My father was a bibliophile, a bibliographer and a university librarian for fifty years, and I cannot remember a time when I was without books. It was inevitable, therefore, that I should grow up with an ambition to own and run a bookshop. After thirty years in advertising, I bought a small haberdashery called Stuff & Nonsense in Stow-on-the-Wold. I stripped it of all the racks, previously filled with green anoraks, rolls of furniture fabric, strange hats with earflaps that pulled down or bobbles that stood up, shooting-sticks, carved thumb-sticks and pink wellingtons, and fitted it out with bookshelves.
I had already amassed a heterogeneous collection of about a thousand books so that I wouldn’t open with empty shelves. I sat at a small desk facing the front door and the window, where I displayed a varied selection of come-hither titles. An Austrian cow-bell jangled bucolically every time the door opened; in the desk drawer, a cigarbox served as a till and a Balkan Sobranie tobacco tin held coins for change. I was ready.
Customers began to trickle in, encouraging me by saying they were pleased that a second-hand bookshop had opened in the town. Many came in (including the then Foreign Secretary) with plastic bags filled with books they had been waiting to get rid of, and before long I was being asked to visit the homes of people who were about to move, to help them clear out their books. Reinforced by a lifetime of browsing in second-hand bookshops, I found I had little difficulty in judging how to price them.
But not all the time. A small booklet published in India, The Art of Taxidermy: Mounting the Tiger by G. and M. Patel, I had priced at 50p. A lady (and she really was, she was titled) seized the book from the shelves with a cry of delight.
‘How extraordinary! These two brothers stuffed all my husband’s trophies. I must take this. How much is it?’
I indicated the pencilled price.
‘Is that all? I’d have paid £5
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