All collectors and dealers love book fairs, don’t they? Well, up to a point. They can be good places to see what other dealers are up to— what treasures they are selling and how well they are doing. And even if they don’t buy anything, fairs can be good places for collectors to value their own collections. On the down side, fairs can be intimidating for collectors who only want to chat to dealers about books. There is often a tangible sense that dealers are only interested in talking to you about books if you show an interest in buying one of their items.
However, 20 years ago, it would seem that alongside these perennial complaints about dealers there was something more sinister going on behind the scenes. A clipping from the Watford Observer dated August 15th 1997 told the story of a local dealer who had had the temerity to challenge the book fair establishment and had paid a high price for doing so. Vince Peddle, co-owner of the imaginatively named Peddle Books, and publisher of the info-sheet Book News, had recently published a front page article in this magazine complaining that the over abundance of fairs was putting some dealers out of business. Continue reading
Though this was in 1924. Here is a wry comment from the Summer 1924 number of Now & Then, on the preference for chocolates over books. Plus ca change.
FOR twenty years in the middle of Charing Cross Road, London, there was a certain bookshop. It had a nice central position and thousands of people passed its doors daily. When it was first started it had a bold frontage with nice tall windows full of new books. A few years later the shop was cut in two, half of it continued to sell books, but the other half became an emporium for the sale of chocolates. It was not a very smart bookshop—its stock might have been wider in appeal and better displayed. Its attention to customers was however courteous, and willingness to get any book not in stock was invariably expressed. It performed a service and its proprietor continued to live. Now the bookshop, or rather the half-shop, has disappeared owing to its inability to pay increased rent. In place of the books in the window appears a bold announcement:
DUGGAN’S DERBY SCHEME
TICKETS TEN SHILLINGS EACH
£25,000 IN CASH PRIZES!
The chocolate shop continues.
We have no doubt that Duggan’s takings and the receipts from the chocolates are considerably larger than was the turnover from the sale of books. Bread and Circuses in Ancient Rome—Chocolates and Spotting Winners in modern London—it’s the same old world!
More heart-warming advice from Real Life Problems and their Solution (1938) by the cheery R Edynbry.
‘I am just forty-four years and beginning to feel that real middle age is just around the corner. I don’t mix much with other men and never talk over my symptoms with anybody. But I often speculate as to what may be in store for me in the way of health and sickness. I should be glad if you would tell me some general symptoms of middle age so that should experience them in the coming years I should not be taken by surprise.’
Changes take place so slowly in middle age that it is often difficult to compare conditions from one year to another. The trend of physical life is now downwards, however, gradually, and whether it will be hurried or delayed depends upon the constitution and manner of living. As a rule it becomes more difficult now to plan and carry out personal schemes, the success of which depends upon quick movement and energy. The healthy flush of youth shown in the complexion, gives place to a certain pallor, except when blood pressure gives a florid appearance. Greyness and some degree of baldness begin to show. There may be a bagginess under the eyes and wrinkles at the outer corners. Hearing may not be so keen as formerly and glasses are generally necessarily for reading small print.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of middle age is the layer of abdominal fat and the general sagging of the body. Unless increasing care is paid to the diet, dyspepsia may give trouble, and various forms of nervous irritability draw attention to the fact that something is wrong. Worry about the physical or economic situation often causes insomnia at this time. The sex life needs careful regulation and all emotional strain should be avoided as far as possible. The sensible man—who should be his own doctor to some extent in middle age—should know that one of the secrets of health and happiness at this period lies in the simplification of one’s needs and demands. Less food and plainer food; less worry because of fewer ambitions and desires; less responsibility because nothing is undertaken without reasonable hope of accomplishment. [RR]
Actually, I’ve met him twice. The first was in 1970, not too long after the Book Town of Hay-on Wye had started up. I was 18 and had only been collecting second-hand books for two years and could hardly pass up the prospect of a place entirely devoted to them. Back then there were only three shops—the Castle, where Booth lived, the Old Fire Station and the Old Cinema. My first visit, I seem to recall, had been with my parents, who had driven me up from Swansea. After that first taste of Hay I was hooked. It was on the second visit, again a day trip from home, but one that involved three buses, that I met Booth.
I was an impoverished schoolboy back then and spent all my pocket money, baby-sitting money and newspaper round cash on books. Because of this I justified to myself my nefarious practice of taking a pencil stub into the Old Cinema and writing my own prices on the books. As I saw it, if the experts at the counter didn’t challenge my prices that was their problem. Most didn’t, but on this one occasion the man at the desk turned out to be Booth himself. I recognised his face from a photo in the local paper, but there was nothing I could do. He had my book in his hand (I think it was a seventeenth century pocket Bible) and he suddenly looked very puzzled at something on the flyleaf. I heard him mutter 'This doesn’t look right' and he scribbled over my price, replacing it with his own, which was only a couple of pounds more. I remember going bright red, but I duly paid up, still content with my purchase.