|Any Amount of Books|
News & Trivia Archives
Below, the blog-like archives in descending order date back to 1997, when anyamountofbooks.com was first launched.Priceless Books In Hampstead
Having recently bought two good large collections of books in Hampstead, I was intrigued by a piece in a bookseller"'s memoir entitled "Some Priceless Books In Hampstead". This was from "40 Years in my Bookshop" by Walter C. Spencer (London 1923). Spencer whose dates were possibly 1860-1952 (unknown to Wikipedia, Google, etc.) was a major book seller of his time, a friend of Thomas J. Wise, but at the time of writing presumably ignorant of his darker side (we're talking forgery.) His shop was at 27 New Oxford and he dealt in prints, plate books, bound sets, the Romantics, Americana, first editions of his time (Wilde, Conrad, Galsworthy, etc.). A big Dickens man, popular with visiting American plutocrats like pickle king Henry J. Heinz and numbering among his customers, Sir Henry Irving, Gladstone, George Meredith, Andrew Lang, Gissing, Pater, Swinburne, and Richard Jefferies. Spencer visited the library of Wise in Hampstead and quotes from Richard Curle's introduction to the catalogue of the Ashley Library - as Wise like to call his ridiculously valuable collection. The catalogue ran to 11 volumes, Wise was exposed as a forger of rare pamphlets in 1934 by biblio sleuths Carter and Pollard. The books went to the British Museum in 1937. Curle, something of a gun for hire in the rare book world, was also the author of several good travel books and works on Conrad who he knew well. He writes:
It seems invidious to pick out for special note any particular books, and yet I cannot forbear to draw attention to certain things of singular rarity and interest in the following short but representative list. 'Welth and Helth,' 1557 (only one other copy known), 'Gammer Gurton's Needle,' 1575 (the earliest English comedy of which any perfect copy is extant), Spenser's 'Faerie Queen,' 1590-6, Nashe's 'Terrors of the Night,' 1594 (only one other copy known, and that a poor one), Lyly's 'Woman in the Moone,' 1597 (only two or three copies known), Dekker's 'Satiro-Mastix,' 1602, Ben Jonson's 'Sejanus,' 1605 (only one other known on large paper : this is a presentation copy), Middleton's 'Roaring Girl,' 1611, Chapman's 'Widdowe's Teares,' 1612, Milton's 'Comus,' 1637 (the finest copy known), Herrick's 'Hesperieds,' 1648 . . . Congreve's 'Incognita,' 1692 (one of three copies known), and his 'Impossible Thing, A Tale' (of which the only other recorded copy is in the British Museum), Pope's 'Dunciad,' 1728 (large paper copy of the first edition), . . . Blake's ' The Gates of Paradise,' 1793 (the only large paper copy known), Byron's 'Fugitive Pieces,' 1806 (one of three known perfect copies), Landor's 'Idyllia,' 1815, Lamb's six separate 'Tales from Shakespeare,' 1807-11 (of none of these booklets are more than two other copies known), Shelley's 'Necessity of Atheism,' 1811 (one other perfect copy known and with a presentation inscription)...."
And so it goes on. I doubt whether Hampstead, one of the wealthier areas of London, can still provide books like these. But as Cadillac Jack would have it : 'Anything can be anywhere.'
AMAZING BOOK WANTS CATALOGUE FROM 1920 - CLICK HERE FOR FULL LIST
We recently found this closely written 24 page catalogue of 'books wanted' put out by London bookseller Walter C. Spencer in about 1920 (date taken from BM copy.) We are publishing it almost in its entirety (long lists of Scott, Ainsworth and Dickens have been abbreviated.) Some of the books are now impossible to find, a lot were very rare even then - especially anonymous pamphlets put out by the Romantics and items such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's impossible first book 'Battle of Marathon'. Spencer's list encapsulates bookseller wisdom of his age and rarities passed down from 19th century book sellers. These were the 'sexy' books of his day and some of them are still appearing on wants list, some no longer wanted or easily found (e.g. Charles Lever, Frank Smedley, Walter Scott.) I will add a few notes in but time forbids me from identifying every anonymous and pseudonymous item. Occasionally he offers money for a book and one can multiply that by about 100 to get his modern price. It is to be assumed with some books that they are there because a valued customer had asked for them. For more info on Spencer see our item above 'Priceless books in Hampstead'. For information about books wanted in 2007, see our blog, Bookride.
