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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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Beware—-Lady Decorators at Work !!

Here is one of four press photographs from the Photopress agency showing the same group of female house decorators performing various tasks. The other photographs depict two decorators limning Georgian panelling in a ‘West End mansion ‘, painting exterior window frames at the rear of another Georgian house by means of a ladder, while a third shows paint being mixed. This particular shot of three painters white washing a plaster ceiling while standing on two very precarious looking duckboards would probably horrify our Health and Safety jonnies. Back in the early 1930s, when these photos were probably taken, Risk Assessment Reports were sixty years into the future.
A slightly  sexist comment typed on the back of the Georgian panelling photo by some agency worker is worth examining:

WOMAN DECORATORS BUSY ON THE JOB
Many of the big houses and mansions in the West End are now in the hands of decorators. At some of the houses woman decorators are busy on the job of working with effecientcy (sic) that expert decorators would find hard to beat.

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Life and death in a Georgian workhouse ( A real life Mr. Bumble)

Here is a letter picked up years ago in London among a box of ephemera. It is undated, though the watermark is 1821. It is addressed to ‘Mr or Mrs Peacock’:

Mrs Kennion is quite surprised that Mr Peacock should have sent this poor boy to work. He was certainly very ill & ought to be in bed & have medical advice immediately. Mrs K will call at the workhouse about 1 o’clock & hopes that Mr Peacock will have sent for the Parish doctor before that time,that she may hear what he thinks of the child. Mrs K has sent him to Dr Sympson & Mr Richardson, but they are both from home.
Friday.

A bit of Googling revealed that the action took place in Harrogate, then just beginning on its journey to becoming the most select watering place in the north of England.  In June 1822 Henry  Peacock, formerly the master of Aldborough and Boroughbridge workhouse,  arrived, with his wife Elizabeth, as the master of Harrogate’s workhouse in Starbeck. Evidently aiming to make an impression with the employers by saving money, the couple soon managed to reduce the average cost of keeping a pauper by establishing what was basically a vegetarian diet. This regimen could have contributed to the poor health of the boy in question. It would probably not have included many, if any, fresh vegetables, and may, like that of the hero of Oliver Twist, which was set in the 1820s, have consisted mainly of gruel.

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Lament for a Country Vet

Found - amongst a collection of Suffolk ephemera - this one page poem about a late lamented vet who died in the year of the Titanic and, according to records, was born in 1847. Little is known about him, but the poet W. S. Montgomery, the 'Blind Organ Grinder of Westleton' appears to have been an itinerant local poet and some of his poems and a short note* about him can be found in Barrett Jenkins book from the 1990s - A Selection of Ghost Stories, Smuggling Stories & Poems Connected with Southwold.

In loving memory of Edgar Willmott Wright, M.R.C.V.S.
For many years Veterinary Surgeon at Yoxford,
Died Friday, July 26th, 1912.

Interred at Yoxford Cemetery, Monday, July 29th.

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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.

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The Potato Man and the MP —a First World War Story

Discovered in the library of descendants of geneticist Dr. Redcliffe Salaman, author of The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949 ) is the final volume of an Elzevier Press  edition of Lucan’s Pharsalia,  dated 1671.

It’s fitting that the poem treats of the civil war between Julius Caesar and the forces of the Senate headed by Pompey the Great, because it was found among the rubble of Arras, blitzed by the Germans in 1916, by a soldier, Major Daniel Hopkin, MC, who on returning home to England presented it to Salaman’s son Raphael (then aged about 10 ), who just happened to be one of his  private pupils. On further investigation, the friendship between Salaman senior (b 1874) and Hopkin, his junior by 12 years, becomes even more intriguing.

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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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The Dealer in Images

Found - in London Cries Illustrated for the Young (Darton & Co, London, circa 1860). 11 charming hand-coloured plates depicting street vendors each composed of their wares, i.e. the brush maker is made of brushes and the image seller, above, is made of prints and images. A rather rare collectable juvenile book of some value. Marjorie Moon's slightly used copy sold at Bloomsbury Auctions in London for £500 in 2005. The text is aimed at quite young persons - for the image seller it reads thus:

Poor Pedro! what a strange load he bears! He has become one mass of images from top to toe. Well may he cry "images", in hopes that some one will ease him of his burden. They are very cheap. There is the head of Shakespeare, and of our gracious Queen; Tam o'Shanter and Souter Johnnie; Napoleon, parrots and I know not what besides, all made out of plaster of Paris, by poor Pedro in his little attic, which serves him for bed-chamber, sitting room and workshop. Have you ever seen these poor Italians at their work? I have, and very poorly are they lodged and fed, I can assure you. One would wonder what can make them leave their sunny Italy, where fruits hang thick as leaves upon the tress, to come and toil in darkness and dirt in our narrowest streets. But I suppose they little know what London is till they are settled down with very distant prospect of return. They hear of it as famous city, paved with gold  - that is the old story, you know - where every one can make his fortune; and they come to try. Poor Pedro, he had a happy home once, too; but a terrible earthquake shook that part of Naples which contained his little hut. The earth shook so violently that houses and walls tottered and fell, nay, in many parts whole streets not only fell but were swallowed up by the gaping earth, which opens at these times just like a hungry mouth, and closes again over all that falls in.  

