Walter Jerrold’s book collecting habits: A second peep into Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902)

Jot 101 Farringdon road books 1966In our first Jot on Jerrold’s book we were rather harsh. We felt that he was too easily pleased by his discoveries among the book barrows and second hand bookshops. However, some of his adventures do shed some light on the second hand book trade in London around the turn of the nineteenth century. The book stalls in New Cut he describes may have gone, but selling books from street stalls has changed little since then. The only exception to this appears to be the methods of the veteran Jeffrey of Farringdon Road, who, if you asked what his ‘best price’ was had the habit of tearing the book in question in half before your startled eyes( see previous Jots).

Take the penultimate chapter of Autolycus entitled ‘The Twilight of the Gods ‘. Jerrold begins his anecdote by setting the scene for a discovery:

‘The scene is the New Cut, a few yards from where it turns out of the Westminster Bridge Road. We are standing at a regulation costermonger’s barrow, laden with a great variety…of literary wares…The air is heavy with the nauseating smell from a nearby cook-shop, of which the windows, steam clouded from within, bear in bold type, this simple legend: “ What are the wild waves saying? Come and get a good dinner for sixpence!” Continue reading

Arthur Ransome on second hand books


Years before he achieved fame as the author of Swallows and AmazonsArthur Ransome published his first book, Bohemia in London(1907), which is now very sought after, copies Jot 101 Bohemia in London coverin  collectable condition fetching £500 or more.

At the time he was working as a poorly paid journalist, but as Bohemia strongly suggests, he was spending most of his salary gathering material for this book by mingling with Bohemian types of all kinds mainly in pubs in and around Chelsea, where he lived. He was also buying second hand books. One of the opening anecdotes of his chapter on bookshops and bookstalls concerns the copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy that he acquired for 8/- from a book dealer in central London. At the time he had just  a few shillings  in his pocket and was planning to visit a restaurant on the way home to his digs. He ended up spending everything he had on him which meant carrying the two heavy volumes under his arms, going hungry that evening and having to walk home, rather than taking an omnibus or Underground train. Ransome also doesn’t give many details about the edition of the Anatomy, but we can be fairly sure that at 8/- it wasn’t a very early edition and certainly not a first.

The appeal of such an old fashioned tome to someone with an addiction to such treasures reminds us of Lamb’s essay entitled ‘ Old China ‘ in which his sister Mary, in the guise of Bridget, recalls the acquisition of a folio Beaumont and Fletcher that her brother  had ‘ dragged home late at night  from Barker’s in Covent-garden ‘ to their home in Colebrooke Row, Islington in the early 1800s.

‘ Do you remember how we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds to the purchase, and had not come to a determination  till it was near ten o’clock f the Saturday night, when you set off from Islington, fearing you should be too late —and when the old bookseller with some grumbling opened his shop and by the twinkling taper ( for he was setting bedwards ) lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures—when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cumbersome —and when you presented it to me —and when you were exploring the perfectness of it ( collating you called it )—and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves with paste, which you patience would not suffer to be left till day-break—was there no pleasure in being a poor man ?’   Continue reading

Walter Jerrold as book collector

Autolycus of bookstalls 001We at Jot 101 had not imagined the travel writer and biographer Walter Jerrold ( 1865 – 1929 ) to be a frequenter of second-hand bookstalls, but there he is as an unabashed collector of ‘unconsidered trifles ‘ in  Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902), a collection of articles on book-collecting that first appeared in The Pall Mall GazetteDaily News, the New Age, and Londoner.

But as we already knew him as a biographer of Charles Lamb we should have known better, and indeed he mentions Lamb several times in his book. Jerrold’s range as a bibliophile was wider than Lamb’s, but he seems to have been particularly drawn to writers of the Romantic period. He wrote about collecting Thomas Hood, Cobbett, Coleridge, Southey, and Rev Sydney Smith, while also mentioning books on Oliver Cromwell and Ruskin. In addition, he appears to have rather liked association copies of all dates, and boasted that he had ‘snapped up ‘volumes bearing the signatures of Cardinal Manning, George Eliot, Sydney Smith and Thomas Noon Talfourd at ‘Metropolitan stalls’ in recent years. Jerrold was also tickled at the idea of buying books that had been displayed in the windows of very unliterary shops—in one particular instance an ‘ oil and colourman’s shop in the Seven Dials’, where a first of Ruskin’s Political Economy of Art and a Tennyson signed by George Eliot rubbed shoulders with ‘ soap, soda, pickles and jam ‘. Finding literary treasures in unlikely stores was probably more common in Jerrold’s time than it is now, although your Jotter does recall his first entry into collecting back in 1968, when he found an odd volume of the fifth edition of Johnson’s Dictionary and a battered early edition of Gay’s Fables, complete with nice copper plates, in the window of a car mechanic’s shop opposite Sketty Library in Swansea, along with spanners and a grease gun. After negotiating with the mechanic he secured the two tomes for just 2/6 ( 12p ).

