Desiderata—a weekly publication for libraries and booksellers

Desiderata 001How come nothing can be found online about the little weekly periodical entitled Desiderata, a copy of which was found in a box of books the other day? It resembles the Clique in some respects, but unlike the latter, whose main job was to put collectors and booksellers in touch with one another, it aimed instead to provide ‘ a direct link between library and bookseller ‘.

The copy we found is probably fairly typical. It is issue number 36 of volume 8 and is dated September 9th 1955. Its 12 pages comprise an editorial in the form of a salutary story about a bookseller’s ring; there follows a rather silly defence of the inept ‘poet‘, Alfred Austin, against the entirely justifiable description of him by Evelyn Waugh as a ‘obnoxious nonentity ‘. Five whole pages of Wanted adverts from the British Museum then follow, and the rest of the issue is taken up by what appear to more Wanted ads from various public libraries, some small ads from booksellers and a full page ad from the eminent Guildford booksellers Traylen. A miscellany of literary notes and announcements takes up the back page.

The British Museum books wanted advert is the most interesting feature of the magazine. Listed in this case from ‘Tovey’ to ‘Trial’, the items demonstrate how keen the Library was (and presumably still is) to hold all editions of a particularly title, however seemingly obscure. This is, after all, its raison d’etre. However, one example listed seems out of place. There was a call put out for the 1915 second edition and its 1930 reprint of Pitman’s Dictionary of Secretarial Law and practice edited by Philip Tovey. Why would a 1930 reprint differ in any meaningful way from the 1915 second edition? Insisting on reprints for the sake of completeness is per se rather ludicrous. Continue reading

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Martin Stone and the Forgotten Shelf

Found-- Martin Stone's Forgotten Shelf book catalogue no. 5: Modern Literature Fantasy and Detective Fiction - November 1982. The macabre cover was hand-coloured by impecunious students and the image from the cover taken from a Marcel Schwob novel Coeur Double (Paris, 1891.) Martin, now an expat in Paris, is still going strong but has not done a catalogue since the 1980s. The dedication reads..

Thanks should go to Mr. D. Attoe of Wapping and Mr. Robin Summers  for sterling excavation work in the compiling of this catalogue. A tip of the hat also to Iain Sinclair of Albion Village Books for light shed in some obscure bibliographic corners and to Skoob Books for the use of congenial office facilities beyond the boundaries of the East End.

There follows a poem by David Attoe, now a US expat and at that time poet, book collector and Ford Madox Ford expert. He later published a novel Lion at the Door (Little, Brown, 1989) which had a great succes d'estime, even carrying a blurb from Thomas Pynchon.

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Solomon Pottesman—book dealer as metaphysician

Solomon Pottesman ( 1904 – 78) was one of the best known ‘ characters’ in London’s  post-war world of antiquarian book dealing. Socially awkward, often exasperating in the eyes of auction staff, such as O.F.Snelling, who paints a rather uncharitable picture of him in his Rare Books and Rare People, he was more appreciated by fellow bibliophiles like Alan Thomas, who not only enjoyed his company, but like so many other dealers and collectors, thoroughly respected his encyclopaedic knowledge of incunabula. Indeed, so expert in his field, was Solomon, that he was almost universally known as ‘Inky’.

So, in 1960, when Pottesman announced that he had just published a book, everyone assumed that this would be a wonderfully scholarly work on pre-1500 printing and publishing. Imagine the disappointment when those few friends and colleagues who Pottesman  honoured with a complimentary copy of the book in question received a slim unpaginated pamphlet in blue card covers, and printed at his own expense,  entitled Time and the Playground Phenomenon. This turns out to be an exploration of Space, Time and Memory elicited by the author’s shock, twenty years earlier , on returning to the school playground he had left aged 14 to discover that  it ‘ HAD SHRUNK TO A FRACTION OF ITS FORMER SELF’ (his block capitals). Seemingly of a philosophical turn of mind (another trait of which his acquaintances were unaware), Pottesman became so obsessed with this phenomenon, that he resolved to explore it. He had already rejected as  fallacious the more obvious explanation that he had grown and’ as a consequence, the playground seemed small’ by  rightly arguing  that the other haunts of his childhood that he had revisited had not also diminished in size.

