Jean Pain, Antiqueseller is dead. Jean Pain, Bookseller is born. It took me a good two or three weeks to get all the bookshelves and their contents into my shop. What took longest was pricing all the books. How did I do it? I hadn’t a clue or just a tiny bit of a clue. I didn’t fall into the trap that most people do of believing that the earlier the book was published, the more valuable it is. The bible is a good example as it was probably the commonest of old books no matter how many centuries old it might be. With very few exceptions they were piled up in a corner so we could reach the highest books if we were too poor to buy a stepladder.
The books had cost me so little that it didn’t much matter what prices I put on them. I made an educated guess. There are some advantages of having earned a university literary degree. I actually had a repertoire of famous writers in my head and I could recognise a first edition when I saw one. All collectors will pay an arm and a leg for one rare book that will fill a long-awaited space. All good booksellers keep lists of such rarities for that is part of the fun. You never knew what might turn up and where.
Who buys old books? First and foremost, as I soon discovered, were other booksellers. They were few and far between and often the second and third generations of family businesses. They all spent many miles of driving especially to find the bookshops they already knew and any new ones that sprang up out of nowhere like me.
One day when I was making myself a cup of tea in the small kitchen at the back of the shop I heard some funny noises: plop! plop! plop! over and over again. I came round the corner to see what was going on. A middle-aged man dressed in drab clothes was going round the shelves, building up piles of my books on the floor. He took off his hat, showing himself to be a proper gentleman. “Ah Mrs Pain I see. I haven’t met you before. How long have you been here?” He then revealed himself to be a well-known bookseller from Preston in Lancashire. “You’ve got a nice lot of books here. As I am buying a fair number of them will you take off ten per cent? That is usual in the trade.” I made him a cup of tea and he said “I’ll come back soon”. This was the first time I had earned so much money in one go. And I had only just started. He visited me frequently after that and always bought books, but he never did so well as the very first time before I picked up some of the ropes. However, one of the advantages of visiting fellow booksellers is that we all loved books and had our own special knowledge of which books are most sought after and their market price.
After a while I learned that there was a very useful publication that came out yearly: The Book Auction Records. It gave up-to-date information of the prices paid for the most sought after books sold at auctions.
Was advertising for books any good? No. Not in the ‘sixties and not now. Only if you are lucky. Unhappily, most of the bookshops, especially the second-hand ones, are nothing as popular as it was then. Of all the kinds of ways in which we might pass our leisure, the least popular always has been reading. Some people blame the vast increase of television. But I think readers will always be readers. I very rarely find anything I want to watch on TV. I like to make my own pictures when I am reading and as far as I know this is true of all people like me. This is a characteristic of using our own magic camera. The decline is in the number of people who no longer collect books, not necessarily to read but to own rare things, whatever they may be. It is a form of snobbery. Most people do not have one book in their houses. That has always been so and always will be. They think magazine is another word for book. Every day prospective seekers of a bit of money brought in piles of paper. “But it is old!” they would cry “I got it from my Dad!”