ADVENTURES IN COLLECTING:
BOOK HUNTING IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
by Walker Martin


   For two glorious, insane, and busy weeks I’ve been on the trip of a lifetime. The adventure started May 31, 2017, when I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, NY and ended on June 14, 2017, when I stumbled off the airplane at the Newark, NJ airport. At no time did I get more than five hours sleep each night and often not even five hours. But it was worth the trip because everything was free and paid for by a fellow book and pulp collector that I’ve been friends with for almost 50 years.

   What do I mean by free? The entire trip was paid for, free seven day luxury cruise, free hotel rooms in London, free hotel in Hay on Wye, otherwise known as “The Town of Books,” free trains, free airplane tickets. In another words the only thing I had to pay for was my books, beer, and some food (the food was free on the 7 day cruise).

   There were six of us on this trip and the total cost must have been over $20,000, or close to it. The story behind how all this came to pass is fascinating and began over 100 years ago when a young boy named Ollie Pendar decided to start collecting Cracker Jack baseball cards in 1914. He was born in 1905, so he was only nine years old and never dreamed that his card collection would finance a trip of a lifetime 100 years later.

   He put together the baseball card collection by buying and eating boxes of Cracker Jack, each of which had a card as a prize. He obtained the official Cracker Jack Album and pasted the cards in during 1914 and 1915. There were over 100 cards of some of the great early baseball stars. This was back in the era when baseball truly was The National Sport, not like today when people flock to such sports as football and basketball. Shortly after Ollie went away to boarding school, and his mother packed them away in a box where they stayed for almost 100 years.

   Now mothers are known for their dislike of baseball cards, comic books, stamp collections, etc. They usually throw such collections in the trash, meanwhile chuckling with glee and sadistic happiness. That’s why these collectibles are so valuable and rare. Without mothers we would be drowning in piles of comics and baseball cards, all worthless because our moms did not throw them away.

   But Ollie’s mom saved them and there the cards resided in the attic for the teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. I’m sure Ollie and his mother forgot about them and did not realize they were sitting on a future fortune. Ollie lived a long life as an attorney and died at age 96 in 2002. His heirs did not open the box containing the cards until 2014 and before the Internet they probably would have been chucked into the garbage. But nowadays a simple google search on your computer, and you can see the cards are worth a fortune.

   They have even been given a name: The Stockton Find. To make a long story short, the cards were auctioned off one by one and realized over six figures. Some sold for only hundreds each but some sold for thousands. I believe one card had a high bid of $26,000. There were three main heirs, and my friend got a third of the amount realized. I’ve known hundreds of book collectors, and I know what they would have done with such a windfall of money. They would have blown it on their book and pulp collections, spent it on themselves, maybe put it in the bank, or perhaps spent it on their favorite vices such as drugs, booze, or women. Or perhaps the collector’s wife would confiscate the money. I’ve seen it happen time and time again, so I know whereof of speak.

   But my friend did not do any of the above. Instead he decided to spend his share of the money on a book hunting cruise and trip to England and Wales. I think it is now time to identify the generous collector who dreamed up this trip and paid for it: Everard Pendar Digges La Touche. His relatives, neighbors, co-workers know him as Pen, but book and pulp collectors know him as Digges. Since he retired as a Major from the Air Force and one of his favorite literary characters is The Major by L. Patrick Greene, he is often called The Major.

   Behind his back we sometimes refer to him as The Reading Machine, but it is a compliment based on the character The Thinking Machine and the fact that Digges can read a book anywhere and any time except while in the shower. The only reason he doesn’t read in the shower is because the pages get drenched and he can’t read the words.

   I should also introduce the five readers and collectors that Digges invited to go on this trip:

      Nick Certo–Book dealer, art collector, and expert on conspiracy theories.

      Richard Corcoran–Businessman, student of politics, and the youngest member by far of our little group

      Scott Hartshorn–Book seller, art collector, and expert on film noir.

