30 November 2007

The Legend of Martin Stone, Bookscout extraordinaire.

The above book was found by East Anglian bookseller Robin Summers. He is a friend of Martin Stone and spotted the incredible likeness of the villain on the cover of this obscure French policier to the great bookscout, old rocker and now, boulevardier. Martin spends most of his time in France and now affects a brown hat, suit and tie - so it is fitting that this book should be the only image of him, especially as it is a translation from a British thriller. Take it from me - the guy with the knife is a doppelganger for Martin.

There are probably tens of thousands of bookscouts in this world and maybe even a few thousand full time. Martin is simply the most famous of them and probably the best. A legend in his own lunchtime. The writer John Baxter who accompanied Martin on a bookhunting trip on America's West Coast attributes Martin with supernatural powers of divination (rather like the 'divvy' Lovejoy). At some point on the trip they were shadowed by a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle who wrote:
'...Stone, an elfin man in old Carnaby Street threads, a felt hat pulled down over his unruly eyebrows, was briefly famous to English rock 'n' roll audiences in the 1960s, when he played guitar in stints with the Mod band the Action and blues-rockers Savoy Brown. There are those who believe he was more gifted than Eric Clapton, but to anyone who might be in the market for a $35, 000 first edition of "The Great Gatsby," Martin Stone is much better known as one of the world's premier book scouts.
He once sold Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page a copy of the "I-Ching" previously owned by the occultist Aleister Crowley. Stone's legend is such that Peter Howard, proprietor of Berkeley's rare-book haven Serendipity and himself a renowned dealer, has published a limited-edition portfolio tribute to him priced at $5,000.
If Howard is a Christlike figure, as Baxter puts it, in the book world, then Stone is John the Baptist.
"He's out there in the wilderness," Baxter says. "He taught me most of what I know. Also took most of my money, actually."
... Stone, Baxter claims, has an uncanny clairvoyance when it comes to finding rare books. Embellishing the details of their countless scouting expeditions together, he tells of Stone, fast asleep in the backseat of a car, waking with a start to ask their whereabouts.
After directing his driver down a seemingly random off-ramp into a singularly unpromising backwater, they'll come across a decrepit junk store run by "an old bloke, maybe brewing a pot of stew." Somewhere in the back, behind the old bike parts and the rusty tools, they'll invariably hit a mother lode -- a box of Virginia Woolf first editions, perhaps, all inscribed by the author, worth tens of thousands.
"And you think, 'How'd he know that?' " says Baxter. "On some other level, he knows."
The stuff about finding a box of Virginia Woolfs is, frankly, bollocks - John is a master blagueur in the Australian mode. His book 'A Pound of Paper' is one of the great books about books - better than Basbanes - the man is in the line of Andrew Lang.

How does Martin do it? It helps that he is very sharp, well read and seriously driven. His main talent is his incredible memory--Martin can remember a small chip on the back of a dust jacket of a book he owned for an hour in 1975. Forget 'Funes the Memorious.' *** Martin has the ability to recall books once seen, find them again by sight without having to read every damn title in a shop full of books. He knows which publishers to pull, which sections of shops are likely to yield treasures and, crucially, when not to bother. Lesser scouts have to look at every book while 'the stoned one' (as he used to be known) is across the street enjoying an espresso and selling his treasures on the mobile. NB-- in the UK a bookscout is known as a 'runner' and in France a 'courtier.' There is a subtle difference as the British runner (usually town based) does not necessarily 'scout' books - he 'runs' them i.e. from on shop to another with a decent but not large mark up, sometimes at the behest of the shopkeeper. Martin is both a scout and a runner (and a courtier. )

*** A short story from "Ficciones' by Jorge Luis Borges. This comparison with the memory of Funes is something of an exaggeration. Borges says of him:- "He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. These recollections were not simple; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, etc."


Anonymous said...

Great Post. The name caught my attention as I'm just finishing up 'A Pound of Paper' by Mr. Baxter. I believe you may have been mentioned in the book as well?

Bruce from The Bookshop Blog.

Bookride said...

Thanks Bruce. Yep - we are mentioned in this masterwork, something about a pic of Graham Greene we used to have up on the wall with a note saying 'Give this man a discount.' GG was a habituée of bookshops.
Still Baxter wrote a great book, though sometimes a pinch of salt is needed when reading it! Nigel

Anonymous said...

It is well known that the author/bookdealer/ film-maker Iain Sinclair is a fan of Martin's and put him in a film. He also attributes mystical powers to Martin's book divinations. One Brian Hinton who appears in the film and is described as a rock archivist/ Tennyson scholar (strange) describes his guitar playing as 'making Eric Clapton look boring and provincial'. When I knew Martin in the early '90s he was usually broke and reduced to busking on the Paris metro. Martin is however a good raconteur and has a bohemian aura about him which probably appeals to middle-aged men who like to indulge their boho acquaintances.

Unknown said...

I know Martin reasonably well, and am amused by these anecdotes. I started off as a Record Collector, and long ago began my quest for records made by Martin, I have all his Mighty Baby LP's and even as a result of a conversation with him bought one located at Cecil Court, but Martin would never really have attributed the value I paid for a 'Jug of Love' 1971 on Blue Horizon, that Martin may attach to a Holograph copy of Austin Spare or some such. I am proud that I used his technique in finding the LP that he clearlyn eschewed

mick said...

I played in a rehearsal band with Martin and then he worked with me in my painting and wallpaper biz in London in the eighties. He was broke and this was before he sold books big time. Martin is from a different spiritual universe from most people.He is intelligent talented, funny and generous to a fault. When I listened to him discussing books with his dealer friends it went into the stratosphere.I believe the spirits help him -and maybe he helps them.

Mark Pringle said...

I shared a house in Stepney with Martin at the fag-end of the '70s, and he was never less than delightful company, and generous to a fault. I was, as an L-plate guitarist, in total awe of him as a player (I'd been a Willies fan). Many happy evenings were spent imbibing this and that whilst twanging guitars and rifling through pulp or beat fiction first editions.

I bumped into him not so long ago at Savage Pencil's wedding bash, and he was in great form. A delightful man.

growbag said...

Hi everyone


Can anyone tell what he is up to now and does he need a venue for a performance

Can someone help I would love to meet and possibly interview him.

Regards Growbag.

Bookride said...

Growbag please email me, the blogster of this blog


Anonymous said...



Johnny Haddo said...

a book runner, is one who steals from Foyles on the Charing Cross Road, then legs it down to Cecil Court & offload's the said tome at a fraction of its value_