There’s a long-established and old-fashioned bookshop in Southport, Lancashire, called Broadhurst’s – new books downstairs, old books above, and they wrap your purchase in brown paper and string before you leave. The really high-value stuff is in a room that resembles Sherlock Holmes’ study, with a velvet rope across the doorway, while on the same landing is a room filled with more modestly-priced first editions.
I was there a couple of weeks ago, and though I wasn’t specifically searching for it, in the latter room my eye was caught by a copy of the Ward Lock version of Meet the Tiger. This was the novel in which Leslie Charteris introduced Simon Templar, alias The Saint, to the world. Charteris was in his 20s when he wrote it, and later in his career he’d declare himself so dissatisfied with the book that he withdrew it from sale. It was a second (1929) edition rather than a first, but a rather nice one. I read the opening page; yep, regardless of his later disclaimers, the Charteris voice was there and the character read as recognisable and fully-formed.
It wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t Vanderbilt money either. I like books that have aged gracefully, and I’d rather have something affordable and a bit shabby than mint and untouchable. After I came away, it played on my mind so I did some internet research and established that a) the second-edition price was probably a fair one, and b) I could put aside any thoughts of a first edition. So I went back this Saturday and visited again, read a couple more pages, left the shop and walked around a bit to prolong the moment, then caved in and bought the book. For the wrapping they have a purpose-made 1920s table with the brown paper being pulled down from a roller and the string from a ball.
So now here’s my problem. I’ve brought it home and I can’t bring myself to undo the parcel. A brown paper package, that’s tied up with string. It’s sitting on the shelf in the open, an ornament in itself.
But I will open it. Real soon now.