Book bargains in 1908


Baker's bookshop advert 001Before 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

  1. M. Whistler, Ten O’clock, 25/- Today £450
  2. B. Sheridan, The Rivals, £15 15s Today £850

Mrs Gatty, Book of Sundials, 25/-                                                 Today £285

Happy the grandson or granddaughter who might have inherited such books ! [RR]


2 thoughts on “Book bargains in 1908

  1. Joe S. Walker

    It should be said that anyone who could pay twenty-five shillings for a book in 1908 had to be well off, or a very keen bibliophile. £3. 10/- was a respectable weekly income in itself. Also Dorian Gray and Venus and Tannhauser were comparatively recent, and perhaps plainly good investments if one didn’t mind their authors’ reputations?

  2. Jot 101 Post author

    Good point Joe. I think the price change 110 years later is probably 200 times, possibly more –so some prices make sense. Good to see Famer’s ‘Twixt Two Worlds’ there with its amazing spiriualist/ occult colour plates.


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