The ABA Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


aba_logo_2011ABA Code of Good Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ record the vendor’s name and address,

♦ record details of significant purchases,

♦ make payments by cheque wherever possible,

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

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

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


The following are the standard terms approved by the Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Book-Hunters of 1888 (8)

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


James Dykes Campbell

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

Thomas J. Wise

Thomas J. Wise

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

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

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

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

William Chadwick Neligan

William Chadwick Neligan

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

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

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

Charles Hindley

Charles Hindley

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


Sussex Advertiser, Tuesday 27th March 1855.

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


Manchester Courier, Saturday 11th November, 1905.

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

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

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

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

The Earl of Warwick

The Earl of Warwick

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

Final instalment coming shortly …

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2015 in review

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

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (7)

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

Robert Walford

Robert Walford

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


Robert Walford

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

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

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

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

Henry Newton Stevens

Henry Newton Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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


Henry Newton Stevens

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

Bartholomew Robson

Bartholomew Robson

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued …

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The Book-Hunters of 1888 (6)


(14) Mr E. Stibbs – Returning to 1888 – no, I haven’t forgotten these book-hunters of yesteryear – seated to the right of (10) William Dobson Reeves we find a gnarled and bespectacled bookseller in an old-fashioned hat taking an evident interest in the book currently under the hammer.  The editors of “The Graphic” noted him merely as Mr. E. Stibbs, ‘veteran bookseller’, with both Roberts and Karslake subsequently identifying him as Edward W. Stibbs. Roberts added that his shop was in Holborn, that he died in the spring of 1891 at the age of eighty, and that his stock was sold at Sotheby’s the following year – “one of the veterans of the trade … essentially of the old school — the school which confined itself almost exclusively to classics”.  Karslake went on to say that, “Next to Mr. Reeves is E. W. Stibbs, whose business was the fore-runner of Willis and Sotheran’s [see below], and, consequently, of the present firm of Henry Sotheran & Co.  Mr. Stibbs was somewhat of a ‘character’, and was reputed to be the prototype of a bookseller in a play produced at the St. James’s Theatre about twenty years ago”.

Edward Cambridge Stibbs

Edward Cambridge Stibbs

All well and good, except that Edward William Stibbs (1846-1891), the Holborn bookseller of 25 New Oxford Street, whose stock was sold at Sotheby’s in 1892, was only forty-four when he died at his home (Lyndale, Essex Road, Acton) on 23rd April 1891. The bookseller depicted here is in fact his uncle, Edward Cambridge Stibbs (1812-1891), the founder of the firm, who outlived his nephew by a couple of months, dying at his own home (10 Monmouth Road, Bayswater) on 13th June 1891 in his seventy-ninth year.  Although by 1888 the firm had been known under the nephew’s name for a good many years (hence no doubt the confusion), the older man was still very much involved.


London Evening Standard – Friday 21 October 1892

Born at Berkeley in Gloucestershire, mid-way between Bristol and Gloucester, on 14th December 1812, Edward Cambridge Stibbs came to London as a young man. He married his first wife, Mary Poole, at Lambeth in 1834 and by 1839, if not earlier, had set up as a bookseller in Holywell Street – the famous ‘Booksellers’ Row’ of nineteenth-century London.  A catalogue from 1842 gives the flavour – “A Catalogue of Books in Good Condition, comprising History, Biography, Voyages and Travels, Poetry, Musical Treatises, &c., Selected from the Extensive Stock of E. C. Stibbs, 25, Holywell Street, Strand, (one door from Newcastle Street,) London”.  It was in these early years in Holywell Street that Stibbs gave rise to one of the great legends of the book trade – buying all the unsold remainder copies of the first edition of Keats’ “Endymion” (1818) for a nominal sum (reports vary, but somewhere between 1½d and 4d each – in either case less than 2p), having the sheets bound in boards for a similarly modest sum, and selling them off over the years at 1s/6d (7.5p) each – they would priced in thousands now of course (and that’s pounds, not shillings and pence).

stibbscatalogueBy the mid century Stibbs had moved to more prominent premises at 331 Strand. In 1853 he sold the stock and the business to Henry Sotheran (see below) and perhaps retired from the trade for a few years, although he was certainly a bookseller again by 1861.  On 25th March 1870 he took over the sixteen-year residue of a twenty-one year lease on 32 Museum Street, opposite the British Museum. His nephew, Edward William Stibbs, who married his cousin Fanny Johnson at exactly this time, appears to have lived over the shop and the business from that point became known under his name – an 1871 catalogue from Museum Street was issued as,  “A Catalogue of Books Comprising an Extraordinary Collection of Works on Angling, Hunting, Hawking, Fishing, and other Sporting Subjects, Emblems, Byroniana, Drama, and Belles Lettres, on Sale at the Prices Affixed by E. W.  Stibbs”.

At the expiry of the lease on Museum Street, in 1886, the Stibbs firm moved to one final address at 25 New Oxford Street. The relationship between uncle and nephew was perhaps an unusually  close one: Edward Cambridge Stibbs had no children of his own. Edward William Stibbs lost his mother at the age of two and was brought up in his uncle’s household (it is unclear whether his father also died or perhaps emigrated). His aunt Mary, his uncle’s first wife, who must have become a surrogate mother, died when he was eight. His widowed uncle married Anna Budding in 1856 and the revised household soon also came to include the orphaned boy’s cousin and future wife, Fanny Johnson. On his own early death in 1891, probate was granted to his widow, his estate eventually settled at £1,628,11s.10d, while his uncle’s estate tallied £7,073.17s.2d.

“He worked very hard all his life, and left very little”, was how William Carew Hazlitt remembered Edward Cambridge Stibbs in “The Hazlitts Part the Second : A Narrative of the Later Fortunes of the Family” (1912), adding that he “was accustomed to speak of himself as a Gloucester-sheer man, and would describe a superior binding as being extree …  A gentleman, who frequented Stibbs’s shop in Museum Street, never went out without putting a volume in his pocket.  S. noted where the gap was, usually remembered the item, and sent in a bill, which was always paid, or included it in the account”.

Henry Sotheran

Henry Sotheran?

