Bookselling in Bell Street
Time accelerates as you get older.
December 2011 since the last post! That's just plain tardy! Too much time on Twitter!
We are still here, and despite an obvious slow down in certain areas of the business, things are not too shabby on the business front.
We've been selling our lovely rarer items quite well, and we have also had an interesting range of Library building jobs for far flung parts of the world. We are currently working on one for Thailand, but have recently sent books to Azerbaijan and Nigeria.
Sadly Martha, who worked in the Chiswick shop mostly, has had to go back to the US for a while, but the upshot is that I will now be in the Chiswick shop more consistently towards the end of the week. Perhaps I'll get some more blogging done........
It's been a funny old week.
It started out with a very festive Christmas Carol service at St Paul's Girls School. Candlelit, lovely readings, beautiful harmonies from the choirs, and musicians. Mr Holst would have been proud!
I was then lucky enough to have tickets to see the dress rehearsal of Wayne Eagling's production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker at the English National Ballet. Rather foolishly, I looked at my phone in the interval, only to discover an e-mail from a member of the public notifying me that part of the window at the Chiswick shop had been smashed. A flurry of e-mails and telephone calls before the second half meant that I was able to make sure that someone went to the shop. Luckily nothing had been stolen from the window, so we assumed it was just vandals. A member of public who had spotted the break at tried to report it to the police but have been unable to get into the police station!
So some highs and lows on Wednesday evening, but on going into the shop on Thursday, a little faith in human nature was restored. Firstly the pub next door to us, had within half an hour of the break, placed card over the hole. A couple of customers, including the husband of the person who reported it to me, popped in to make certain nothing had been taken and all is well. Our local community policewoman popped in too, and apologised for the lack of access to the station the night before. My brother Peter and I cracked on with restoring the damage (I'm a dab hand with a putty knife), and putting together the beginnings of a festive window. Warmed by the response of those around me, it became a positive glow when the young man who'd broken the window came into the shop, apologised, and offered to pay for the damage!
Christmas spirit. Well certainly, that's what caused it. Office party, too many drinks, obligatory post drink wrestling match to sort out who buys the kebabs on the way home. Either way, I was so delighted at the fact that he'd fessed up and taken responsibility, and that there now didn't appear to be random book hating vandals breaking my window in with their Kindles, that I suggest he make a donation instead to the St Mungo's Christmas Appeal. I will, and I suggest you do too.
Well, that's quite shameful really!
I know that when you start a blog all your intentions are very good, and the thought is that you will at least blog every week, but even I'm quite shocked to see th it's June since I last tapped keyboard for Bookselling in Bell Street. I'm sure it's the common cry, but actually we've had a very busy summer.
The thing that probably kept us busiest, and prevented me from lounging about most, was the building of a library for some customers in North London, to go into a newly constructed house. Sourcing the relevant books, cataloguing, and then installing over two van loads of books takes up an inordinate amount of time.
I know that lots of people, the idea of someone else selecting your books is completely alien. However, building libraries has a long tradition within bookselling, and it is actually welcome and enjoyable change from our usual bookselling tasks. The bizarre thing is, that we now find ourselves doing another library building job for an American customer - perhaps they are like buses , and only travel in pairs.
Must press on, as we have to sort some props out for a forthcoming film of Great Expectations. Next year being the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth means that by the end of 2012 we will probably be heartily sick of Boz.
Will endeavour to make more regular contributions!
A smooth unloading process for the fair despite the odd shower. Our stand is at the other side of the room from last year, although for some reason we have still managed to end up next to the WCs?
Please have a look through our list of books at the Fair at http://tinyurl.com/3fapvfr
The last batch has now been loaded to the site.
For those attending there will also be a number of recent purchase, and a bowl of sweets on the stand to help with a bit of a sugar rush for those long days.
We have a shop just 2.5 miles away in a straight line at Fosters' Bookshop, 183 Chiswick High Road, London W4 2DR. 020 8995 2768 Tuesday to Saturday 10.30 to 5.30 www.fostersbookshop.co.uk
Frantic of late (childrens' half-terms, GCSE revision, sorting through stock-rooms) so I'm cheating by listing an interesting blog by my brother Paul Foster. He has the 2nd printing and the 1st trade editions in stock if any one's appetite is whetted?
