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 – https://uolbibliophiles.wordpress.com/) 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 https://uk.pinterest.com/UKPulpFan/h-w-perl/, 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 http://www.arenapal.com.

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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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (9)

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


Frederick Fowler Molini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Frederick Locker-Lampson

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

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

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


Edward Walford

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

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

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

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The ABA Code (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The ABA Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


aba_logo_2011ABA Code of Good Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ record the vendor’s name and address,

♦ record details of significant purchases,

♦ make payments by cheque wherever possible,

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

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

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


The following are the standard terms approved by the Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • the authenticity of all material offered for sale
  • the expert and proper description of all such material
  • the disclosure of all significant defects or restorations
  • the clear, accurate and professional pricing of all material
  • and the fairness and honesty of offers to purchase
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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (8)

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


James Dykes Campbell

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

Thomas J. Wise

Thomas J. Wise

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

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

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

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

William Chadwick Neligan

William Chadwick Neligan

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

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

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

Charles Hindley

Charles Hindley

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


Sussex Advertiser, Tuesday 27th March 1855.

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


Manchester Courier, Saturday 11th November, 1905.

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

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

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

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

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

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

Final instalment coming shortly …

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