Women’s Novel Library, Gramol Girls Popular Novels, the Boy’s Novel Library, Girls’ Complete Story Novelettes, Girl’s Novel Library, The Schoolgirls’ Novel Library, Snappy Novels, Threepenny Novels,  the Adelphi Novels, the New Adelphi Novels, the Regent Novels, as well as the Gramol Cinema Novel Library, etc.

Most of their output is now almost impossible to find, fulfilling Michael Sadleir’s criterion for “the most vital quality of any possible collectability … extremely difficult to find fine, but when found … inexpensive”.  Many of the individual titles are listed in Stephen Holland & Richard Williams’ indispensible, “The Gramol Group 1932-1937” (1990) – although many titles are known only from publishers’ lists and others have probably disappeared forever.  (The Gramol imprint was revived during the 1940s, perhaps having an unexpected popular hit with Percy Muir’s “Book-Collecting as a Hobby” (1944) – still an excellent introduction – but the firm was by then, I am fairly certain, in other hands).

playthingsFrom at least 1930, H. W. Perl was one of Gramol’s leading cover artists, even if they do seem to have been regarded as the worst-paying publishers of the period.  The titles of four novels by Sylvia Stanley he provided designs for are perhaps representative and certainly give some of the flavour: “Her Marriage Vows” (1931); “A Mill Girl’s Misfortune” (1932), “Lure of the Limelight” (1932) and “From Factory to Fame” (1933).  These sort of titles turn up so seldom that it is difficult to be dogmatic about Perl’s work at this period, but the elongated and stiffly-posed bright young things of this cover for Elisabeth’s Wilding’s “Playthings” (1933) show an artist in tune with his times.  His self-portrait from the same year leaves us in no doubt either of his talent or of his awareness of current trends.

Alongside this kind of fare Gray and Mowl were also publishing some slightly spicier stuff – an untitled series of over 100 mildly salacious novels from authors masquerading behind such names as Paul Rénin (Richard Goyne), Paul Reville, Roland Vane (Ernest Lionel McKeag) and Henri Lamonte.  Perl occasionally illustrated these titles as well, certainly at least three of the Paul Revilles – “The Devil’s Playground”,  “Love’s Awakening” and “Poisonous Lure” (all 1930).

Lord of the Gallows

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

It was a fraught business and Perl was perhaps fortunate not to get caught up in the matter (as some later pulp artists were) when Gray and Mowl ended up in the dock at the Old Bailey in February 1931, indicted for “publishing and selling indecent books likely to corrupt public morals”.  One of the four books produced as specimens was Reville’s “Arabian Passion”.  The charges were ludicrous by modern standards.  I will perhaps write up the farcical trial on another occasion: it featured both three young women being removed from the courtroom for “giggling and tittering” and the Gramol counsel (John Frederick Eales, K.C.) pleading quaintly that “girls to-day played tennis in costumes which, thirty years ago, they would not have dreamt of”.  Ludicrous or not, Gray and Mowl were each sentenced to six months in prison and subsequently flatly refused leave to appeal, with a demand from the bench as to why more of the people involved had not been prosecuted.

When London Laughs

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

The flow of titles from Gramol appears not to have been unduly interrupted and may even have increased in the wake of a temporary notoriety.  Perl continued, apparently unperturbed, to work for Gray and Mowl, who perhaps toned things down just a little.  He produced at least forty-five covers and jackets for the firm – and quite probably as many more as yet unidentified.    Some hardback detective fiction and full-length novels were published under Gray’s name alone and subsequently in paperback under Mowl’s name – with distinctive art deco designs usually by Perl (someone please find me a copy of “When London Laughs”) – which perhaps indicated a desire to move upmarket and into respectability.  This was a change of style which Perl may have wished to pursue further, but by now he had probably established his name in a particular milieu.

Official Communique

Courtesy of Debbie Hughes

The Gramol work came to end in 1937 and Perl may perhaps briefly have returned to his more ostensibly serious work as Perlzweig  for a time (assuming he had ever wholly left it), exhibiting at the Royal Academy, painting studies of London characters, and certainly accepting commissions for portraits and so on.  As a sideline during the war he adopted a different  persona as a cartoonist for “The Leader”, producing delightful cartoons full of the chirpy cockney insouciance of the Blitz and the “London Can Take It” years.

