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Historic unpublished book of Isle of Man paintings from 1887 goes on sale

The Antiquities of The Isle of Man by Hamlet Watling

An unpublished album containing original paintings of the Isle of Man in 1887 by a Suffolk schoolmaster with a passion for recording the past has been listed for sale on AbeBooks.co.uk.

Hamlet Watling (1818-1908) devoted his spare time to either writing about history, or sketching and painting ancient sites and monuments.

The album is titled ‘The Antiquities of The Isle of Man’, and contains 47 full page paintings of scenes and buildings on the island. There is an inscription on the first page that reads, “This book was given to George Abbott by his old Friend Hamlet Watling in 1898”. The paintings have been signed “H. Watling”.

The book offers a perspective of how the Isle of Man looked in the second half of the reign of Queen Victoria. The paintings include Peel Castle, of Lord Bishop of Sodor’s tomb, Corrin’s Tower, Manx runestones at Kirk Braddan, Castle Rushen, and Glen Maye’s waterfall. He also painted a Manx cat, a cottage, celtic crosses, various churches (which were Watling’s passion) and other eye-catching landscapes.

All the paintings are captioned, some with lengthy descriptions.

Sadly, Hamlet Watling is not well remembered these days as much of this work went unpublished. According to the website Suffolk Painters:

His drawings were mostly accompanied by profuse notes and his architectural drawings were very accurate being purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Ipswich Museum and others. In his retirement he spent most of his time making copies of his drawings and records for sale. At one time he had accumulated a huge amount of material for which the Ipswich Museum failed to come to terms with him for its purchase and a few years before his death he disposed of much material to various purchasers.

The album is priced £3,500 and offered for sale by a dealer called Andrew Cox in Shropshire.

See the album

Peel Castle with Hamlet Watling’s inscription across the top

Cathedral ruins captured during a clear, fine day

Recording ruins appealed greatly to Hamlet Watling

Celtic crosses and runestones

A beach view

The southwest view of St. Trinian’s Church

Bookseller profile – John Atkinson

John Atkinson’s bookselling business, which was launched in 2007, is located in Ripon in North Yorkshire. We were thrilled to meet John at the recent London International Antiquarian Book Fair and he has given us an insight into his work as a seller of some beautiful modern first editions.

John Atkinson surrounded by his books

A member of the ABA and PBFA, John’s inventory includes Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, winners of the Booker Prize and literary fiction including many of the great female authors of the 1950s.  His books range from £25 for a signed Donna Leon novel to £15,000 for signed limited edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His listings are always accompanied by beautiful photography – take a gander at this lovely first edition of A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow.

AbeBooks – You have an MSc. and PhD from the University of Newcastle in sociophonetics. What is sociophonetics?

John Atkinson – It’s the study of accent and dialect mapped across social, age and gender influences and how these affect the way we speak

AbeBooks – You only began bookselling in 2007. What made you decide to take the plunge?

John Atkinson – I decided to just go for it. I had an interest in antiques and had bought sold pieces of furniture in the past. I then found some old books in the attic and sold them on Amazon and made a better return than I did on the furniture. The beauty of the productions of some on the books and the wonderful artwork made me enjoy the things I sold

AbeBooks – Why do you list Roald Dahl’s Danny The Champion of the World as your favourite book by a mile?

AbeBooks – I’m very close to my father and he encouraged me to become a bookseller. It’s the story of a father’s bond with his son and he read it to me as a child. My son is only two and I’ve read it to him twice!

AbeBooks – Two of your specialisms are 007 books by Ian Fleming and 1950s fiction by female writers – two very different areas. What attracts you to these areas?

John Atkinson – I think the 007 angle is easy to explain….every boy/man loves the idea of being Bond. The superb artwork used for the dust wrappers, the storylines, and the rarity of some of the books all blend to make selling 007 an adventure. 1950s female fiction is the complete opposite – my bookselling model is like a magnet what can I say?!

AbeBooks – If you weren’t selling books, what else could you be doing?