Pottesman then embarks on a quasi phenomenological theory in which he brings to his argument such learned commentators as Lucretius, Darwin, Kant, Taine, William James and Pavlov. His central premise is that the MEMORY of that playground had grown with him as a static ‘cut-out’ which through the years becomes a sort of unmodified hallucination. With physical growth, this memorised image grows larger and thus when time plays a part and the actuality is later revisited it seems much smaller compared with the memorised image.

‘Time is revealed as subjective in that the object is growing smaller in, and relative to, space-with-time, or consciousness of the percipient, but, by this very process, phenomenal time is shown to depend on the identical object indifferent to perception, the subjective and objective are revealed as a synthesis, and time is shown to be inseparable from the duration of objects’  (author’s bold type).

It is easy to understand why the no nonsense Snelling, who was more interested in devising accurate catalogue entries, and who wrote at least one book about boxing, would have dismissed Inky’s philosophical explorations as the worst kind of solipsism. But it is unlikely that any of Pottesman’s other colleagues would have felt any different. Some might have been a little embarrassed. I would like to think that one or two who received a copy of his book, which I was sent gratis by a dealer not long ago, were rather impressed. [RMH]

The illustration above is of one of his greatest finds - a stationer's list - for a quarto edition of Shakespeare's  (possibly) lost play Love's Labour's Won'. 
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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

A submission from one Grace (many thanks) about a rare children's book. This is more the kind of thing we used to do at Bookride but it contains a little new info. The 'point' on the book is that  a true first edition (World Publishing, USA 1969) must have a  full number line on the copyright page, “1 2 3 4 5 73 72 71 70 69″.The back cover should have ‘A3450′ on the bottom right. A d/w might turbo-charge it into $10000…on the other hand it may be a little vieux chapeau in the rapidly changing world of children's book collecting and it would be interesting to see if this one sells for a significant sum sans jacket… 1stedition.net go on exhaustively  about every aspect of the book's collectability. Grace writes:

My husband and I have had a strong interest in antique and collectible books, always on the look out for something unusual.  We've been impressed with the value of a book that we came across on more than occasion.  But, the last place we expected to come across a rare book was among our kids' extensive library.

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Catalogue chat / Time Slip

Poster for Tom's Midnight Garden
(Leeds Children's Theatre)

Found in the Peter Haining hoard a rare book catalogue from about 1990 with an introduction ('Chat Dept.') by the cataloguer. This was J. J. Rigden (Books) of Kent, dealing mostly in fantasy-- if still around he would be pushing 90. These 'chats' by dealers are much prized. A dealer once told me that when he omitted them sales went down and there were protests…this one is a classic of its kind:

The onset of autumn.. the approach of Christmas.. the inevitable rise in postal costs.. This leads us nicely on to a point we must make clear. We always despatch your parcels by the cheapest possible rate. Since we live in a mad world, this sometimes means first class letter rate, rather than a parcel rate.

Over a wet Bank Holiday weekend, we watched a children's fantasy on T.V. Time Slip always a popular subject, now incorporated with sci-fi. Many famous authors have written around this theme, both adult and children's. My first remembered introduction to it was listening in the 1930's to Saturday Night Theatre. The B.B.C drama players put on some wonderful plays J. M. Barrie's "Mary Rose" made a great impression on me. My first introduction to Barrie apart front eh magical Peter Pan of course. Another play that filled me with horror was W. W. Jacobs "The Monkey Paw". Two themes that occur over and over again in children's stories, time slip and three wishes. Always in the three wishes stories the last wish has to be used to 'undo' the first two! (Well, I say "always".. someone will come up with a three wishes story that proves me wrong!) If time slip is a theme that interests you, have you read Alison Uttley's 'Traveller in Time', Lucy's Boston's 'Green Knowe' stories, Jane Curry' s' The Daybreakers', 'Moondial'.. I think this was by Helen Cresswell, quite recent so to in the reference book). These are some of the lesser known titles on this theme. Tom's Midnight Garden everyone known about. Stories so much more believable than the film just shown.. 'Back to the Future'.

