[J. G. Wilson, proprietor of London booksellers J. & E. Bumpus Ltd.] Autograph notebook containing draft of talk to trainee booksellers on 'Modern Fine & First Editions', proposals for 'Anecdotal History of Bookselling' and for trade 'social club'.

J. G. Wilson [John Gideon Wilson] (1876-1963), 'the most famous English bookseller of his time' and proprietor of the prestigious London firm of J. & E. Bumpus Ltd., 477 Oxford Street
Publication details: 
Without date or place. [J. & E. Bumpus Ltd., 477 Oxford Street.]
SKU: 15660

It is Sir Basil Blackwell, in his DNB entry on Wilson, who described him as 'the most famous English [sic] bookseller of his time'. The freshness and enthusiasm conveyed by this small volume supports Blackwell's view that Wilson viewed 'bookselling not so much as a matter of retail trade as a service in which bookseller and customer met and shared the experience of contact with the precious manifestations of the spirit of man', as well as casting light on the methods and practices which made Wilson so successful. 23pp., 12mo, with a further nine pages of pencil notes on early printing, and two small leaves of memoranda loosely inserted. In Wilson's neat hand, with occasional corrections. Ryman 'Strand Reporters Book'. In fair condition, on lightly aged and worn paper. The notebook's first item is the draft of the talk, titled 'Modern Fine & First Editions', on three numbered pages. It begins: 'The first year's course presented several talks relating to Stock and how it should be displayed & kept. In the main we considered the regular level stock & what are usually called bread & butter lines. We didn't touch with much detail on remainders as a regular departmental matter, although as we all know many of the remainder items are most attractive books, &, when stocks are small the selling is quick & easy. It is perhaps a topic that deserves an evening to itself.' This section is followed by another three pages of untitled notes on the nature of bookselling, which is described as 'more than mere handling of books as commodities, selling what is asked for, going with the stream. | It is having a knowledge & control of the material, passing it on with a touch of personal flavour. | Swank, you say. Yes, indeed, I agree. But not altogether swank, because the exercise of control, the keeping of a feeling of detachment, is the proper attitude of all good salesmanship.' This section contains a praise for the 'zest & enthusiasm' of the 'old-fashioned bookseller': 'He was not ashamed to voice his love for authors & books. He was no trimmer. | Is not a part of the new style, a joy in belittling what has been the popular & accepted literary forms? Isn't this another kind of swank?' After a few pages of miscellaneous notes comes a proposal for a book on the 'story of bookselling in the City of London', 'a most deserving study which might be attempted as a thesis arranged by the Stationers' Company, or by a combined effort on the part of the Publishers' Assocn. & the Associated Booksellers.' Another page, headed 'Anecdotal History of Bookselling', proposes 'a social club which could meet once a month, or say six times a year. At the meetings those who know the history of the booktrade, in some of its aspects, would be asked to speak & members would add their memories or views.' Two pages (one detached) concern 'Stocktaking', beginning: 'Art of valuing our possessions: To know what we are worth in relation to sale prices. To look at everything frankly and rearrange sales. This presupposes a knowledge of what we paid for the goods = Cost | a. Purchases during financial year. b. Books taken in last stock sheets. c. Detail all valuable books.' Another note discusses the 'reconditioning of bookshops in line with modern shopfitting', with reference to <?> exteriors given to WHS[mith] establishments'. The memoranda on the two small leaves contain some interesting thoughts, for example: 'Typography is not enough. The real maker is the author. Would your designer refuse to clothe with beautiful design inferior writing. Overalls - & a little more music!' and 'Steep yourself in words well spoken | Surround yourself with beautiful phrases | Dont be ashamed to be found reading a classic'. Wilson's view of the bookseller's high calling is also conveyed in another note: 'Impossible to maintain freshness of reception all the time. | Gradually we become set. | Is there any cure for this shutting down? | The only preservative is a habit of holding our own opinions very personally, while keeping an open mind to new ideas; and to avoid infatuation by maintaining a lively detachment in our work.'