Category Archives: Book Trivia

Fang it.

Kim Schwenk of Lux Mentis throws her hat into the ring regarding the New York fairs and bookselling in general:



“No, we’re good. We fang it!”

I’m in an Empire State of Mind

Survival and Spectacle: Highlights from The new York Antiquarian Book Fair 2016


Book of The Month: “And The Heretics All To Destroy!”

So my dearly beloved; life itself may be filled with pain, and all men flawed and ill made, and happiness an impossibility borne upon the wings of a fever dream; and hearts, promises and pie crusts all things that were made to be broken, but books, books are eternal.

I recently decided (translation: I turned up at a party and no-one wanted to admit they’d invited me, which means I no longer have anyone to borrow money off) that it’s about time I got back into using the internet for its primary purpose; as a pathetic apparatus for staving off loneliness and isolation as a means of sharing my love of what I do for (what I shall now rather laughably refer to as…) a living.

This is a wonderful, interesting thing:

Cecil, William.

Certaine Advertisements out of Ireland, concerning the losses and distresses happened to the Spanish Navie, upon the West coasts of Ireland in their voyage intended from the Northern Isles beyond Scotland , towards Spaine. 

London: I. Vautrollier for Richard Field, 1588.

First Edition. Small Quarto. 18cm x 13cm. 19pp. First edition (in setting that collates A-B). Beautifully bound in quarter pigskin over marbled boards to style, pink leather title label. new endpapers. Internally clean and bright. Woodcut printer’s device to title page. Blind stamp of North Library to title page; from the Tony Sweeney collection. Woodcut headpiece to Aii.

A scarce contemporary account issued anonymously by the Royal Treasurer (or Spymaster if we’re being blunt) of Elizabeth I, regarding the destruction of the Spanish Armada and the subsequent annihilation of many of its survivors who were despatched on the beaches of Galway by the local populace. The final two leaves detail the ships lost and their crews in 1588 with an additional list of men and ships lost in the two months preceding. Apart from the fascinating period detail and providing an understanding of the professional and detailed nature of the Elizabethan propaganda machine under Cecil, this ephemeral pamphlet rarely seen at all (only a handful of copies in auction since 1961), sometimes seen bound with “A Copie of A Letter Sent Out of England…”, although possessed of its own separate imprint and title page; provides a harrowing account of what the enemies of the crown could expect when washing up on the shores of the scepter’d isle:
“He inviteth also that there was at the same time another great ship cast away in Tereawley…and all the residue of that ship are slain and drowned…Meleghlen Mac Cab, A Galloglasse, killed 80 of them with his Galloglasse axe…”
When it comes to the defending the shores of Britain from invaders, apparently there is no such thing as bad publicity. A scarce and fascinating survival.





Such paper! Much Booke!

Such paper! Much Book!

So, this basically dates from the birth of the dirty, gritty and searingly unpleasant modern world. The birth of Intelligence services and the myriad tiny, grubby wars they fight, the birth of terrorist training camps, double and triple agents, suicidal religious zealots, torture, rendition, cryptography and the gentleman spy.

It’s 1588, for those of you that have never been in a Tardis before. Most of the world is Catholic, gleefully, enthusiastically, pointy-hattedly, Inquisitively, Catholic. Pretty much half the planet was Papally divided between Spain and Portugal, Britain and William of Orange’s Holland were small, irritating Protestant strongholds and just last year Elizabeth I of England (body of a weak and feeble woman, brain of a steel trap,  capacity for fear and weakness of a Megalodon shark) executed the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, thus putting paid to any plan to get a Catholic on the throne of England without invading. For the previous decade or more England has been a hotbed of plot after plot after plot seeking the removal or assassination  of Elizabeth. The Ridolfi Plot in 1571 was a straight up armed invasion, the Throckmorton Plot in ’83 intended to put Mary on the throne and the Babington Plot of ’86 was aimed at killing Elizabeth and then putting Mary on the throne. There were three assassination plots in 1586 alone, they were presumably put down so swiftly and brutally they didn’t have time to catch any names.

"Babs, are you sure we want to do this? Those people in the background appear to be being symbolically about a strongly worded letter? A leaflet campaign?"

“Babs, are you sure we want to do this? Those people in the background appear to be being symbolically dismembered…how about a strongly worded letter? A leaflet campaign?”

