(This is taken from W. Roberts' The Book-Hunter in London.)
At the latter part of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, several booksellers had established themselves in Bond Street and Pall Mall. One of the best known is John Parker, 'an honest, good-natured man,' with whom was apprenticed, in 1713, Henry Baker, the antiquary, a friend of John Nichols. Parker's shop was in Pall Mall. At No. 29, New Bond Street, in 1730, we find J. Brindley, a reputable bookseller of his time, and who was one of a society formed in 1736 'for the encouragement of learning,' which had a chequered and an undignified career. His shop was at the sign of the Feathers, and in 1747 he describes himself as 'Bookseller to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.' The only example of his catalogue which we have seen is dated 1747, and it includes 4,289 lots, among which were long selections of books at 1s. each, or 10s. per dozen, and of others at 6d. each or 5s. per dozen. Brindley was succeeded in 1759 by his apprentice, a much more celebrated bibliopole, James Robson, who built up a very extensive connection and died in 1806. In company with James Edwards and Peter Molini (the Exotic Bookseller of Beloe), Robson, in 1788, undertook a journey to Venice for the purpose of examining the famous Pinelli Library, which was purchased for about £7,000; it was safely transferred to London and sold by auction in Conduit Street, the total result being £9,356. A large number of more or less famous collections of books passed through Robson's hands, notably those of Sir John Evelyn; Edward Spelman, the translator of Xenophon; the Duke of Newcastle (1770); W. Mackworth Praed (1772); Joseph Smith, Consul at Venice; Dr. Samuel Musgrave; J. Murray, Ambassador at Constantinople. Messrs. Robson and Clark were succeeded early in this century by Nornaville and Fell, who in 1830 made way for T. and W. Boone, who were, as we have said, succeeded by Mr. F. S. Ellis; it is interesting to note that this house had been in the occupation of booksellers for over a century and a half.
The bookselling fraternity had, however, obtained no definite footing until shortly after the middle of the eighteenth century, when James Almon began to acquire notoriety, his political fearlessness more than once bringing him at loggerheads with the authorities. When he first came to London, he worked as a printer at Watts', in Wild's Court, Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he had the frame which had been occupied by Benjamin Franklin. His shop was opposite Burlington House, and for many years this was the meeting-place of the leading Whig politicians. He died in 1805, and was succeeded by J. Debrett, a name still associated with publishing.
During the last few years of the last century, and probably in consequence of the greatly improved condition of the place, Piccadilly and neighbourhood became favourite spots with booksellers, the more notable being James Ridgway, whose 'repository of loyalty' was in York Street, St. James's Square, who died in 1838, aged eighty-three years; T. Hookham, Old Bond Street; and Stockdale, whose name will be for ever associated with that of Erskine in connection with the liberty of the press. Stockdale's shop, No. 178, Piccadilly, was for a long time in the possession of Thomas Thorpe; the place has since been rebuilt. R. Faulder, of New Bond Street, also deserves mention as being one of forty booksellers against whom actions were brought for selling the 'Baviad and Mæviad.' He is the Cunning Bookseller of Beloe, and appears to have been one of the most assiduous frequenters of 'forced' sales of household furniture, etc., where he often happened on books of rarity and value. He 'accumulated a very large property and retired,' but the auri sacra fames pursued him to the end. William Clarke, of New Bond Street, best remembered as the compiler of that very valuable work, 'Repertorium Bibliographicum,' 1819, was established as a bookseller in 1793. During the second half of the last century Samuel Parker and Walter Shropshire were selling second-hand books in New Bond Street. Thomas Beet, who retired from business ten years ago, was a well-known bookseller of Bond Street and Conduit Street, and was a considerable purchaser at the leading auction sales. He frequently had the honour of submitting various special old books for the inspection of the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other members of the Royal Family, whilst his shop in Conduit Street was a very popular resort of bookish men.
Robert Dodsley, of Tully's Head, is one of the most famous of the Pall Mall booksellers. His shop was next to the passage leading into King Street, and now known as Pall Mall Place. He is perhaps better remembered as an author and compiler than as a bookseller, and best of all as a friend of Dr. Johnson, Pope, Spence, and other literary celebrities; he it was who first urged Johnson to start the famous 'Dictionary.' Dodsley died in 1764, and his business was taken over by his brother James, who survived the founder thirty-three years. The celebrated firm of G. and W. Nicol, booksellers to his Majesty, for many years carried on in Pall Mall in Dodsley's shop, originated with David Wilson and his nephew George Nicol, who started in the Strand about 1773, and who sold, inter alia, the library of Dr. Henry Sacheverell. George Nicol married the niece of the first Alderman Boydell, and was one of the executors of James Dodsley, who left him a legacy of £1,000. He is described as 'a most agreeable companion,' as a member of many of the literary clubs of his day, and enjoyed the friendly confidence of the Duke of Roxburghe, Duke of Grafton, and other eminent book-lovers. He died in Pall Mall, 1829, aged eighty-eight years. Nicol's stock was sold by auction at Evans's in 1825.