John Atkinson – I seriously can’t think of something…probably something involving selling something to someone!

AbeBooks – What’s the book that you have always wanted to own but not found yet?

John Atkinson – I know it’s out there, but it’s probably the copy of ‘You Only Live Twice’ signed by Fleming to the ‘real’ James Bond (the ornithologist) in the West Indies.

Here are five books from John’s inventory that caught our eye – all of them priced less than £100.

A 1986 first edition of Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A 1958 first edition of The Bell by Iris Murdoch

A 1983 first edition of The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

A 1958 first edition of Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan

A 1965 first edition of The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

Selling academic books the Skoob way

Entrance to Skoob Books

Most of London’s students, academics and intellectuals find their way to Skoob Books eventually. Skoob (that’s books backwards in case you were wondering) specializes in academic literature and offers thousands of used copies of titles that are simply not available elsewhere.

This underground bunker of bookishness is piled high with books about philosophy, psychology, modern literature, art, history, politics, economics, science and technology.

Skoob is located on Marchmont Street, close to a shopping centre called The Brunswick. The area is surrounded by Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury, Russell Square, the University of London, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the British Library, the British Museum and numerous colleges and other places of learning. Basically, everyone reads in this part of town.

There’s a piano nested among the books

Skoob was founded in the 1970s. The present owner, Chris Edwards, bought the shop in 2005 and merged it with his bookselling business (named Psychobabel because “many psychology books contain a lot of rubbish”). Chris employs 20 people and is proud that he pays a fair wage and suffers very little staff turnover.

The 2000 square foot shop contains more than 55,000 different titles with even more housed in a deeper storage area below the Brunswick. However, Skoob’s warehouse in Oxfordshire contains more than a million books, which makes up its online inventory. With a shop in a busy area of London and a massive warehouse catering to the Internet, Chris benefits from traditional and modern methods of bookselling.

You head downstairs to a bookish bunker

Chris is a former academic who now uses his close connections with academia across the country to obtain books that help people learn. His desire to source hard-to-find books takes him to places of learning across provincial England from Stoke-on-Trent to Norwich. Like any modern bookseller, he has diversified and that includes renting books by the yard to movie companies.

“In the shop, our customers are post-graduate students, academics, researchers and people in need of foreign language books. Online, there is always someone somewhere in need of a book no matter how obscure the subject,” said Chris. “I’m proud to say that I help to educate more people now than I ever did as an academic.”

Browse Skoob’s selection on AbeBooks

Inside Skoob Books

Visit the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair

Visit the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair

Save the date for the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair, one of the world’s leading rare book shows. The event takes place at the Olympia exhibition centre on Thursday 1 June (1pm to 8pm), Friday 2 (11am to 7pm) and Saturday 3 (11am to 4pm).

Visiting Olympia is a fantastic way to view and buy rare books in person, as the event brings together more than 150 international booksellers who will be offering for sale everything from medieval manuscripts to signed first editions, as well as prints, maps, and ephemera. All exhibitors are members of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, a mark of distinction that guarantees their expertise and the quality of their stock.

This year the Fair celebrates its 60th anniversary with a special Affordable Collectibles scheme highlighting the best books at certain price points. In addition, first-time visitors and seasoned collectors alike will enjoy activities such as expert-led guided tours and hands-on book binding and printing sessions.

We offer a free ticket to the London International Antiquarian Book Fair for our blog followers. This ticket admits two and can be shown on your smartphone when entering the event.

Get your free ticket

Before he was ‘Glam’, archive showing 18-year-old Marc Bolan goes on sale

Marc Bolan archive (Pic: Between the Covers)

A collection of letters, photos and poetry from 18-year-old Marc Bolan, showing the early days of his music career, has been listed for sale on AbeBooks.

Bolan became one of the biggest names in 1970s Glam Rock but this archive provides an insight into his life as he prepared to release his debut single, The Wizard, in 1965.