The happy go lucky swashbuckling, thigh slapping chaps of the informal British Navy; Drake, Raleigh et al. are generally harassing the living daylights out of Spanish shipping both in Europe and the New World. Philip placed an embargo on all English goods in 1585 and Francis “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” Drake took Galicia for ten days in the teeth of the Spanish, went on to sack ports in the Canaries and the Caribbean and then eventually raided Cadiz; which went down like a Bathory concert in the Vatican.

William Allen, formerly of St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford and the kind of Catholic who made Torquemada feel like he wasn’t trying hard enough, has started seminaries in Douai and Rome recruiting young, zealous and disenfranchised English Catholics dedicated to returning England to the true faith. Allen was a true believer; the Papacy held the ultimate power, he was committed to nothing short of a military invasion of England and, as one of his adherents said to Philip “if the entire destruction of England was for the greater good of God” then he would be happy to see it done. All of his young men knew that if caught on English soil preaching Catholicism they would be guilty of treason, the punishment for which was being half hanged, taken down, castrated, disembowelled and then dismembered. In reality, under Francis Walsingham’s sanction and William Cecil’s direction they were often captured, tortured, drained of all useful information and then turned in double agents, sent back to the Catholic mainland to spy on, subvert and report on the anti-Protestant plotting. Cecil’s espionage tactics, and the ruthlessness with which they were carried out, actually succeeded in foiling a number of Catholic plots.

Elizabeth and her advisers were obviously aware of Philip’s plans for invasion. The building and deployment of 130 ships, 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns isn’t the kind of thing that someone of Cecil’s acumen and networking skills would have missed.

In the event despite the small yet dedicated and tactically agile English navy, with Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins and the other sea cowboys of the Elizabethan age doing their best to destroy it in Calais harbour with the famous fire ships, it was in fact dreadful weather that swept the colossal Spanish Armada north and into the circumstances that Cecil’s propaganda pamphlet speaks of.

The towering Spanish ships were blown far off course and up onto the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Cecil’s pamphlet charts the losses in a pair of tables in the rear:

And that is just September

And that is just September


The Tireawley entry is the one mentioned above in the catalogue description, where a single Gallowglass killed 80 washed up Spaniards on his own, by strolling along the beach and hacking them up with his axe.

And this is a Gallowglass Axe, clearly it was not a good time to be a Spaniard.

And this is a Gallowglass Axe, clearly it was not a good time to be a Spaniard.

There would have undoubtedly been a wealth of celebration if the navy alone had carried the day, despite the relative impossibility of this in the face of an armada that enormous; the fact that nature itself conspired against the Spaniards, and thus God (the Protestant one, naturally), and that so many of the people responsible for straight up murdering, holding and ransoming the surviving Spanish were not your standard beef eating, bowls playing Englishmen made it, in the eyes of England’s burgeoning intelligence and propaganda community, especially worthy of effort.

Cecil was never a man to miss the chance at some attribution of divine intervention, and a brief look at the title page shows that it features Psalm 118: “This was The Lord’s Doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes…” which, by a stunning coincidence is what Elizabeth herself said to Cecil, seated beneath a tree at Hatfield, when he informed her of the death of Mary I and Elizabeth’s subsequent elevation to Queen. Anyone who thinks of the concept of spin as a modern invention, clearly needs to read more about the Elizabethan period.

As a bibliophilic sidenote, Cecil is the man who gave his name to Cecil Court in London’s West End, famous for having more rare bookshops that any other part of London.


Get Thee To A Nunnery…

So, I’m back in my basement after being rudely dragged out into the pale Northern sunlight to fight off Mance Rayder’s Army of Wildlings,  attend both the inaugural York Antiquarian Book Seminar and the amazing York Book Fair.

The first of those has been a labour of love; a two year labour of love in the case of Anthony Smithson of Keel Row Bookshop, and just over a year in my own case; since he invited me to join him at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (aka: the best week of book related awesomeness I’ve experienced since I became a professional dealer).

Organising such an event, firstly, is an achievement of epic proportions; herding cats has nothing on herding book dealers. It’s not considered a good idea unless 20 people have told you it’ll never work, ten people have told you you’re not qualified and 4 people have actively tried to mess  it up (that’s actually the wikipedia definition of a book trade good idea).

“I’ve got a good idea!” Said Anthony. “Let’s teach people how to be rare booksellers! It worked in Colorado.”