      Ed Hulse–Editor, publisher, author, and the man behind Blood n Thunder magazine and Murania Press.

      Walker Martin–Since I’ve filled up my house with books, pulps, vintage paperbacks, original art, dvds, and jazz cds, I refer to myself as The Collector. But others call me Percy, since I think Percy Helton was one of the greatest character actors ever filmed.

   Unfortunately only three of the above could take the seven day cruise. The other three flew out to England seven days later, and all six of us met in London. I feel I have to say something about the cruise which was an amazing way to start off this grand adventure. I’ve been on a cruise before so I knew what to expect but this was a luxury cruise with everything first class. There were almost 3,000 guests and over 1,000 employees making sure that the guests enjoyed themselves.

   I’ve never eaten such fine and excellent food for seven days. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were superb events where fine food and drink were served. The service was unbelievable. During the day entertainment such as plays, music, and all sorts of events kept us busy. At night there were several jazz clubs on board the ship.

   I ate, drank, and gained ten pounds due to my gluttony. All the food was paid for already but I managed to rack up almost $400 for beer, gin and tonics, and other incidentals. It was a cruise to die for, and I probably would have died if it had been much longer! Also on this heavenly cruise were Digges and Scott Hartshorn.

   When the ship docked, we met the other three collectors at our hotel in London and the six of us spent two days in the big city visiting museums, 221 Baker Street, several bookstores, Charing Cross Road, riding the subway system and eating and drinking in pubs. I loved the pubs, and now I wonder why the USA doesn’t have more of them.

   The six of us in front of 221 Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes in London. From left to right: Digges, Walker Martin, Richard Corcoran, Nick Certo, and Ed Hulse. Scott Hartshorn is peering over the top of Ed.

   Digges and Ed in 221 Baker Street!

   This shows four of us in the cafe of the Richard Booth Bookshop in Hay on Wye. Booth was the self appointed King of Hay On Wye. On the left are Digges and Ed Hulse. On the right are Walker Martin and Richard Corcoran. (Richard is the young guy.)

   Here are Ed Hulse and Digges La Touche strolling between some buildings. The streets were narrow and the sidewalks very small. I was almost run over by a couple of speeding cars. What better way to die while hunting for books?

   This photo shows some of the shops and bookstores. All these buildings are made to last and built of stone, unlike many houses in the US.

   As we visited the bookstores I noticed a serious problem, mainly how the hell was I going to fit all the books in my luggage? Most bookstores in London and Hay on Wye did not want to ship the books to America. So when I saw a book I wanted, I usually made a note of it and figured I could probably buy it a lot cheaper in the US. Certainly that would solve my luggage problem and postage would be a lot cheaper. When I arrived back home I looked up several books on abebooks.com and sure enough they were available at far lower cost.

   But there were still rare books that had to be bought! Most were in Hay on Wye, which is a beautiful little town of about 30 to 40 bookstores and perhaps a pub on every street corner. Our hotel in Hay on Wye was the beautiful Swan Hotel, and I recommend it highly. They had a great breakfast included with the room and two pubs. They also had a nice meeting room for us to hang out in between book buying. The staff was extremely friendly and seemed glad to see us, unlike the hotel in London which was disappointing to say the least.

   Almost all the bookstores in Hay on Wye were of interest. We spent four days there which is ample time to investigate them. Richard Booth’s Bookshop and Cafe was the biggest and Murder and Mayhem the most interesting. But the one I found to be the best and most unusual was The Poetry Bookstore. It was a former ice house, and I spent some time in the basement where it was still chilly and very damp. It is the only bookstore in the UK devoted to books dealing with poetry. The main floor had many books on poetry, and the basement had hundreds of poetry magazines. I collect and read these back issues and have thousands in my own collection, but I still managed to find some back issues I needed.