Jerrold favoured ‘ Booksellers’ Row ( aka Holywell Street, off the Strand ), a disreputable  area cleared for the construction of Aldwych c 1900, from where he moved to ‘ that newer Booksellers’ Row which has sprung up in Charing Cross Road ‘, itself a product of slum clearance a little earlier. He also ( in passing ) mentions the stalls in Farringdon Street, for so many decades dominated by the Jeffrey family (see earlier blog in Bookride) , and Aldgate, in addition to the New Cut opposite Waterloo station. The two latter sites went many years ago and following the demise of George Jeffrey, the Farringdon bookstalls, where a lucky punter a few decades ago bought an early sixteenth century scribal copy of a work by Sir Thomas More for a few pounds, folded within a year or so. Today the only surviving ‘Booksellers’ Row ‘ is in Charing Cross Road. Continue reading

Book collecting in 1930

Bookman Christmas 1930 cover 001The collecting of modern firsts seems to have begun alongside the rise of the modern etching as an investment opportunity in the early years of the twentieth century. However, while the Wall Street Crash of 1929 succeeded in almost singly handedly destroying the market for etchings, the taste for modern firsts persisted for years afterwards and may even have benefited from investors turning to book collecting from etchings.

The Bookman, arguably the most wide-ranging and luxurious magazine available to a middlebrow literary  readership at this time, regularly devoted several pages to all kinds of book collecting, including the vogue for modern firsts. It is revealing to discover just how tastes in modern firsts have changed over the past ninety years. Today, the best works of Modernist giants, such as Yeats, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Virginia Woolf and Lawrence are sought after. Back then, the emphasis seems to have been on contemporary fiction. In the Christmas edition for 1930, for instance, the writer discusses the merits of the many catalogues he has received from dealers. Among them is one from Bertram Rota ( ‘ very readable and educating it is in these days of lowish prices ‘) and from this some highlights are selected.

‘ I note a good collection of Brett Young’s works, including a copy of “ The Dark Tower “  for £3 10s., some seventeen items of Hugh Walpole’s works  ( “ Maradick at Forty “, 25s.) and many works of J.B. Priestley…’

In another catalogue it is noted that J. M. Barrie’s  “ Window in Thrums “ was priced at 16 guineas and A. E. Coppard’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me could be had for 6 guineas. Continue reading

Edward Baker, the Demon Bookfinder General of Birmingham

Edward Baker Poe coverIn some of our past bulletins recording the nefarious dealings of Edward Baker, who called himself the ‘ most expert bookfinder extant ‘, but who we prefer to dub ‘The Demon Bookfinder General of John Bright Street’, we credited him with what today might be regarded as generosity. He had the habit of selling quality deleted books, including works by Oscar Wilde and Dowson,  at knock down prices that in today’s market might sell for decent profits. After all, because a book is deleted it doesn’t follow that it loses its value. Thomas Hardy was deleted, as were many other celebrated novelists. On the debit side, however, as a buyer Baker was niggardly to the point of criminality.


Let’s start with what he was prepared to offer for one of the rarest titles in American literature. Edgar Allan Poe is now regarded as a key writer in the American Romantic idiom. ‘The Raven ‘ is a staple of most Americans’ childhood education, and his creepy tales were pioneer works . He is even credited with inventing the detective story. Poe’s debut, Tamerlane and otherPoems ( Boston, 1827) was privately published when Poe was just 18. The edition was around fifty, which made it so rare that today perhaps only twelve copies have survived. In 2009 one of these fetched $662,500, a record for a work of American literature. In 1907, when he offered just £2 for a copy, Edward Baker, who knew the book was a great rarity , would not have expected to buy a copy in Birmingham, but being a shark, he offered a ludicrous price anyway. If he had been a better businessman, an offer of £20, might have interested someone in Europe. To compound his criminal offence Baker offered a measly 25/- for The Raven and other Poemsand the same price for Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. We at Jot HQ would love to know if Mr Baker ever managed to acquire any of these incredibly rare Poe firsts.


