Lucius Books Blog

A380 to California or On a Wing and a Prayer

“It’s only got one wing. Don’t get on it. It won’t work.” – Paul Foster

29th January: Setting off for two bookfairs in California, our books in shipping trunks were dispatched a week ago, now it’s our turn to head over the pond. We arrive at our gate to find our aircraft for the 11 hour flight to Los Angeles is a brand spanking new Airbus A380, the double decker and one of the most efficient passenger airplanes in the sky. Despite my best efforts and obvious excitement I was unable to enthuse Georgina about our lucky break!

New machine-based facilities at LAX meant that we were through immigration in record time and at the baggage belt before the suitcases. Phone on. Message from Lucius Books consultant James Allen who had come out the day before to scout the LA Art Fair to call him asap; by the time our bags arrived we’ve bought our first book.

The 1964 self published first edition of Yoko Ono’s GRAPEFRUIT was printed in Tokyo in an edition of 500 copies under her Wunternaum Press imprint.
Most will know of the later edition in which John Lennon wrote an introduction and contributed a couple of line drawings but this Tokyo edition precedes Yoko and John meeting (at the time of publication Yoko was living in Tokyo with her American husband Tony Cox and their baby daughter). This groundbreaking conceptual piece made up of [in Yoko’s own words] “instructions to help you through life” in its plain white paper binding with the author’s hand-written title in black ink to the upper cover is tough to find, and even tougher in decent condition. But that’s just the start of it….


Employee of the month: James Allen (35), counter culture, fashion, photography. He looks calm and collected but inside he’s dancing.

We pull up at our hotel in Pasadena just under an hour later and despite it being 4am UK time we decide a slice of pizza and a glass of wine is in order. A brief flurry of text messages ensues and before we knew it we are glass in hand with our pals Pom Harrington and Paul Foster catching up on what we’ve missed (evidently several bottles of wine!) – Set up at the fair starts 8am tomorrow so we call it a night.

10pm (that’s 6am UK time- go us!).

Booth 301. Cabinets are in place, shipping trunks with our books in are here. I scarper, making circles of the fair as people are unpacking, eyes peeled ready to strike at the glimpse of an interesting book or object. Barely 15 minutes in and we’ve broken our duck: an attractively bound set of the Brock illustrated Jane Austen, complete in 6 volumes. Bumped into James A doing a victory dance having purchased for Lucius a photobook he’d been searching for for years and never seen before – something to do with naked men, in showers, accordian bound: nuff said. Purchases are piling up and with every circle of the fair I pop by our booth which in Georgina’s hands is shaping up quite nicely.

The Paul Foster Wall of Fame (and shame). Contributions from David Bauman, Pom Harrington, Adam Blakeney, Holly Segar, Peter Stern, Lorraine Stern, Georgina Hallgate and yours truly!The Paul Foster Wall of Fame (and shame). Contributions from David Bauman, Pom Harrington, Adam Blakeney, Holly Segar, Peter Stern, Lorraine Stern, Georgina Hallgate and yours truly!Saturday: doors open and a good crowd, very pleased to see some of our local customers and always good to put faces to names of the people we have previously sold books to either online or by telephone but until now never met. There are rumours of a major Hollywood director walking around the fair, and we spot a few actors and musicians, many of whom are serious collectors and regulars at the major Californian book fairs. We make some good sales; popular, as ever are A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s Winnie The Pooh books, and one hardboiled fan walks away with a lovely first edition in dustwrapper of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

Superbowl Sunday: Apparently quite a big day over here, street closures, parties, barbeques, Katy Perry and the last day of the Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair. To say it’s a little quiet around the fair is somewhat of an understatement but we keep ourselves entertained (some more than others, the blurred bit was in the hand of Paul Foster and not fit for publication on a family blog.)

Pack up goes smoothly, space found for new purchases, trunks locked and off they go for the 48th California International Antiquarian Bookfair. Where the books go we follow so we are back on the road, this time to Oakland with a few stops in between.



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Laws of Lucius

There is a Lucius Law which dictates that as soon as the trunks of books are collected for an overseas fair, somebody telephones or emails to order one of the books we have just watched loaded onto the back of a van, not to be seen again until we arrive at our stand at the bookfair, usually about a week later. As each book has its printed description slipped inside and is carefully placed into a bubble bag, I wonder whether this will be the one that we’ll wish we’d decided not to take.

“Hi! Is your copy of Miscellaneous Greek Garden Ornaments still available?”
“Yes, but are you sure you wouldn’t prefer this first edition of Photographs Taken By Bears With IPhones that I can see from my desk?”
“No, I’m pretty keen on Greek Garden Ornaments.”
“Oh, okay. We do still have it, but it is currently en route to a bookfair in Tokyo so I won’t be able to get my hands on it until next Wednesday. Is that going to be all right?”
“Yes, as it is a gift for the Greek ambassador, who is having a garden party on Thursday. Can you get it to me by then?”

