RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
20 July 2008
Tall Tales from the Trade 4
Closely related to the tale below is the case of the young dealer who bought a first edition of Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations' for £90,000 without having the money to pay for it. Let's call him Ralph Barton. Ralph was a young bookdealer wanting to deal in important books but was not really possessed of the funds needed. He got by and occasionally got lucky. He had a two bedroom flat in Wandsworth shared with his girlfriend Serena -a city analyst who, along with her fiends, thought Ralph was a bit of a loser for dealing in books. She felt he should join her in the financial quarter or go into the law for which he had trained. They had a heavy mortgage but with his occasional windfalls and her decent salary they were able to manage.
One July morning Ralph was at another important London auction and bought a few job lots of rare 18th century pamphlet considerably under what he was willing to pay. Encouraged by this he started to bid on a superb 1776 first of 'Wealth of Nations' which the chatter in the rooms had reckoned would break the £100,000 barrier. He was still bidding at £90,000 when suddenly the bidding stopped and the hammer came down. The book was his. For Ralph this was probably the worst moment of his young life. The flat would go, Serena would leave him and he would be a pariah in the trade. Worst of all people were now congratulating him as if he had the money to pay for the thing. As he dejectedly sloped out of the rooms he bumped into a flustered figure in a ridiculously expensive suit. The man inquired anxiously "what did the Adam Smith make?" When Ralph told him £90K the man said - "I would have gone well over that, damn and blast it..." Needless to say Ralph sold him the book then and there - pocketing a quick £20K profit.
Ralph is now a proper dealer, well able to afford five figure books and has even become slightly pompous. Serena no longer thinks of bookselling as a trade for failures and they have moved to a proper house in Battersea.