18-year-old Marc Bolan (Pic: Between the Covers)

The photographs show a fresh-faced and handsome 18-year-old with short hair. Most people who became fans of Bolan’s music never saw him with short hair. Bolan died at the age of 29 – in September, it will be 40 years since his death in a car accident in 1977.

The archive includes two copies of the typed lyrics for his first single, five pages of typed poems stapled into a booklet, six photographs taken by Fiona Adam (two of which show Bolan during his first recording session with producer Jim Economides) and a tour programme for Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There is also a draft press release for Bolan’s first single with his name spelled “Mark Bowland” and corrected in black marker. Bolan’s actual name is Mark Feld but he used several stages names before settling on Marc Bolan.

The collection comes from the archive of Sunday Times music critic Derek Jewell, who died in 1985. Jewell learned about Bolan while writing an article on Economides.

The collection is priced at approx. £11,800 ($14,000) and offered by Between the Covers Rare Books, in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

See the archive

Press release promoting Mark Bowland / Marc Bolan (Pic: Between the Covers)


15 Literary Heroines for International Women’s Day

For over a century, each year on 8th March, people all around the globe take time out to celebrate the work, struggles, and achievements of women. We remember and acknowledge with gratitude those who fought for us in the past and recognise we have a long way yet to go for equal rights. Feminists and allies worldwide pledge to continue standing up for women’s rights, and hold in their hearts and minds that we should all be feminists. With whatever skill sets, resources and tools available, all over the world, women and allies persist.

Here at AbeBooks we spend our days gloriously immersed in books. The ideas, stories, characters, history and possibility found in their pages are among the greatest pleasures of being alive, and so much of that comes from women. We choose to celebrate today by recognising 15 (a drop in an ocean) literary heroines who, through books, have made a positive impact on the world somehow. Some are the fictional characters who inspire us, reassure us, and embolden us. Some are the authors who use their voices, talent and skills to shed much-needed light on the issues still facing women and girls today. Still others are the women who have used their influence, intelligence and resources to fight for women’s right to education, access to literacy, and more.


See the Whole List of Literary Heroines

As always, we love to hear from you – leave a comment to tell us who we missed.


Walk through Umberto Eco’s private library

Be warned. Umberto had a mighty big library. Let him lead the way.

Introducing Keel Row Books

The fine folks at Keel Row Books

Our newest featured bookseller is Keel Row Books.

Keel Row Books is an antiquarian and second-hand bookshop in historic North Shields, close to the mouth of the River Tyne in the north of England. Large and rambling, the shop is located in a Georgian house that was once home to Tynemouth parish church’s sexton. It became a bookshop in 1981, and the current owners Anthony Smithson and Alice Laverty have run this busy shop since 2006.

Anthony is a long-standing member of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) and exhibits at book fairs up and down the country. In 2011 he joined the ABA and in 2014 was elected to the ABA Council. A twice graduate of the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar Anthony thought the Colorado course so inspiring and useful to the trade he and Alice set up a UK equivalent in 2014 (the York Antiquarian Book Seminar, YABS for short!). YABS is a not-for-profit educational seminar for booksellers and has been generously supported by the two main bookselling trade associations, the ABA and the PBFA as well as AbeBooks who provide two scholarships on the course annually.

We caught up with Anthony for a quick Q&A about the world of book selling.

Anthony Smithson

AbeBooks: How did you become a professional book seller?

Anthony Smithson: I made a deliberate decision to become a bookseller back in 1990, at the sprightly age of 19. My weekends at the time were spent tracking down and hanging out in every second-hand bookshop I could get to within a day’s journey from my home in the North East of England. Also by that time I’d realised that the degree in Sociology I was to study at Sheffield University would qualify me to be either a social worker or, God forbid, a sociology lecturer, and I wanted to be neither. It occurred to me that starting in the profession so early (if I treated the first four years as the equivalent of an apprenticeship) I would hopefully be in a job, debt free, and I would be stealing a march on other members of the trade who perhaps came into the profession later in life. Mostly, though, bookselling was so appealing because it offered a far more catholic education than any degree course could offer.

