B. Lodge illustration - Glynn Frewer, on second-hand bookselling

Turning a Page

Share this

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

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

The leaving card Glyn Frewer’s advertising agency gave him on retirement bore a cartoon captioned: ‘Books Bought, Books Sold, Books Written, Book Mad’ – which was about right.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

reading mode