(15) Mr. H. Sotheran – Not noticed by the editors of “The Graphic” and passed by without comment by Karslake (who would surely have known him), we have Roberts alone attesting that the bare-headed and patrician figure standing against the far wall behind Stibbs and to the right of Walter J. Leighton, is Henry Sotheran (1820-1905) – reckoned in his prime to have been one of the two handsomest men in England (the other was Lord Sandhurst) – “there never were more perfectly chiselled heads of the finest Grecian type”.  A rather later photograph, also from “The Graphic” (19th August 1905), certainly offers a distinct likeness and Roberts may well have been correct.

Henry Sotheran

Henry Sotheran

Although the still-surviving Sotheran firm can and does quite properly trace its origins to York in the eighteenth century, the history of the modern business really began with the arrival in London in 1803 of Thomas Sotheran (1782-1866), nephew and apprentice of the original Henry Sotheran.  Starting out as a journeyman bookseller with the Quaker brothers John and Arthur Arch of Gracechurch Street and later Cornhill, Sotheran’s time there overlapped with that of the young William Pickering, who was apprenticed to the Arch brothers in 1810 – two of the great and still-surviving names of the rare book world with a link in common stretching back over 200 years.  Thomas Sotheran became a freeman of the City of London in 1812 (Worshipful Company of Loriners), married Maria Price from Abergavenny at St. Pancras in the same year and set up for himself (with generous help from the Arch brothers) as a stationer and bookseller in Old Broad Street, near the Royal Exchange. By 1816 he was at 2 Little Tower Street and it was there that the third of his nine sons, Henry, was born on 29th May 1820. The child was baptised at the City church of St. Margaret Patten on 22nd June of that year. Three weeks later the family returned to the church to bury their first child, Thomas, born in 1813. The Sotherans were to know much pain in these years – only two of their eleven children, Henry and his brother Charles (1815-1851), survived to adulthood – and Charles, who had some success in early life as a manufacturer of water-filters, died in Kensington House Asylum of ‘acute mania’ at the age of thirty-five.

The business meanwhile had endured at a solid and respectable level, but Henry Sotheran, who had become a partner in 1841, was more ambitious. When he became a freeman of the City in 1846, he offered ‘particular reasons’ for wishing to take this up as a member of the Stationers’ Company, rather than his father’s company, the Loriners, which was the only company he was entitled to join by right of birth. Unusually and exceptionally he was allowed to do so, becoming a member of the Stationers by patrimony despite having no such right. The Stationers’ ancient position of power and influence in the book trade was by now in marked decline, but enough remained and the network of connections still strong enough for membership of the Company to be an attractive proposition to a bookseller with ambition.  Sotheran ended up as Master of the Stationers in 1895-1896.

From 1856, a ten-year partnership with the innovative and energetic George Willis took the business to another level. The “Yorkshire Gazette” (Saturday 3rd May 1862), in writing up the well-attended celebration of Thomas Sotheran’s golden wedding, went on to say, “Mr.  Henry Sotheran’s progress is noticeable. In 1853, he purchased the stock and business of Mr. E. C. Stibbs, of 331, Strand; and in 1856, joined Mr. George Willis, who at that time was becoming, what the united firm has since become, the largest retail bookseller in London. The firm of Willis and Sotheran now have four establishments: —1. The old house in Tower-street. 2. Another house in the same street for their Fine Art Establishment, where they carry on large trade in paintings and engravings. 3.  At 42, Charing Cross.  4. The establishment at 136, Strand. The stock of books in their houses cannot be less than 500,000 volumes, the largest, most valuable, and best-selected stock in London, perhaps in the world. Yet, large as is the stock, it is so well arranged that any work can be instantly found: their recently published catalogue, a goodly volume of 632 pages, contains 15,512 articles”.

sotheran-1870By 1871, Sotheran was employing twenty-two men and seven boys. Such was the firm that (3) Alexander Railton came down from Scotland to join and the great Sotheran triumphs of the latter part of the century have already been outlined in a previous instalment of this record – except perhaps two, the purchase by Henry Sotheran in 1878 of Charles Dickens’ own library at Gad’s Hill, and a few years later the purchase (for a sum said to be in excess of £5,000) of the remaining stock of prints from the ornithological works of John Gould, wonderful examples of which can still be bought from Sotheran’s today.

In private life, Henry Sotheran married Rosetta Sarah Ann Hunot (1834-1892), daughter of a London watchmaker, in 1860 and before long the couple were settled in one of those grand houses up on Beulah Hill in South London. His son and successor, Henry Cecil Sotheran (1861-1928) was born there in 1861. A second son died in infancy, but there were three daughters who lived on into the twentieth century.

Sotheran largely retired from an active role in the business in 1893, but lived on to the age of eighty-five, dying on 30th July 1905. Such was his celebrity that the newspapers even carried reports of the contents of his will. Here is one from the “London Daily News” (Saturday 11th November 1905): “Mr. Henry Sotheran, of Heathside, Beulah-hill, Norwood, Past Master of the Loriners’ and Stationers’ Companies, the well-known bookseller, who died on the 30th July last, aged 85 years, left estate the gross value of £101,674. To each of his daughters, Alice Augusta Gertrude, Beatrice Maria Rosa, and Rosetta Florence Annie, he left policies on their respective lives and £20,000 each, of which £500 is payable immediately and the rest retained upon trust for their benefit. To his son, Henry Cecil, he left several life policies, his personal jewellery, etc., and he forgave him a bond of £20,000. His residence, Heathside, Beulah-hill, and his effects there, including family portraits, certain chests, the Sotheran Family Bible, and the Price Family Bible, he left to his three daughters. He bequeathed the following sums for charitable purposes: £300 to the Stationers’ Company, of which £200 is to found prizes for the boys in the Stationers’ Schools, best qualified in English Literature, and the balance of £100 to be applied in founding a Boys’ Library of English Literature in the Schools. £200 to the Loriners’ Company in memory of his late father, who was for 54 years a member of that Company, to be applied for the relief of the pensioners of that Company. £l00 to the Booksellers’ Provident Institution. £100 to the Booksellers’ Provident Retreat for providing a suitable dinner for the inmates on New Year’s Day. £100 to the Cottage Hospital, Upper Norwood. £50 to the Printers’ Pension Almshouses. £50 to the Printers’ Seaside Home at Eastbourne. £25 each for the poor boxes at the Guildhall and Mansion House Police Courts. £20 for the poor boxes at Bow-street, Worship-street, Marlborough-street, and Westminster Police Courts. The residue of his estate he left upon trust for his children in equal shares”.