So I deliberately chose books, rather than them choosing me as is often the case. I’ve always considered bookselling less of an occupation and more of a vocation. I badgered Bob Cook, the previous owner of the Keel Row into giving me a job shifting books around for two days a week. Back then the shop had the nickname of the ‘hard hat bookshop’ since this crumbling Georgian house was crammed to the rafters in every room. It was the kind of disorganised provincial shop that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. I wasn’t so much interested in the wages as I was intent on picking up the rudiments of the trade, even if that was by osmosis alone. Within two years I had opened a small bookshop in an antiques market in city centre Newcastle. The late Brian Mills, one of the mainstays of the Newcastle book trade, was one of the first through the door the day that I opened. As a young man I soon found the shop stifling so closed and began to trade from a bookstall at Tynemouth Station weekend antiques market. This wrought iron Victorian railway station was once the jewel in the crown of the East Coast mainline and my stand in the centre of the station was an absolute pleasure to run, and boy did it have footfall. I still exhibit my books at the station’s quarterly Sunday book fairs.

The Canterbury Tales, Folio Society, 2010

By the late 1990s I decided to broaden my horizons and stepped on a plane to New Zealand. I`d initially intended to be abroad for six months but stayed away for three years. I circumnavigated New Zealand’s South Island on two separate occasions, buying books as I went. The second time around my camper van became so full that I slept on a bed of books! Whilst travelling I met my wife (and partner in the business) Alice, an interior architect whose MA thesis in library design was to come in very useful upon our return. The progression to where we are now has been gradual but in retrospect purposeful. Sometimes the flow of books just seems to carry one along. With two children now and ten years of shop trading behind us we’ve settled into our niche.

Abe: What do you love most about selling books?

AS: What’s not to love! I enjoy the friendly and eclectic customers who call in on a daily basis, each one of them seemingly more enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgable about their collecting field than the last. I love the opportunity to handle wonderful objects every day. Every now and then I get to handle something really special, of real lasting cultural significance. To paraphrase Philip Larkin, a book with “magical value”, one of those books that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Honestly though I’d do it without those high spots, the job is endlessly fascinating, there’s no such thing as a mundane book!

Abe:  What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

 AS: “Prized” to me has to mean the item, regardless of value, that I would least like to sell. The item that would give me the greatest pang of regret as it went out the door. Hmm, I suppose that would currently have to be a broadside we have banning the playing of football in Alnwick town centre in 1827. I enjoy provincial ephemera immensely, a broadside or handbill can illuminate a local historical event or incident that can otherwise be completely unrecorded, unlike a book, a bill or broadside can be likely as not unique. They’re just great social history. This notice bans the annual Shrove Tuesday game “in consequence of the danger arising from playing Foot-ball in the streets”. The townsfolk were eventually successful in their attempts to have the game removed from the town (too much damage was being caused to shop fronts from packs of wild lads running amok!) as the Duke of Northumberland presented a nearby field for the playing of the game. The match is still played every year at Alnwick, as it has been reputedly for over 700 years. In the old days, the game was reputedly played with a Scotsman’s head! As a subject (unlike some other sports) football material has continued to rise in value and early football material is now rare indeed. This broadside is early, rare, ephemeral, a super subject and it tells a great story. It was a pleasure to research. I also really appreciate the printers sense of layout and typography. Meant to have been pasted up in Alnwick town centre the thing just shouldn’t have survived. Yet here it is!

Abe: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?
AS: Well, we’d all like to come across a Shakespeare quarto, Romeo and Juliet perhaps!? Being more realistic though I’ve always hankered after a signed copy (in the fragile dust-jacket of course) of Graham Greene’s Rumour at Nightfall. Its just one of those legendarily unobtainable books. It was only his third novel and Greene hated it so much he later suppressed it. If not that then a copy of the Newcastle author Joseph Crawhall’s Ye Loving Ballad of Lorde Bateman, 1860. Its the only one of Crawhall’s books that we’ve not had, hardly surprising as there were only 15 copies printed.

