I was lucky enough yesterday to have a tour of Peter Harrington in Chelsea. Harrington’s have two branches in London where they sell rare books, illustrations and maps, and also make beautiful binding. If you love books and have a spare grand or two, or even if you don’t, this is definitely the place to visit!
First stop was the children’s book section, where I was thrilled to spot lots of familiar books from my childhood. I was very lucky in that my mum kept lots of her childhood books and passed them on to me, so I grew up on E Nesbit, Noel Streatfield, Frances Hodgson Burnett et al, but alas, none of them are first editions which I quickly learned are what you should look for when you are checking the value of a book. If the book is signed by the author this makes it even more special, of course, as can a beautiful binding. It was fascinating to see a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where there is a mistake in the list of items Harry needs for school (2 wands!) so if you have this early edition, take good care of it!
Many Beatrix Potter volumes looked out at me like old friends, and leafing (carefully) through them we reminisced how un-cutesy she was in her portrayals of animals, who could be quite cruel to each other. I loved a large version of Treasure Island, illustrated in wildly menacing strokes by Ralph Steadman. There was also a beautiful set of Pinnochio colouring books, untouched by crayon. Unwanted gift? Sometimes an old book in good condition tells a sad story.
Looking through the adult books, I found the cookery books oddly fascinating. Did you know that you should boil potatoes for 45 minutes, and only eat ham once a week as it takes 5 hours to digest? Also remember that scrambled eggs is a very strange recipe choice that is only included as an oddity!
In the history section I was reminded how prolific Winston Churchill was (how did he find the time to dabble in politics, one wonders?) and even more so when we saw a couple of his self portraits sketches on sale up on the wall. A future present for my husband if I ever make the best seller lists myself.
If I had to choose any of the pictures it would be a hard decision between Maurice Sendik’s iconic illustrations for Where the Wild Things Are, and Andy Warhol’s cat drawings, which were surprisingly endearing and easier to look at than Louis Wain’s grinning, unstable felines.
Sadly we had to leave with nothing but an increased knowledge in old books and respect for those who catalogue them, care for them and ultimately sell them on to appreciative book lovers or generous gift-givers. Meanwhile I’m off to check my Mum’s complete Elinor Brent Dyer Chalet School series to see if there’s a first edition in there somewhere…
Many thanks to Susanna of Peter Harrington for the tour, and to Jan for inviting me along.