James Westell

James Westell

(16) – Mr Westell.  Incorrectly identified in “The Graphic” as James Roche, Roberts and Karslake both agree that the next figure to the right, “wearing a tall hat, is Mr. James Westell” (1829-1908), a general bookseller with a speciality in theology, who had premises at this time at 114 Oxford Street.  Westell was born in Soho on 7th August 1829. His father, also James Westell, was a journeyman bookseller who may conceivably have set up in business for himself before his death early in 1841. The business always claimed to have been founded in that year, in its earliest years owned and operated by Westell’s mother, Jane Chamberlen Westell, née Hurst (1803-1861).

westell advertisement 1870The original shop was at 5 Bozier’s Court, a small passageway leading from Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road.  It was a shop which achieved some fame through a passing reference in Bulwer Lytton’s “My Novel” (1853) – “One day three persons were standing before an old bookstall in a passage leading from Oxford Street into Tottenham Court Road. ‘Look’, said one of the gentlemen to the other, ‘I have discovered here what I have searched for in vain the last ten years—the Horace of 1580, the Horace of the Forty Commentators!’”  The bookseller, apparently lurking within his hole like a spider after flies, was called out. According to “Notes & Queries” (1900), “The shopman who lurked was the esteemed Mr. Westell, who perfectly remembers seeing the Lyttons, father and son, walk into his shop one day, not to buy a 1580 Horace, but to inquire the price of some three-volume novel”.

James Westell's, 114 Oxford Street

James Westell’s, 114 Oxford Street

Jane Westell was still in charge of the firm in 1856, now with two shops in Bozier’s Court (5 and 14), but by 1861 the Westells had moved  to 549 New Oxford Street. After his mother’s death early in that year, James Westell was assisted by his younger brother John, and two sisters, Mary Jane and Eleanor Westell, all of whom were described as booksellers on the 1861 Census. The four siblings remained at this address working together for many more years, before Mary Jane died in 1876 and then Eleanor in 1879. Shortly after the death of John Westell early in 1882, the last survivor, James Westell , threw off the bachelor habits of a lifetime and married Agnes Taylor, a Scotswoman half his age. There followed rather a frantic few years, the birth of five children, four of whom survived to adulthood, the  move to 114 Oxford Street and several changes of private address – Kensington, Maida Vale, Battersea, Bloomsbury in quick succession – perhaps to accommodate a rapidly expanding family.

James Westell died on 1st February 1908 at 101 Camden Road. Probate of a somewhat meagre estate of £371.18s.4d was granted to his widow, who herself lived on until 1942. His son, James Chamberlen Westell (1887-1936) was a bookseller on the Charing Cross Road for a few years before the Great War.


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And so to Bod

Weston Library

As part of our ongoing series of exchange visits between booksellers and rare book librarians – our friends and colleagues in the Rare Books and Special Collections Group (RBSCG) of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), a party of ABA members assembled in Oxford in mid November. Old haunts for me – parts of downtown Oxford almost unrecognisable after all these years, but beyond the city centre, up towards St Giles, things virtually unchanged in almost half a century. Still recognisable Oxford ‘types’ on every corner. Far more young women students nowadays, of course, and far more bicycles (nothing less cool than a cyclist back in the ’sixties – although at least they spared us the silly latex and had far better manners).

There were a dozen of us: ABA President Michael ‘Oscar’ Graves-Johnston; Brian Lake and Carol Murphy from Jarndyce; honorary member David Chambers; Sam Jonkers from Henley; Anke Timmerman and Mark James from Quaritch; Richard Wells from Teignmouth; Ann Gate (Waterfield’s); Tom and Sue Biro (Collectable Books), and myself. Slight chaos and confusion as we assembled in the Blackwell Hall at the Weston Library – two disparate tours scheduled to start at the same time. We were the quiet and well-behaved ones – no, really, we were – we couldn’t be much else in a hall named in honour of that great bookselling family, whose splendid shop still stands next door. Benjamin Henry Blackwell was ABA President in 1912, his son Sir Basil Blackwell in 1926.

The Weston Library is the new name of the New Bodleian Library on Broad Street, after its recent major makeover, rebuilding and refurbishment – renamed in honour of a £25 million donation given by the Garfield Weston Foundation toward its transformation (the Blackwell family chipped in £5 million too). The original 1930s book-stack has been moved down to the lowest basement level. The central stack has been rebuilt along with the installation of three floors of secure storage below ground level. The stone façade has been cleaned. New internal spaces have been created. There are now extra reading rooms and a fine public entrance hall. Above all, the Library is now equipped to store material in conditions laid down by the National Archives’ Standard for Record Repositories. This is critical in allowing the Library to continue to hold major archival collections accepted in lieu of tax and to receive vital funding.

Formally opened earlier in the year, we were to be given a guided tour behind the scenes. Rare Books Assistant Curator Lucy Evans led us first up to the Conservation and Collection Care Department. We were about to be impressed. At the first work-station, Sabina Pugh, the Senior Book Conservator, was working on a mediaeval manuscript of biblical exegesis rebound for Henry VIII – a manuscript presumably acquired and bound for the King at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541). Rebound in a regal mustard-coloured velvet, but now in need of work to allow safe handling and study. “I like to think Henry once handled and studied this book himself”, says Sabina.

KoranElsewhere, someone was working on an original Shelley notebook – and not just any notebook, but the one with the original draft of that ode which starts “O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being”. In another corner, work was being carried out on an extravagantly and exquisitely decorated Koran now starting to disintegrate – the vibrant and enticing green of the verdigris pigment the culprit, as so often. Lots of experimentation going on here with relatively new, virtually weightless and virtually transparent-in-use backing papers, and various types of adhesive. A mountain of thought before the intricate and time-consuming work can actually commence.