Found in A.E. Waite's 'Occult Sciences' (1891) between Belomancy and Capnomancy (divination by smoke) this method of detecting witches and sorcerers and also using a Bible for prediction etc., Belomancy, by the way, is divination by arrows...
Occasionally the forms of divination exceeded the bounds of superstition,
and passed into the region of frantic madness. There was a short
way the sorcerers which was probably the most potent discoverer of
witchcraft which any ingenuity could devise. A large Bible was deposited
on one side of a pair of weighing scales. The person suspected of
magical practices was set on the opposite side. If he outweighed
the Bible he was innocent; in the other case, he was held guilty.
In the days of this mystical weighing and measuring, the scales may
be truly said to have fallen from the eyes of a bewizarded generation,
and to have revealed " sorcery and enchantment everywhere."
The Rings of Baron Corvo
An intereresting side note on the appearance of the great cult writer can be found in the speech by C.H. Pirie - Gordon (co -author with Baron Corvo of 'The Weird of the Wanderer' by Prospero & Caliban). The speech was delivered at the first banquet of the Corvine Society in June 1929. Take it away, Caliban:
"His Archblessedness the Grand Master has referred to the Baron's subfuse( sic) and sometimes revolting vesture. I cherish happier memories of his sartorial appearance. While he was our guest, sometimes he appeared in the purple habit designed and devised by himself for the Order of Chivalry, of which we were both members, a habit sumptuous and amaranthine: at others, when dining with the doubtless bucolic society, which marvelled at his conversation and his lore, he would wear a dinner jacket of soft bluish-grey velveteen, with his clerical collar and silk stock, while on his fingers would appear one or more of the massive silver rings which he had designed for himself. These he kept, when not in use, in a box of powdered sulphur in order that they might constantly be black: two of these were the famous anti-Jesuit rings, to which he alludes in one of his stories. They were of immense thickness, and each was armed with a spur rowel, so set in the thickness of the ring as to be capable of revolving. He used to explain that if a man, wearing these, were to meet a Jesuit, he could dash one of them across the Jesuit's forehead, and escape while the holy man was blinded by his own blood pouring from the wound scored across his forehead. Another ring he had, which he gave to me, made of electron, which he explained as being an amalgam of gold and silver in equal parts. This was engraved with a Crow..."
The diners who throughout the meal had drunk larger and larger libations finally toasted the Baron in Corvo Gran Spumante and then "the meeting did not so much end as deliquesce..."
Found In 'Bayonets of Bastard Sheen' (1940's) by Amanda Ros
Rave on, O rare Amanda!
Any Amount on The BBC!
This week (11/11/05) a reporter from the BBC world service ('Outlook') came by the shop to interview staff and customers about 'The Demise of the Second Hand Bookshop.' They made a very interesting programme interspersed with the obligatory quotes from Helen Hanff. There were interviews with American and European tourists as well as customers who come by almost every day. I think we managed to convince them that second hand bookshops still had plenty of life left in them!' You can listen to it below. It lasts about 10 minutes.
Click to download: BBC.mp3 (9.5 MB)
The Table Talk of T.S. Eliot
Eliot was at a smart dinner party of London intellectuals where the conversation was rather stilted because everybody felt they had to say something profound in front of the great man, who said very little. Eventually after an awkward silence the wife of an academic complained about her high electricity bills. The other guests were a little shocked that such trivial stuff was being discussed, however Eliot suddenly came to life. "Are you on the night tariff?" he asked the woman and proceeded to discourse knowledgeably about reducing household bills.
Another instance where Eliot succeeded in flummoxing
high minded intellectuals was at the Wednesday Club in 1956 - the writer
Paul Bloomfield reported the following. Asked for his favourite passage
of English prose, the great poet at once replied, assisting his performance
with the appropriate gestures:
Any other instances of Eliot's table talk gratefully received.
This covers a diverse group of writers. You could call them outsiders or marginals - even oddballs.
I'm thinking of Arthur Cravan, Amanda Ros, M.P. Shiel, Ronald Firbank, Montague Summers, Lautramont, Jacques Vach, Mary Butts, William Beckford, Robert Walser, Vernon Lee, Michael Field, Natalie Clifford Barney, Lord Berners, Theodore Wratislaw, Edgar Saltus, Brian Howard, Count Stenbock, John Gawsworth. Some like Cravan, Vach and Howard are hard to collect (a few letters, periodicals, posters, etc.), some like Vernon Lee & Edgar Saltus are relatively easy. (Some of these authors are on our Wants List, many are mentioned at the rewarding Lost Club site.)