Paul Foster Books: Show me the Bunny. Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbi...: "I have been asked in the past, although not often, Why are there 3 first editions of Peter Rabbit? How can that be? The answer is that ther..."
It's been a busy week or so. Spring cleaning is most definitely in the air, evidenced by the huge number of house calls I have been on in the past 10 days. Everything from a very disappointing couple of boxes, to a house with several thousand volumes scattered through every room, and stacked in every corner.
Some people moving or just thinning out, others dealing with estates. Rather sadly, it's often the way we as booksellers find out that our customers have popped their clogs, when we are asked to go and look at their books. Something that happened this week, when I noticed that the photographs around the house were of a long standing customer.
The range has been huge. I took several boxes to charity shops, but also bought a couple of very nice A. A. Milne Winnie the Pooh first editions, a nice Essex House Press volume, and a run of Herbert Jenkins published P. G. Wodehouse that have already sold.
Probably my favourite thing this week has been the the nigh on 1,000 Everyman's Library books that I bought in north London. Not because Everyman's Library are especially valuable, they're not (most can be bought for just a few pounds). Or even because they offered 'real serviceableness with a pleasing, dignified appearance', as my old Descriptive List states. Or even because, when they were relaunched a few years ago, they still managed to produce reasonable priced, well made volumes.
No, the real reason I got so excited, was far more shallow than that. It was a lovely day, with the sun shining through the french windows. Rather unexpectedly, sitting in the corner of the room, was a rainbow of books.
The previous owner had gathered all of the volumes without dustjackets, and arranged them as above! Simple things.... it just pleased me there was such a simple, personal effective display.
What was also nice to discover, was that the previous owner had gathered his collection together over 50 years, reading a new tome every 2 or 3 weeks.
Sadly, I will probably have to split the run up. It wasn't complete, and there is too much variation in the overall condition. There is also the sad reality, that sets of series rarely sell well as a set. Collectors like to collect, and they want the pleasure of acquiring a volume here, and a volume there.
There is an Everyman story, about the actor Richard Burton who was a fan of the series, and would pick copies up to accompany him when he was off on location filming. Elizabeth Taylor, who was his wife at the time, went out and bought him a complete set, knowing he liked them. It apparently completely destroyed his fun - he'd loved the thrill of discovery, and perhaps letting serendipity decide what he would read next.
This is true of so many complete runs, especially when they are numbered, as any bookseller will tell you. I've yet to sell a complete set of the King Penguin series, but buy a set, and price them individually, and KP collectors will add new ones to their own collection, or upgrade on the condition. It's the ultimate in recycling!
I originally wrote this for the Ibooknet newsletter
back in 2005. In a desperate bid to add some content to the new blog, and because I've got a lot on over the next few days, I thought I'd copy it across!
Discovering a fore-edge painting is always a pleasant surprise. When I first started my bookselling apprenticeship, it was one of the first things I was told to look out for (along with interesting bookplates, and ephemera tucked into the books).
If you have not come across fore-edge paintings, let me first explain what they are.
If you are holding a book in your hand, then the fore-edge is the long edge you can flick through, or fan out. Fore-edge painting refers to any painted decoration of this fore edge. The artist slightly fans out this edge, it is secured or held in a vice, and decorates it with a painted view, or portrait or historical scene. In earlier examples, the painting was applied, and then the fore edge was gilded (gold leaf is applied). In later examples, a book with an already gilded fore-edge - usually a fine leather binding - has the painting applied after it is bound. In both cases, when the book is returned to its closed state, the painting is concealed by the gilding; fan out the edges, and the painting reappears.
Here is a little movie file of some fore-edges being fanned to reveal their paintings. You can view this 1MB .mov file if you have the QuickTime plugin. It comes courtesy of the Horace W. Sturgis Library
at Kenneshaw State University, Georgia (USA).
The Italian Renaissance is, as with many things, where it all really started (although medieval examples exist). Often quite simple, floral decorations, heraldic designs or motifs, these were generally painted directly onto the fore-edge rather than later 'fanned' edge, sometimes with a gold background. These were not uncommon in 15th and 16th century Italy. But the term is now largely used to refer to the British examples of this art. Disappearing pictures start to appear, as it were, on mid 17th century English bibles and common prayer books. By the latter part of the 17th century, very fine works were being produced.
