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2003-12, 340, Bibliography, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

Book Review

The Pleasures of Bibliography: Fifty Years of The Book Collector – An Anthology. London: British Library, 2003. 310pp. Hard. 35 pounds. ISBN 0712347798

The Book Collector is generally regarded as the establishment journal for book collectors and bibliographers with its engrossing mix of scholarly articles, comments and reviews. It has not had an easy financial passage as evidenced in the forward by A. S. G. Edwards. The Book Collector was founded in 1952 but owed much in the early period to the financial support of Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. As Edwards states, “the role of Bond in modern bibliophily ought to be properly acknowledged”.

The Pleasures of Bibliophily commemorates fifty years of The Book Collector with a chronological sequence of twenty-seven articles from the journal. The names read like a Who’s Who of the worlds of bibliography and book collecting – in the past Bill Jackson, Graham Pollard, James Osborn and A.N.L. Munby, with Alan Bell, David McKitterich and Peter Beal representing the next generation. Key players in those early years were Philip Gaskell, Percy Muir (1894-1979) and John Hayward (1905-1965). The latter being represented by two articles on Giordano Bruno. John Carter (1905-1974) strengthened the editorial board but a key player for most of its history was/is Nicolas Barker who became editor at the age of thirty two in 1965. As Edwards notes, Barker has ensured that four issues appeared punctually every year totalling over 150 volumes, many with leaders, reviews and sections of news and comment by him – an “editorial marathon”.

In that context it is rather disappointing that Barker’s piece from the Winter 1999 issue of The Book Collector is tantalisingly brief. It would have been helpful if Barker had been persuaded to contribute a longer piece for this fiftieth anniversary volume. Barker’s “Thoughts on Scoring a Century” is taken from the Winter 1999 issue. His concluding comments on trends in the book trade and book collecting could thus have been updated with his reflections on the impact of the Internet. This is only a relatively minor quibble as this sumptuously printed book, with numerous black and white illustrations, provides a number of bibliophilic treasures. These include articles such as the recollections by Philip Robinson of the purchase of the Phillipps Collection and Arthur Freeman on Harry Widener’s Last Books. The short biographies of collectors, which include pieces on Geoffrey Keynes and Martin Bodmer, are always fascinating, but none more so than Alan Thomas’s recollections, published in the issue for Winter 1979, of the eccentric collector Solomon Pottesman, universally known as “potty”.

The descriptions of Pottesman’s lifestyle and his book purchasing are almost beyond belief in the present era – for example, fearing that his lavatory system might burst and flood his books, he had it disconnected and always flushed the lavatory with a bucket! His habit of keeping warm in bad weather by covering his chest with old copies of The Times and increasingly “festooning” himself with greasy brown paper parcels, in which books were stored, led to long queues at the old British Museum reading room security entrances!

For those unfamiliar with The Book Collector this will be a mouth watering introduction. For those who possess the periodical, The Pleasures of Bibliophily constitutes a wonderful memento of the best in bibliography and book collecting at an extremely reasonable price.

Colin Steele

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