The most ancient book-business in Piccadilly is that of Hatchard's, which dates back to 1797. It was started by John Hatchard, who had been an assistant at Tom Payne's. Hatchard was patronized by Queen Charlotte, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Canning, and Dr. Keate. Hatchard is the Godly Bookseller of Beloe; he was a Conservative, dressed like a bishop, and published for Hannah More and the Evangelicals. Zachary Macaulay, Wilberforce, and the other opponents of slavery, once involved Hatchard in a libel action, in which he was found guilty. Hatchard published for Crabbe and for Tupper, and, according to Mr. Humphreys' interesting 'Piccadilly Bookmen,' Liston, Charles Kemble, and other actors, frequented the shop. So did the Duke of Wellington, who, 'when the library of the Duke's brother was sold at Evans's Auction Rooms in Pall Mall, where now stands the Carlton Club . . . sent several open commissions for books which he wished secured. Among these was a shilling pamphlet by A. G. Stapleton, with the late owner's notes in pencil. This was put up at 2s. 6d., and ultimately knocked down for £93 to Hatchard, the under-bidder being Sir A. Alison. The Duke, though very much astonished at the price such a mere fragment had fetched, yet admired the obedience to his orders.' The Horticultural Society took its rise in a meeting at Hatchard's, and he also seems to have lent his premises to the 'Outinian Society,' a species of matrimonial agency, which did not last long; but the wonder is how so respectable and cautious a personage ever harboured it. Among his assistants were Fraser, afterwards noted for his magazine, and Tilt.
The two great second-hand booksellers of the Piccadilly of the latter half of the present century are James Toovey and Bernard Quaritch. Toovey's shop at 177, Piccadilly (once occupied by William Pickering, the famous publisher), was for about forty years a favourite haunt of booksellers, for Toovey was a bibliophile as well as a bibliopole. His whole life was spent among books. He was apprenticed at fourteen to a bookseller, and for some time had a shop of his own in St. James's Street. He published Newman's 'Lives of the English Saints,' and other works by the leaders of the Tractarian movement, in addition to a very fine reprint of the 'Aberdeen Breviary,' of the original of which only four imperfect copies exist. An obituary notice describes him as 'very particularly the great authority on bindings. He made a strong speciality in old French red morocco bindings, and during his frequent visits to France brought back large buyings of them. Toovey bought notable books, but unless they had the second qualification of being in a good state, and the bindings valuable, he was less anxious about them. Given a notable book in a notable binding, he would buy it at almost any cost. When the present Mr. James Toovey—James Toovey fils—came into the business, he made a feature of those quaint sport and pastime books which every stroller along the south side of Piccadilly has been wont to stay and look at in Toovey's window. Ten years before his death the old man retired from the business in favour of his son, but his devotion to rare books and rare bindings was his ruling passion to the last. Toovey's, during its career, has known all the prominent book-hunters and a legion of eminent people who have been more than book-collectors. In the leisured times, Toovey's, like Hatchard's further along the street, was something of a resort for literary folk generally, and many people we who are younger are familiar with have been accustomed to find their way across Toovey's doorstep. Mr. Gladstone has visited the shop, and so has Cardinal Manning, and Prince Lucien Bonaparte, and Henry Huth often.' Having acquired a considerable fortune in business, he was able to indulge in the luxury, rare amongst booksellers, of collecting a private library for his own entertainment. He retired from active business several years ago, and passed his remaining days in the ever-delightful society of his bibliographical treasures. He died in September, 1893, in his eightieth year, and his stock of books came under the hammer at Sotheby's in March, 1894, when 3,200 lots realized just over £7,090. His very choice private library is still in the possession of his son, and among its chief cornerstones is the finest First Folio Shakespeare known. Toovey, like the elder Boone, secured many excessively rare books during his personal visits to the Continent. Pickering's son, Basil Montagu Pickering, remained with Toovey for a few years after his father retired, but eventually opened a shop on his own account at 196, Piccadilly, next to St. James's Church, and possessed at one time and another many exceedingly rare books. The name is still continued under the title of Pickering and Chatto, of 66, Haymarket, who continue to use the Aldine device employed both by William Pickering and his son. There is no Pickering in the present firm.
