24 July 2008

Where do you get these books?

There is a scene in that true life comedy 'Black Books' where the shop proprietor, the shambling Bernard Black, is running low on books and needs to order some more. He picks up the phone and utters the immortal lines- "Hello? Is this the place from where you order books for when you want to sell them in your bookshop?"

If only it was as simple as that!

People sometimes ask where we get the books from and I tell them briefly-- from auctions and houses etc., However today I am trying to list every source just to get it straight in my mind. When it comes to asking where individual books come from I seldom know and for some reason bridle at the question. There is an implication that the book may have a murky provenance also some dealers are loathe to part with private information. Here is the exhaustive list, let me know if I have neglected anything...

1. People bring them in to the shop--in boxes, bags and suitcases, by hand and by car, sometimes they send them in by taxi and call for a price. We don't let them down. For some shops esp in America this is about the only way. Normally they reject alot and either return them or donate them to charity. Some shops have a guy who takes these unwanted books away for a small consideration. They end up at flea markets, boot fairs ebay or on the web at puny (or punitive) prices. Some shops offer money for the books they want, some exchange or offer a choice between the two with exchange being distinctly higher. We pay with a cheque or cash and occasionally give a credit note to those who specify that they want it. This is not the greatest source of books but has been useful.

My old friend John Thornton who recently made retirement money on a theological library (God bless him) had the fortune to have a lorry turn up one morning at his King's Road shop with the valuable remains of the library of Peggy Guggenheim from Venice. Presumably they had been loaded on to a boat from her Venice villa and on to a lorry on the mainland. He paid the driver off and dealers descended from all over London--loads of 'published in Paris' books Beckett, Joyce, signed art books (Ernst, Man Ray, Breton, Eluard) Americana, antiquarian European books, rare pamphlets etc., Better than almost any house call most dealers will see in a lifetime. Even in 2007 when he hung up his pricing pencil he never used the internet, Google to him was a method of spin bowling. Because of this it was a favourite place for the trade and my first stop whenever I found myself in the wastes of Fulham.

2. Auctions. Both terrestrial and internet. Less of a good source because dealers are buying books to sell on the net and hard won knowledge is quickly surpassed by the hardworking viewer who checks everything up on the net. There are less bargains, less fast asleep sales and books are sold in smaller lots than of yore. Tea chests are seldom seen anymore. to be continued...

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