The second Law of Lucius is that, when abroad for a bookfair, we must have a farcical Challenge Anneka-style mission to courier a parcel to a customer, so the answer is, of course, Yes, we can get it to you by Thursday.

We once had to send a set of Tolkien firsts from New York to Kansas on an overnight service. Our hotel concierge assured us they would take care of it. We left the parcel at the front desk, took our tracking information and innocently went to the bookfair, whereupon the parcel fell of the edge of the planet. It didn’t show up on the courier’s tracking facility, the hotel had never seen it or heard of it and nobody remembered it being collected. On the hotel CCTV we could see the corner of the parcel one moment, and a time delay later it had disappeared. The hotel maintained their complete disinterest in the face of our rising panic. Realising it must have been stolen, we set about reporting it to the police. James Googled the local police station and phoned them.

An impatient, irritable voice answered: “19th precinct.”
James, faltering: “Um. Hello. My name is James Hallgate. I’d like to report some missing books.”
Pause. More pause. “How did you get this number?”
“Err. Yelp, I think.”
“This is homicide. You don’t call this number.” Click.

The book reappeared on the courier tracking system four days later, the same day the parcel showed up with the customer. Third Law of Lucius came into force: don’t leave parcels with hotel front desks.

Which is how we came to walk twenty blocks through the February sunshine in Santa Monica on Monday morning, looking for a courier we could entrust with our parcel and who could deliver it for less than the price of a return passenger airline ticket. UPS were unable to offer international shipping. Yes, really. Ethan at a shipping brokerage store could offer us many sizes of cardboard box and our body weight in styrofoam peanuts but quoted a shipping price so high he startled even himself with his front. The massiveness of Ethan’s quote softened us up for the only slightly less eye-watering price down the road and we finally got it on its way. It was delivered yesterday, on time. So we are all ready to set up the Oakland fair tomorrow, rocking our Challenge Anneka Lycra bodysuits.

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Boston: The Wife’s Tale

Straight from the airport to Stephanie’s on Newbury, just in time for the traditional Boston jet-lag remedy of dinner and cocktails by a roaring fire.

Newbury Street, Boston

James had already bought All The Books so we spent the next couple of days walking the city. Our mission began with the search for pancakes in a diner for breakfast- New York has hundreds to choose from but we were deep in Good Will Hunting territory before we found one in Boston. There followed the usual English / American accent debacle:

“Tea, please, with cold milk, on the side. And waffles.”
“Tea, please…”
“Yeah, but what you eating?”
[I point meekly at ‘waffles’ on the menu, feeling like an idiot.]
“Ohhh, waffles!”

Boston from Harvard Bridge

We walked from there over the Charles River to Cambridge and into Harvard. Dry, bright, cold. Autumn leaves underfoot and on the trees, reflecting on a burnished Henry Moore sculpture in one of the yards.

Henry Moore in Harvard Yard

We then spent an hour browsing in the Harvard Book Store, an independent bookshop selling predominantly new books. I was especially taken with the children’s books they stock – a huge range, many beautifully produced. The quality of paper, illustrations, colour, type all very impressive. Then, because we’re from Yorkshire, we had a cup of tea at a table outside a café. I’ve only lived in Yorkshire for ten years so am not as double-hard as James, but the frostbite on the backs of my legs is in a very pretty pattern from the wrought iron chair.

We went to the Boston set up with clear heads and ready for action. The Prudential Centre is a gargantuan building, or series of buildings, connected by walkways and escalators. The Hynes Convention Centre is front and centre and keeps everyone alert with a continual series of electric shocks generated by the carpet. It is always nice to see our trunks waiting for us and luckily the two that were missing were soon located on a colleague’s stand, rather than still in Toronto or prematurely en route to York. The Brattle Bunfight was scheduled for 9.30am. I am usually busy unpacking so hadn’t witnessed it before. Really, it is a sight to behold. Brattle open all their boxes simultaneously and the assembled crowd of ordinarily fairly peaceable and dignified booksellers transform into a Saga Holidays re-enactment of Gladiator: The Movie, climbing over one another, yelling, assembling piles of books to buy and snarling at anyone who mistakes their pile for one of the many other piles balanced on the cabinets and shelves. Eventually, those within the booth are barricaded inside by the towers they have built, and the audience outside can no longer see the action and disperse. The Brattle staff remain serene throughout and somehow parcel up the sold piles, shelve the unsold piles and send the sated and bruised booksellers back to their own booths, bearing their spoils, to apply band-aids and cold-packs.

