RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
21 July 2007
Awesome Book Wants list from 1920s
BOOKS AND PRINTS
SPECIALLY WANTED TO BE PURCHASED
WALTER T. SPENCER,
27, NEW OXFORD STREET, LONDON, W.C.
(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.
We recently found this closely written 24 page catalogue of 'books wanted' put out by London bookseller Walter T. Spencer in about 1920 (date taken from BM copy.) We are publishing it online almost in its entirety (long lists of Scott, Ainsworth and Dickens have been abbreviated.) Some of the books are now impossible to find, a lot were very rare even then - especially anonymous pamphlets put out by the Romantics and items such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's impossible first book 'Battle of Marathon'. Spencer's list encapsulates bookseller wisdom of his age and rarities passed down from 19th century book sellers. These were the 'sexy' books of his day and some of them are still appearing on wants list, some no longer wanted or easily found (e.g. Charles Lever, Frank Smedley, Walter Scott.)
I may add a few notes in but time forbids me from identifying every anonymous and pseudonymous item. Occasionally he offers money for a book and one can multiply that by about 100 to get his modern price. It is to be assumed with some books that they are there because a valued customer had asked for them.
Spencer, known in the trade as 'Tommy', wrote a memoir "40 Years in my Bookshop" (London 1923) that reveals part of his story. Spencer's dates were possibly 1866-1964, he is unknown to Wikipedia and the DNB but these old booksellers lived long lives. He was a major book seller of his time, a friend of forger Thomas J. Wise and appears to have dabbled in forgery himself. His shop was at 27 New Oxford and he dealt in prints, plate books, bound sets, the Romantics, Americana, first editions of his time (Wilde, Conrad, Galsworthy, etc.). A big Dickens man, popular with visiting American plutocrats like pickle king Henry J. Heinz and numbering among his customers, Sir Henry Irving, Gladstone, George Meredith, Andrew Lang, Gissing, Pater, Swinburne, and Richard Jefferies. Tim D'Arch Smith recalls Spencer trading from Upper Berkeley Street in the late 1950s. He even remembers his bookseller code - 'TWICKENHAM' with T standing for one, W for 2 etc.,
Marc de Vaulbert Chantilly in his excellent survey of bookseller's memoirs (in 'Out of Print & Into Profit' 2006) quotes O.F. Snelling '...much of what he knew has certainly gone into limbo...some of the best tales I ever heard of Spencer's dealings never got into his book.' He was a constructor of false provenances, involved with some fake Shaw letters, a maker up of questionable sets of Dickens in the parts and would also 'sophisticate' books with unacknowledged facsimiles. His 1920 wants list (undoubtedly effective) could, to a great degree, have been the source of his fortune. It partly answer bibliophile A.E. Newton's remark- 'How he does it, where he gets them, is his business.' There is often a clever trick or stratagem behind fortunes made in the book or art trade.
The first book mentioned 'Absurdities In Prose & Verse' is illustrated by Alfred Crowquill (pic by him above) with 13 hand coloured paltes and now goes for £150 + in nice condition, for the ninth book in the list- 'A Declaration of the State of Virginia' (1620) you might get £15000. It is likely that Spencer put many standard collector's books in his list to hide the occasional devastatingly valuable book.
Absurdities In Prose Verse, 1827
Account of New South Wales, 1804
Actors by Daylight, 1838-9, 55 Nos.
Actors by Gaslight, 1838, 37 Nos.
Adair (J.) History of American Indians, 1775
Adam (R. and J.) Works in Architecture, 3 vols, folio, 1778, &c.
Addison (J.) Damascus and Palymyra, 2 vols, 1838
A Day's Ride, second edition
A Declaration of the State of Virginia, 1620
A Dialogue in the Shades, 1766
Click for the complete pamphlet...