Fascinating for us booksellers and the source of some animated conversation later in the day. The whole thrust of library conservation is now towards as little intervention as possible – to render the material safe in handling but no more. No thought of restoration, refurbishment or replication of original glory – the Henrician binding to remain lacking some of its velvet, to remain lacking its original metal bosses – the repairs all visible and reversible. It’s a line of thought easy to understand: none of us would wish to intervene too far or to get things wrong. We have all seen disastrous examples of ill-conceived work – on the one hand, the clunky and charmless utilitarian rebinding which makes it fairly sure the book will not fall apart again, but leaves it almost impossible to open and deprives us of all sense of what it originally was, or, at the other extreme, the ruthless shearing off of catchwords and marginalia to present the book in the most finished and fashionable binding of the moment. Booksellers are often in a quandary here. We want to do the right thing, but we also want (and need) to sell the book. Our customers have their own expectations. We don’t exclude restoration or purely cosmetic repair. We don’t – at least most of us – exclude a complete rebinding in ‘period’ style or in a fine binding worthy of the text. Commercial binders can be exceedingly good at this – and there is, I believe, a duty on us all to ensure that the traditional skills of the bookbinder are kept alive. Perhaps time for a conference for all parties to exchange ideas and to attempt to achieve some kind of consensus about best (or at least allowable) practice?


© Bodleian Libraries

Our tour continued with a special display of ‘treasures’ – chosen by the curators on hand to talk to us about them – some of their personal favourites, some prize recent acquisitions, etc. I was soon lost in contemplation of a wonderful recent bequest to the Bodleian – the exquisite ‘travelling library’ given to the young Prince Charles, later to become Charles I, in the early seventeenth-century. Sixty or so pocket books, worthy titles, the best of learning suitable for a prince’s education, uniformly bound and evidently intended to be a portable companion. So many questions unanswered: is the set complete, who assembled it and when, who bound the books – are these English bindings? French? – and, not least, where have the books been for most of the last four centuries, until they were put into their present red leather cases, made in the 1970s by Sangorski & Sutcliffe? What a research project in prospect.

Aurora Australis

© Bodleian Libraries

Dragging myself away from these adorable little books, I was soon equally lost in wonderment at the Bodleian copy of Shackleton’s extraordinary “Aurora Australis”, famous as the first book printed in the Antarctic, designed as a project to while away the long polar winter – but also, what I had never realised – a superb piece of printing in its own right.

Our afternoon ended with a complete tour of the building – up on the roof to catch the dreaming spires in an unexpected burst of late afternoon sunshine, a glimpse into the reading rooms and study areas, some encounters with the restored glories of the original 1930s fittings, furniture and ceilings designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (he of the Telephone Box and Battersea Power Station). A pleasant end to a very pleasant afternoon – thank you so much to Lucy Evans and her colleagues for organising things and taking so much effort to entertain us. Our turn next.


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My First …

gritHi – it’s me again, Pauline Schol, with another guest post. I’ve now obtained my MA in the History of the Book and I’m still benefitting from the Guv’nor’s occasional (if erratic) tutelage. He thought I might like to go to an auction the other week – my very first. Deep in the dark hinterland of South London we turned up at a local auction-house (I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the exact whereabouts) – a place where books are seldom sold, although they are apparently planning more regular book-sales: they have hired John Collins (ex-Maggs, ex-Bonham’s) to run this side of things, so they must be serious.

On display (or not actually on display – they were hidden away in a little room and we were the first of the day to ask where the books were) was rather a handsome collection of the more manly outpourings of Victorian fiction – lots of R. M. Ballantyne and George Manville Fenn – you know the sort of thing. We scoured the shelves and made our notes.

I’d learnt all about the theory and strategy of book-auctions at the York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) back in September, the importance of preparation, the importance of where to stand or sit, how and when to enter the bidding, controlling the pace of bidding, and, above all, setting an absolute limit on the price you are prepared to pay for each lot and not under any circumstances going beyond it.

All that of course went completely out of the window once we arrived on auction-day. The Guv’nor just planted himself slap in the middle of the room, caught the auctioneer’s eye on the very first lot, proceeded to buy it for rather more than the ‘absolute limit’  he’d written in bright green on our catalogue, and just kept bidding in a macho kind of way until he’d bought every lot we wanted. Unbelievable! Is everyone in the book trade this delusional?

In a weird way this aggressive strategy actually seemed to work – it all balanced out over the auction as a whole and we were buying subsequent lots at well below our green figures – but the scariest thing was when he handed the catalogue over to me and wandered off upstairs leaving me to bid on the later lots. Gulp! Thrown in the deep end! Heart in mouth! Adrenalin pumping! Luckily I got a great lot of Laurence Oliphants for well under our agreed upon green price and I felt more confident bidding on the next lot. It’s actually quite fun!

firstMeanwhile, he had left a healthy bid upstairs on a lot coming up much later in the day – a lot comprising a defective jigsaw-puzzle, a rusty bunsen-burner, another a rusty implement of some description, a broken pocket-watch, a small pair of binoculars, a small brush, some bone glove-stretchers, and the most hideous spelter mantlepiece ornament I’ve ever seen – he’s been trying to palm it off on me ever since, but I’m really not having it. There was something rather special about the jig-saw (an eighteenth-century map) that probably only he and a handful of other people in the world would have known – and he already had a buyer for it.

pluckMad as it all seemed at the time, and although one very heavy ‘sleeper’ in in an early lot turned out to be de defective, we still seem to have done pretty well on the day’s work. A couple of dozen books already sold, money recouped and more, and lots of manly (and even womanly) Victorian fiction left to sell. The Guv’nor has given me one lot to sell for myself – a couple of dozen volumes of stirring tales with titles like “Fifty-Two Stories of Grit and Character for Girls”, “Fifty-Two Stories of Courage and Endeavour for Girls”, and (my favourite) “Fifty-Two Stories of Pluck, Peril and Romance for Girls”.