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I once met…Eric Korn

Eric in Red Square (from ABA Newsletter )

Eric Korn (1933-2014) seems to have been a much admired man, if all the many recent tributes in the Letters pages of the TLS to the polymath, ex-marine biologist, bookseller and brain-box star of Round Britain Quiz, are any indication.  All these encomia remind me of a visit I paid to his home over fourteen years ago.

Having been impressed for years by his performances on Round Britain Quiz on which the current less demanding TV show  Only Connect  is loosely based, and having some notion of his special areas as a book dealer, I was curious to discover how he had become so well read in so many disparate subjects. Locating him was easy enough. Like so many dealers nowadays, his home was also his shop, and this turned out to be a rather conventional looking Edwardian terraced house in Muswell Hill. I’ve interviewed a few booksellers in my time but not one of them  answered the door wearing scruffy jeans and a T shirt. I took to him immediately.

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How to Buy Books 1892 and 2015

J.H. Slater's Book Collecting - A Guide for Amateurs (Swan Sonnenschein, London 1892) concludes with a still useful chapter - 'Books to Buy.' The author regrets that there is no device (vademecum) 'capable of being carried in the waistcoat pocket which will enable him to spot a rarity at a glance...' This was just over 100 years before smartphones which, to some extent, now fulfil this very purpose (and if the book has a barcode there are also applications that will emit a noise telling you to buy.) The reference to the need for a register of 'scarce but mean-looking' English books (now known as 'sleepers' and which every good book scout or 'runner' has in his or her head) concludes with a florid latin quotation concerning glory..

Slater starts by mentioning the pathologically acquisitive bookseller Naude and the rich bibliomane Heber...

But Naude had the wealth of Mazarin at his back, and free licence to purchase as and where he would at the Cardinal's expense, while Heber was rich beyond the dreams of avarice;the modern book hunter, whose means we will suppose are limited, must discard the yard measure and the scales, and rely on his judgment, taking care to get the utmost value for his money. He will have to make up his mind to buy or not to buy on the spur of the moment, for while he is consulting his books of reference at home, a golden opportunity may be missed. This is his capital difficulty, and one which it will take years of experience to surmount, for there is no vade mecum capable of being carried in the waistcoat pocket, which will enable him to spot a rarity at a glance ; nothing, in fact, which can compensate for a lack of practical knowledge.

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Barron’s Textbook Exchange, Brooklyn 1941

Found on the front endpaper of an American book on Abraham Lincoln -- this bookplate label advertising a used bookstore. This store was the first business of the still extant and flourishing Barron's  textbook business and the owner started out mimeographing textbooks in the basement of the shop long into the night after the shop was closed. As Publisher's Weekly noted in 2011: 'In 1941, the after-hours mimeograph business became Barron's Publishing, and its first offering was the aptly named series Barron's Regents Exams and Answers...Seventy years later, the series is still going strong, albeit with some innovations—apps, e-books, and a subscription-based Web site—that could never have been imagined in 1941.'

He was still around and working in 2011 when he celebrated 70 years of business, which dates this label from the early 1940s. Of note is the broad range of business he was engaged in  - used books, stationery, art supplies, records both classical and modern, gym wear and even new books...this kind of enterprise is still needed to survive in the book trade.

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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 7

A few last stray tales of strange house calls, some straining belief…  A dealer is called to a house full of books in North London. When he arrived he realised there was a noisy afternoon party going on that had developed into an orgy and he swears he had to tread on the odd buttock as he made his way to the desirable book collection. The call had come through his ad in Time Out and he noted many of the participants were not young. Being a dealer he did not make an excuse and leave but made a good offer and returned to clear the books after the last reveller had left.