Opening night is principally an opportunity to catch up with old customers while wearing uncomfortable shoes. I have perfected the art of shifting my weight from one foot to the other to rest each in turn, much as a grazing animal might. We had a Gatsby, an Emma and an inscribed Tolkien in the front cabinet, so lots of people stopped by to have a look and at least one of those was sold by the end of the fair. We closed the fair with plenty of reasons to be cheerful, and returned to York to receive the following letter from one very cool customer:

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Biblio Baggins: Boston – Toronto – Boston, Or There and Back Again

Setting off for a two week trip, flying into Boston then over to Toronto for the International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Art Gallery Ontario (AGO) on the 7th, 8th and 9th of November then back to Boston and the Hynes Exhibition Centre for the bookfair the following weekend. The thrill of stepping onto an airplane and the anticipation of what lies ahead never eludes me.

First stop on any trip to Boston is Peter Stern. Not only does he get some of the best books and manuscripts but he is generally in his office by 7am which, for the jet-lagged traveller who’s been watching repeats of Storage Wars since 4am, is a godsend. A quick and emotional catch up: “There’s some new things, couldn’t tell you what they are, but you know where to look,” and we’re off.

After Peter’s it’s over to Brattle Bookshop where the welcome is always warm and the opportunity to find good books is there, you just have to look, and look, and keep looking. They buy in such quantities that no sooner have you finished looking through one pile of new stock than another one or two has appeared next to it. I arrived whilst they were pricing new stock in the rare book room up on the third floor, so I picked up a few bargains which I hope to add to considerably from their booth at the bookfair (more about that later).

Round the corner is Commonwealth Books – nothing for me this time but always worth a visit.


AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario)

AGO, Toronto

First stop is Contact Editions: Wesley and Lucia Begg.

A lovely shop filled to the brim with books, art and ephemera which is particularly strong on literary first editions and children’s books. It was also the scene of last year’s “One That Got Away”. When walking past Wesley’s office I noticed a painting on the floor propped up against a bookshelf. I recognised it immediately as Rosemary Fawcett’s cover illustration for the first edition of Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts. Roald Dahl disliked the Fawcett illustrations and asked Quentin Blake to illustrate the book for the second and subsequent editions. Keen on all things Dahl related, especially primary and manuscript material, I couldn’t believe my luck to have found this, only to be told that it was already on hold for a customer. Doh! Anyway, back to this trip and a fine 1911 first edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden takes my eye, always loved this book so it is first on the pile. Kerrching!

Calamity James: left my wallet at Contact Editions, oblivious of course until the taxi driver told me just as we were pulling into my hotel (quick thinking on the part of the members of the Canadian Booksellers Association who phoned the cab company to contact the driver). About turn back to Contact Editions, got it! Back to the hotel. Very chirpy cab driver; we’ve become quite good friends in the 45 minutes we’ve known each other.

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Toronto, chasing a missing wallet

Set-up at the AGO starts at 10am of Friday and we get straight to work emptying trunks and deciding where each item will go. There is no particularly scientific method to the way we set up a bookfair, but each item has to balance with the next so it’s quite a lot of moving, adjusting, spine-on, front facing, up a bit and moving again before the stand shapes up and the shelves look nicely balanced with books and artwork.

moving, adjusting, spine-on, front facing, up a bit and moving again

Had a good look round the fair- some interesting books here. Bought a small pile which includes a fine UK first of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. A quick change into my suit and it’s 5pm: opening time.


Toronto Book Fair in full swing

CRISPS (potato chips)!? A huge bucket of them, free to all on opening night. I’m more than a little worried about all the greasy fingers flicking through the books. Disaster averted; I ate them all.

Now for a blow by blow report of the action on Day Two of the Toronto Bookfair:

Day Three:


Packed up and shipping out – Back to Boston.

“what do you get if you sit under a cow?”

Bye Toronto, it’s been an interesting trip, we ate well and saw some black squirrels (I took some photos with my phone camera. The results are less convincing than the Loch Ness monster images).

Black squirrel. Yes, really.

Loch Ness Squirrel


The Canadian dealers and fair management are good company and the fair has a lively vibe but sales: nada, niente, nowt!

“a pat on the head” (Louis Hallgate, 4yrs.)

Touched down in Boston Monday afternoon. Checked into my hotel on Commonwealth at the top of Newbury Street. Oooh a jogging map.

Tuesday morning 6am and I’m out of the door and running, a beautiful autumn morning, my Forrest Gump moment, 8.5miles, Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins on the iPod, 90 mins later I’m back at the hotel. And that’s all I got to say about that.


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