A bit disappointed

A bit disappointed

I’m not quite sure what he is trying to tell me, perhaps it’s a coded message on the difficulties women face in entering the book trade. This was very much the theme of the first ‘Networking Event for Women in the Book Trade’ held at Maggs a few days later. The Guv’nor was a bit disappointed at the thought of a gathering of lovely bookish women that he wasn’t going to be allowed to attend, but I thought his telling me to enjoy myself at the ‘coven’ was going way too far (I think he was only joking – he’d better have been).

maggsAnyway, I tweeted him a nice photo of two of his very favourite bookish women to keep him happy (no names, we all know who they are). Personally, I think it was a great initiative, splendidly organised by Fuchsia Voremberg. We talked, we networked, we drank, we drank some more, we snacked, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and I’m very much looking forward to the next one.

chelseaThe following day I went to my very first Chelsea Book Fair. Laurence had somehow managed to get himself involved in giving guided tours of the fair to some groups of rare book librarians, so we spent most of the first afternoon escorting them around and introducing them to various booksellers. It was a bit hit or miss as he hadn’t taken the basic precaution of finding out which libraries they were from or what their particular interests were, but with some on-the-spot reinvention of the itinerary it all seemed to go off reasonably well. One of the librarians was still chatting away merrily to Janette Ray long after the tour was over.

leoHighlights for the librarians seemed to be the visits to Leo Cadogan, Tom Lintern-Mole (Antiquates), Jenny Allsworth and Quaritch, all of whom had some particularly off-beat, quirky and interesting material. All four stands seemed to be particularly busy throughout the day. We asked Leo at one point if the fair was going well. “Exceptionally well”, was the answer, but he looked strangely dispirited at the thought. “I don’t really like selling my books”, he quietly confided, “I don’t have that many” – priceless! a true bookseller! We courteously refrained from buying any books from him, so as not to distress him any further.

We’d only bought a couple of things on that first afternoon – too busy with librarians – but we returned in earnest, cheque-book at the ready, the following morning. Laurence had already managed to buy two copies of the same book by the time I arrived (only three minutes later) – I quickly confiscated the cheque-book before he could do any more damage. This didn’t seem to slow him down a great deal, but I did just manage to stop him buying a book he already has a better copy of.

It had been a great week with the thrill of my first auction, my first Women in the Book Trade event, and my first Chelsea – although I’m still puzzled about why it seems mandatory for everyone there to wear a blue shirt. I loved getting acquainted with new people and catching up with those I already knew. A whole raft of new acquisitions has now been catalogued and will be featured in the Ash Rare Books catalogue coming out next week. I have learnt so much from everyone and I’m still looking to learn more. This is so much fun. I look forward to seeing you all at the next bookish event.

blue shirts

Blue Shirts

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J. & F. Harwood of Fenchurch Street

Hastings 1845I have long admired those occasionally found sheets of decorative Victorian notepaper – a handsomely engraved view of your place of resort at the head of a folded sheet of letter-paper: enough space to write a full four-page letter – the more leisurely and elegant precursor of the picture-postcard.  While they enjoyed their brief spell of fashion in the mid-nineteenth century there were a number of specialist London (as well as local) manufacturers, but the most appealing of them to my mind – a little larger, a little more artistic – employing decent artists like Thomas Abiel Prior and Edward John Roberts, and certainly better engraved – were those produced by the Harwoods of Fenchurch Street, who also produced bound selections of these views printed on heavier paper under a multitude of titles, such as “Harwood’s Scenery of Great Britain”, “Harwood’s Views of Guernsey”, “Harwood’s Views of Derbyshire”, etc.

26 Fenchurch StreetNo-one seems to know anything much about the Harwoods and having acquired a small selection of their decorative notepaper recently (as well as having spent a large chunk of my own working life in and around Fenchurch Street – in a shop just off it and in an office actually on it) I thought I would take the time to investigate. What I did not know when I used to gaze down Rood Lane from my old office window, is that 150 years earlier I would have been able to wave to the Harwoods across the road – their premises at No. 26 (long since disappeared) were directly opposite mine at No. 153 (the street numbering is idiosyncratic).

Folkestone 1841The Harwoods were general and wholesale stationers offering a much wider range of stock than just decorative notepaper: they were booksellers, publishers, printers, pen-dealers, pocket-book makers, bookbinders and engravers (or at least they took in bookbinding and engraving work). Theirs was often an innovative range. They patented designs for pens and inkstands. They were the manufacturers of the “improved patent metallic memorandum books” – the metallic paper described as “indelible”. They also produced their Diamond Diaries, “sufficiently small for the waistcoat pocket”.  Their range of pens included bank pens, cabinet pens, commercial pens, treasury pens, Victoria pens, ladies’ pens  and academical pens.

Diamond Diary

Bristol Mercury – 17 November 1838

Their publishing, beyond books of views and tourist guides, was often interesting, quirky, humorous and entertaining. They published “How Fanny Teaches her Children” (1836) by Harriet Downing;  “The Tutor’s Assistant, or, Comic Figures of Arithmetic” (1843) by the caricaturist “Alfred Crowquill” (Alfred Henry Forrester), as well as his comic “A Guide to the Watering Places”.  crowquillLater publications by John Harwood alone included Percy Cruikshank’s undated “Hints to Emigrants, or, Incidents in the Emigration of John Smith of Smith Town : Consisting of Nine Humorous Illustrations”; “The Pictorial Cabinet : An Entertaining and Literary Miscellany” (1846); Crowquill’s “Pantomime : As It Was, Is, and Will Be : To Be Played at Home” (1849) and the splendid “How He Reigned and How He Mizzled. A Railway Raillery” (1849) – caricatures on the career and scandal of George Hudson, the Railway King.

apprenticeshipJohn Harwood (1798-1855) was the senior partner, born 24th March 1798 in the London parish of St. Marylebone, the son of James Harwood, a butcher, and his wife Sarah. He was apprenticed in 1813 to the stationer James Low of Chancery Lane, proprietor of a circulating library, for the handsome sum of £80. He had set up for himself in Fenchurch Street by 1822 – a trade-card from this period survives in the British Museum. The younger Frederick Harwood, seemingly a cousin of some sort rather than a younger brother, became a partner in 1830 and the business traded as “J. & F. Harwood” until the partnership was formally dissolved on 12th January 1844:  stresses and strains must have become apparent six months earlier when the company was declared bankrupt on 13th July 1843. The financial difficulties were evidently temporary, as the bankruptcy was formally annulled at the time of the dissolution of the partnership, but henceforth John Harwood traded once more on his own account.

