Category Archives: booksellers (antiquarian)

The unsung heroes of our culture

A dying trade

Precarious lives of Britain’s few remaining sellers of second-hand books

Dalrymple writes:

I remain firm in my admiration of those who do not work exclusively or even principally for money; and among the latter must surely be English provincial sellers of second-hand books.

Theirs is

a dying trade, and entering their shops – now, alas, fewer and fewer – one cannot help but wonder whether it ever truly lived. As long as I can remember, which is now quite a long time, they have been cold with a kind of irredeemable cold, an absence of warmth upon which no paraffin heater, no pre-war single bar electric heater (of the kind favoured by booksellers), no clement weather, can make the slightest impression.

When you take a book from a shelf of one of these bookshops,

you get a puff of cold air in the face, as well as of dust, as if you had opened a mediæval tomb complete with a curse against grave-robbers. One associates dust with dry heat, but this, at least where English provincial second-hand bookshops is concerned, is a mistake. They contrive to be cold, dusty and damp at the same time.

Dalrymple finds it remarkable that

in so materialistic an age as our own people can be found who not only spend, but want to spend, and cannot conceive of not spending, their working lives in such conditions, and all for little monetary reward.

True,

they are more or less protected by their avocation from the seamier and more violent side of modern society; burglars and armed robbers in even the worst areas for crime do not think to break into second-hand bookshops; and the comings and going of governments do not trouble them. Not for them, either, the shadow-boxing of modern party politics, in which one political mountebank sets himself up as the last bastion against the depredations of another, in truth not very dissimilar, mountebank.

Rather,

they concern themselves with the eternal verities of light foxing, cocking, small tears to dust jackets, and the like. The worst that can happen to them is a gentle slide into insolvency as rents rise (all such shops are now found in the unlikeliest places because they can survive only where rents are low) and readers decline – both in number and in discrimination. For my money (of which, incidentally, they have taken a lot down the ages) they are the unsung heroes of our culture.

Happier times

Utility of Arnold Schönberg

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The old second-hand booksellers — the real pros now wiped out, of course, by the state-subsidised fake-charity shops — used to regard their customers, Dalrymple points out,

largely with contempt.

You knew you were in an ice-cream butcher’s if the seller was in any degree courteous. If he was curt, supercilious and rude, you knew the place was the real thing.

The owner of one bookshop Dalrymple used to visit

so hated his customers that he would sometimes play Schönberg very loudly to clear the shop of them. It was a very effective technique.

Save the Aid Workers

State-funded Save the Children's grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London:

State-funded Save the Children’s grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London: salaries can reach nearly £140,000

A bogus charity

The Save the Children Fund, Dalrymple points out, is

not a charity at all, as many similar charities are not. It is a department of state, or at least of the politico-bureaucratic class.

Last year, Dalrymple notes, Save the Children

received nearly two-thirds of its income from governmental or quasi-governmental sources. The British government and the European Union were by far its largest donors. Without such funding it would cease to exist.

Creature of the British State

There are more than 880 employees at Save the Children’s headquarters. The wages bill last year of those employed plus the costs of raising voluntary (privately donated) funds was equal to just over 84 percent of those latter funds; raising the funds alone cost just short of 29 percent of the funds raised.

By the standards of commercial companies, the wage structure was not particularly regressive: the average salary was £27,000, while the two most highly paid received just less than £140,000.

Flush with taxpayers' cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Flush with taxpayers’ cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Without state funding, Save the Children

would have had just £17m over and above its wage and fund-raising costs. Its brochure says that it raised £370m last year, without mentioning that £228m came from government sources.

In short, says Dalrymple, employees of this fake charity are

publicly funded bureaucrats.

Save the Children has, it should be added, played a leading role in attacking the livelihoods of British second-hand bookshop owners and staff. Among the victims of Save the Children and other disingenuous ‘charities’ are those who used to run second-hand bookshops in, for instance, small towns (as distinct from exclusively ‘antiquarian’ operators serving collectors, or those dealing solely on the internet).

Indeed, many have given up their shops and have shifted to dealing solely on the internet, because the state-funded counterfeit-charity shops like Save the Children with their free book donations make it impossible to compete.

Thus is a worthy trade sabotaged.