RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
29 June 2008
Tall Tales from the Trade 2
It's 1977, in the year of the Jubilee, punk rock is in the air, Big Jim Callaghan is in Downing Street and a bookseller in King's Cross London is involved in a long - running dispute over rent with a corrupt and greedy landlord. The landlord, call him Rachman, wants him out so that he can develop the building into flats and keeps raising the rent and hassling the young bookseller at every opportunity.
The guy supposedly owes £5000 in back rent and 'reparations' and on a Thursday evening a bailiff in a bowler hat arrives with a couple of thuggish sidekicks to seize the guy's entire stock in lieu of this amount. It is a very smart and well chosen stock worth £50K minimum but if seized it will be sold at Pecksniffs - a seedy auction house specialising in bankrupt stock. It will probably make a tenth of its true value and our bookseller will be destitute -sans money and sans books. He manages to persuade the bowler hatted one to accept £100 and says that he will have the rest on Monday after he has been down to the country to borrow the money from his father. This is quite plausible because the guy, like a lot of booksellers of the time, appears to be a public school type with a vague air of privilege, albeit slightly shabby, and likely to have moneyed parents. In fact his dad was a teacher with nothing more than a flat in Roehampton and a bicycle.
The bailiff disappears into the gathering gloom and the dealer immediately gets on the blower to his network of dealer friends. The call goes out to the London trade that he will buy any book for 5 pence (10 cents.) Battered Volvos, trucks, vans arrive laden with London's lousiest, most unsaleable books. I recall we sent 500 crap books along (quite handsome tomes but mostly in Finnish) and got £25--in 1977 you could have quite a jolly weekend with sums like this.
By Monday morning the stock has had a blood transfusion and our man has spent £500 and taken all his good books home. The bailiffs duly appear, he gives them his hard luck story and they heartlessly seize all the books in the shop, load them into a Luton, call him a loser and take their booty forthwith to Pecksniffs- where a month later they are sold for a sum in the very low hundreds. By which time our man has decamped, returning after a longish spell in Ibiza to do book fairs and sell by catalogue. The enraged landlord gets a cheque from Pecksniff's --a paltry sum less 25% and later has to foot a £500 bill from the thuggish bailiff. A few years later he is jailed for threatening tenants.
30 years later, no names, no packdrill, our dealer has 60,000 books on the web and most weeks grosses £5000. He has bought his old dad a Mondeo to take him to the bowls club in Roehampton. Never mind the bollocks...