Horn-rims and Baggy Chords

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In George Ramsden’s quiet secondhand bookshop, Stone Trough Books, in York, he normally has a publishing job on the go as well. Editing (letters of Siegfried Sassoon at the moment) and book-design absorb him to the extent that he may barely notice when a customer comes in. Indeed, with his horn-rimmed spectacles under a shock of rigid hair, and a manner combining chivalry with extreme vagueness, he has the air of a startled hedgehog when spotted beyond the bookstacks. His series of catalogues – a leisurely fifteen spread over twenty years – are typographically understated, without colour illustration and with only scant recommendation of the books, but nevertheless beautifully designed, as are his own publications. He confesses to being a complete amateur as regards design but his life has become infused with the subject, and he now ponders title-pages, wine-labels, logos on lorries, sheet-music covers, even shop fascias, with an unusual degree of discernment.

I first met George when he was running his shop at the bottom of Camberwell Grove in south London, the target of many a Saturday expedition in the 1980s. It was rather a long haul from Islington, and spirits would sometimes flag as we crawled in a tailback along the Walworth Road, only to pick up again at the sight of Camberwell Green and the thought of Stone Trough just round the corner. Not that we ever received an effusive welcome from the diffident George – but somehow we felt, deep down, that he probably was rather pleased to see us. Indeed if we timed our visit around lunchtime he might lock up the shop and meet us halfway, in the ramshackle basement of a vast and gloomy antiques shop, where we would lunch on Irish stew and a bottle or two of red wine, while business presumably languished back at the ranch – Saturday must, after all, have been his busiest day.

Stone Trough Books was a small two-roomed shop but somehow it stocked everything you had ever wanted to read, and lots of b

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About the contributor

Ariane Banks works as a publisher and editor, and can never resist buying three books for every two she reads.

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