Lovely morning – the sun sparkling on the wintry downs as I puff up the hill from the station to the centre of Lewes.
Something of a treat to find an attractive country town with two proper bookshops right there on the High Street. First stop at the Bow Windows Book Shop to see how young Ric Latham and Jonathan Menezes are getting on after taking over the business and their first full year in charge.
They seem happy and cheerful – the shop neat and tidy, interesting books all around – the packing table in use – people wandering in offering them more stock. All seems well – and good luck to them.
Too few young booksellers prepared to take on a high-street shop – and, as we all know, it is shops that create the collectors of the future, not the narrow windows of bookfairs or the internet.
After a few purchases and some general chat I move up on the road to see Andrew and Yasmine Cumming (A. & Y. Cumming). Established in 1976 – and so solidly established too. An enviable depth and reserve of stock built up over the years. Trawl around the open shop and pick off some very keenly priced modern material – and then to the serious books not immediately visible. Can’t resist first editions of George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and Thomas Hardy’s Hand of Ethelberta– the pile steadily grows.
Catch a glimpse of Ron Chapman (Tindley & Chapman) on what is evidently a regular buying trip. Add a copy of Karel Čapek‘s extraordinary satire War with the Newtsto the pile
– the first translation into English with its delightful 1937 dust-jacket. Turning into a successful day. Settle up – take some pictures.
Run into Ron Chapman again as we share a train onwards to Brighton. We discuss what we have bought and not bought – he’d resisted the Čapek on the grounds that he’d once seen an even better copy in the jacket. I’d not been able to resist it on the grounds I hadn’t.
So much of this is about memory and experience – no substitute for it. And that leads on to a discussion of how long we hold on to our books before putting them up on to the internet. Some considerable time in some cases, which takes us on to an interesting truth – that many of the best books that turn up don’t ever appear on the net. You need to get out and about. He comes to Brighton once a month.
I give him a head start by stopping for a sandwich as we arrive – but soon catch him up in John Loska’s shop in Duke Street (Colin Page Antiquarian Books) – a shop which had been talked up to me by a long-experienced colleague only the other day as one of the best places to buy in the whole country. And so it proves.
Yet again a depth and richness of stock underlining years of continuity and effort. The books piled high – something for everyone here. Additional store-rooms in the yard behind. Crates of fresh arrivals awaiting unpacking. A happy hour building another little pile of purchases. A very good day all round – good books, good company all day – and Anne joins me in Brighton for the evening to attend one of our oldest friend’s sixtieth birthday party.
As a long time inhabitant of the Lewes area I agree that Cummings & Colin Page are amongst the best booksellers in the country but they are essentially for established book dealers. As a collector of some 40 years standing with what has been said to be one of the finest collections of Great War books in the world, I’ve never once been invited into the inner sanctums of these shops. Is it any wonder that second-hand bookshops are in rapid decline when the average punter like myself is confronted by the same boring stock in the main shop only to see a satisfied dealer emerging from the vaults clutching their treasures. Why is this? Can’t we be trusted with the good stuff? Might we get our grubby fingers on the pristine pages? I know most shops rely on regular visits from the trade but a little more transparency might bring more ordinary collectors into these shops,
Some months on from my original rather splenetic response, I feel I unjustly maligned the 2 bookshops involved. Both of them have served me well over many years & I’ve invariably received a friendly & courteous welcome in both. In these times when the number of such bookshops is in rapid decline I should have been celebrating their survival rather than engaging in such invective. I would certainly rather be in one of their shops than be staring at a computer screen.
Thank you – and wouldn’t we all rather be in a bookshop. Congratulations on your Great War Dust Jackets website (http://www.greatwardustjackets.co.uk/) by the way – an outstanding resource. All best.
As a regular visitor to A & Y Cumming’s bookshop in Lewes and Colin Page in Brighton, I would like to assure Mr Hewer that if he was to mention that he was a collector, they would be more than happy to allow him into their storerooms, both of which are well worth a visit and many an hour will be spent there. I understand that it is only a matter of practicality which means these rooms aren’t open to the general public, and Mr Hewer will find much to interest him when he’s next in Lewes and Brighton.
So sad that Andrew Cumming passed away recently, and Yasmine has closed the shop. They were both wonderful people and fantastic booksellers. Andy’s good friends and colleagues John & Jill Loska are still in the book business, but, unfortunately, closed the shop in Brighton due to the cost of overhead. So, Colin Page books is now an online shop, with frequent book fair participation. The old books so commonly found at Churchill Antiques Centre and Lewes Flea Market are a thing of the past. Bow Window Books is now the only place in Lewes and the whole of Sussex for books of quality (15th Century is still there and still, sadly, in my opinion, not a place to go for books of quality and collectibility and not known for its hospitality, either). I miss the days of booking for an entire day in Brighton and Lewes. 😦 #antiquarianbooks #lewesbook #bookslewes #bookcollecting