Marginal Notes 15: Adventuring abroad

Marginal Notes 15: Adventuring abroad

Tuesday, Mar 26, 2024

I can’t recall why, on my very first overseas book buying trip to England in 1971, I decided to travel via the USA – including a visit to Disneyland. It was not as if Disney characters had been a major part of my childhood fantasy world. It was probably something organised by my travel agent, based on air fares. In hindsight, however, I now realise that the American part of my journey left lasting impressions. My first stop was Hawaii, where I visited a bookshop in Honolulu. My diary of the time records my first real encounter with rampant foxing (the term describing the ugly brown or rust coloured spots often seen in books kept in humid conditions or climates). The bookshop I visited had some lovely illustrated books which I wanted to buy but most if not all were very heavily foxed. My diary note to myself, recorded in capital letters, was ‘Conclusion: condition is of prime importance when buying – and should be  stressed in our shop at home; as we are fortunate to have most books in good condition’. This goal was reinforced when I visited the bookshop of John Scopazzi in San Francisco - beautiful upper floor premises, with armed guard at the ground floor entrance to the building, run by a true gentleman and a great bookseller. All of John’s stock, which included private press books and fine literary first editions, was in excellent condition, with no negative descriptions being necessary in his catalogue entries. I named this the ‘Scopazzi standard’ and resolved to try to emulate it as much as possible.

The other lasting impression of my visit to America was one of loneliness. When I first arrived in Anaheim prior to my Disneyland experience,  I entered my hotel room and saw the telephone light flashing. I rushed to hear a message from my family – but it was a message for the previous occupant of the room. This sense of loneliness was exacerbated the next day at Disneyland when I flew over a reconstructed rooftop of London in a teacup meant for two.

My experiences in England were a mixture of the good, the bad and the unusual. The good was buying some wonderful stock and meeting established booksellers such as Anthony Rota and Bill Duck who became lifelong friends. The bad was the negative reaction of many of the ‘established’ book trade towards a young, unknown female from the antipodes who was not a member of the international Antiquarian  Booksellers Association. And one of several unusual experiences was being met at Hereford Station by the self-styled ‘King of Hay-on-Wye’ and ‘Emperor of the World’s Second-hand Book Town’, Richard Booth, who drove me in his Rolls-Royce to his castle in Hay-on-Wye (originally constructed as part of the Norman invasion of Wales), where he showed me my overnight accommodation as the sole occupant of the castle.

My first adventure abroad finished with a ‘Global tour of Europe’ – a whistle-stop bus trip through a large number of countries, and a few days in Greece.