By Laurence Worms
The First Lady decrees a quick sortie to the coast to blow away the Christmas cobwebs. Lovely walk by the sea on Monday – the weather so mild we could enjoy a night-cap on the balcony of our hotel at midnight looking out over a clear sea.
But she could hardly have envisaged the head-down tramp from the station into the teeth of hail and gale as we sought out Patrick Marrin (Marrin’s Bookshop) in Folkestone on Tuesday. Cobwebs blasted to smithereens rather than blown away.
All warm and welcoming within as we peeled off our sodden coats to dry ourselves out by the delightful open fires – coffee served up (as it should be) in ABA mugs. A crammed and various stock to view – wonderfully rich in local topography, but with so much else to see.
Natural history, modern firsts, illustrated books, naval history, travel, art, architecture, children’s books, general antiquarian, some fine maps, prints – even some impressive local watercolours – a thick and well illustrated catalogue just about to be posted out. And at least one other serious customer prepared to brave the weather to get there on the first trading day of the year.
Select a miscellaneous group of books, maps and prints – including two exquisite eighteenth-century views of Hampstead and Highgate after Jean-Baptiste Claude Chatelain (the larger ones, which I can’t recall ever having bought before). The weather has by now abated so we have a brief stroll around the rather deserted and forlorn town centre (the perils of pedestrianisation), but don’t linger over long (although long enough for the First Lady to point out numerous instances of silly women in Uggs). Back on the somewhat pretentious high-speed train to London (Ebbsfleet International? – what’s that about?) to complete the drying-out process. A further sortie planned for Friday.
War with the Newts
Lovely morning – the sun sparkling on the wintry downs as I puff up the hill from the station to the centre of Lewes.
Something of a treat to find an attractive country town with two proper bookshops right there on the High Street. First stop at the Bow Windows Book Shop to see how young Ric Latham and Jonathan Menezes are getting on after taking over the business and their first full year in charge.
They seem happy and cheerful – the shop neat and tidy, interesting books all around – the packing table in use – people wandering in offering them more stock. All seems well – and good luck to them.
Too few young booksellers prepared to take on a high-street shop – and, as we all know, it is shops that create the collectors of the future, not the narrow windows of bookfairs or the internet.
After a few purchases and some general chat I move up on the road to see Andrew and Yasmine Cumming (A. & Y. Cumming). Established in 1976 – and so solidly established too. An enviable depth and reserve of stock built up over the years. Trawl around the open shop and pick off some very keenly priced modern material – and then to the serious books not immediately visible. Can’t resist first editions of George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and Thomas Hardy’s Hand of Ethelberta – the pile steadily grows.
Catch a glimpse of Ron Chapman (Tindley & Chapman) on what is evidently a regular buying trip. Add a copy of Karel Čapek‘s extraordinary satire War with the Newts to the pile – the first translation into English with its delightful 1937 dust-jacket. Turning into a successful day. Settle up – take some pictures.
Run into Ron Chapman again as we share a train onwards to Brighton. We discuss what we have bought and not bought – he’d resisted the Čapek on the grounds that he’d once seen an even better copy in the jacket. I’d not been able to resist it on the grounds I hadn’t.
So much of this is about memory and experience – no substitute for it. And that leads on to a discussion of how long we hold on to our books before putting them up on to the internet. Some considerable time in some cases, which takes us on to an interesting truth – that many of the best books that turn up don’t ever appear on the net. You need to get out and about. He comes to Brighton once a month.
I give him a head start by stopping for a sandwich as we arrive – but soon catch him up in John Loska’s shop in Duke Street (Colin Page Antiquarian Books) – a shop which had been talked up to me by a long-experienced colleague only the other day as one of the best places to buy in the whole country. And so it proves.
Yet again a depth and richness of stock underlining years of continuity and effort. The books piled high – something for everyone here. Additional store-rooms in the yard behind. Crates of fresh arrivals awaiting unpacking. A happy hour building another little pile of purchases. A very good day all round – good books, good company all day – and Anne joins me in Brighton for the evening to attend one of our oldest friend’s sixtieth birthday party.
ABA President Laurence Worms travels around the British Isles to visit as many antiquarian booksellers and members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (International) during his presidency. You can read the reports of his all exciting trips in his blog The President on Safari.