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I once met….. William Rees Mogg

Sent in by a Jot regular - this moving account. In the rare book trade he was renowned for having returned an expensive book he had bought from another bookseller, saying 'I did not find it as saleable as I had hoped.' Only someone as eminent as the ex-editor of The Times could get away with such an excuse. The shot below is of him with Mick Jagger at a TV discussion in 1967 after William Rees Mogg's 'Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel' editorial condemning a jail term handed to Mick for dope offences. At the time he was 10 years older than the great Stone.

This was after he’d left the editorial chair of The Times and was running the very posh Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookshop in Pall Mall. Before I arranged to interview him I had mugged up on his tastes by reading the guide to book collecting that  he’d published a few years earlier. I must admit that I was a little intimidated by his reputation—not just as a high Tory patrician figure from the higher reaches of journalism—but also as someone whose refined tastes in Augustan literature were likely to show up my own thin knowledge of this area.

I needn’t have worried. He turned out to be charming, friendly, and not at all pompous. Knowing that I might be caught out if the conversation turned into a debate on the respective merits of Pope or Burke, I made most of my questions revolve around his youthful exploits as a collector of eighteenth century literature in wartime and post-war London. In this regard he turned out to be immensely informative. I learned, for example that during the forties an increasing supply allied to a decreasing demand for antiquarian books meant that dealers were able to acquire choice copies of excellent titles for small sums and pass on these books for a reasonable profit to modest collectors like himself. Back then, it was possible to assemble an interesting library and not pay more than ten shillings for any book. He had bought the 68 volume first edition of Johnson’s Lives of the Poets for £7 15 shillings. Other collectors with bigger pockets, like Geoffrey Keynes, were also able to create formidable libraries in this period.

Rees Mogg also revealed that on a long plane journey he was more likely to take a copy of Ivanhoe than Pope and that he’d sold most of his Pope collection to the New York Public Library. Most fascinating of all, however, was his anecdote concerning the acquisition of a rummer engraved 'Blake in anguish, Felpham 1804'. He’d seen it in a Christies catalogue, decided to view it, and eventually bought it for £55. He later sold it to the famous Corning Glass collection in New York, where it is now recognised as the only glass ever engraved by William Blake.

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