Harwood Card

© The Trustees of the British Museum

John Harwood had married Mary Ann Catherine Hudden (1818-1896), daughter of William and Catherine Hudden, her father described simply as a gentleman, at St. Mary Haggerston on 11th April  1838. The newly married couple evidently lived over the shop at 26 Fenchurch Street. The 1841 Census captures them there with two infant daughters, Mary Ann and Emily. Further children were to arrive in the ensuing years: Jessie Maria Harwood, who died in infancy, John Augustus Harwood and Ellen Adine Harwood.  The firm rapidly recovered from the short period of bankruptcy and the termination of the partnership. By 1851 John Harwood was employing no less than forty men in what must have been an extensive line of business. He died on 1st June 1855, evidently leaving his widow comfortably off.

bedford placeMary Ann Catherine Harwood saw out her days living in Bedford Place, one of London’s most elegant streets, perhaps quietly supplementing her income with some genteel paying guests. Her son John Augustus Harwood became a barrister and her daughter Emily married another.

harwood pens

Coventry Standard – 18 May 1838

The junior partner, Frederick Harwood (d.1861), is an altogether more shadowy figure. The 1861 Census finds him at 6 Mildmay Villas in Islington, recording him as a man of independent means, originally from Wiltshire and sixty years of age.  I can find no trace of his birth in or about 1801, in Wiltshire or elsewhere, and the fact that he was not apprenticed until 1822 suggests that he may well have been born a few years later than that. His apprenticeship (probably served with John Harwood) finished in 1829 and he had become a partner in “J. & F. Harwood” by 1830. He married Clara Nash, originally from Ludlow, at Holborn in 1836.

colored news

Newcastle Chronicle – 27 July 1855

What became of him after the dissolution of the partnership early in 1844 I am unable to tell, although he may perhaps have continued working in the business in a more junior position. I have not been able to trace a will for John Harwood, but Frederick may have been a beneficiary. Shortly after John’s death in June 1855, Frederick announced a new coloured weekly newspaper, “Colored News”,  to be published from 183 Fleet Street at 2d a week with “richly painted engravings”. The price seems improbably low for something with hand-coloured engravings of all the weekly round of sensational news – fires, murders, battles, storms, shipwrecks, earthquakes, duels, trials, accidents, elopements, insurrections, robberies, executions – all these and more were promised.

colored songster

Dorset County Chronicle – 20 September 1855

A “Colored Songster” featuring the best songs of the day was also announced. By September the price of the already cheap “Colored News” had halved to a penny, but the venture was evidently a spectacular failure. No more is heard on either score. Frederick died at Mildmay Villas on 10th December 1861, leaving an estate of under £200.

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Hidden Treasures (2)

rbscg bagThe final day of the recent CILIP ‘Hidden Treasures’ conference (see previous post) took place in the friendly and familiar surroundings of the British Library. A few words of welcome from Dr Kristian Jensen, éminence grise at the BL, on the importance of making collections accessible and meaningful. Well, yes – we are all in favour of that (although sometimes actions speak louder than words).

As a concrete example, Adrian Edwards (Lead Curator of Printed Historical Sources at the BL) was the first speaker of the day, referring back to last year’s ‘Comics Unmasked’ exhibition (see the post of that name from 1st May 2014). His theme was the uncovering of the treasure-trove of comics of all kinds that the British Library had acquired in one way or another over the years, but more or less hidden away – largely uncatalogued, ill-catalogued or otherwise inaccessible. He was able to use the potential for mounting a major international exhibition to leverage the resources (always in short supply) to get the comics sorted out, properly catalogued, and made available for essentially the first time, calling in outside experts to advise on the exhibition.

Nasty TalesIt was all a great success – a deservedly popular and interesting exhibition – but if this is really the only way to get proper resources for the retrospective cataloguing that the Library so badly needs, I do wonder whether some of the other ‘hidden’ collections at the BL will ever get catalogued at all. I frequently offer the Library books which it doesn’t appear to have, only to discover that it does have them (or may well have them) somewhere after all. I fail to understand why our national library, the library which should lead the way, set an example and inspire all the others (not just in this country), does not make the proper cataloguing of all its holdings an absolutely top priority. We all know that this is the only way to make the collections ‘accessible and meaningful’ – if that is truly the aim. I know I am not alone in fearing that our national library is nowadays sometimes guilty of wandering down the path of showmanship rather than scholarship.

Cataloguing has to be properly done and overseen by scholars who fully understand the material. It needs expertise. It needs specialist knowledge. That is what gives it meaning. This is what makes it accessible. I say this, because I had been shocked to discover only a couple of days earlier that the retiring head of the Map Library at the BL, my old friend and colleague Peter Barber, is not to be replaced. Not only is he not to be replaced by anyone of comparable stature in the history of cartography field, but he is not to be replaced by anyone at all. The Map Library, that great historic glory, that essential pillar of the British Library, one of the finest collections of maps in the world (in many ways probably the very finest), is apparently simply to be subsumed into some amorphous ‘Western Heritage’ department. If we wanted an object lesson in how to hide away a magnificent treasure, this would probably be it.