An obscure bunch you say? Well, I tested them on this here World Wide Web in the 1990s using Alta Vista (the scholar's friend). I was looking for web sites where these writers were mentioned. In 2004 I used Google -- the internet having grown many times since the halcyon 1990s.
Startling Results From A Search Engine
Results can be deceptive when searching the Web for authors. Of the 14000 (400 in 1997) or so sites that mention Cyril Connolly, 100s are there because he is featured in a Monty Python sketch (Fish License). With Amanda Ros (the 'so bad she's good' Irish writer) there are 88 sites some of them concern a woman of the same name involved in US politics; not the author of Delina Delaney. There is an Australian heart specialist called Ronald Firbank and a few Texan women named Mary Butts with home pages. Ms. Butts, the writer, owes her presence on the Web chiefly to her association with Aleister Crowley (the great beast gets 100,000 hits-the occult being very big on the web.)
Results can be gratifying. I just checked out Julian MacLaren Ross (fascinating forties writer and the original of Anthony Powell's X. Trapnel.). I came up with 570 Web sites, one showing that he wrote additional dialogue on the 1957 film "The Electronic Monster." Not a lot of people know that.
You get led down some very strange byways researching on the Web, but here goes with the results:
NOTES. Brian Howard has been omitted due to a proliferation
of similar names.
JOAN BARTON. POET AND BOOKSELLER.
Joan Barton was a bookseller. She was also an accomplished poet somewhat in the style of Larkin and Betjeman but with a lyric tenderness entirely her own. She was born in England in 1908, if she is still around she will be 95*. It's a goodish bet as book people can last practically forever - vide Andrew Block, Charles Traylen etc., When illness curtailed her studies at Bristol University she began her working life as a bookseller. Later she was employed by the BBC and by the British Council where she was a director of a department during World War 2.
In 1947 she and her partner Barbara Watson started the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, but after twenty years sold it and moved to Salisbury, where they issued catalogues of modern first editions and children's books from their home. She has reviewed for the New Statesman and has contributed poems to many magazines including WAVE. Early in her writing life she owed much to the encouragement of Walter de la Mare.
She published about 6 little collections of poetry some of which can be bought at abebooks.com, amongst them was the only poem of hers that I could find that referred to her work. Take it away Joan :-
LOT 304: VARIOUS BOOKS.
There are always lives
From 'The Mistress'. Sonus Press, Hull 1972.
*I heard from Mary Michaels in May 2004 with the sad news that Joan Barton had died in 1988. In her final years she had struggled with failing sight but she gained some recognition through a feature on US radio, a published interview and in 1979 an article on her in the American Journal Women in Literature. She was also included in several anthologies. It would also be good to hear from someone about Joan as a bookseller.
I am starting to add some minor characters to this site. They are generally people who are footnotes to literary history and are totally ignored on the miraculous web. You can't get much more minor than my first character--Alfred Charlemagne Lambart (1861-1943).
I am indebted to John Adlard's book "Stenbock, Yeats and the Nineties" (Woolf 1969) for information on Lambart and any quotes emanate from him. Lambart was related to the Earls of Cavan and appears not to have followed any particular profession. He was "improvident, intelligent and amusing". Apparently he thought he was rather like Byron. He seems to have spent most of his time abroad, he had friends in the literary and artistic world and he knew Max Beerbohm who drew a caricature of him. This caricature can be seen in Hart-Davis's "Letters of Max Beerbohm to Reggie Turner" (1964--opposite page 284.) He was married twice and divorced twice. His second marriage, to Lady Mexborough "seems merely to have been for his own maintenance". It seems, in the end, that Lady Mexborough settled him in some comfort at her villa near Florence while she instituted costly divorce proceedings. It is known he was a friend of the decadent poet Count Eric Stenbock (1860-1895) who left him £200 in his will. I surmise, as they were both about the same age, that they were at Oxford together. However a preliminary search of Oxford records reveals no Lambart. Stenbock was up at Oxford in 1879 at the same time that Gerard Manley Hopkins was living there. Adlard says "we know that (Lambart) was a crony of Eric's only from Eric's will. He was a tireless correspondent and kept almost all his letters; but when he died his daughter burned the lot. It seems a very great pity."