Legendary book scout Martin Stone swears he bought a great collection of modern firsts from an adult bookshop in Liverpool after the owner was shot dead one lunchtime by a crazed gunman. There were a dozen new copies of Clockwork Orange - first editions, fine in fine jackets - the trouble was that most were slightly flecked with the late owner's blood.

At another house the owner of the books, a Rachman type landlord, refused to part with some of the books after accepting the money in cash from a mild mannered book dealer. Half of the books had been loaded into to the waiting Volvo when he cried 'you've had enough.' During an argument he struck the dealer's brother, an unwise move as said brother had a fiery Irish temper. The altercation became heated, further violent blows were exchanged and the police were called by one of his tenants. None of his rather cowed tenants would witness against their landlord and they never got the other half of the books that they had paid for. One of the police remarked 'I thought bookselling was a quiet sort of job.'

Another dealer (actually the same chap who bought books during an orgy, and now a very upmarket antiquaire) found himself getting arrested during another house call. His patch was South London - which explains it. He was at the apartment of some fallen posh boys, like something out of the movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He was up a ladder looking at some pretty decent leather bound sets (not just Scott, but Wilkie Collins, Hardy, Le Fanu, Austen etc.,) the last gasp of a country house library. Suddenly the police burst in and arrested the half dozen upper class layabouts and hauled them off with our friend - who was ordered to come down off the ladder and shut up. He protested vehemently about having nothing to do with it all. Later that day he was released with an apology, his father being some kind of Q.C. Apparently the lads had been importing hashish from Morocco. He never got the books.

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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 6

There is a variant British version of the last tale from America...

A small provincial bookseller is called to a substantial mansion on the edge of town, full of valuable books. The new owner has inherited the collection and is selling the house and trying to sell all the contents, including the books. The bookseller is overwhelmed by the sight of rows of pristine signed Rackhams in limpid vellum, rare bound books of 18th century travel, 19th century literature fine in the original cloth, even the odd 20th century classic like a first signed Ulysses and a wrappered Gatsby and  many 1930s first editions almost fine in dust jackets (Greene, Hemingway, Tolkien, Orwell etc.,) And then are the rows of exquisitely bound classic works including a superb Jane Austen set... He decides the collection is far too rich for his blood and and, as they now say, 'above his pay grade' - so he puts the collection on to a prestigious West End shop for a 10% finder's fee.

Later that week the London dealer swings by his local side street shop in a bloody great long wheel base Merc van full of boxes of books and hands him a £1000 in cash. Somewhat put out, the local bookseller asks what happened. 'I asked the chap if he had a figure in mind and he said he wanted £10,000,' replies the suave metropolitan bookseller.

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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 5

Sent in by Stateside jot watcher JK this piece of fascinating second hand book folklore...

The first time I heard it, it concerned a dealer on the west side of the Hudson, not far from West Point. The second time it was another dealer, this time on the east side of the Hudson, near Garrison. I don't believe a word of it but even so.

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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 4

This is the (not entirely apocryphal) tale of the young dealer who bought a first edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations for £90,000 without having the money to pay for it. Let's call him Ralph Barton. Ralph was a young bookdealer wanting to deal in important books but was not really possessed of the funds needed. He got by and occasionally got lucky. He had a studio flat in Wandsworth shared with his girlfriend Serena -a city analyst who, along with her friends, thought Ralph was a bit of a loser for dealing in books. She felt he should join her in the financial quarter or go into the law, for which he had trained. They had a heavy mortgage but with his occasional windfalls and her decent salary they were able to manage.

One July morning Ralph was at another important London auction and bought a few job lots of rare and quite valuable  18th century pamphlet considerably under the sum he was willing to pay. Encouraged by this he started to bid on a superb 1776 first of Wealth of Nations which the chatter in the rooms had reckoned would break the £100,000 barrier. He was still bidding at £90,000 when suddenly the bidding stopped and the hammer came down. The book was his. For Ralph this was probably the worst moment of his young life. The flat would go, Serena would leave him and he would be a pariah in the trade.