It gets worse. Today, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell isa rarity that most  Bronte fans would love to acquire. It is nothing like as scarce as Tamerlane,but today you’d need to shell out at least £2,000 for a decent copy. .In 1909 Ed Baker would give you 25/-.There are more horror stories. Baker seemed to have a penchant for Shelley, or at least one of his well-heeled clients did. Perhaps one of them was A.M.D. Hughes , author of The Nascent Mind of Shelley, who later became a professor of English Literature at Birmingham University, just down the road from Baker’s shop. There are twelve very rare  Shelley  titles in Baker’s  ‘wanted ‘ list, but only two of these ( the Adonais, which was printed in Pisa following Keats’ death, and Queen Mab(1813), would he give more than £3 for. Today, many Shelley firsts will fetch up to £2,000, some much more.. Continue reading

More bargains from Birmingham in 1913

Baker bargains from BrumEdward Baker, a bookseller from John Bright Street, Birmingham, frequently placed full page adverts in the Bookman magazine during the early years of the twentieth century. In previous jots we have looked at deleted items that a hundred or more years later were listed in Abebooks with large ( sometimes eye-watering )prices attached to them. This time we feature a selection of ‘ first and scarce editions ‘ taken from an advert of October 1913. Current Abebook prices are listed next to them. All books are first editions unless otherwise stated.

Oliver Goldsmith, Vicar of Wakefield, 2 vols 1766. £4 4s (£4 20p)

Today @ £4,000 – £5,000

Rudyard Kipling, Plain Tales from the Hills, £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today @ £695.

Rudyard Kipling, Soldiers Three, 1888, £8 8s (£8 40p)

Today @ £2,800

Lord Alfred Douglas, City of the Soul, 1899. 15s (75p)

Today @ £488.

Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, fo., 1627. £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today a 1635 ed. @ £325

The Scourge, with 18 coloured plates by Cruikshank, 2 vols.,1811 -12. £3 3s (£3 60p)

Today 11 volumes @ £7,500

Southey & Coleridge, St Joan, 2nd ed inscribed, 1798. £21

Today same ed. inscribed to Chas. Lamb @ £4,800

Thos. Hughes, Tom Brown at Oxford, 1859. £6 6s (£6 30p)

Today @ £395

Capt. Dickinson, Narrative of the Operations for the Recovery of the Public Stores and Treasure Sunk in H.M.S. “Thetis“, 1836. Very rare. 10s 6d ( 52p)

Today this guide to the whereabouts of sunken treasure is yours for £500 !

Lady Caroline Lamb, Glenarvon, 1816. £7 10s (£7 50p)

Today this ‘mad, bad, and difficult to read ‘novel is yours for a mere £1,250. Continue reading

More bargains from 1908 Birmingham

Birmingham Bargains Book Cat

A glimpse into the world of bookselling in Edwardian England. The following’ special bargains’—advertised for sale in ‘ new condition’– are listed in The Bookman of August 1908 by Edward Baker’s Great Bookshop, Birmingham. The discounted prices of 1908 are compared to what the same books ( inevitably in slightly worse condition) are listed at in Abebooks today.  



Beccari’s Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo (1901)    8s 6d (42p)       £600

Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson (1903)                             9s 0d (45p)     £325

Dominion of the Air by Rev J.M.Bacon (1904)                         2s. (10p)           £87

Moss Flora by R.Braithwaite (1887)                                       £2 10s (250p)     £120

Historical Locomotives by Bennett                                         1s   (5p)               £75

How I shot my bears by Mrs Tyacke (1893)                           2s 6d.(12p)        £650         Continue reading

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

I once met….. William Rees Mogg

Sent in by a Jot regular - this moving account. In the rare book trade he was renowned for having returned an expensive book he had bought from another bookseller, saying 'I did not find it as saleable as I had hoped.' Only someone as eminent as the ex-editor of The Times could get away with such an excuse. The shot below is of him with Mick Jagger at a TV discussion in 1967 after William Rees Mogg's 'Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel' editorial condemning a jail term handed to Mick for dope offences. At the time he was 10 years older than the great Stone.

