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Paul Breman

Paul Breman, who died on the 29th October 2008, at the age of seventy-seven was a maverick among booksellers, a cataloguer who actually looked at his books afresh and was not prepared to recycle other people’s notes. This professional approach he had learnt with Horodisch in Amsterdam and with the firm of E. P. Goldschmidt in London where he worked from 1959 to 1963. Goldschmidt catalogue 126 “Sixteenth century printing: Lyon and Paris”, was regarded by Paul as his ‘coming of age piece’.

Throughout the sixties Paul worked with Ben Weinreb, writing most of his catalogues and becoming a partner in 1967 when the firm changed its name to Weinreb & Breman. The combination of Ben’s rather florid, romantic approach to bookselling and Paul’s more scholarly style proved a winning team, although a clash of personalities was almost inevitable in time.

One of the many catalogues Paul wrote then was on nineteenth-century church architecture which reflected his own move from Wedderburn Road to the enormous Victorian house on Rosslyn Hill, built in a rather aggressive purplish brick, almost certainly by Teulon, the architect of the church over the road. Catalogue 25 marked the end of Paul’s partnership with Ben, later recorded in his Annotated Index to the first twenty-five Weinreb catalogues in 1969, and the sale of much of the stock to Texas.

Setting up his own business gave him the opportunity to explore many obscure aspects of architecture and design in small catalogues and lists on subjects such as Vitruvius, obelisks, C. R. Ashbee, landscape gardening, fortification manuals and the typography of Arrighi for the publications of Trissino, all themes that caught his eye and at some stage achieved publication in one form or another. One short joint list that Paul and I made on Russian art and architecture (1975) was partly inspired by a trip we took to Russia and Central Asia. Two memories remain fresh from that expedition: one was our attempt to visit an open-air museum of vernacular buildings outside Moscow, foiled by an obtuse taxi driver who professed total ignorance of such a place but had an enamel badge in the lapel of his jacket celebrating the opening of the museum. The other took place in Samarkand when Paul’s partner, Jill Norman, already an authority on herbs and spices, discovered a spice stall in the market. Paul and I pounced on what appeared to be an adjacent bookstall. The reason for their proximity was made clear when Jill bought some spices and the bookseller tore out a leaf from the nearest book to make a paper cone for her purchase. A new twist on the ‘no ice cream or sweets in the shop’ sign.

Paul had other interest besides bookselling. An early enthusiasm for jazz at Amsterdam University grew into an interest in the blues and the publication of new verse by black authors (mostly American) in the Heritage Series of poetry pamphlets (1962-75), followed by an anthology for Penguin Books called You Better Believe It. Black Verse in English (1973). He was also Dutch translator for Jill Norman’s series of Penguin phrase books in European languages and contributed to some of her own cookery books.

Jill’s literary executorship of her friend Elizabeth David’s estate gave rise to a landscape of paper hillocks on the floor at Rosslyn Hill, reorganized by Paul with characteristic efficiency. As a critic and food-taster he also had his uses in Jill’s culinary experiments. He liked good food, he liked music and wine and travel, and had a mordant wit which I, for one, enjoyed hugely. 

My fondest memory, out of many, was helping to wind up his limited company in 2002, by valuing his stock. I suggested it might be helpful to know his cost code. Paul replied, with a distinctively saturnine smile, ‘of course, it’s Paul Grinke’. Ten letters, easily memorable, why hadn’t I thought of it myself? I shall miss him.
Paul Grinke

First published in ABA Newsletter 349.