The Last Book in the Box

Gal's Gossip

Gal’s Gossip (1899).

We’ve all done it.  It’s an iron rule of bookselling experience that after you have spent hours – even days – carefully selecting and packing books to take to a bookfair, you will have a space of some sort  left in the final box.  You then cast about and grab the first book that comes to hand that is the right size and shape to finish of the box, stop the books rattling around and complete your task.  Doesn’t matter what the book is – right size and shape.

And it’s also an iron rule of bookselling experience that this book – the afterthought, the makeweight, the cuckoo – will be the only book you are absolutely guaranteed to sell at the fair.  It’s usually the first to go.  So much for planning and forethought.  To save everyone the time and effort of trying to find this year’s last-book-in-the-box when they come to Stand 84 at the ABA London International Antiquarian Book Fair when it opens at Olympia tomorrow (Thursday 24th May 2012) – see you there – I shall tell you what it is.

More Gal's Gossip

More Gal’s Gossip (1901).

Slightly unusual shape to be filled this time, so it’s Arthur M. Binstead’s Gal’s Gossip (1899) – charming cover by Jan van Beers – and, as the Glasgow Herald put it in a contemporary review, all “very amusing, but Gal’s Gossip is not a book for girls’ schools”.   Certain to sell at the fair – or, hold on, wait a moment, is it?  Because I sense an equally powerful iron rule beginning to develop in another direction.  This is that – despite all the success that blogging about books is alleged to be having in moving buyers and sellers together, despite the recent flutter on Twitter (twutter?) that Brooke Palmieri (Sokol Books Ltd.) caused with her recent post on the subject  (and please do, do, read this – Bloggers of the World Unite: Rare Book Bloggers and the Links They Build – link in the blogroll to the right) – my own experience is that even mentioning a book in this particular blog puts a particularly toxic curse on it rendering it completely unsellable.  I haven’t sold a single book mentioned in these posts.  I have not even had an enquiry.  Not so much as a single “How much”?   I’ll bring them all along to Olympia tomorrow to prove it.

It’s as if I have somehow reified or “museumified” them by discussing them at greater length than the customary catalogue description.  Rendered them somehow hors commerce

A more plausible theory may of course be that I simply haven’t got a clue about what the book-buying public wants to buy.  A little harsh, a little unpalatable to accept, but I will admit to a certain penchant for authors popular and important in their day but now more or less wholly forgotten.  But then again, isn’t that part of what we do?  Shouldn’t it be?  Isn’t it – at least a little – about recovering a lost past?

Mop Fair

Mop Fair (1905).

Take Arthur Morris Binstead (1861-1914), journalist and novelist  – he of Gal’s Gossip – for example, as he has come quite serendipitously to hand.  Born in the heart of Victorian London, the son of the manager of the Continental Gallery on Bond Street.  He drifted into journalism of the racier kind, joining The Sporting Times (aka The Pink ‘Un) in 1884, a journal – as the ODNB puts it with delicious straightness-of-face – “whose eccentric staff included the Dwarf of Blood (Colonel Newnham-Davis), the Stalled Ox (Jimmy Davis), and the irrepressible Shifter (Willie Goldberg)”.   Binstead’s own moniker was The Pitcher , apparently in homage to his outstanding ability at pitching a tale.  Tall, grave and courteous in manner, a man comfortable in his own skin, a man at ease with those from all walks of life, a friend of both dukes and of costermongers – no easy matter in late Victorian and Edwardian England.  He was that curiously turn-of-the century combination of socialite, bohemian and sportsman.  It is said that a libel action over one of his stories was settled out of court with damages of “two whiskies, a ham sandwich, a cigar, and 5s. in cash” – and that the five shillings in cash was only the result of losing a double-or-nothing toss.  

Pitcher in Paradise

Pitcher in Paradise (1903).

Could he write?  Well, if P. G. Wodehouse was a great admirer, particularly of his style – which he was – then I think we can take it for granted that he was no slouch.  Here he is on the New Woman – “The girl of the twentieth century, even if she smokes a cigarette and talks slang, seems to me an infinitely more capable being than her grand-mother was”.  And if E. V. Lucas regarded his book of reminiscences, Pitcher in Paradise (1903), as quite the most authentic  guide to the bohemian life of the late nineteenth century – a mixture of Juvenal, Rabelais and Pierce Egan – which he did – then I think we have to sit up and take notice.   Plenty of people less worthy of remembrance.

Listen, I am going to excavate that last box and bring along all four of these – two of them are signed.  To hell with iron rules.

Good luck to everyone tomorrow – visitors and exhibitors alike.  It’s the biggest and, I hope, the best fair the ABA has ever put on.  Report next week.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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1 Response to The Last Book in the Box

  1. Pingback: Bright Young Things: Brooke Palmieri – The Fine Books Blog | Literature Blog

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