This was after he’d left the editorial chair of The Times and was running the very posh Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookshop in Pall Mall. Before I arranged to interview him I had mugged up on his tastes by reading the guide to book collecting that  he’d published a few years earlier. I must admit that I was a little intimidated by his reputation—not just as a high Tory patrician figure from the higher reaches of journalism—but also as someone whose refined tastes in Augustan literature were likely to show up my own thin knowledge of this area.

Continue reading

Rare Decadence

From a catalogue from 2000, this very rare novel. There are less than a handful of decadent novels from the 1890s in English (plenty in French) and after Oscar Wilde and Marc Andre Raffalovich there is really only this novel published by the elusive Henry & Co., Try finding another copy! Recently it has been available as a P.O.D.

Langley, Hugh. The Tides Ebb out to the Night; Being the Journal of a Young man - Basil Brooke- edited by his Friend Hugh Langley. (H. Henry, London 1896.) Full crimson buckram gilt lettered, ruled in blind, fore edges untrimmed. 8vo. vi,311pp. Highly uncommon decadent novel in the form of a journal and letters, showing an infatuation with French Symbolism. There are descriptions of decadent London rooms and a good deal of drug-taking including kif, ‘hasheesh’ and morphine to which the chief character becomes addicted, when his love affair with a young woman goes awry. The number of decadent English novels of this period is very small: this books appears unrecorded by any of the 90s bibliographies and, although highly accomplished, seems to have attracted very little notice in its day.

NIM – the first Computer Game (1951)

Sold this item about 10 years back for $500. Possibly worth a whole lot more now. The game is the same as the match-stick game being played in the movie L'Année Derniere a Marienbad and is said to have originated in ancient China where it was known as Tsyanchidzi the 'picking stones game.' The match game can now be played online at the Archimedes' Lab site. Good luck if you can beat your computer there!

Computer manual. Original booklet from The Festival of Britain, 1951 with the words "FASTER THAN THOUGHT." on cover with the Festival's symbol.

Revealed to the public as part of the Science Exhibition at the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Ferranti Nimrod Computer was the first ever computer game - a machine built exclusively for the purpose of playing a computerized version of the logical game of 'Nim'.

(From the booklet) The game is for two players, being played nowadays with matches. At the beginning of the game one of the players arranges the matches in any number of heaps in any way he chooses. The players then move alternatively taking any number of matches from any one heap but at least one match must always be taken. In the normal simple game the player who succeeds in taking the last few matches wins but in the reverse simple game the player who takes the last match or matches loses.

Nimrod could play all the variations of the game and at the exhibition members of the public were invited to play against the machine; at the end of each game the computer would flash up the message 'COMPUTER WINS' or 'COMPUTER LOSES'. When the famous British scientist and ENIGMA codebreaker Alan Turing played it he managed to beat the computer, although witnesses were amused by a malfunction whereby Nimrod 'changed its mind' from 'COMPUTER LOSES' to 'COMPUTER WINS' and refused to stop flashing.

The booklet, which was sold at the exhibition for a shilling and sixpence, is a detailed guide to the machine and how it plays the Nim game, preceded by a more general introduction to the emergent sciences of computing and artificial intelligence. As an indication of how early the language is, it could be noted that the term 'memory' is mentioned only as an alternative to the preferred term 'storage'. Rare -  so elusive that it is not listed by Hook and Norman in their compilation of the most exhaustive bibliography of computer literature to date, The Origins of Cyberspace.

Two Windmill Girls play Nim at the Festival of Britain

1920s Rare Book ‘Wants’ list

An old list (a 24 page pamphlet) put out by a superior antiquarian bookshop (Walter T. Spencer) in 1920s London. The bookseller has noted almost every single desirable book at that time. Many titles are now forgotten, no longer wanted, impossible to find OR still extremely valuable or even more wanted now than then (e.g. Jane Austen, The Brontes, Beardsley, Wilde.)



- BY - 



(Opposite Mudie's Library and near the British Museum). 

Telephone No. 5847 Central. Telegraphic Address- "Phiz, London." Private Address- CULVER HOUSE, THE ESPLANADE, SHANKLIN, ISLE OF WIGHT.

Bankers - LONDON & COUNTY (New Oxford St. Branch).

Any Parcels of Books sent, I willingly pay carriage both ways, if we do not come to terms.

Cash always sent by Return Post. Established 1884

→ Shall be glad to hear of Imperfect Copies or Odd Vols of any Books or odd plates in this List.

Continue reading