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Bookseller Q&A: Meet Lucius Books


James Hallgate of Lucius Books

In the run-up to the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is proudly supported by AbeBooks.co.uk, we are celebrating the rare bookselling community. We begin by profiling Lucius Books from York, a seller with AbeBooks since 2000.

Lucius Books began trading in 1993, when James Hallgate started to buy and sell crime fiction first editions in Northeast  England. Embracing the Internet early on as both a buying and selling tool, the business grew quickly to serve customers far and wide. Whilst based in the historic city of York, Lucius Books have always travelled… to find customers, and rare and unusual books, exhibiting at fairs in the UK, Europe, New York, California, Hong Kong and Australia along the way.

In 2003, Lucius Books opened its first bricks and mortar shop, and Georgina Hallgate joined the company in 2005 (having previously worked for Nigel Williams Rare Books in London). Monica Polisca joined in 2011 as the business continued to grow. They occupied three different shops on Fossgate in York over 12 years until the devastating floods of Christmas 2015 forced the business into offices. The business plans to re-open in a new central York location later this year. Lucius Books are proud members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and abide by their strict code of conduct.

Lucius’ inventory is broad and, at times, unusual. There’s the original artwork for Roald Dahl’s Danny The Champion of the World, a drawing by John Lennon, a graffiti jacket (and we’re not talking dust jackets) by various artists, and that’s before we get to the books, which are all accompanied with high quality photographs.

You will see Lucius Books at the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair in Olympia between June 1-3 – the premier rare book event in the UK.

James, Georgina and Monica took a few moments to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books and collectibles?

James Hallgate: “The entire process, really. The thrill of the chase, the travelling, not knowing what you will find from one day to the next – it certainly keeps things interesting. The discovery and research, then cataloguing and photography to present each item in its best light and concluding with finding a happy home.  The opportunity to help build and develop customers’ collections with them is a privilege and something we relish.”

AbeBooks: What is the most interesting collectible item you’ve come across?

George Orwell’s inscription to Osbert Sitwell

James Hallgate: “We are lucky to have had the opportunity to handle many landmark books, manuscripts and objects over the last couple of decades and to unravel the background, association or provenance of any of them – to be part of that snapshot in time and history – is fascinating and awe-inspiring. Stand-out pieces for me would be John Lennon’s handwritten manuscript lyrics for ‘Imagine’ and the first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell inscribed and presented to Osbert Sitwell just weeks before Orwell died.”

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Georgina Hallgate: “A couple of years ago, I decided to buy a book I remembered reading as a child, planning to read it to our own kids. There were several copies available on AbeBooks, and I went for one in the edition I remembered (a paperback) in nice condition. When the book arrived a few days later, I opened it up to find it had a handwritten dedication. It took a minute to take it in. The writing was as familiar as my own. The name of the dedicatee was familiar too. My mother’s writing, my brother’s name – I’d bought back the very copy I’d read as a child. My mum must have given it away or donated it once we had outgrown it, yet somehow here it was. It’s back on our shelves now as if it has never been anywhere else, despite having been who knows where for 30 years.”

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

James Hallgate: “Most memorable and proudest moment is being admitted into the Antiquarian Booksellers Association as (at the time) their youngest member (by some 15 years or so I was told.). Things have moved on a bit since then and happily there are now lots of younger members coming through.”

AbeBooks: What is the most unusual paper collectible you currently have in stock?

James Hallgate: “That would have to be the London Fundergrounder paper spectacles (although I’m so fond of them I’m not sure we’ve got round to cataloguing them yet). Theoretically they are for sale though.

I’m a Fundergrounder Spectacles

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favourite book?

The Tyger Tray, available from Lucius Books

James Hallgate: The answer to that could probably change two or three times in any one year but the one I always go back to would be The Tyger Tray by “B.B.” (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), loved it since the first time I read it as a 10 year old.”

Georgina Hallgate: “As a child, my favourite books were about horses. Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series and the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. I’ve bought them all again but don’t dare read them in case they don’t match up to my memories. In my 20s, I loved Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. I still love that one, but I don’t hanker for the picturesque melancholy in the same way any more. I discovered Anagrams by Lorrie Moore when I was doing a creative writing masters in Manchester. My tutor, Suzannah Dunn, who can write note-perfect dialogue and interior monologue herself, put this book on our reading list. I have re-read it often- it’s like a puzzle held up to the light and examined repeatedly from different angles.

“Lately I have loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and am in awe of its clarity and purpose. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is another. And I couldn’t not include Emma by Jane Austen. And Georgette Heyer, thought I don’t know which I’d choose – like marmalade truffles, one is never enough.”

Monica Polisca: “Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I’ve read it four times, in both Italian and English, one day perhaps I’ll be able to in Russian.”

Learn more about the London International Antiquarian Book Fair

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One Response to “Bookseller Q&A: Meet Lucius Books”

  1. avatar

    I was lucky enough to meet Monica and have a tour of their wonderful shop in York last year whilst attending the York Antiquarian Book Seminar, thanks to a scholarship from Abebooks. Truly inspirational and highly recommended!