Of all second-hand booksellers, living or dead, Bernard Quaritch is generally conceded to be the king. Mr. Quaritch was born in 1819 at Worbis, Prussia, and after serving an apprenticeship to a bookseller came over to England in 1842, and obtained employment at H. G. Bohn's, with whom he remained (exclusive of two years in Paris) until 1847. He left Bohn's in April of that year, with the observation: 'Mr. Bohn, you are the first bookseller in England, but I mean to be the first bookseller in Europe.' Quaritch started with only his savings as capital, and his first catalogue was nothing more than a broadside, with the titles of about 400 books, the average price of which ranged from 1s. 6d. to 2s. His first big move was made in 1858, when the Bishop of Cashel's library was sold, when he purchased a copy of the Mazarin Bible for £595. In the same year appeared his first large catalogue of books, which comprised nearly 5,000 articles; two years later his catalogue had increased from 182 to 408 pages, and included close on 7,000 articles; in 1868 his complete catalogue consisted of 1,080 pages, and 15,000 articles; in 1880 it had extended to 2,395 pages, describing 28,000 books; but seven years later his General Catalogue consisted of 4,500 pages, containing 40,000 articles. As a purchaser, Mr. Quaritch puts the whilom considered gigantic purchases of Thomas Thorpe entirely into the shade. In July, 1873, he purchased the non-scientific part of the Royal Society's Norfolk Library; a few weeks later at the Perkins sale he bought books and manuscripts to the extent of £11,000; at the sale of Sir W. Tite's books in 1874 the Quaritch purchases amounted to £9,500; at the two Didot sales in 1878 and 1879 his purchases exceeded £11,000 in value; at the Beckford sale in 1882 a little more than half of the total (£86,000) was secured by Mr. Quaritch; at the Sunderland sale, 1881-83, Mr. Quaritch's bill came to over £33,000; at all the other great sales of the past twenty years the largest buyer has invariably been 'B. Q.' In an announcement 'To Book Lovers in all Parts of the World,' the Napoleon of bibliophiles makes the following statement: 'I am desirous of becoming recognised as their London agent by all men outside of England who want books.
The need of such an agent is frequently felt abroad by the heads of literary institutions, librarians, and book-lovers generally. They shrink from giving trouble to a bookseller in matters which require more attention and effort than the mere furnishing of some specific article in his stock, and they must often wish that it were possible to have the services of a man of ability and experience at their constant command. Such services I freely offer to anyone who chooses to employ them; no fee is required to obtain them, and not a fraction will be added to the cost of the supplies. The friendly confidence which is necessarily extended to one's agent at a distance will undoubtedly in time bring an ample return for my labours, but so far as the present is concerned, I ask for nothing but the pleasure of attending to the wants of those who are as yet without an agent in London. Whether the books to be procured through my intervention be rare or common, single items or groups, the gems of literature and art or the popular books of the day, I shall be happy to work in every way for book-lovers of every degree. Commissions of any kind may be entrusted to me; I will venture to guarantee satisfaction in every case, even in the delicate matter of getting books appropriately bound. It may likewise be well to state that my offer of agency extends to the selling of foreign books here, as well as to the supply of English books hence.' There is not much that is architecturally beautiful about Mr. Quaritch's shop at 15, Piccadilly, but its interest to the book-lover needs but little emphasis after what has been said. Like all great men, Bernard Quaritch has his little eccentricities, into which we need not now enter. We apologize to him for publishing the following extract, which is, however, not our own, but comes (of course) from an American source: 'Bernard Quaritch's antiquated hat is a favourite theme with London and other bookmen. A committee of the Grolier Club once made a marvellous collection of newspaper clippings about it, and a member of the Société des Bibliophiles Contemporains wrote a tragedy which was a parody of Aeschylus. In this tragedy Power and Force and the god Hephaistos nail the hat on Mr. Quaritch's head, like the Titan on the summit of overhanging rocks. Divinities of the Strand and Piccadilly, in the guise of Oceanidæ, try to console the hat; but less fortunate than Prometheus, the hat knows it is for ever nailed, and not to be rescued by Herakles. However, tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse, as Dumas said, for Mr. Quaritch has bought a new hat, and a journal of London announces that the epic hat is enshrined in glass in the bibliopole's drawing-room.'
One of the most modern of book-thoroughfares deserves a brief reference here. Charing Cross Road has for some years been a popular and successful resort of booksellers and book-hunters. It is within convenient reach of both the Strand and Holborn, and is only two or three minutes' walk from Piccadilly Circus. The books offered for sale here are, for the most part, priced at exceedingly moderate rates. Mr. Bertram Dobell may be regarded as the chief of the trade here, possessing, as he does, two large shops well filled with books of all descriptions. Mr. Dobell's catalogues are very carefully compiled, and possess a literary flavour by no means common; his lists of privately-printed books form a most valuable contribution to the bibliography of the subject. Mr. John Lawler, for many years chief cataloguer at Puttick's, and more recently at Sotheby's, had a shop in Charing Cross Road, which he has just given up; and Mr. A. E. Cooper, who makes a speciality of first editions of modern authors and curious and out-of-the-way books, both French and English.
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