“You shall have my axe!” Said Gimli.

“And my bow!” Said Legolas.

“Uh, yeah, ok, sounds cool.” Said Jonathan.

“Smithson! Smithson! We hates it forever!” Said that guy with the grey complexion and the webbed feet who turns up at book fairs. Never mind him though, he doesn’t even get a look in.

"Nobody wants to learn about books from don't have any friends..."

“Nobody wants to learn about books from you…you don’t have any friends…”

So, the first step is apparently getting together some of the brightest, most accomplished and highly respected people in the book trade and making them your Fellowship faculty and have them gather at The Bar Convent, York:

Ed Maggs, Simon Beattie, Sophie Schneideman, Justin Croft…basically all these people. They all said yes. They all turned up and they all gave informed, intelligent, insightful and often downright hilarious lectures and presentations on all of the most arcane elements of what, to a neophyte, can be a deeply arcane trade. Ed Maggs on Archives was worth the admission cost alone, Sophie Schneideman on the Art of The Book, Adam Douglas on Fakes and Forgeries…and possibly the most in depth and enthusiastically presented and participated series of lectures on formal and accurate cataloguing from Messrs. Croft and Beattie. Anthony on running an open shop, and the Mighty Nigel Burwood on buying books, and the esoteric routes by which they may be priced and sold. We also had Tim Pye from the British Library (yes, they come out in daylight, occasionally) informing us what librarians look for in a bookseller…which leads me to believe there should be an app for that…some kind of BiblioTinder where “Archivist Seeking 17th Century Broadsheets” can finally be united with “PamphleteerUnbound775” and they can happily make shelf-marks together.

I pretty much sat through every presentation making notes of some sort or another. It was either “Now that I did not know!” or “This man/woman is way too funny and interesting, he/she needs to stop because I’m up next.”

Purely in the interests of giving Anthony a minor cardiac event I ended up rewriting almost my whole final presentation an hour beforehand as I realised with a sense of sick, Lovecraftian horror that Lorne Bair and Carl Williams were actually saying everything I was about to.

Yes, absolutely like that, only with more books...

Yes, absolutely like that, only with more books…


For a moment I hovered on the brink of blinking out of existence in some sort of quantum event as I was rendered utterly superfluous and redundant (that’s a theme of this year, did I mention that? Private joke, you’d only get it if you were at YABS, just saying…) and then I reflected on the fact that after those two had finished speaking no-one was going to be listening anyway, and I could have basically recited a list of baking ingredients…so all was well…except for Anthony’s bulging eyes as potential last minute disaster reared its ginger, bespectacled head.

So the faculty pretty much had it all sewn up. The quality of information and its presentation was amongst the highest I have encountered in over four decades of sitting in rooms with distressingly smart people. Rob Rulon-Miller and Lorne Bair (basically the book-dealers other book-dealers dream about being and then wake up disappointed) made the massive commitment of travelling all the way from the US.

Mr. Rulon-Miller gave the keynote address; a no punches pulled overview of the rare book world, its highs and its lows, and an admonition to all present that if you think you can have one without the other, you’re in the wrong business. He also spoke about tape, packing tape, apparently he has strong opinions about tape. Who knew?


Lorne Bair, apart from being present for the whole seminar, sitting either with the faculty or at the back of the room, is a leading light (along with Rob) of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, our alma mater…and is also one of the world’s leading dealers in counter culture material.

Having Mr. Bair in the room when you are embarking on something like YABS (essentially a parachute-free leap of faith kind of gig) is akin to having Stephen Hawking back your primary school papier-mache model of the solar system. It makes the whole thing way easier.

But…anybody could have hazarded a guess that a faculty like that, which reads like a bibliophile’s fantasy football lineup, are going to deliver some outstanding material.

But the students!

"Why yes! Of course I'll tell you more about WordPress and Search Engine Optimisation..."