One wonders why his letters were burnt, although it was and still is a not uncommon practice. His connection with the 1890s decadents may have been deemed shameful. Even when I was very young in the 1950s Oscar Wilde was spoken of in hushed tones. Any further information would be appreciated.
Dogs I Have Known
Slow-selling, common used books are often referred to (with a curse) as "dogs." The biggest dog in Britain has to be 'The Scallop' published in 1957 by Shell Oil Company. It is an attractive 4to book dealing with the iconography of the scallop and would be quite valuable if it were not so incredibly common. Copies were sent to every Shell shareholder and were (possibly) given out at petrol stations. A copy can be seen on our home page.
In England one can still come across shops with 5 or 6 copies. I have seen it priced anything from £1 to £15. Other unsaleable books include works by Thomas Armstrong, F. W. Bain, Ann Bridge, Thomas B. Costain, Galsworthy, Francis Parkinson Keyes, C. E. Montague, Walter H. Page, Cecil Roberts, H. M. Tomlinson, Morris West and Humbert Wolfe (although his 'Circular Saws' is always wanted as the d/w is by Evelyn Waugh).
Also worth avoiding are Donn Byrne, Lloyd C. Douglas, the American novelist Winston Churchill (not to be confused with the British Prime Minister), Howard Spring & Frank Yerby. In the USA, Rod McKuen heads the list, I am reliably informed.
Any information leading to the identification of slow-selling common books will be greatly appreciated. I would particularly like to find out about more recent 'dogs.'
Robert Hamer-Film Director/Poet
It is not generally known that Robert Hamer, the director of films such as 'Kind Hearts and Coronets,' 'The Long Memory' and 'Father Brown,' was also a poet. He was published in 'New Verse' and also while at Cambridge in 'Contemporaries And Their Maker' (along with the spy Donald MacLean). His poetry is very much of its time, but it has style and promise. This is not his best poem but the only one I can lay hands on at present. Hamer (1911-1963) was described by one earnest film guide as 'the greatest miscarriage of talent in the British Cinema.' He had, as they say, a problem with alcohol. However his films form a marvellous body of work, probably the greatest being the Kent based 'noir,' The Long Memory based on the novel by Howard Clewes.
Brian Howard wrote very little. He seems to have burnt himself out quite early and is now remembered mainly for his influence on other writers. Waugh used him, more than once, as the basis of a character. Ambrose Silk in 'Put Out More Flags' and Anthony Blanche in 'Brideshead Revisited' are both based on him, the latter with an admixture of Harold Acton. Henry Green & Cyril Connolly also used him. Edith Sitwell published his earliest poem in "Wheels.' It is called 'Barouches Noires' and is under the pseudonym 'Charles Orange.' Howard was 16 and at Eton. His poem 'Nausea' was also published by A. R. Orage in 'New Age.' The only book on him is called 'Portrait of a Failure' edited by Marie-Jacqueline Lancaster, 1968.
I would like to post one of his poems on this site-not because he was a great poet, but because his poetry is almost unobtainable. I have never seen his poems anthologised and his one book('God Save The King') ww in editions of 150 in the early 30s by Nancy Cunard at her Hours Press in Paris. It is always £150 or more except for nasty copies. Take it away Brian Howard:
The light of lemons, a child's light
And yet I see each bough's a finger
Ah, the war in the south is ever hateful
But must I always remember my soldier childhood
At The Bookseller's
This extract from an 1820s English/ French conversation manual gives an interesting insight into a vanished world. Note the concern with the appearance and quality of the books, the perennial problems with trying to get the binder to do what the bookseller and customer wants and on time. The eagerness of the collector to be the first to be offered fresh stock from the shop has changed very little. It is interesting that in the early nineteenth century women bookbuyers were likely to be attracted to Large Paper Copies and vellum. The customer's knowledge of book lore and binding styles has changed somewhat. It is all a far cry from ebay...