Now, I fully understand that maps are just a part of our heritage and should not be wholly divorced from the rest of it. I fully understand that maps are scattered throughout the library and are not just to be found in the Map Library: they turn up in manuscripts, in printed books, in newspapers and magazines (and no doubt in comics as well) – but all the more reason to employ a Head of the Map Library who fully understands the field. I know that many historians of cartography have become too distanced from the rest of book trade history (it’s a point I have made often enough myself), but to argue that maps are just part of a single strand of heritage is a nonsense. Maps are different. It’s like arguing that cats and dogs are actually the same because both are small furry animals kept as household pets – everyone knows they are different (and some might even turn out under an expert eye to be rabbits, chinchillas or hamsters).

hiddenTo downgrade this great Map Library (a magnificent library of four-and-a-half-million maps) by leaving it headless, rudderless and lost is a disgrace. For our national library to do this in our name demeans us all. It demeans the heritage we seek to preserve. It insults all those who have built up this great cartographic library. It makes a nonsense of aspirations to accessibility. It simply says that the British Library no longer cares about its cartographic collections. Map libraries across the world have long looked to the BL Map Library to lead by example. Until now, it always has. It has been a haven of scholarship. It has always been headed by scholars of international reputation – the late Helen Wallis was the first I knew personally, the finest scholar I have ever had the privilege of working with. To leave the Map Library without a head – not even to attempt to find one – diminishes our stature. It damages the Library’s standing in the eyes of the world. It also leaves the Map Library powerless to attract the sponsorship and funding the BL so badly needs. One large donor at least is furious. This is a mistaken and foolish policy. It’s not yet too late to think again.

InnerpeffrayDigression over. To return to the conference, our next speaker was the irrepressible and enthusiastic Lara Haggerty from the Innerpeffray Library – a tiny library in the middle of nowhere with a bus once a week, but founded in about 1680 and Scotland’s oldest free public lending library. A heartening tale of this magical place successfully re-inventing itself as a tourist attraction. Lara made us all want to go there – and one day we shall.

sambrookAn equally heartening tale was that given by the very impressive Katie Sambrook, Head of Special Collections at King’s College, London, on her library’s absorption in 2007 of the old Foreign & Commonwealth Office Library. A once hidden and largely uncatalogued collection of around 100,000 books, charmingly and idiosyncratically complete with jolly novels of colonial life as well as all the usual things we might expect in such a collection – still not fully catalogued but already providing an invaluable resource for students and researchers, full of things not readily found elsewhere. She said at one point something along the lines of “Cataloguers are often the people who know a collection best and can promote it best” – my point entirely. Why don’t more libraries understand this?

After a coffee-break we had Katharine Hogg from the Foundling Museum telling us about her work with the Gerald Coke Handel Collection – an internationally important collection of material relating to Handel and his contemporaries, including manuscripts, printed music, books, libretti, artworks and ephemera. Assembled by Gerald Coke over a period of sixty years (from about 1930 onwards) and left to the nation by his widow. All fascinating and all things I never knew. Another library we need to visit.

Next up was Hannah Manktelow, a Ph. D. student who has been doing wonderful and entertaining things researching provincial performances of Shakespeare, mainly in the nineteenth century, using the British Library’s extensive (but under-used and uncatalogued), collection of playbills. The BL are planning a Shakespeare exhibition sometime soon, which probably explains why they are now becoming accessible.

Very good as all the morning’s talks had been, it was the last which in a way I found most interesting. A private collector, Mark Byford – whom unaccountably I’d never met before – talked about his personal collection of perhaps 1,000 Tudor and Jacobean books. An interesting and unusual collection in focusing entirely on period rather than subject. Although his personal collection, he clearly regards it as being in some sense a teaching collection, making it available to students, even taking books to groups of students to talk about and instruct in provenance and other matters. He fears greatly that what he regards as the demise of the antiquarian book shop (even perhaps the demise of the rare book trade) is adversely impacting on the ways in which people, especially young people, encounter rare books. I ran into him again at York a week or two later – plainly someone we should talk to and listen to. I’ll see what I can do.

The formal proceedings ended with a round-up, questions from the floor and a general discussion. I hoped that we should see more booksellers at future conferences (Liverpool next year) – and that booksellers and librarians should talk to each other more. The rare book world is beleaguered – and we are after all (or at least should be) on the same side.

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Hidden Treasures (1)

lambethpalacelibraryHidden Treasures (and their unveiling) – such was the theme at the recent conference of the Rare Books and Special Collections Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) – that’s what used to be the good old Library Association back in simpler and more innocent times, when the names of things still had a certain brevity (not to mention lucidity and utility). I was sent along by the ABA to monitor proceedings and report back on behalf of the rare book trade.

I had to miss the first day as other ABA duties were inescapable, but I turned up bright and early at Lambeth Palace for Day Two. It had been a good few years since I had been along to one of these events. I seem to recall a very good one on the Nineteenth-Century Book, held in Manchester, about twenty years ago (perhaps more), and another on the Eighteenth-Century Book, probably in Cambridge. Other events in Oxford and Edinburgh. It was all about looking at books and learning about books back then, and there always seemed to be a reasonable number of other booksellers among the attendees. Not so now. Far more about librarians, library work  and their libraries. Apart from Alice Ford-Smith from Quaritch, I couldn’t identify a single other bookseller in the room.

A brief chat with Adrian Edwards (Lead Curator, Printed Historical Sources, British Library), with whom I liaise on book-trade/library matters,  before proceedings began. Some of the catering the previous day had apparently struggled to cope with a 50% vegetarian and 10% vegan balance of requests. What this tells us, if anything, about the current state of rare book librarianship I’m not at all sure – but do they have issues with all that vellum, calf and morocco? (Just saying).

freemasonryWe began with a brief welcome to Lambeth Palace Library from another familiar face, Giles Mandelbrote, the Palace librarian and ABA honorary member, and were soon into the papers and presentations. First up was Martin Cherry from the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Now there is a collection full of treasures which used to be not so much hidden as secret: access almost impossible at one time, certainly if you were not a very well-connected and highly-placed freemason. Something of regret to me in times past, because a number of the engravers in whom I was particularly interested were all quite heavily involved in the birth of modern English freemasonry in the early eighteenth century (I even gave a paper on this once to a group of stony-faced masons in Sheffield). But how times have changed. Visitors now welcome. Free admission. A searchable online catalogue (not integrated with COPAC yet – but full of things you will not find elsewhere). unmaskedEven a ‘kid friendly’ icon search, whatever that may be. A very heartening and encouraging example of a change of policy and direction, because if a catalogue is not publicly available, then the collection is not in any real sense available. It may as well not exist. And – from a bookseller’s point of  view – how much easier to offer relevant and useful material to a library when you know from the catalogue that the library does not already have it. How much easier to check on whether a book is stolen or not when there is a public record of where it should be.