“Why yes! Of course I’ll tell you more about WordPress and Search Engine Optimisation…”

I don’t think any of us could have guessed that the inaugural year of YABS was going to get such an impressive group of students. We didn’t really know what we’d get, but I personally was blown away by the enthusiasm, attentiveness and intelligence present in that room. Apart from the proviso that there are no stupid questions, you don’t actually expect all of them to be good questions! Whilst I would normally feel a little less than comfortable about being faced with a query so searching that I had to make a whimpering noise and ask for help, on every occasion it happened at YABS I just felt kind of proud. In an echo of CABS last year, a good number of the students were already deeply embedded in the trade, either as employees of the great and known, like Fuschia Voremberg of Maggs Brothers, or Joanna Skeels of Quaritch, or Ed Nassau-Lake of Jarndyce; or they were somehow achieving amazing degrees of commitment, like Natalie-Kay Thatcher (recipient of this year’s Jonathan Kearns/BTC Scholarship, oh yes) who has somehow managed to start out working for two (count ’em) highly respected ABA dealers AND run her own book related business.

That’s right up there in the Shannon Hartlep, L.N. Golay, Heather O’Donnell leagues that is. That’s “You should be standing here talking to these people instead of me” territory. If I hadn’t known better I’d have thought it was a conspiracy…like those parties I used to get invited to by girls that were always mysteriously just over when I got there, or happening on an oil rig. I should have looked about me and thought “Wait a minute…these people are smart…too smart!”

Hi! Anyone around? I brought Lambrusco...hello? Am I early?

Hi! Anyone around? I brought Lambrusco…hello? Am I early?

But apparently that’s what you get when Anthony Smithson convinces you to gather people together to teach them about rare books.

It was exhausting, and delirious, and inspiring and terrifying and thoroughly enjoyable. These are not words normally applied to anything taking place in the conference room of a convent (except that one time where they double-booked BurlesqueCon and my Gentlemen Prefer Tweed Annual Gathering…totes cray cray that was…), but on this occasion they are accurate.

I would do it again tomorrow. This time I wouldn’t let Lorne Bair and Carl Williams go on first…










“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”

So, last night a thing happened to me. I went to a party. I don’t get invited to parties much as a rule, I always end up pulling someone’s hair or sticking my fingers in the cake, and none of the other kids like books as presents. This, however, was a rare book trade party, and they always have to make up the numbers somehow.

The shindig, or indeed hootenanny, in question was the opening of this:

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

A bookshop, not messing about, yesterday.

This is Peter Harrington Rare Books new Dover Street branch in the posh bit of Mayfair. In case you were wondering, no, there’s no bit of Mayfair that isn’t posh. If there were an un-posh bit, this shop wouldn’t be in it, I needed an escort of smartly dressed adults to get within ten feet of the door unchallenged.

As you can see, it’s very pretty, very green and exuding an air of calm elegance. My familiarity with calm elegance is right up there with my familiarity of say, early cuneiform, or the inner workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, but I have it on good authority from people who know calm elegance when they see it that, yup, this place is dripping with it.

Justin Croft was there, what more do you need to know? He’s like a calm elegance early warning system. He also doesn’t age, but that’s a story for another day, one when we have garlic and mistletoe and the backing of a reasonably sized religion.

"No, I am in fact 175 years old...hmm? Oh, virgin's blood mainly, and special soil..."

“No, I am in fact 175 years old…hmm? Oh, virgin’s blood mainly, and special soil…”

In case you were wondering whether I’m just plugging their shop because I work for one of their relatives, no, that wasn’t my intention, have you met me? I’m plugging their shop because it’s awesome. Not because it’s big, and clean and spacious, not because it has concealed lighting and air conditioning and a cool staircase and not because they were giving away free champagne and the bubbles went up my nose.

I mean, all those things are true, but they aren’t really things I give much of a toss about (except the free champagne), in fact they are usually reasons for me not to particularly like a place, being kind of grubby and low rent myself. There are other reasons:

Firstly, it’s a massive vote of confidence in the rare book trade, its future, and its customers. At a time when (once again) the majority of booksellers are predicting a rain of frogs and the imminent arrival of the Whore of Babylon (whom I believe collects Cosway bindings and Jardine’s New Naturalist), often whilst people who want to buy books off them are standing there looking all forlorn and forgotten, this is a successful, internationally lauded firm making the statement that no, they aren’t having any of that, they are going to sell amazing books to anyone who wants them and they’re going to do it with a degree of style. So there’s that. We like that.

Secondly, the staff. Normally I hate bookshop staff. I am bookshop staff, and I’m grotesque, so I naturally suspect the same of anyone in the same profession.

Me, only better groomed.

Me, only better groomed.