BILLIONAIRE BOOK COLLECTORS
I keep seeing lists of billionaires in glossy magazines. I speculate about how many of these men (and they usually are men) collect books. Andrew Carnegie ('Man of Steel') who appears to have been worth today's equivalent of $100 billion gave away a large part of this fortune to build public libraries. But did he collect books? Alot of wealthy men endow libraries and colleges and may have a 100 yards of fine leather bindings but do not actually collect books or care very much for them. The only modern moguls I have heard of that collect books are Malcolm Forbes, Bill Gates, Fred Koch, Paul Getty and James Goldsmith. Hopefully there are a few more. Forbes ('who dies with the most books wins') was a collector of many things but books were a passion. Gates is apparently extremely well read and collects manuscripts (eg the Leonardo Codex.) In an interview he refers to Scott Fitzgeralds' lines at the end of 'The Great Gatsby' about the green light*--an apposite image for him. He is so keen on Fitzgerald that he is known in some circles as 'The Great Gatesby.' 'Tender is the Night' is his favourite. Good call.
Getty is, of course, a fabulous collector and photos of his temperature-controlled English Country house library can be found in a recent glossy book about celebs and their book collections (Keith Richards, Nicholas Barker and other intellos.). He is said to have bought the $7 million Caxton Chaucer incunable that was recently auctioned, possibly to go next to his Kelmscott Chaucer (vellum, 1 of 3 copies.) At one time he was a considerable buyer of Pre Raphaelite books and manuscripts, with a taste also for William Blake. Such books are now beyond the grasp of mere millionaires. Fred Koch (oil) was always mentioned in the salerooms when any Nineties highspot came up--Wilde letters, Dowson holograph poems etc.,. He was also, reputedly, a heavy collector of livres d'artistes, a category he may have tired of, as many of these appeared to come back to auction in the mid 1990s.
James Goldsmith was reported as having upwards of 50,000 books at his mansion near Acapulco. He collected, among other things, travel books. A fellow dealer reports that he unerringly chose the best books on any subject, not necessarily the most expensive. However, when, due to demands on his time he delegated his book buying, his men merely chose books that looked good.
My favourite wealthy collector is the late Maundy Gregory. He was not a billionaire but had in the 1920s what amounted to a licence to print money. He sold honours. For £10,000 (about $1 million now) he could get you an earldom; knighthoods were a bit cheaper. You could, in fact, sign a cheque to him in your expected new name--only cashable when you assumed the title. He liked rare books, especially the works of the fantastical Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo.) In some cases (according to AJA Symons in 'Quest for Corvo') he would pay his agents to track down supposedly unfindable books, money no object. In the case of one particularly difficult book his agents hunted down the original printer, long defunct, and found four mint copies in a cellar. One wonders how much money it would take to track down a copy of James Joyce's first book 'Et tu Healy' (no copies known) or 'Questions at the Well' (Ford Madox Ford under the name Fenil Haig--only copy known was in the British Museum but has been stolen.)
*"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther....And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Amazing Breakthrough in Silicon Valley.
The new Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge device, otherwise known as the BOOK.
It's a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disk.
Here's how it works: each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. By using both sides of each sheet, manufacturers are able to cut costs in half.
Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The "Browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Most come with an "index" feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.
An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open the BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers.
Portable, durable and affordable, the BOOK is the entertainment wave of the future, and many new titles are expected soon, due to the surge in popularity of its programming tool, the Portable Erasable-Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Stylus.....
(Not sure where this came from--I think it was a benign spam that landed on my desk.) I've since found this is a kind of cyber-samizdat and is all over the web -- often in slightly different versions. This, of course, is the best bersion.
There's a lot of talk about literature being dominated by dead white males. I was reminded of this recently reading Charles Lamb's 'Essays of Elia.' Lamb is excoriating one Malone:-
". . .he bribed
the sexton of Stratford church to let him white-wash the painted effigy of
old Shakespeare, which stood there, in rude but lively fashion depicted, to
the very colour of the cheek, the eye, the hair, the eye-brow, hair, the very
dress he used to wear-the only authentic testimony we had, however imperfect,
of these curious parts and parcels of him. They covered him over with a coat
of white paint. By- if I had been a justice of peace for Warwickshire, I would
have clapt both commentator and sexton fast in the stocks, for a pair of meddling,
sacrilegious varlets. I think I see them at their work-these sapient trouble-tombs."
Further Startling Results From A Search Engine
There are consortiums of bookdealers on the Web who have systems allowing the collector to search through catalogues using key words.
They are considerate enough to have a file available of the number of searches made on key words (authors, titles, etc.). It gives an insight into the online book collector. There were some zany requests (do people really collect books on nesting dolls?) but these collectors are a serious, well-mannered group.
