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Bails, balls and books: from Wisden collector to Wisden bookseller

Chris Ridler and his WI5DEN number plate

The Wisden Shop in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, sells… well…Wisdens – the bible of the cricket world since 1864. Chris Ridler is the man behind this specialist bookselling venture and I’ll let him tell his story. It’s a tale that goes way beyond books.

“The main oddity may be that I am really just a collector that ended up with a heck of a lot of spare books and things evolved to where we are today,” said Chris.  “Having a shop, an auction site and an information site, wisdens.org, where this all started does sound quite a lot for a collector but it is a great place to be when you love cricket and statistics like I do. I also umpire and I am qualified to ECB level 2.

A 1917 Wisden in hardcover

“I guess it all started as I am very fond of cricket, and I was very good at maths in my youth so the two combined pretty much spells out Wisden. Back in 2005 I had a rather unpleasant experience from a Wisden dealer and ended up paying over the odds for some rather poor condition books.

“I work in IT so I created wisdens.org which is an information site and I started collecting prices and knowledge about Wisdens and also set up a forum (now called wisden.club) where we chat about the good book and other related matters, I can’t believe we are still going nine years later.

“I was asked all the time if I had a copy of Wisden year X and also received emails where people said they had a Wisden and did I want it. I did buy some for myself to increase and upgrade my set.

“Then came a catalogue and finally the WisdenAuction.com site , which was set up a month before the 2008 financial crisis. I created Wisdenshop.com for my books and these are what are also listed on AbeBooks. I have no intention of opening a shop as I work 9-to-5 (or longer) in my day job.

“Although it is a single book there are over 150 Wisdens (1864-2014) and also some in hardback and softback, then there are limited leather editions. Some books have bookmarks, most have pictures but not all. There are so many things to know and learn.

“The special Wisdens are, of course, 1864, the first one , 1875 the rarest, 1896, the first hardback, 1916-1919 in hardback which are very hard to find as are 1940-42 in hardback. Hardbacks are the more sought after hence the 1896 hardback can be priced over £20,000 and 1896 paperback is under £500 yet pretty much the same book.

A 1944 Wisden in linen cloth

“Some signatures appear in Wisden. Many are presentation copies from editors to helpers. Wisden prices have dropped lately. We run an index of prices but the last reading showed an upturn, so hopefully this will continue. A lot of sets are coming to market at the moment which is keeping prices down. The ultra rare books go up and up in price.

“I am lucky enough to have a full set of Wisdens, I still need to upgrade a couple of the early ones and I probably have a second set in spares but if I ever see a book better than mine (and I can afford it) then it’ll end up on my shelf. My car registration is W15DEN. I could go on forever.”

The showpiece offering from Chris’ inventory is an inclusive run of original hardback Wisdens from 1897 to 1948 priced at just under £85,000. This set is special as it includes the hard-to-find wartime editions and the rare editions from the 1890s.

 Browse the Wisden Shop.

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