Toad of Toad Hall by Kenneth Grahame, 1929

Abe:  What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book you’ve come across?
AS: Not odd in and of itself but odd in terms of a fortunate stroke of serendipity the memorable day I came across it. Just after we reopened the shop in 2006 a lady brought in a small pile of Darwin firsts and reprints, inevitably the firsts were all his later titles from the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. My bookbinder happened to be sat in the shop at the time and quipped “hey, imagine if one of them was signed”. “Hah!, that will be the day!” I replied, just as I was opening one of the volumes. And right there between the black front endpapers, tucked in for safe keeping, was a sheet of laid paper with the words “Charles Darwin, Down House, 1878” written in a big bold hand…

Abe: What’s your most memorable moment as a professional book seller?
AS: The one that always springs to mind is bidding at auction on behalf of Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books. I was asked to represent them at a Yorkshire saleroom when the library of Enid Blyton’s daughter, Gillian Baverstock, came up for sale. As well as her substantial library there were 15 of Enid Blyton’s original annotated typescripts. Booksellers from far and wide attended the sale, it was a real bun fight. The typescripts however were the most fought over. I’m pleased to say that we managed to secure the 13 that Seven Stories were after, but not before a significant sum was spent with all the eyes of the press and television crews upon us.

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

AS: I read so much all day I really enjoy a non-taxing classic crime or historical novel. I’ll confess a soft spot for the Flashman titles, they’re hugely entertaining, uproariously funny and a history lessen to boot.

Did these toy building blocks inspire young Einstein’s imagination?

Albert Einstein’s toy building blocks

Albert Einstein’s much-loved childhood building blocks have been listed for sale on AbeBooks.co.uk.

Housed in two wooden boxes, the set features approximately 160 pieces with some chipped from use. Did these humble toy building blocks nurture the imagination of the boy who would become the world’s greatest physicist? It’s inspiring to think that these simple blocks were indeed the starting point for Einstein.

Einstein – who famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” – was born in the German city of Ulm in 1879, and according to his sister, Maja Winteler-Einstein, the young Albert built “complicated structures” with these blocks.

Albert Einstein

The set was created by Anker-Steinbaukasten – a German company famous for its toy stone building blocks that come in red, blue and tan colours. They are made from a composite natural material that includes quartz sand, chalk, coloring, and linseed oil. Anker-Steinbaukasten blocks have been enjoyed by millions of German children since the 1880s. German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal started manufacturing them, using designs by educator Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the kindergarten system. The blocks are intended to stimulate manual dexterity, creativity and three-dimensional perception.

Under the leadership of Adolf Richter, who died in 1910, Anker ‘stones’ became extremely popular before going into decline around the start of World War I. Today, vintage Anker sets are much-sought after by collectors. Part of the joy of owning vintage Anker blocks is that they can still be used. The company was revived in 1995 and is once again manufacturing toy building blocks.

The blocks are listed for sale at $160,000 by Seth Kaller from White Plains, New York.

Kaller purchased the blocks at auction last year after they were put up for sale by an agent working on behalf of Einstein’s descendants. Kaller specialises in historic documents and artifacts. He will be displaying the blocks at this year’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair on March 9-12.

Kaller describes them as “a unique and important artifact of Einstein’s childhood.” He adds: “Fellow scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, as well as architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, are among the geniuses who are known to have played with Anker blocks.”

Objects associated with Einstein are extremely collectable. For instance, a 1920 signed first edition of Relativity: The Special and General Theory written by Einstein sold for $12,500 on AbeBooks in 2007. Several letters from Einstein are listed for five figures on the AbeBooks marketplace. A cruise ship postcard from Einstein, featuring sketches by the scientist, is listed for sale at $49,000.

An 1894 advert for Richter’s Anker-Steinbaukasten

Eight Pancake Books That Go Way Beyond Shrove Tuesday

Pancakes – loved around the world

Pancakes are delicious enough to deserve our attention way beyond Shrove Tuesday (February 28) and the start of Lent. The editors at AbeBooks.co.uk have selected eight pancake cookery books offering recipes that span the world, from California to Russia and Scandinavia, and show numerous forms of this humble but versatile dish.

