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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.

Bookseller Q&A: Colophon Books, PBFA

Glorious books – some of Barlow’s collection

Today’s Bookseller Q&A comes from Staffordfshire. Mike Barlow is the owner of Colophon Books, PBFA in Leek. He has been selling books since the mid-1970s, and during that time has sold to major libraries around the globe, university collections, as well as serious private collectors, and has sold 1st editions of The Hobbit, a letter by George Washington, and a missing part 5 of a Mendelsohn symphony. He also spent two decades as a valuer for 4 auction houses, fighting temptation, and is now a member of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA). Barlow joined the AbeBooks bookseller ranks in early 2015, and no longer has a storefront, but sells online. Read on to learn more about Colophon Books, and to hear one of the best “Found in Books” stories we’ve ever heard.

AbeBooks: How did you become a professional bookseller?
Mike Barlow: In 1975 I walked into a shop in Finsbury Park in London, and bought 800 books on a whim for £50, all in tea-chests, after asking to look at  5 old-looking books on a top shelf I couldn’t reach without a chair or ladder. I sold about 45 books later that day from the collection for £120 to the author Iain Sinclair who was a bookseller in those days and I had bought off him several times. I began shortly afterwards selling books on Camden Lock and Camden Passage in Islington 2 days every week. I earned enough from the purchases I was making from Bob the bric-a-brac dealer in Finsbury Park to open a cafe/bookshop a few months later in Lincolnshire. I bought 3 quite large lots of books through him in the space of about 6 weeks. He was a house clearance man from the old war-time London days and sold anything under the business name of “The Stroud Green Bedding Company”. He didn’t sell beds or bedding and he wasn’t in Stroud Green. But his father had been till the Germans bombed his shop so he moved to Finsbury Park. He sold me the books in quick succession and as he liked me and wanted me to do well, he let me have them at very low prices like the £50 lot. To be fair I was taking the gamble as I knew so little, but did the maths and it seemed a good deal for me. He was getting books and other antiques out of a storage depot just around the corner from his shop. The second lot I bought, the depot employees had found these old wooden crates bricked up behind a wall (alcoves) since the 1st war in 1914 and they had just knocked a wall down and there they were. I was very lucky and as a gambler I took chances where others would have dithered. To be fair, at the time I knew enough about books only to want to read most of the literature and to try to ask a profit when it came to offer them out for sale, but little else. I remember selling a copy of Ulysses in the blue wrappers 1922 and a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in wrappers 1855 for an offer of £120. The Whitman is a book I have never seen again in any sort of original wrapper state. …What do they say about a little knowledge is dangerous?

The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts

Abe: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?
MB: I have an illustrated manuscript called “The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts” by a young girl aged about 9-10 called Joyce Mary Williams and perhaps with input from her brother Peter aged about 6 (aka Jimmy Smite – illustrator or co-writer). They were the son and daughter of a publisher Geoffrey Williams of Williams and Norgate Ltd. A London ouse no longer in business. It has never been published, it comes with other ephemera, photographs and school-day drawings and notes. It says a lot about the children, the period and the place. And it is unique. I have owned it since the 1980’s and it is for sale at present on Abebooks.

I also have a run of 1st world war period children’s annuals bought from a lady in Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire many years ago. And whom I befriended by her answering an advert I had placed in a local paper for buying books. Not because they are particularly valuable, But because as a spinster these were her mother’s and as she had no family herself she didn’t know what to do with them as they were taking her to a home for the elderly and she had nowhere to keep them and she was so distraught when I left as they were all she possessed of her mothers and she had looked after this lady all her life until she had passed away, She begged me to have them and I said well OK if she insisted! I would hang onto them for her for a few weeks until she made her mind up about what she wanted to do. Sadly later that week she died in tragic circumstances to awful to mention here. I have never been able to sell them due to this and the fact I never paid her and she had no one and died intestate. I felt responsible enough to never want to split them and probably never will. I feel so sad each time I see the books and the circumstances of how I got hold of them.