There is little interest in antiquarian books; they are primarily a 20th century crowd. Johnson, Byron, Dickens and Trollope hardly get a look in. There is a tendency towards science fiction, horror, cult and the ubiquitous 'hypermoderns.' The Roycrofters & Prairie Press attract noticeable interest, as does the town of Nantucket for some reason. There is naturally a strong U.S bias.
A caveat. Results can be 'contaminated,' e.g. if one collector searches daily for his favourite author or if a dealer has a single author collection that is frequently accessed. There is also a discernible emphasis among the dealers on speculative fiction (and undoubtedly among internet users at the moment).
Results were surprising often because of the authors who failed to get a significant showing. Christie, Wodehouse, Fleming-the triumvirate of collectible Brits have a very low profile and do not make my lists. Ezra Pound & T.S. Eliot are left 'fighting in the captain's tower' while Hemingway and Fitzgerald are also not on the cyber guest list. Churchill gets there, but mainly through a person or persons unknown searching for 'The World Crisis'-most likely the elusive volume six. I was unfamiliar with Peter Rabe who was 'bubbling under' with 10 searches (possibly all from the same rabid collector).
Findings are thus somewhat conjectural, but a definite tendency is discernible. See for yourself. I've divided the authors into 3 groups:
Things will change as more data comes in-hierarchies will shift and freak results ('sports' is the scientific word) will manifest themselves. Dealers who stock all of the above are on the right track in cyberspace. This is a mixed bunch. Churchill & Anne Rice are strange bedfellows and I'm not sure whether Jeffers would have invited Doc Savage for tea at his tower in old Carmel.
The world's first 'booktown' was Hay-on-Wye (Hereford, English-welsh Border). It was established by an eccentric semi-genius by the name of Richard Booth in 1961. If booktowns existed in former centuries, I'd like to hear about them.
Sometimes referred to as a 'graveyard for books' or as 'way on High' Booth's enterprise has flourished and it is an amusing place to visit now and then. There are a tremendous amount of slightly overpriced 'dogs' (very common books) on its shelves, but an occasional gem can be found and some great libraries have ended up there. Booth is the only dealer I have heard of to have bought a royal library, albeit European royalty.
There are now a number of booktowns in this world. Here is as complete a list as I was able to obtain:--
There are plans for booktowns in Israel, Finland, Denmark and Scotland. (Wigtown, now open and thriving.)
Stillwater & Archer City although at present only sporting a few bookshops have decided to call themselves booktowns. That is really what makes a booktown--the decision to proclaim itself as such. Some towns, like Ann Arbor, have many bookshops but are not called booktowns.
Essentially there should be little else going on except the selling of old books. Hay has become a major tourist attraction, with many other shops; it may be making the unfortunate transition to 'Heritage' town.
Richard Booth has a web site about 'The International Booktown Movement' where he offers 'tailor-made packages ... which have lead to the speedy success of a starting booktown or bookshop.' He also offers a 'booktown consultancy service'. I guess if you are looking for advice on booktowns, you could do no better than to talk to the King of Hay. After all, giving advice is a bookseller's favourite pastime.
My advice? Go there once in every lifetime. If the books are a bore the surrounding countryside is adequate compensation.
A Blind Road Maker
In the 19th century there was a spate of books about eccentric characters, oddballs and cranks. From a small book, "The Book of Oddities" by William Andrews, 1882, I have extracted this biography of a great character, "Blind Jack of Knaresborough" (John Metcalf).
He was born on the 15th. August, 1717, at Knaresborough, Yorkshire. At the age of six years he lost his sight by smallpox, and six months after his recovery he was able to go from his home to the end of the street, and return without the aid of company. At about the age of nine years he joined the other boys in their bird nesting exploits, he seeking nests and climbing trees to share the plunder . When he had reached thirteen summers he was taught music, and soon became a proficient performer; he also learned to read, swim, and was passionately fond of field sports. At the age of manhood it is said his mind possessed a self-dependence rarely enjoyed by those who heave the perfect use of their faculties; his body was well proportioned to his mind, for, when twenty-one years of age, he was six feet one-and-a-half inches in height strong and robust in proportion.
We may mention that one day Metcalf being wishful to obtain a little fish, he without aid drew a net measuring 80 yards in length in the deepest part of the river Wharfe for three hours together. At one time he held the lines in his mouth, being obliged to swim.
