Before we report on the bargains available in May 1908 at Edward Baker’s Great Bookshop in John Bright Street, Birmingham (contrast it with Birmingham City Centre today, where there is not a single second hand bookshop ), let us examine what Mr Baker was prepared to give for top-end first editions in 1907 as advertised in The Bookman for May of that year.
For firsts of Keats’ Lamia and other poems (1820), Endymion (1818) and Poems (1817) Mr B. was prepared to shell out a measly £3 per item. We don’t know what his mark up was, but today Lamia would cost you £15,000 and Endymion£12,000. For Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866) 25/- was offered. A good copy of that book today is priced at an eye watering £37,000 in abebooks. For Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice(1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) he’d give you 15/- per novel, which was 10/- less than he’d offer you for Andrew Lang’s Ballads and Lyrics of Old France (1872). Even second and thirds editions of the Austens would today cost you around £10,000 each. As for a first of Lyrical Ballads(1798), without doubt the most iconic item of Romanticism in English Literature, Mr Baker was prepared to offer a whole £2 !! That’s £1 less than he would give you for George Meredith’sPoems (1851). But there’s worse to come. For that most extraordinarily rare debut collection by William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1783), you’d receive a paltry 25/- , which was 10/- lessthan he’d give you for Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon(1865. This is sheer madness.
In relief we turn to some of the bargains that your great grandfather might have acquired in Mr Baker’s emporium had he visited it in 1908. We have omitted those titles that have appeared in previous Jots on Mr Baker’s bookshop.
All are first editions unless otherwise stated.
Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray (privately printed 1890). 25/- Today £3,700
Charles Dickens, Joseph Grimaldi, two vols (1838) £3. 10/- Today £600
Aubrey Beardsley, The Story of Venus and Tannhauser(privately printed) 25/- Today £300
Malcolm’s History of Persia, 2 vols, large paper 1815 £3 3/- Today £3,500
Barrington’s New South Wales, 1803 30/- Today £2000
Farmer’s Twixt Two Worlds, 1886 15/- Today £350
- M. Whistler, Ten O’clock, 25/- Today £450
- B. Sheridan, The Rivals, £15 15s Today £850
Happy the grandson or granddaughter who might have inherited such books ! [RR]