The original reason for eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was so Christians could use the last of their rich foods (eggs, milk, sugar, and lard) before starting to fast for Lent. The French term, Mardi Gras, which is also celebrated at this time, translates as fat Tuesday. Mmmm, fat Tuesday!

A true global dish, pancakes are popular across the world and regional variations include crêpes from France, the buckwheat blini or bliny from Russia, jeons from South Korea, crepas from Mexico, Jewish latkes (potato pancakes) and injera from east Africa.

Eight Pancake Books Worth Stacking on Your Shelf

Bette’s Oceanview Diner (and her famous Pancake Handbook on the left)

1 The Pancake Handbook: Specialties from Bette’s Oceanview Diner by Steve Siegelman, Bette Kroening, & Sue Conley

Spending lazy mornings at your favourite diner eating pancakes is a way of life at weekends in the United States. Betty’s Oceanview Diner is located in Berkeley, California, and is famous for its buttermilk pancakes. Discover more than 75 recipes including blueberry yogurt pancakes, golden cornmeal pancakes, and double chocolate pancakes.

2 Crepes, Blinis & Pancakes by Valerie Ferguson

Thirty recipes that include classic American pancakes with bacon and syrup, and a Crêpes Suzette recipe with an boozy kick, as well as modern creations such as avocado cream blinis and oat pancakes with caramel bananas, and also Russian blinis topped with sour cream and caviar.

Pancakes: 72 Sweet and Savory Recipes

3 Pancakes: 72 Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Perfect Stack by Adrianna Adarme

Food-blogger-turned-cookbook author Adrianna Adarme moved to Los Angeles and was inspired to write pancakes recipes for every occasion. You’ll find recipes for chocolate pistachio pancakes, cheddar bacon pancakes, smoked gouda potato pancakes, duck-fat pancakes, and kimchi fritters as well as buttermilk, vegan, and gluten-free pancakes.

4 Posh Pancakes and Fancy Fritters by Helen V Fisher

This book offers more than 50 recipes for pancakes and accompanying sauces that can be served for breakfasts, brunches, and light meals. Ingredients include fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood and cheese.

5 Perfect Pancakes and Crepes by Susannah Blake

More than 20 recipes, from pancakes, wraps and fruit-filled crepes to latkes and scones. A step-by-step guide offering more than 125 photographs.

Waffles Flapjacks Pancakes – a small but useful pancake recipe book

6 Waffles, Flapjacks, Pancakes, Blintzes, Crepes, and Frybread from Scandinavia and Around the World by Dianna Stevens

This tiny ethnic cookbook is small enough to be carried around the supermarket while shopping for ingredients. Recipes include German baked apple pancake, peanut butter pancakes, and lemon crepes. A host of breakfast ideas spanning a wide variety of cultures.

You too could make a giraffe from pancakes

7 OMG Pancakes! 75 Cool Creations Your Kids Will Love to Eat by Jim Belosic

American blogger Jim Belosic is famous for crafting unusual and elaborate pancakes – Star Wars pancakes (the Millennium Falcon as a pancake anyone?), caterpillar pancakes, unicorn pancakes, and pancakes suitable for almost every occasion, including Halloween. He started by cooking for his daughter and blogging about his creations, and then it took off. You will never think of pancakes as flat, spherical objects ever again after seeing Jim’s creations.

8 Pancakes: An Interactive Recipe Book from Phaidon Press

Children love pancakes and this simple recipe book is designed for young chefs to get busy in the kitchen. It has plenty of moving parts to make reading and cooking even more fun.

Pancakes – get interactive with the kids

And here’s a bonus book in case you wish to explore the development of pancakes since Greek and Roman times – Pancake: A Global History by Ken Albala. This book contains more than 50 illustrations and looks at regional variations including injera in Ethiopia and Japanese okonomiyaki.