Sheila Markham

in conversation

The Book Collectors

David J. Hall

David J. Hall

There are a great many strands to my collection, though I’m not sure if that is what I should call it. Quite a lot of my books are for reference, and it’s not always obvious to me when I’m collecting and when I’m acquiring a book to use. As a working librarian without a private income, my collecting was dictated by how much money was left over each month after the mortgage and the gas bill had been paid. I’ve never spent more than £500 on a book, nor have I bought at auction. I regard myself as someone who knows a fair bit about quite a wide range of books. My interest in completing series of books began with my enthusiasm for Penguins, the Insel Verlag, and the guide books of Murray and Baedeker, and probably originated with stamp-collecting as a child. Apart from the historical interest and rarity of certain stamps, I enjoyed the process of completing sets. My book collecting didn’t begin until undergraduate days at Durham, where I read History. In my final year, I chose to take the Victorian religious history option and, being a Quaker, was advised to write a dissertation on the Quakers’ survival of their mid-nineteenth-century crisis. At that point I knew next to nothing about Quaker history, but gradually became more and more absorbed in the subject.

Apart from a secondhand section in the SPCK shop in the Cathedral Close, there was no independent secondhand bookshop in Durham when I arrived in 1965. One of the charms of Penguins and the various different Penguin series was that they were affordable for a student with very little money. I began by collecting the main series with the orange covers for general fiction, green for crime, cerise for travel, dark blue for biography, red for drama, and so on. Ariel, André Maurois’s biography of Shelley published on 30 July 1935, was the first Penguin book to appear. The use of colour-coding for different subjects was not an original idea. Three years before Allen Lane founded Penguin, Albatross Books used colour-coding for its Modern Continental Library of paperback reprints of contemporary British and American authors. Established in 1932, Albatross Books were only for sale in continental Europe for copyright reasons.

It soon became apparent that trying to collect the main Penguin series was too big an undertaking, and so I turned to other more manageable series, and collected the first hundred Pelicans, Penguin Poets, Classics in translation, and the smaller series, such as Penguin Modern Painters. Some of the rarest Penguin titles belong to the wartime series produced for Penguin’s Forces Book Club, which were despatched in monthly parcels to units stationed abroad. The King Penguin picture-books are the only series that I have ever completed, including every possible variant. They brought inexpensive illustrated books with an authoritative text to an extensive readership, and were the first - apart from the isolated example of Blue Angels and Whales by Robert Gibbings (a Pelican Special in 1938) - to contain colour, and the first in hard-covers. King Penguins were originally edited by Elizabeth Senior, who was killed in an air raid in 1941, when Nikolaus Pevsner took over. By the end of the war, twenty-four titles had been published. Magic Books from Mexico is regarded as one of the rarest in the King Penguin series. It was published in 1953, with an introduction and notes on the sixteen colour plates by C.A.Burland. In 1966, it was reprinted by Ediciones Lara, Mexico, in stiff paper boards, no doubt in preparation for the 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico City.

I graduated from Durham in 1968, but what do you do with a History degree if you don’t want to teach and you haven’t done well enough to stay on for research? I applied for traineeships in academic libraries but without success and, in the autumn of 1968, I began my brief, inglorious career in the Post Office. I was an Assistant Postal Controller Grade Two in the newly-formed graduate recruitment scheme – the successor grade to postal surveyors, of which Anthony Trollope was perhaps the most distinguished. Meanwhile, my supervisor at Durham had encouraged me to embark on a part-time MA, which enabled me to pursue my interest in Quaker history under my own steam. I started acquiring Quaker books and, before long, there was no stopping me. At the same time, a more general interest in book collecting was developing in parallel. I was based at the South East postal region headquarters in Brighton, and a good way of filling up some of Saturday was to go round the secondhand bookshops of which Holleyman & Treacher was at that time the best. After eighteen months I’d had enough of the Post Office. It wasn’t a very brilliant experience, although it involved a lot of travelling, which gave me the opportunity to visit secondhand bookshops.

In 1970 I moved to Cambridge to work in university administration, where I was the first non-Oxbridge graduate to be appointed to the University Offices. In 1973 I founded the Penguin Collectors Society with a couple of friends. When I compiled the checklist of the King Penguin series for So Much Admired. Die Insel-Bücherei and the King Penguin Series, with Russell Edwards, published by Salvia Books, Edinburgh, 1988, it wasn’t possible to access the Penguin archives, as they were stored in the warehouse at Harmondsworth. They have subsequently been moved to the University of Bristol Library, and probably contain a lot of information that wasn’t available when I wrote the checklist.