Abe: What do you love most about selling books?
MB: The history of it all. I can feel the previous lives, the hands that held things on the older material, the places they once resided in the world as it had been at that time. the fact they had lain in situ until I saw them perhaps for years and years or a century or two. The climate or situation in which they were bought originally . But mostly random association I have with with perhaps, in many cases, the only thing the original owner left of themselves on the planet to say “I existed” with their signature or bookplate being their legacy ass it were. That’s what I like about the things that come through my hands. I don’t understand the desire for no inscriptions, never will really. Unsightly scrawls yes, but a name or neat dedication how wrong can that be?

The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts

Abe: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?
MB: I would love to own or find a Shakespeare manuscript or even a letter proving beyond doubt who and what he was and to settle the matter of authorship.

Abe: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?
MB: A fried egg fell out of an 18th century scientific pamphlet owned by Lord Walpole, which one I am unsure? Probably Horace. It was bulging and discolouring the pages when I discovered it in Wolterton Hall Library in the 1980’s. It had a beautiful binding by Sangorski and Sutcliffe done in the late 19th century and it was on Halley’s Comet dated about 1678 or slightly later. The egg fell like a stone and it had a powder blue centre that as I opened the book carefully and curiously this ugly cold ancient thing, this horrid visual dead thing dropped out onto my shoe and then the carpet, it bounced once, the white shattered in a thousand pieces and the yolk sending up a cloud of blue spore like dust that covered my shoes trousers and Aubusson carpet at one and the same time. And as I realised I had discovered both his old breakfast and a new bookmark idea, I quickly tried to cover it all up before Lady Walpole came back in and had a fit at her carpet and my dishevelment. I often wonder what was it that disturbed him so quickly to place it in the book, or how eccentric one has to be to use the fully fledged fried egg as a book accessory page marker?

The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts

Abe: What’s your most memorable moment as a professional bookseller?
MB: I went to an auction in Norfolk and bought an Edward Lear Book of Nonsense manuscript for £26 and sold it at Sotheby’s for £16,000 later that year (1981). It was a proper cataloged book auction too, with about 100+ dealers, so many had the chance to appraise it. I did see the very same album about 13 years later for sale at £225,000 in the ABA London Summer Fair. It was on an American dealer’s stand. But they do say your first profit is your best and he still had to sell it.

Abe: And of course, what’s your favourite book?
MB: My desire, if I have any left, would be to collect all the rare editions of Dickens’ in all their variant 1st edition formats. The paper covered monthly parts, the plates pristine in them all (rare to find any not foxed these days). The association copies he presented to friends, the rare ephemera that was all part of his publishing legacy in his own lifetime. And of course the George Cruikshank engravings. You could easily spend two lifetimes trying to get all the first impressions in the best condition.
I started a good collection once of Dickens books after buying the library of a man who died of rabies in 1940 after being bitten by a mad dog in Lincolns Inn, London. Where he was a barrister and had chambers. A Mr Edward J. Ward was his name.

He left his collection to a young girl who was his adopted child or “ward” I think she said she was, Olive Harris, she had been sent to Wisbech as a war child-refugee where she was fostered out, but she married and then stayed all her life in that town. Strangely apropos of nothing really, Wisbech Public Library own the Manuscript of Great Expectations and can be viewed on request, or used to be?

The Pawky Pawk’s Book of Beasts

Anyway the collection was battered and needed a lot of money spent on it after rescuing it from further neglect and lack of knowledge. It had been kept in plastic bags in the garage for at least 30 years and a few other related items an old burr walnut 19th century bookcase in the hallway that blocked the front door. (They never used front doors in Lincolnshire), where the remaining few had managed to survive in better health. The books included a trial issue of A Christmas Carol 1843 with powdered green endpaper instead of the ordinary finally published canary yellow and a title page in red and green and not blue and red as appeared in the 1st trade edition, I believe it was one of only 12 trial issues ever. A binder ruined the book by throwing away the endpapers and binding it in a thesis plain buckram. I think he must still have my fingermarks round his throat. The collection had all his major and minor books as firsts with variant issues and some extra illustrated, but mostly bound in half or full leather and not original cloth and this leather had split and was in many cases damaged. A few had been bound in presentation morocco by Sangorski or Hatchards and this saved them for me.