Dover Street is being managed by Ben Houston. He is not horrid. He’s annoyingly intelligent, reprehensibly helpful and informed and quite disgustingly friendly and efficient. He fills me with insecurity and self loathing. He gave myself and one of my colleagues a guided tour and he actually managed to make us feel as if we were perhaps his first or most definitely, favourite guided tour of the day. He’d probably done 50, and detested most of the last 20. I have a keen eye for vile and deceitful behaviour in others (I’m competitive that way) and could detect none. He gave us drinks and showed us wonderful books. He smelled nice, sort of sandalwoody with a hint of citrus, rather like one might expect the 1930’s to smell, only with less national socialism.

All that aside, he knows what he’s talking about, and he knows what he’s doing…personally not things I look for in a bookshop manager, but people who want to buy inscribed F. Scott Fitzgerald, sets of Cook’s Voyages in contemporary bindings and the world’s most beautiful first edition of The Hobbit probably feel differently. They probably think he’s peachy.

I was also introduced to Gracie Pocock, who initially had the bad judgement to attempt to make me believe she was actually looking forward to meeting me. Once we’d got that tissue of patent untruths out of the way I discovered that she is working in PR and marketing for the rare book trade. The party was her doing. It appeared most successful.

Yes. I know.

Public Relations in the  British rare book trade used to consist of wearing a shirt with not too much egg down it. Marketing involved a sign on the front of your shop and a postcard in the local newsagent’s window. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. It is still very much possible to attend a bookfair by accident, simply because you didn’t know it was happening and took a wrong turn into a church hall. This is a trade where a lot of dealers still get grumpy when you buy a book off them and ask for a receipt. Miss Pocock might have to get an assistant.

The main reason why you should drop everything and go to the Dover Street shop is pretty obvious. The books; the books are absolutely incredible.

There’s this:


This copy has no way been there and back again...

This copy has no way been there and back again…

and somewhere there’s this:

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

McKenney & Hall, the original line up before the arrival of John Oates.

and this:

It was the best of books, it was the...well pretty much the best of books actually.

It was the best of books, it was the…well pretty much the best of books actually.

All those images are the property of Peter Harrington Rare Books, just click on the pictures to see the descriptions. It’s well worth it.

So go. Go and browse. It’s beautiful. I haven’t been this impressed by anything in a long while. Usually my life is a storm of NSFW book lust on the one hand and the crippling disappointment of reality on the other. Occasionally there’s a brief moment of joy caused by finding a half eaten, forgotten pasty in my coat pocket, or when Adrian forgets to mark the level on the shop whisky bottle…but last night’s visit to Dover Street was a very grown up, considered, intelligent and important event. The appearance of a shop like that, whoever owns it, wherever it is, is a significant moment for the international rare book trade. Much as I love the teetering piles of old leather and the creaky cabinets of cloth bound oddities, and I do love them, fervently and indecently; they are where I grew up, and where many important things happened to me…but often the books deserve better.

That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day; are the books being given their due importance, their proper significance? Aside from the fact that we’re all trying to make money out of them, aside from the fact that there’s no such thing as free champagne, aside from the fact that we’re all fashionably cynical and that we have collectively more behavioral disorders than an off Broadway production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…that perfect copy of The Hobbit, or the corrected Joyce typescript, or a first issue Origin of Species or a 16th century navigational manuscript don’t actually give a damn how much money we put on them, nor do they care which of us get to put them in a catalogue or exhibit them at Olympia…the only thing that matters is that they are put in the best possible place in the world to be seen, and to do their job, and feed our sense of wonder.

Last night I drank free champagne in one of those possible places.




I left my heart in Colorado Springs…and my luggage in Denver.

Criminal as it may seem, I have been back a couple of weeks now and I still haven’t shared the tale of my adventures at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. A fortnight standing in as a coconut shy for the more Luddite of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association will do that.

“But tell us your adventures!” I hear you clamouring, “Were there beautiful women, and strange narcotics, were there acts of great derring-do and sundry torrid and passionate encounters neath the sparkling dome of the big, big Colorado sky?”

Why yes, dearly beloved, yes there were…all these things and more.

So, background…every year in August the best, the brightest the fastest and the wisest in the rare book trade act as faculty for those lucky enough to be admitted to what is effectively “Bookselling School” at Colorado College, Colorado Springs.

Go here to find out more: Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. No, really, it’s awesome.

First off, Colorado Springs look like this:

All week I kept looking upwards and going "Gah!"

All week I kept looking upwards and going “Gah!”