The University Offices in The Old Schools were within a stone’s throw of six secondhand bookshops which I regularly visited in my lunchtime - Galloway & Porter, Deighton Bell, Jean Pain, Heffer’s, G.David and Ted Searle’s much lamented Book Room, while currently Hugh Hardinge’s market stalls have been consistently rewarding for readable and affordable books. In the days when David’s had their stall in the market on Saturdays, it was almost like going into a rugby scrum. One got there as early as possible before the unpacking had finished, and there was a sort of camaraderie amongst the collectors. I must have missed a lot through not having sharp enough elbows or an early enough start but one triumph at £2 (forty years ago) was a copy of Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help that he had given to his wife. There was also Derek Gibbons of the Haunted Bookshop, which is now Sarah Key’s shop. I was on friendly terms with Derek who would often put aside books for me until I could afford to buy them. I also got on well with the staff at Deighton Bell, who were very knowledgeable and liked to talk about books. Although Galloway & Porter is very much missed, one had the feeling that the stock was just merchandise to them. They would remember how much you last spent, but not what you bought. I remember the old Heffer’s when the shop was in Petty Cury. They bought E.M.Forster’s library, at least, the books that were not kept by King’s College.

I succeeded John Sibbald of Deighton Bell as Secretary of the Cambridge Library Group, and also became Programme Secretary of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society. Through this work, I met Philip ‘Pip’ Gaskell, Librarian and Fellow of Trinity, where he helped me to acquire dining rights. If you came to Cambridge without college membership, you were dependent on someone to help you in this respect, as there wasn’t an established procedure.

I was also very fortunate to meet A.N.L.‘Tim’ Munby, Librarian of King’s College, a few years before he died, and am grateful to him for giving me the necessary prod to compile my first bibliographical work. I was interested in the writings of Shane Leslie, who had been an undergraduate at Cambridge, where Munby encountered him. Leslie was born in 1885, of an Anglo-Irish family, and was a first cousin of Winston Churchill. He was educated at Eton and King’s College, the scenes of his two best novels, The Oppidan and The Cantab. He was a prolific writer, as the fifty-eight books written or translated by him show, excluding a number of books to which he contributed in some way. He emerges from the biography of A.S.W.Rosenbach by Edwin Wolf and John Fleming in a not altogether creditable light as having lured Rosenbach to Ireland with ‘tales of virgin libraries panting for a seducer’. But his main claim to fame as a bibliophile must be as a pioneer of modern Corvomania. Indeed A.J.A.Symons dedicated The Quest for Corvo to Shane Leslie. Munby suggested that I should prepare a bibliography, giving me a few pointers and mentioning to Nicolas Barker that he was setting me off on this path. It resulted in my contribution to the ‘Uncollected Authors’ series in The Book Collector, Winter, 1975.

The Edward Capell Society was the Cambridge equivalent of the Oxford University Society of Bibliophiles. Meetings tended to be hosted by Tim Munby, rather in the way that John Sparrow hosted the Warden’s Meeting at Oxford. I became involved with the Society, and remember the occasion when John Sparrow came to a meeting with a suitcase full of association copies from his shelves. The first association copy I bought - and I have a great weakness for them, if not a great collection - was Alfred Fairbank’s A Book of Scripts in the King Penguin series, designed by Jan Tschichold, the cover adapted from a design by Juan de Yciar, 1547, with a nice letter in Fairbank’s lovely hand, bought for fifteen shillings from D.M.Beach in Salisbury and which, with other calligraphic material and two Katharine Adams bindings, have now gone to the Fitzwilliam Museum. On a visit to Blackwell’s in Oxford many years ago, I was delighted to find John Masefield’s copy of the first edition of The Testament of Beauty by Robert Bridges. I did have the conceit at one time of collecting editions of Robert Bridges that had belonged to subsequent Poets Laureate but, apart from the Masefield, I only managed to acquire C.Day Lewis’s copy of Robert Bridges’s The Shorter Poems. These were key items in a Bridges collection which also had some of his Daniel Press titles.

Galloway & Porter were never particularly interested in the previous ownership of a book, and I managed to buy two nice association copies from them for next to nothing - a copy of Robert Bloomfield’s The Farmer’s Boy, that had belonged to William Barnes, the Dorset poet, and Ivor Gurney’s copy of A Shropshire Lad, with Rudyard Kipling’s book label. Galloway & Porter had bought a number of books that had belonged to Kipling, although most of his library is at Bateman’s, the house in Sussex where he lived from 1902 until his death. The odd book would have come on to the market at some point from Kipling’s daughter, Elsie, who lived with her husband, Captain George Bambridge, at Wimpole Hall. Gurney had been introduced to Kipling’s poetry by his godfather, Alfred Cheesman, curate of All Saints’ Church, Gloucester. Cheesman had met Kipling and gave him, at Gurney’s request, this copy of A Shropshire Lad, inscribed ‘To Rudyard Kipling, from his greatest admirer, Ivor Gurney’.

