Mad collectors #2

Richard Lucas was a Fagin-esque character who was a colleague, never a friend, back in the late 70s/early 80s when we were both members exhibiting ephemera at the Ephemera Society fairs at the Bonnington hotel. Richard also exhibited at the Bloomsbury hotel monthly book fairs Saturday and Sunday and asked me to sell his books on Monday when I could put out my ephemera because he taught immigrants English that day at an adult educational college. Richard had an English language and literature degree from Oxford. How he hated his job, wasting precious time teaching when he could have been reading or buying more books. His dream was to be, like me, a full time book seller. We collaborated for several years and despite his meanness and difficult way of doing business without prices in his books or a price code, over time I got to know and understand this solitary unpleasant man.

He lived in Swiss Cottage in what could have been a lovely flat with a large bay window which housed a grand piano on the second floor of an Edwardian detached house. As you climbed the stairs to Richard's lair, you saw a bank of books piled sky high up to half the level of the wall on the right from the first floor. Behind the books, he confessed the wall was cracked from their weight but didn't dare tell his landlady. 

Once inside this literary sanctuary, you entered a hall with book shelves on the right hand side running from the front door as far as the kitchen. The shelves were groaning with books. In front of the shelves were piles of books running the length of the corridor. Opposite this countless collection of books on the floor along the left wall, were more stacks of books.

The living room, dare I say for relaxing in, had books behind the faded lumpy two seater sofa which was the only place to sit down and get warm in front of the gas fire hiding in a beautifully tiled Victorian fireplace. To the right of this sofa area was a large bay window with beautiful views of trees and hedges. A perfect room for musical salons! Richard would struggle to get to his beloved grand piano to play a piano concerto when he was in the right mood. The piano stool was the only other seat in the 'music room.'

His wife had left him long ago because of his compulsive disorder for books. He almost got another to replace her but found she was allergic to dust! As for the bedroom, no room there to swing a cat if he had one, because of the multitude of books by the bedside. The same with the toilet. Impossible to close the door and have a shit! The kitchen was large with a pine table in the centre but unfortunately you couldn't move it because books were stacked beneath it. Not much room to eat either because of a portable Hermes typewriter and mail order correspondence on the table. He would have to push his papers to one side to make room for a plate of food.

But did Richard ever sell his books because he had no prices or price codes inside the front page written in pencil? He was an impossible man to deal with. He bought all his books at country auctions cheaply in job lots, removed the best and placed them on the bookshelves in the hall. A normal bookseller would have knocked out the dross to make a quick profit to pay for the good ones. Not Richard. He just kept all the dead stock in his flat hence the piles and piles of unsaleable books. 

I was a specialist Juvenilia book and dealer at the time between London and Paris. I would buy Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Dulac children's books and sell them to book dealers in Paris. There I would scour the 6em bookshops for ephemera, prints on my various themes and German mechanical books known as Meggendorfer pop up books. These would fetch very high sums in London or New York.

Sometimes Richard would have a book for me but never with a price. He would taunt me while he made up a price according to his mood. Needless to say we never did business. I was a full time dealer and no doubt he was jealous of my freedom.

Then his world collapsed in 1993. Richard was a name at Lloyd's. His brother was a successful stockbroker and would advise Richard who had some money he had inherited from his father. His mother was still alive and he would visit her in Dorset from time to time to be served hot dinners and mummified even though he was in his 60s by then.  I recall I invited him once for dinner and he managed to bring a cheap bottle of red. However, he got on well with my friendly open minded husband Martin who was a collector of Modern First Editions and later on became a full time book dealer too publishing a price guide called ' Breese's' guide to Modern First Editions.' 

But in 1993 poor Richard grew desperate, twisted and evil. I never knew that until he accidentally had a snowball effect on my private life a few years later.

Written in Hostal Jayma, Salobrena, Spain on 20/2/17.
Part 2 - please read The Fagin burglar of Swiss Cottage.


Abe books and Amazon - Breese's guide to modern first editions 1993.
The Ephemera Society of Great Britain
Richard Lucas burglar - The Guardian 1993 The Daily Mail and The Independent 1993 September 1993
The Sun - Tommy Cooper/just like that