   About half of our group had no interest in The Poetry Bookstore, of course, but there were plenty of other stores to satisfy our bibliomania. Many detective novels were bought in Murder and Mayhem and Digges found some volumes of P. G. Wodehouse that he still needed. Nick being a book dealer himself, found several books for his own collection and for possible customers, including the exceedingly rare magazine The Outsider, containing poems by Bukowski. The three issues were priced at hundreds of pounds but I’m sure he got a good deal. I don’t collect Blackwood’s Magazine, but I found several volumes reprinting stories from the 1800’s on into the 1920’s and 1930’s.

   There were plenty of books that were not rare, but we bought them to read. I was kept busy scribbling away titles and authors that I intended to look up in the US and order through abebooks. In addition to poetry magazines, I also collect literary or little magazines. I found a few oddball titles and managed to read several stories and articles in my room at the Swan Hotel.

   Here is Ed Hulse again, this time in front of the remains of an old castle which is being restored.

   Speaking of reading, what else did I read during the two weeks? In addition to poems and stories from the literary magazines, I read several tales from Blackwood’s Magazine, a collection of Robert Silverberg stories from his best period of 1970-1972, and a book of Philip Larkin’s poetry chosen by Martin Amis.

   It seemed that this trip was full of funny events, one howler after another. But this is to be expected when a bunch of old friends get together for such a big trip and adventure. Let me pick out a few to give you a taste. They all involve literature in some form or another:

      1. One of our group found what looked like a first edition of 1984 by George Orwell in dust jacket and in great condition. Only six pounds! Rushing up to pay for it, the cashier calmly said with a sneer, “You do realize this is the Dutch edition”. Needless to say none of us can read Dutch.

      2. As readers and book collectors, we all know the power of a good story. No matter what our surroundings, we can lose ourselves in a good novel. This happened to me when my roommate started to brew coffee and almost set the room on fire in our London hotel. I was in bed, under the covers reading and noticed nothing until I heard loud cursing coming from the kitchen area. Looking up I saw a lot of smoke billowing through the room. But there was no sprinkler system or fire alarm! We managed to put out the fire and get a fan to blow out the smoke. A few days later I saw a big tower of apartments go up in flames on TV in London, and I totally understood that the British have different fire codes than we do.

      3. This is a true story. Near the end of our trip as we started to realize that no one was going to ship all our books back to the US, we started to throw away our clothes in order to make more room in the luggage for books. It would be cheaper to buy a new pair of pants or a shirt back home, so we started to think about what clothes to throw away. All of us may have thrown something away to make room for books. I packed so many books in my suitcase that I broke one of the zippers. There still was one zipper that held the suitcase barely closed, and somehow it made it across the Atlantic on the airplane. When I unpacked it at home the zipper finally broke and everything spilled out on the floor. Close call! If it had broken in London or on the plane I would have been doomed.

   There was one major disappointment for me. I used to have a complete set of London Mystery Magazine, 132 issues during 1949-1982. But in a moment of insanity I disposed of it for practically nothing. I checked with several bookstores in Hay on Wye and nobody had copies, in fact many did not even know what I was talking about. If anyone has a set or a large amount of issues, please contact me.

   Peparing to leave the beautiful Swan Hotel in Hay on Wye. From left: Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Richard Corcoran, Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Digges.

   Digges and I on the train back to London from Hay On Wye. During the 3 1/2 hour train ride Digges read the entire trip while I pondered what beer I would order in the next pub.

   And so ended our grand adventure. I’m still exhausted from very little sleep and I have some weight to lose. Also I miss the pubs! But I’d like to thank three people who made this trip possible. First of all my thanks to Ollie Pendar, who as a little boy over a hundred years ago was smart enough to be a collector. I’ve always said collectors are the best people in the world. Second, I want to thank Ollie’s mother. Unlike most mothers, she did not throw away the baseball cards!

   Thanks also to Nick Certo and Richard Corcoran for the use of their photos. But most of all I want to thank my old friend Digges, aka Pen and The Major.

Beautiful skyline of Hay on Wye in Wales.