I remember asking had there been any magazines at any time as a lot of Dickens works came out monthly? She said “yes there was, but as we had to remove them back to Wisbech and we couldn’t take everything so we took the nice books”. I sighed I think? It was enough regret in that statement to bring a tear to a glass eye. I had to sell these books a few years later to pay bills probably and help buy the next “must have”. I do regret that.

That just goes with the many other regrets in life, but we survive and after all we are only the guardians, so I would have lost them and eventually they would have been sold, but is was another lucky find and purchase and these always linger in the memory all your life. The good buys, the ones that keep you going when you think you must give up and get a proper job in banking or politics

BUT! What was it a bookseller once said? If you cannot sell ALL your books you’ll never be a good bookseller! A successful man is one who makes a profit and moves on, you cannot do that keeping books back to hold onto for that rainy day.

I feel today so many other things have crowded books to the very margin of our needs and requirements as a society. And that for many booksellers today making any profit selling everything you buy or not is a lot, lot, harder than it has ever been, although in most centuries for many it was always hard, but people did at least know how to read.

Lastly! One interesting thing I noticed when looking at the 1500 or so Sotheby catalogues I bought from old Alfred Lenton’s private bookstock the old Leicester dealer from the 1940’s to the 1990’s, from his son in 2000. And all dated from the 1890’s-1970’s that the books that were being sold for little money from the early 20th century and mid-20th century in the 1970’s catalogues and a few 80’s catalogues had almost all but disappeared today. So perhaps those books that we think will be around forever, do eventually just stop appearing never to be found. The 18th century material, the scientific and esoteric pamphlets, the 3 deckers in cloth, the leather in perfect condition in boxes for £10-12 and shelves of magazines from the 1900’s that were hardly making a £5’er, where is it all?
I’m off to list some more books now as I try to every day. I have another 3-5000 items, so only another 10 years or so to go…..

Vinegar valentine cards – vintage insults for 14 February

More than 150 years ago, Victorian ‘greeting card trolls’ were using the fledgling postal system to insult people with so-called ‘Vinegar Valentine’ cards. These anonymous cards, illustrated with caricatures and snarky poetry, were a major phenomenon as the ability to communicate regardless of distance became more accessible.

It appears vinegar valentines originated in the United States around 1840 and were used for around 100 years. They were also widely used in Britain. The artwork and verse mocked some characteristic of the recipient. Gluttons, drinkers, braggarts, windbags, ugly people, vain people, and stupid people – they were all fair game. The tone of verse ranged from gentle to downright vicious and abusive.

Learn more about vinegar valentines.

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

PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns, 3 December

Get set for the PBFA’s 2016 Kensington Christmas Book Fair

The PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns on 3 December. Now a fixture on the British rare book calendar, the Christmas Book Fair has a new venue this year – the Hilton London Olympia Hotel at 380 Kensington High Street.

The fair opens at 11am and closes at 5pm. Entrance is £2 on the door or via a free ticket downloaded from the PBFA website. Thousands of rare books, prints, art and ephemera is available for sale from than 50 excellent booksellers.

The sellers in attendance include AshtonRareBooks, Worlds End Bookshop, Jonkers Rare Books, John Atkinson Fine & Rare Books, Peter Harrington, Holybourne Rare Books, Peter Foster Books, and Sophie Schneideman Rare Books. There is an intriguing mix of major sellers from London and smaller dealers from the rest of the country.

The hotel is a five-minute walk from Kensington Olympia Overground Station and 10 minutes walking from Earls Court (District and Piccadilly lines) or High Street Kensington (District and Circle lines) stations. Bus stops for the 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and C1 routes are located just outside the hotel.

AbeBooks.co.uk is thrilled to once again be a sponsor of this event.

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