The Seller of Songbirds

It was in the night this earthquake came; and Pedro, than a little boy, was roused by the cries of his father and mother, who felt their house shaking round them. Out into the open air they all rushed, with nothing but a few clothes they had on. The streets were full of people, who knelt and prayed aloud to God to spare their lives. The bells in all the churches clashed wildly, as the towers rocked to and fro. It was a dreadful day, and Pedro will never forget it. By morning many of the houses were buried in the earth, and others lay in heaps of ruin on the ground. Amongst these was the poor hut of Pedro's father. It has been a shabby little home, but still it was their home and held all their wordily goods, and sorely they wept over it destruction. The little garden, too, was all laid waste. Some kind people gave money to build up once more the ruined houses; but, whilst this was being done, there was sore want and famine, and many left their native lace to try their fortunes elsewhere. And so it was that Pedro came, with many more, to earn his living by selling images in London streets.

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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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Stephen Long bookplate

This modest bookplate pasted into a copy of The New Forget Me Not (1929), a miscellany of entertaining short pieces by contemporary authors, including Belloc, Beerbohm, Harold Nicholson, J.C.Squire, Vita Sackville West and Hugh Walpole, with superb decorations by Rex Whistler, came from the estate of the interior designer and antiques dealer Stephen Long, who died in his eighties in 2012.

From all that has been said about him since his death Long, a specialist in early nineteenth century china, whose eclectic shop in the Fulham Road was for decades a Mecca for lovers of the unusual  and 'shabby-chic', seems to have almost single-handedly invented the modern taste for interiors of painted furniture, naïve artifacts and stylish, if sometimes distressed ceramics. Indeed, a profile of his shop featured in the very first issue of The World of Interiors.

I attended the memorable sale at which  the contents of Long’s shop and flat were dispersed ,and as with other sales of iconic figures in the world of design and lifestyle—Andy Warhol and Elizabeth David come to mind—the prices paid by many punters (dealers included) for cracked pots and framed prints--  seemed to be greatly inflated. I was not tempted by most of the lots, but did buy some books, among which was this Forget-Me-Not.

There is no doubt that this dealer of the ‘old school’ possessed an extraordinary ‘eye’. I wish I’d met him. [RMH]

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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.

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Bookplate of Chesterton of Kensington

Found in a copy of Bella Duffy's Madame de Stael (Eminent Women Series, W.H. Allen, London 1887) a bookplate of one E. Chesterton of Kensington. This is almost certainly a close relation of G. K. Chesterton, the writer, novelist and creator of the immortal Father Brown. He was from Kensington and a member of the family who owned the Kensington estate agent Chesterton's - which still flourishes in London's white hot property market of 2014.

The illustration seems to be by E. Chesterton (a man) and is reminiscent of the style of Lucien Pissarro. The quotation is from one John Wilson, whom Holbrook Jackson, in his Anatomy of Bibliomania, notes was a London bookseller. Modernised, it reads thus:

“Oh for a book and a shady nook,
Either indoors or out,
with the green leaves whispering overhead,
or the street cries all about.
Where I may read at all my ease
both of the new and old,
For a jolly good book whereon to look
is better to me than gold” 

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Minor Symbolists 2 (Nicholas Kalmakoff)

More from  this article Unisex, 1910-Style found in a forgotten antiques bulletin The Four in Hand Letter from May 1970.

It was in 1962 that the work of a rather more bizarre artist, Nicholas Kalmakoff, was newly discovered in the Paris Flea Market. Kalmakoff was born in Russia in 1873 and the earliest influence on his life was a German governess who taught him to believe in the Devil -- a recurring theme in his paintings. He studied painting in Italy and returned to St. Petersburg in about 1903. He became immersed in all sorts of strange mystical and sexual cults and probably even attended the satanic meetings that Rasputin was holding at the time.

In 1908 he was commissioned to do the costumes and decor for Wilde's Salome and his interpretation was so shockingly extravagant (the interior of the theatre was designed to closely resemble the most unmentionable part of a woman!) that the production was taken off on the first night.

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Minor Symbolists

Found - this article Unisex, 1910-Style in a forgotten antiques bulletin The Four in Hand Letter from May 1970. It billed itself as The Fortnightly Guide to Collecting for Profit (Art Antiques Junk Valuables). Very much for the intelligent dealer and stall holder of the time with its eye on prices and trends. It tips the fringe PRB painter Simeon Solomon as an artist to watch, a painting of his recently made a 6 figure sum but he could then be bought for less than a £1000 for an oil. The artists mentioned here are still quite obscure with no art books or Catalogues Raisonnées available ...[in 2 parts with the first mostly on Eric Robertson and the second on Nicholas Kalmakoff]

Unisex, 1910-Style

Eric Harald Macbeth
Robertson (1887-1941)
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