Respecting the river Wharfe and old Yorkshire couplet tells us that the
Wharfe is clear, and the Aire lithe,
At the age of twenty-five he was engaged as a musician at Harrogate. About this time he was frequently employed during the dark nights as a guide over the moors and wilds, then abundant in the neighbourhood of Knaresborough. He was a lover of horse-racing, and often rode his own steeds at the races. His horses he so trained that when he called them by their respective names they came to him, so he was able to find his own amongst any number, and without trouble. Particulars of the marriage of this individual read like a romance. A Miss Benson, daughter of an innkeeper, reciprocated the affections of our hero; however, the suitor did not please the parents of the fair lady, and they selected a Mr. Dickinson for her future husband. Metcalf hearing that the object of his affection was to be married to next day to the young man favoured by her father, he hastened to free her, and induce to damsel to eloped with him. Next day they were made man and wife, to the great surprise of all who know them, and to the disappointment of the intended son-in-law. To all it was a matter of wonder how so handsome a woman, the pride of the place, could link her future with "Blind Jack," reject many good offers, and accept him. The bride set the matter at rest by saying: "His actions are so singular, and his spirit so manly and enterprising, that I could not help liking him."
At Harrogate he continued to give his musical performances in the season; he, at the place, for public accommodation, set up a four-wheel chaise and a one-horse chaise. It is worthy of note, he was the first to establish these for visitors. For two seasons he kept his carriages, but the innkeepers commencing to run vehicles he gave them up, as he also did racing and hunting. He next bought horses, and went to the coast for fish, which he took to Leeds and Manchester. We are told he was so indefatigable that he would frequently walk for two nights and a day with little or no rest; for, as a family was coming on , he was as eager for business as had been for diversion, still keeping up his spirits as the Giver of Goodness blessed him with good health.
Next we find, when the rebellion of 1745 broke out in Scotland, "Blind Jack" joined a regiment of volunteers, raised by Colonel Thomas Thornton, an patriotic gentleman, for the defence of the House of Hanover, shared with them all the danger of the campaign, defeated at Falkirk, victorious at Culloden. It is said Jack afterwards carried on a small contraband trade, between the ports on the east coast and the interior, as well as in galloways from Scotland, in which he met with many strange adventures. He was the first to set up (in 1754) a stage waggon between York and Knaresborough; this he conducted himself twice a week in summer and once a week in winter. This employment he continued until he commence to contract for making rods. His first contract was for making three miles of road between Minskep and Ferrensby. After this he constructed hundred of miles of road in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire; bridges and houses he also erected. He was a dealer in timber and hay which he measured, and calculated the solid contents, by a peculiar method of his own. The hay he always measured with his arms, and having learnt the height he could soon tell the number of cubic yards in any stack. When he went out he always carried with him a stout staff, some inches taller than himself, which was of great service both in his travel and measurements.
In the "Memoirs of the literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester," vol. I., Metcalf is referred to as follows:--His present occupation is that of a projector and surveyor of highways, in difficult and mountainous parts. With the assistance only of a long staff, I have several time met these man, traversing the roads, ascending precipices, exploring valleys, and investigating their several extents, forms, and situations, so as to answer his designs in the best manner. The plans which he designed, and the estimates which he makes, are done in a method peculiar to himself, and which he cannot well convey the meaning of to others. His abilities in this respect are nevertheless so great that he find constant employment. Most of the roads over the Peak, in Derbyshire, have been altered by his directions, particularly those in the vicinity of Buxton; and he is at this time constructing a new one between Wilmslow and Congleton, with a view to open a communication with the great London-road without being obliged to pass over the mountain."
In 1792 he left Lancashire, and settled at Spofforth, a pleasant rural village not far distant form the town of his nativity, where he resided with a daughter on a small farm until he died. At the cost of Lord Dundas a headstone was placed to his memory in Spofforth churchyard. It bears the following interesting inscription, giving a summary of his life and character:--
Here lies John Metcalf, one whose infant sight
We may add, his wife died in the summer of 1778, after 39 years of conjugal felicity, in the 61st year of her age, and was interred at Stockport.
Blind Jack at present is almost unindexed on the web. However, the worthy Gutenberg Project mentions him in an old book on gaming that they have generously placed on their site. It is rather a gruesome gambling story where Blind Jack outruns a man on a horse. Some of his roads are still in use....