I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books . . .

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14 East 95th St.
New York City
October 5, 1949

Marks & Co.
84, Charing Cross Road
London, WC2
England

Gentlemen:
Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase ‘antiquarian booksellers’ scares me somewhat, as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble’s grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies. I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?

Very truly yours,
Helene Hanff
(Miss) Helene Hanff

. . .

MARKS & CO., Booksellers
84, Charing Cross Road
London WC2

25th October 1949

Miss Helene Hanff
14 East 95th Street
New York 28, New York
USA

Dear Madam,
In reply to your letter of October 5th, we have managed to clear up two thirds of your problem. The three Hazlitt essays you want are contained in the Nonesuch Press edition of his Selected Essays and the Stevenson is found in Virginibus Puerisque. We are sending nice copies of both these by Book Post and we trust they will arrive safely in due course and that you will be pleased with them. Our invoice is enclosed with the books. The Leigh Hunt essays are not going to be so easy but we will see if we can find an attractive volume with them all in. We haven’t the Latin Bible you describe but we have a Latin New Testament, also a Greek New Testament, ordinary modern editions in cloth binding. Would you like these?

Yours faithfully,
FPD
For MARKS & CO.

. . .

14 East 95th St.
New York City

November 3, 1949

Marks & Co.
84, Charing Cross Road
London, WC2
England

Gentlemen:
The books arrived safely, the Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves, I’m almost afraid to handle such soft vellum and heavy cream-colored pages. Being used to the dead-white paper and stiff cardboardy covers of American books, I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.

A Britisher whose girl lives upstairs translated the £1/17/6 for me and says I owe you $5.30 for the two books. I hope he got it right. I enclose a $5 bill and a single, please use the 70c toward the price of the New Testaments, both of which I want.

Will you please translate your prices hereafter? I don’t add too well in plain American, I haven’t a prayer of ever mastering bilingual arithmetic.

Yours,
Helene Hanff

I hope ‘madam’ doesn’t mean over there what it does here.

. . .

MARKS & CO., Booksellers
84, Charing Cross Road
London WC2

Miss Helene Hanff
14 East 95th Street
New York 28, New York
USA

Dear Miss Hanff,

Your six dollars arrived safely, but we should feel very much easier if you would send your remittances by postal money order in future, as this would be quite a bit safer for you than entrusting dollar bills to the mails.

We are very happy you liked the Stevenson so much. We have sent off the New Testaments, with an invoice listing the amount due in both pounds and dollars, and we hope you will be pleased with them.

Yours faithfully,
FPD
For MARKS & CO.

. . .

14 East 95th St.
November 18, 1949

WHAT KIND OF A BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS?

Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words.

It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself. But I have a Catholic sister-in-law, a Methodist sister-in-law, a whole raft of Presbyterian cousins (through my Great-Uncle Abraham who converted) and an aunt who’s a Christian Science healer, and I like to think none of them would countenance this Anglican Latin Bible if they knew it existed. (As it happens, they don’t know Latin existed.)

Well, the hell with it. I’ve been using my Latin teacher’s Vulgate, what I imagine I’ll do is just not give it back till you find me one of my own.

I enclose $4 to cover the $3.88 due you, buy yourself a cup of coffee with the 12c. There’s no post office near here and I am not running all the way down to Rockefeller Plaza to stand in line for a $3.88 money order. If I wait till I get down there for something else, I won’t have the $3.88 any more. I have implicit faith in the US Airmail and His Majesty’s Postal Service.

Have you got a copy of Landor’s Imaginary Conversations? I think there are several volumes, the one I want is the one with the Greek conversations. If it contains a dialogue between Aesop and Rhodope, that’ll be the volume I want.

Extract from 84, Charing Cross Road © Helene Hanff 1971


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