After six years in university administration, I was becoming a bit fed up with some aspects of the job. When an advertisement appeared in the Cambridge University Reporter for a position in the University Library, I decided to apply. I was interviewed by a formidable body of academics and, in the spring of 1976, I was appointed Assistant Under-Librarian. Eric Ceadel, University Librarian, died suddenly in the summer of 1979, at which point, his deputy, J.C.T. Oates, who had been about to retire, stepped in as Acting Librarian for eighteen months before he was succeeded by Frederick Ratcliffe. John Oates was very much my mentor in the Library. He was the author of a history of Cambridge University Library, and a catalogue of its collection of incunabula.

My job was largely to do with managing Library finances, staffing and statistics though, in addition, I later became titular Librarian of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The British bible collection formed by Francis Fry, a Quaker and chocolate manufacturer with a reputation for muddying the waters of sixteenth-century bible bibliography, is a key part of that Library. I couldn’t have imagined that overseeing the expansion of Cambridge University Library on its existing site would have been a highlight of my career but, actually, I found it very interesting trying to get what was best for the Library within the financial constraints. There had always been the understanding that I should become involved in more bookish projects if I had the time. When David McKitterick, fellow-collector and friend, left the Department of Rare Books to become Librarian of Trinity College, I was the only person on the staff with a real interest in twentieth-century typography. The Library holds the archives, albeit incomplete, of the Curwen Press and Stanley Morison, whose personal papers were largely destroyed during the bombing of 1941. After his death in 1967, his books were presented by Sir Allen Lane to the Library.

The Friends of Cambridge University Library got off the ground in 1980, and I edited its Bulletin for ten years, and was Treasurer for fifteen years, and on the Committee for another six. I am also involved with the Friends of the National Libraries, and in 2013 was astounded to be made the Distinguished Founder Benefactor. The librarians of the national libraries are ex officio members of the Executive Committee of the FNL but, in due course, it was decided that, as they were mostly too busy to attend meetings, they should be permitted to send representatives. I started going to meetings on this basis for Peter Fox, Cambridge University Librarian from 1994 to 2009, when his successor, Anne Jarvis, asked me to continue on her behalf.

When I retired from the Library in 2005, a former colleague asked if I would like to help in the secondhand bookshop that she was running for the National Trust at Wimpole Hall. There was no trouble finding volunteers to sit in the shop and sell the books, but my colleague needed someone who knew about books and how to price them. It injected a note of realism into my understanding of the book business. As a bookseller, you look at a book and know how much it ought to fetch. But then you have to ask yourself what chance there is of anyone coming into the shop and paying that price.

In December 2012, I was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to give up playing at being a bookseller, which I had thoroughly enjoyed. I have begun the process of disposing of my collection. Cambridge University Library is gradually receiving my eighteenth- and nineteenth- century poetry, not already in its collections, illustrated Insel books to complement Hans Schmoller’s collection, and my Helen Waddell letters – part of an author collection that led to my second contribution to the ‘Uncollected Authors’ series in The Book Collector, Autumn, 1980. Autograph letters and manuscripts have gone to the Library of the Society of Friends in Euston Road as well as to Cambridge University Library. I have also given the Friends’ Library two tracts, not in ESTC, by Hugh Turford, a much published and now scarcely known author, printed in Chesterfield in 1781 and Leith in 1799.

My private press books have gone to Durham, where I am an Honorary Life Member of the Friends of Durham University Library. They have some lovely examples from the beginnings of the private press movement – Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene - given by a collector who was an alumnus, and this gave me the idea of donating my own books, which are mostly from a later period, and not surprisingly strongest in Cambridge’s Rampant Lions Press. I have an unusual example of a Quaker book that is also a private press book, A Journal of the Life and Travels of John Woolman in the Service of the Gospel, done by Essex House Press in 1901.

As a Quaker with a liking for simplicity, I have a book label rather than a bookplate. In fact, I have two book labels. The one that appears in my early acquisitions was done by a Cambridge jobbing printer, and includes a typographical error that was pointed out to me some years later – the final letter ‘l’ of my surname is printed as the numeral ‘1’. My current book label was done by Sebastian Carter, with my name printed in terracotta within a border on cream paper. You might ask if owning 9000 books, of which the Quaker collection amounts to more than 900 items, has much to do with Quaker simplicity. On reading The Private Libraries Association’s, A Modest Collection, 2007, in which eighty-three collectors talk about their books, it struck me that they are a lot more focused in their collecting than I am. Perhaps I have been interested in too many subjects, but I have always enjoyed the variety.

Interviewed for The Book Collector Summer 2014

David J. Hall

A Poland & Steery Co-production