It’s gorgeous.

Secondly; the faculty consists of people like Lorne Bair, Rob Rulon Miller, Kevin Johnson, and Terry “The Dryer” Belanger…and others, Nina Musinsky, Dan DeSimone…and there’s more! There’s also Dan Gregory (a man who has done more for the modernisation of the rare book trade than just about anyone else). And others!

So there’s that.

Anyway…3 flights, every one of them delayed, a giant terrifying (yet awe-inspiring) cliff of lightning-spewing cloud, clear air turbulence and nobody understanding a word I was saying until I said with a slight American accent, sharing the last stormy part of the journey in a very small plane with a very serene sniper who actually slept through the worst bits.

I arrive at Colorado Springs at about half eleven at night, my luggage lost in the unholy demonic puzzle box that is Denver International Airport, with half an hour to get to a place I don’t know, to speak to a person I’ve never met, about a key I really hope is waiting so that I don’t have to start my visit by being locked up for vagrancy. 

By midnight I have my key, I have the run of an empty motel (weirdly not as exciting as you might think), I have beer and a microwave burrito and the guy with the ponytail in the 7-11 just spent ten minutes trying to get me to say things in an English accent because I “should totally be like, a bad guy on a TV show, man.”

I neither look nor sound anything like this man...but he cropped up frequently on 7-11 visits and elsewhere. (this image is for Marguerite)

I neither look nor sound anything like this man…but he cropped up frequently on 7-11 visits and elsewhere. (this image is specially for Marguerite)

I sat outside in the car park, alone at 2 in the morning drinking beer. It was a warm night, and I was struck forcibly by the understanding that having flown across the planet to be instructed on the subtleties, vagaries, tips and techniques of my chosen trade, I was suddenly, quietly, yet quite conspicuously…happy.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is presumably what they were talking about when they said “Try and do a job you enjoy.”

Anyway, long story short: A hell of a lot happened. 

Day one: myself and Anthony Smithson (of Keel Row Books and the Eminence Grise of The York Antiquarian Book Seminar, the reason I ended up in Colorado in the first place) are lounging about in the awkward, pallid fashion of British men abroad in warm climates.

We are chatting to a bookseller from Seattle called Mark who bears a ridiculous (and quite annoying) resemblance to Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch.

A tall young woman of piercing eye, no-nonsense demeanour and awesome tattoo-age glides up, and announces she’s taking us to a pub. Obviously we allowed this to happen, because that’s what gentlemen do.

We discussed, over beer and various arcane US snacks, Mark’s business in Seattle, my own (well, Adrian’s) in London, Anthony’s flourishing Empire in The North, and then asked the young lady (whose name is Shannon) what place she had in the bookseller’s pantheon.

Half an hour later we were sitting there; goggle eyed and slack jawed as she laid down a tale of such blinding business acumen, hard work and devotion to her objective of opening and running a cool little bookshop somewhere nice ™, that we damn near just gave up on the spot and proclaimed her the winner of all Book-shoppery.

Seriously, she took a rundown, exhausted, ninety percent trashed bookshop in Guernville, California and turned it into a thriving, happy and profitable community bookshop with a strong local following and a very strong future. The bar-staff had to come ask me why I was clapping. It was absolutely the most downright encouraging story I’d heard in years, because this business can be a pig to get into and an even bigger pig to progress in.

So there was that. It wasn’t the first time that happened either, there were a number of people attending the seminar, ostensibly to learn, who were already making their way with admirable skill and dedication. It was a very inspiring crowd, and one that I was very happy to be a part of…

PART 2 to follow.


Book Sizes Redux, Redux.

Every now and then it is forcibly brought home to me that people actually read this blog…and I’m not just doing the amateur journalistic equivalent of singing in the shower. On that note, and in order to avoid any loss of sanity in my audience…I blog fully clothed…mostly.

So I got a message from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (via the awesome Patti Weintraub…awesome I tell you!) regarding this:


and this:

They were shocked, appalled and disappointed (which initially meant I thought they were all people I had dated at some point…but no) at the shameful and unforgivable omission of that Death Star of book dimensions: The Double Elephant Folio!

Well, you don’t see many of those…I thought.

Then they mentioned the word Audubon.

I made one of those inadvisable noises that always seem to creep up on you when you’re talking to someone you secretly find really attractive, and you forget how any of the safety valves anywhere on your body work. Or that might just be me.