Next was a paper from John Pearce, Deputy Librarian at Sandhurst, on those “hidden but not always intentionally secret” libraries and archives existing within the defence and military establishments of the country. Not always as difficult of access as we might expect – and the same is perhaps true of the next group, the libraries of private clubs and professional bodies. Librarians from the Athenaeum, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Middle Temple Library discussed the policies of their own and comparable institutions. Permission to use the libraries still too often rather summed up in their title, “It’s not what you know …”.

Helen Potter, interim head of the Freedom of Information Centre at the National Archives (I’m sure the information is freely available, but I didn’t know there was one), stepped forward after coffee to explain. It’s our national archive, it’s there for us to use and explore, so how much of it are we not allowed to see? The answer turns out to be about 200,000 ‘closed’ records of one kind or another (about 2% of the total – I assume this does not include the census returns from 1921-2011, there must be millions of those). Closed for one reason or another – data protection issues, national security, medical records, criminal prosecutions, naturalisation papers, tax files, and so on – but all of which we can now ask to see under the Freedom of Information Act (2000). Whether we are allowed to or not depends on the exact circumstances, a delicate balance between genuine right of privacy and public interest. Health and safety are issues, but not here as in the ubiquitous ‘health’n’safety’ culture, but in the genuine mental well-being and physical freedom from harm of individuals who might be affected by the release of information – the relatives of rapists or mass-murderers for example. About half of all such requests do lead to the release (in whole or in part) of ‘closed’ files. The care, deliberation, responsibility and concern with which these decisions are evidently made – “release what we can, protect what we must” – was all really rather impressive.

cardiffbooksThe morning closed with another powerful presentation. Karen Pierce from Cardiff University told us the tale of the rescue of the magnificent collection built up in more enlightened times by the Cardiff Free Library, founded in 1882, under the direction of Sir John Ballinger and Harry Farr, chief librarians in the period up to 1940. Built up by purchase, bequest and donation – mouth-watering donations from William Morris, the Marquess of Bute, John Cory and others. cardiffA collection of some 14,000 volumes, including 175 incunables, a unique collection of Restoration drama, Shakespeare quartos, exquisite private press books, 250 atlases of ‘international significance’ – the entire collection subsequently forgotten about and ignored by later generations of librarians, wholly neglected and hidden from view until Cardiff Council decided to sell it off.  It’s a familiar enough tale. In this case with a reasonably happy outcome – custodianship of the collection has been transferred to Cardiff University Library, which is committed to preserving, promoting and cataloguing it.

Looking at the various statements made at the time, I am a little surprised to learn that the National Library of Wales was not itself interested in acquiring the collection, as it did not “align with its current collecting policy” – the collection was originally built up in Cardiff precisely with the intention of its one day becoming a Welsh national library.  Also a little surprised to learn that there is apparently only one full-time rare book cataloguer employed. Five years on and the atlas collection ‘of international significance’ is still simply labelled ‘uncatalogued’. I’ve already said that if a catalogue is not publicly available, then the collection is not in any real sense available – I’ll say it again.

BillWestAt least in this case the books were still in the public library and something could be done. In so many other similar cases fine collections have been surreptitiously sold off (usually to fund more ‘relevant’ or less ‘elitist’ activities). It’s now over twenty  years since the late Bill West (1942-1999) published his “The Strange Rise of Semi-Literate England : The Dissolution of the Libraries” (1991) – fifty-two pages of polemic on the “mindless dispersal of stock by public and institutional libraries”. Treasures not so much ‘hidden’ as ‘lost’. Things probably got worse thereafter (Bill used to come into my shop to rant about it). And I well remember, not that many years since, a librarian from a London public library, terrified of publicity, selling off through the back-door roomfuls of fine books – books donated by generous individuals to grace and enrich their local library in perpetuity: “We don’t really do old books any more”.  I didn’t buy them, but I know that when I spoke to him he had no intention of either stamping the books as deaccessioned or of keeping a list of what had been sold off.  Unless there was a change of heart, there might well be a headache for someone somewhere down the line in proving legal ownership of a book clearly still marked as being the donated property of a London public library.  If you should hear, by the way, of this kind of covert selling off of public collections –do report it to CILIP or the ABA.

Cataloguing was again a theme on a group afternoon visit to the Wellcome Library (other libraries were available). The hidden treasures in this case took the form either of books in the library which had unique features only now discovered in a rolling programme of digitisation (or perhaps rediscovered, information not having been transferred when the catalogue itself was digitised), or ones which had disappeared from view for a while through faulty cataloguing. An erroneous shelfmark can render a book lost and invisible. It’s all about the cataloguing – but some wonderful things, some extraordinary tales of provenance, and at last a chance to handle some books.

receptionBack to Lambeth Palace in the evening. A drinks reception (generously sponsored by Quaritch). A chance to meet Lucy Kelsall, a cataloguer from the Angus Library and Archive at Regent’s Park College in Oxford: Lucy had been awarded the ABA Bursary provided to enable a young librarian to attend the conference. She was full of gratitude and will be writing her own account of proceedings for the ABA Newsletter.

And then to dinner. A system of displaying name cards with coloured spots of different colours expressing dietary preferences. I lost track of the number of different colours used to express the various combinations of vegetarian, vegan, celiac, gluten, dairy and whatever else. So did some of the waiters and waitresses. First world problems. I thought back to my childhood at one point, when we still had food-rationing, ate whatever was put on the table, licked our plates clean, and said thank you very much.  I really didn’t mean actually to say that out loud to the table – but, there we are, too late now.

SebagMontefioreSorting everything out seemed to impact rather adversely on the flow of wine, but then I suppose librarians are after all a different species and may not require as much life-blood. After dinner we were treated to a talk from the delightful Charles Sebag-Montefiore on his extraordinary collection of art catalogues. Very much hidden treasures, these libraries of private collectors, although Charles does allow access to serious scholars and the collection is now destined for a national institution. All in all, a memorable and thought-provoking day. That’s probably enough for now – “scribble, scribble, scribble, Mr Worms” – as someone has just e-mailed me.  More on the final day of the conference (at the British Library) to come.

(Thank you to various Tweeters for the images).

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