Worst of all people were now congratulating him as if he had the money to pay for the thing. As he dejectedly sloped out of the rooms he bumped into a flustered figure in a ridiculously expensive suit. The man inquired anxiously "what did the Adam Smith make?" When Ralph told him £90K the man said - "I would have gone well over that, damn and blast it..." Needless to say Ralph sold him the book then and there - pocketing a quick £30K profit.

Ralph is now a proper dealer, well able to afford five figure books and has even become slightly pompous. Serena no longer thinks of bookselling as a trade for failures and they have moved to a proper house in Battersea.

Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 3

Another (tall) tale from the trade. This Fahrenheit 451 related story could be apocryphal or exaggerated. The movie was mostly shot in Naples according to one eyewitness at our old site Bookride (where these tales first appeared) but, as they say in Napoli, se non è vero, è ben trovato.

It's 1965 in a sleepy provincial bookshop where trade is slow. The dealer has a sale of the books upstairs, lesser books but useful stock--even after severe reductions there are 10,000 books left. Rather than haul them down to the dump he decides to give the whole lot to the young girl who comes in on afternoons when he is out doing house calls, fishing, watching cricket etc., She graciously accepts them and says she will arrange to have them out as soon as possible. He sets off to a local auction and on his return is greatly surprised to find all the books have gone. The girl explains that a guy came in from a movie company needing 10000 books - for the book burning scenes in Fahrenheit 451 that they were filming nearby. She only charged £1 per book.With this seed money she set up a highly successful book business that has now migrated to the web…

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Tales from the Second Hand Book Trade 2

A bookseller specialist buys a large academic collection from an old professor--mostly sexology, sexual politics,folklore censorship and moral studies. He gets them for a reasonable sum, but part of the deal is that he takes 10,000 porno paperbacks stored in the outhouse. Reluctantly he hauls them all out and takes the paperbacks to the recycling where they are pulped. Pulp to pulp.

Painstakingly he lists the scholarly works and offers them to a University library that he has ties with. They reply that, sadly, they have most of these books and what they really need is actual porn paperback fiction, 'we have all the books on censorship' the librarian says 'what we need to work on is the material that was being censored - we need thousands of them, but I'm afraid we can only pay $10 each.'

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Tales from the Second Hand Book trade 1

In the dog days of summer we present a post from our former site Bookride. It was billed there as one of several 'Tall Tales from the Trade' but as I recall it is pretty much true except that Pecksniff's may have been called Greasby's. There are other racy tales from this exciting (and vanished) world to follow...

It's 1977, in the year of the Jubilee, punk rock is in the air, Big Jim Callaghan is in Downing Street and a bookseller in King's Cross London is involved in a long - running dispute over rent with a corrupt and greedy landlord. The landlord, call him Rachman, wants him out so that he can develop the building into flats and keeps raising the rent and hassling the young bookseller at every opportunity.

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English Books in Paris

Found in a mid 1930s American detective thriller, tipped in at the front (for exchange purposes) this flier for  the Gibert Joseph (or Joseph Gibert) bookshop at 26 Boulevard St. Michel in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. It is still there at the same address with many books in languages other than French. The English language section is adequate but there are few rarities as there were in the past.

The curious thing in this ephemera is the notice 'Free Entrance' -- I can think of only one bookshop in the world that charges entry ($5) and that is run by a much arrested, deranged and violent bookseller in New Hampshire U.S.A. Possibly this is a mistranslation. The phone number has been changed by hand which might enable someone in the know to date it quite accurately. It looks like the 1950s. Until the advent of Shakespeare and Co.,  Gibert was the main source of used English books in Paris. Interestingly it also caters for the four other most wanted languages there, mostly because these are the nearest countries, although there has long been a large Russian community in Paris.