Then they sent me this, as if their claim of my negligence needed any further back up:

Only in the miniscule tunnels beneath the CMNH can you find women so tiny!

Only in the miniscule tunnels beneath the CMNH can you find women so tiny!

So there you go: Audubon: 1  Bibliodeviant: Nil


Also edited to correct my idiotic spelling of Audubon! Thanks to Simon Beattie for that catch.

Define “Minority Interest.”

There would be a couple of ways to do this. The first definition would be “Pictures of Bibliodeviant without suitable clothing.” (it has to be pointed out that most people’s idea of suitable clothing for me is a hardy hazmat coverall in a neutral colour, and the kind of diving suit that is only ever accompanied by a giant octopus and very dramatic music). An alternative definition would be an explanation of  “The London Editions of John William Polidori’s; “The Vampyre.”

Seeing as there actually are numerous international guidelines and safety measures that forbid images of me, we’re going to go with the second definition…because someone asked, and I have a huge, ungainly man crush on Poildori.

The Vampyre Notes:
Although it seems as though “The Vampyre” has a complicated publishing history it’s actually fairly straight-forward, just a bit mad:


Henry Colburn publishes the first book issue with his name as publisher and Byron’s name as author (there are no known copies of this), Colburn then publishes his second issue with his name as publisher and “A Tale related by Lord Byron to Dr. Polidori” on the title page (all he did was cut off the old title page and glue the new ones onto the stub)…there are 4 or 5 copies of this imprint knocking about with two of them being a variant with the extract set in 23 lines instead of 24, suggesting there was another Colburn issue that Dr. Viets (the only other bibliographical reference available) couldn’t lay hands on.

He doesn't look anything like Timothy Spall

All of the attitude, none of the skillz

Colburn virtually simultaneously handed distribution and agency (NOT printing or production) over to Sherwood, Neely and Jones and they start adding their imprint title pages. Sherwood Neely first issue with Byron as author (no copies extant), the Second issue with nobody as author (this issue, which is the earliest generally available to actual humans) and the third issue with the “Extract from a Letter” introduction reset to remove libellous suggestions regarding “certain ladies”, the certain ladies being Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont, who according to the first form of the introduction, had rocked up without pants ready to play naked twister and do jello shots. Clearly none of the people believing this had met Mary Shelley.

The text block of the novel remains the same throughout ALL issues regardless of imprint, only the Extract of a Letter changes and the nature of the title page glued to a stub.
The missing “a” from “almost” isn’t an indicator of issue because all the sheets were the same and it wasn’t corrected until another enterprising publisher pirated the work a couple of months later (rather nicely actually).

This might sound a bit arcane until it becomes clear that this took place in a frenzy of activity over two weeks or so in March/April 1819.
The sheets were all ready and printed until Colburn ordered his printer (Gillet of Fleet Street) to reset the Extract which he did in house and on the spot.

Henry Colburn's office during May 1819...or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Henry Colburn’s office during May 1819…or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Basically the whole process was, in all likelihood, an up all night extravaganza of one publisher and his agents trying to make as much cash as possible in the shortest space of time without being sued, paying Polidori anything or running the risk of Byron threatening to shoot them.

The title was a big hit and it’s doubtful that very many copies with Colburn’s imprint ever made it out of the printer’s yard and into a bookshop. Colburn’s editor, Alaric Watts, resigned in disgust at his boss’s conduct and in all likelihood Colburn (being Colburn, who by rights should have had a skull and crossbones flag attached to his hat, and an eyepatch) probably decided to cut his losses and distance himself by being able to point at Sherwood Neely and Jones and say “Talk to them!”

"Copyright's more guidelines, than actual rules..."

“Copyright’s more guidelines, than actual rules…”

Polidori, being Polidori, got nothing, except sadder and more resentful and desperate until finally he killed himself at the age of 26 in 1821. Byron was still in exile and would remain so until his death in 1824. John Murray wrote stiffly worded letters, John Cam Hobhouse grumbled and muttered but the good ship Colburn made a good deal of money and The Vampyre stayed in print and in the public eye, it was still being performed on the stage in the second half of the 20th century and was pirated, redistributed and reprinted right the way across the globe. It is basically almost solely responsible for giving us the vampire genre in its current and by far most enduring form…and without it the landscape of our popular culture would be significantly different.

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