However, the pinnacle of this art was in the late 18th century revival and popularisation of the art by the bookbinders and booksellers Edwards of Halifax. They produced exquisite paintings on the edges, as well as beautiful 'Etruscan calf' and painted vellum bindings
. London Society was wowed by the beautiful volumes, and the Edwards And Sons shop in Pall Mall is mentioned by Fanny Burney (also known as Madame d'Arblay), the 18th century London socialite who wrote an extensive diary as well as various novels.
The practice of fore-edge painting became widespread, and continued through the 19th and into the 20th century. Demand has always outstripped supply, and this meant that decorating the fore-edge continues to this day. These later examples tend to be applied after the book is bound and the fore-edge gilded, but they are still beautiful and surprising things.
Themes vary, with landscapes, portraits, historical subjects, sporting and erotic images all being used. There are also 'double' or two-way paintings, with views visible when the book is fanned either way. I once saw a volume that showed mountaineers scaling a peak, and both the top and bottom edge had also been used to show the peak, and the base camp.
Original examples are very hard to find and a good provenance will make these very expensive items. Late 19th and 20th century examples can be found for a few hundred pounds, with the quality of both the binding and image setting the price.
Where to find them? Well they could be found on almost any book with a gilded fore-edge - poetry, history, travel, classics, bibles are some to look out for. There are many poor amateur examples, that can disappoint, and many pleasing modern examples. So when you see a bookseller picking up a leather bound book and fanning the fore-edge, even though he's not often actually looking for one, he knows that if it's there, that is the way to reveal the secret.
In these straightened times, this is very encouraging.
I've been allocated Stand 25
, which seems like a good pitch. Although, I do still seem to be near to a ladies loos, having moved from Stand 19 on the other corner.
I need to start gathering together goodies. Brother Paul, who is on the organising committee (no I don't get special treatment!) has already sent a letter around to exhibitors reminding us to submit books to the 'Highlights' gallery.
While having a bit of a dig about on the site, I spotted the 'meet the committee' photos. Even as a boy, Paul didn't like photographs.......
OLYMPIA BOOK FAIR COMMITTEE
Robert Frew Ltd (Chairman)
Adrian Harrington Rare Books
Peter Harrington Antiquarian Bookseller
H M Fletcher
Bernard J Shapero Rare Books
Romantic Characters by William Nicholson
We've just taken delivery for the Chiswick
shop of this uncommon, and beautiful series of chromo lithographs. Chromolithography
is a form of colour printing where each of the colours are printed separately.
This series were only published once, in 1900, and are all figures are from the world of romantic literature. Some are more obscure than others. I didn't know Madge Wildfire, but maybe that's just me, not having read Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian. The image sizes are all approximately 27 cm. x 24 cm., so they are an impressive size, and larger than most of the William Nicholson prints available. They are £150 each in a hand finished card mount.
There is actually a tenuous Chiswick link. In 1894 William Nicholson
moved to Bedford Park with his wife Mabel Nicholson
(nee Pryde) and their young son, the artist Ben Nicholson
, to be near to her family. James Pryde
was an artist, and lived in Hammersmith. He was William Nicholson's brother in law, and partner in the J. & W. Beggarstaff
project which ran from 1894 to 1899, and saw them emerge as groundbreaking designers of posters.
Rochester - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Baron Munchausen - The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by HIMSELF and Rudolph Erich Raspe
Madge Wildfire - The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott
Miss Fotheringay and Captain Costigan - Pendennis by W. Thackeray
Krishna Mulvaney - Soldier's Three by Rudyard Kipling
Gargantua - Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel by Rabelais
Mr Vanslyperken - Snarleyyow, or the Dog Fiend by Captain Marryatt
Commodore Trunnion - The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett
Miss Havisham - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Don Quixote de la Mancha - Don Quixote by Cervantes
Sophia Western - Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Porthos - The Three Musketeers (etc.) by Alexandre Dumas
We also have a framed Long John Silver from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson at £250
It's been a while since we've seen the floor, but finally it's happened!
We've cleared all of the boxes out of the main part of the shop. There was indeed worn carpet beneath those high stacked boxes. The down side is that we've had to put a number of them in the back room, so we've closed that for a while. Two steps forward, one backwards.
I also cleared the counter today, and spent a couple of hours in the back room pricing. With hope, we can plough through and have the back room open too!
The catalyst was selling 500 books to one customer. A very cathartic thing - almost as good as selling one good book.