DesireThe call of the pulps was never far away.  Arthur Gray appears to have reinvented himself as the Phoenix Press (the Phoenix Book Co. appears next door to Gramol at 66 Chandos Street as early as 1937), and he was soon publishing and republishing Rénin, Reville, Vane and all the rest.  And Perl was soon at work for him.  This cover for “Desire”, an old Gramol title from ten years earlier, showing an artist at work, probably dates from about 1940.

Miss Otis Piccadilly

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

When Edwin and Irene Turvey (see my earlier post on them) started Modern Fiction Ltd. in 1943, Perl was soon illustrating their most popular lines – the saucy romances of “Henri Duprès”, the American-style thrillers of “Ben Sarto” – both in fact the work (at least initially) of the moonlighting journalist Frank Dubrez Fawcett (1891-1968) – and later the hard-boiled tales of the “Griff” series (“Dope is for Dopes”, etc.), commenced by Ernest McKeag.

Miss Otis Goes UpThe Perl covers for “Ben Sarto” and “Griff” helped propel sales almost to the pitch later reached by Heade with his famous designs for “Hank Janson” (Stephen Daniel Frances).  The Sarto novels feature such charmers as the United Ladies’ Club of Chicago in “Chicago Dames” (1947) – Dynamite Doll, Slappy Sal (not to mention her husband Jelly the Fish), Velvet Vi, Reno Doreena and Anna Toplitski, who craves the “sharp, puncturing kiss” of the hypodermic syringe.  His most enduring character, the subject of a whole sequence of novels, was Miss Otis, the “ritzy racketeer”,  strongest of all strong women, and one of the defining characters of the genre: “an experienced dame, you would say, looking at Miss Otis in her sun parlor; a dame who had got ‘it’ in overweight quantities”.

The Sun QueenPerl worked widely and helped to popularise many of the other pulp fiction publishers, even providing illustrations (not his best work) for the distinctly weird output (often written by himself) of the Romanian-born Hyman Kaner (1896-1973) who began publishing as far afield as Llandudno in 1944 – although it is actually conceivable that Perl had known Kaner from schooldays: they both attended the Settles Street school in the East End for a short time and later moved to North London.

Dublin’s Grafton Publications were another firm to use Perl, as were Raymond and Lilian Locker of Hanley, as well as the London imprints of Hamilton & Co., Grant Hughes, Brown Watson, and Barnardo.  When the Bear Hudson firm decided to switch from their little craft handbooks and wartime make-do-and-mend offerings to go in for pulp fiction in about 1945, it was generally Perl to whom they turned for covers – for titles such as Frank Griffin’s “Death Takes a Hand” (1945) and the legendary “Spawn of the Vampire” (1946) by N. Wesley Firth.

Pay Off

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Perl also produced a quantity of work for the Curtis Warren firm after it started out in 1948, putting his distinctive designs to the work of such luminaries as “Nick Baroni” (“Red Doll”, “Night Club Moll”, etc.) and “Brett Vane” (“Miss Pinki Pays Off”, “This Honey is Mine”, “High Heels and Scanties”, etc).  It is said of this particular firm that they would often ask the writer to write the text to illustrate the cover and the title, rather than the other way round – an arrangement probably not unique in the world of pulp.

H. W. Perl 10 March 1952.

H. W. Perl 10 March 1952. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes

Perl was at his best at around this period, as British pulp fiction enjoyed its high tide, before the trials and bankruptcies of the early 1950s.  By this time he was evidently making a sufficient living to enjoy having a flat in Clifton Gardens, off Warwick Avenue, in Maida Vale, one of London’s leafiest and attractive residential streets.  Known as “Sos” to his talented, interesting and liberal family, he is remembered with great affection.  He died on the 21st December 1952 at the General Hospital in Willesden, his weak chest in all likelihood succumbing to the last and worst of the great London killer fogs, which had descended on 4th December of that year and lasted a whole week – yellow, sulphurous, choking, oily, blinding, lung-busting – and one of my own earliest memories.

12 Clifton Gardens

12 Clifton Gardens

I am very grateful to Debbie Hughes, Perl’s great-niece, and to the great Perl and pulp collector Morgan Wallace, who is building a Perl Pinterest board at, as well as all researchers and cataloguers, past and present, for their help in preparing this piece.                   

Posted in Book Collecting, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors, Pulp Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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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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