I was poking around in the cellar of the local antique emporium when my eye was caught by the corner of something that had apparently been shoved down the side of the old kitchen range, now black leaded and varnished as a shiny tourist trap, displaying some elderly kitchenalia with optimistic price tags threaded through the rust holes. I pulled at the corner of the cardboard folder, which, after a few tugs, emerged in a rush, scattering the contents on the stone flags. I gathered them together and spread them over the wavy worktop of an adjacent three legged Edwardian kitchen table (£158, or near offer, drawers available). Examined, they revealed partial or complete board backs of mostly Victorian novels with marbled and gilt endpapers, title pages and in some cases just a few sheets of the start or end of the novel. I read with interest, never having encountered any of the novels previously. Were they an undiscovered literary treasure trove or the sad left-overs of vanity publishing, the hobby of Victorian gentry with time on their hands? I gathered up the boards and papers and made my way to the cash till.
“What,” I enquired of the charlatan at the till, “are you asking for these?”
’Found them have you?’
’Twenty quid per each board, twenty five for the bigger ones.’
”Oh come on, be serious, you’re not going to get that for them, there isn’t a full book anywhere.”
’Books? Is that what you want to buy? We’ve got nice ones upstairs. Leather, tooled, nice, big, four or five piled up with a big one on top make a lovely coffee table, glue dead easy, I can show you how. I’ll even charge you by the metric foot, can’t say fairer than that.’
”I want these.”
’Well they’re twenty a board, twenty five for the big ones,’ he caught my look, ‘tourists buy them and have them framed. It’s marbleising that is, very decorative, white border and a black frame and it’s art deco, get a gold border and a carved frame and it’s Italian Rococo, red border and a white frame, you got sixties post modern. I can sell one of them a week in the season.’
”If you only want the boards I’ll take the printed pages off your hands.”
He scrutinised me closely and explained gently, ‘If it’s reading stories you’re after there’s no proper ones, I looked. It’s all bits. Some clever reader like you could put them together and sell them whole. I would but I don’t have time. There’s a charity shop three doors down got books, if it’s books for reading you want, 50p a go, all of them have all of the words.’
”I want these. Maybe. I don’t want the marbled boards or papers, you can have them.”
He opened a drawer, locating a retractable bladed craft knife without looking. With practised sweeps he separated the writing from the endpapers and covers, pushing the pile of printing towards me with the end of the knife.
‘This is vandalism. Dreadful. Twenty quid.’
”I haven’t got that much.”
’Are you a buyer or not?’
”Three pounds,” I felt in a pocket, “fifty.”
’I thought you were serious. This is genuine Victorian printing this is. I could sell this for people to. Use. For. Something else. Whatever it is you’re going to do with them. Fifteen pounds.’
”I haven’t got fifteen pounds. This is my bus fare. I’m going to read them.”
’There’s still some books in the public library, and it’s heated.’
”Three pounds fifty. That’s it and I’ll be walking home.”
The money lay on my outstretched hand. He took the two pound coins and handed me the papers and a plastic bag. ’Get off a couple of stops early,’ he advised generously.
”Thank you,” I smiled.
’Nice doing business with you, but I warn you, it’s a load of rubbish, story wise, other than being valuable genuine antiques. You’ve got a real bargain there, tell your friends, come again.’
I set off walking down the hill with my spirits high and the bag swinging, convinced that once I got it home I would quickly discover lost gems among my purchase. Profound writings from another age. Insights into the thought processes of other times. An undiscovered eye upon the past. A glimpse of the higher reasoning of a more enlightened age.
It took me three weeks to read it all and match the mixed manuscripts. Secure in the knowledge that I can bring you many partial stories never before enjoyed by the reading public, I will, over the coming weeks publish for you, unabridged and complete in their partial entirety quite a number of Lost Victorian Novels.
It’s just a pity really that the antiques seller was right. They are. A load of rubbish. Starting with My Life As A Cat and continuing for quite a long time.
See you there.
JaneLaverick.com – the best is yet to come – I hope.