Devon Book Fairs

Devon Book Fairs

I was not one of the first to join the PBFA, now forty years old, but I was one of the large group that joined in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The first PBFA bookfair I ever did was in Exeter, with mixed results. I bought a copy of the first Rupert annual, with a dustjacket, for £10 and sold it on for £100. That was the good part, even though I heard later that it ended up in Cecil Court at £500. The bad part occurred at the end of the fair, when I packed up, stacked my brand new folding bookshelves against my boxes and went to fetch my van. When I returned my bookshelves had been swapped for a horrible set of battered and stained shelves. I still do not know which toerag did it, but I have a shrewd suspicion. Moral:  Always write your name on your shelves in thick felt pen.

I had a little red Renault 4 Van, with the gearstick sticking out of the dashboard. It was surprisingly roomy and reliable – very little to go wrong. I bought it new for about £3,000 and reclaimed the VAT. The biggest load it ever took was after a bookfair at Ashburton, in Devon. The fair was upstairs over the town hall, and there were supposed to be fifteen dealers. As usual I turned up at 8am, unloaded and started scanning the shelves. There were very few to scan as by the time it got to 9.30 only eleven dealers had turned up.  One of the ones who had not turned up was the fair manager, Peter Hames, and it took a lot of phoning around before we discovered he had crashed his car on the way and was in hospital. He was not badly hurt but they were keeping him in for the day at least. He, of course, had the signs and banner.

I was quite organised then and I carried big sheets of paper and felt-tip pens with me. Basic signs were constructed and stuck up. The next problem was one of the dealers, an ex-military man, who was incensed that Peter Hames had given CND permission to set up a stall at the bottom of the stairs up to the hall. After a furious argument the military man put up his own sign denigrating CND and fumed for the rest of the day. We felt we could not charge people to come in, and very few did anyway. At lunch time we told the newest member that we were going out to lunch and left him in sole charge. Lunch was in the nearby pub, run by a chap who was a local councillor representing the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, set up and led by Screaming Lord Sutch, who parlayed one semi-hit song (Jack the Ripper) into a lengthy and irritating career. He still holds the record for standing for parliament – forty times without success.

After a lengthy lunch we returned to the fair. The chap holding the fort said that he had had one customer interested in my postcard album of music-hall artists, priced at £120. He had offered £100, which I was horrified to find the dealer had turned down. He had suggested the customer wait until I returned from lunch. As you would expect the possible punter never came back and I sold the album years later for £60. Since then I have heroically resisted most attempts to drag me away from my stand towards a hostelry when the fair is open, but I make up for it in the evening.

Towards the end of the fair Graham York was looking at books on my stand and quite fancied a two volume work on mountaineering, priced at £30, but he did not want to pay for it. After a long discussion in which he intimated that he was fed up with his stock we came to an agreement that we would swap my two-volume work for his entire stand, on condition he helped me load it all into my van. This he did and I drove home very slowly with the backend scraping along the floor. I had some fresh shop stock and he had some space and a saleable set.

Chris Saunders (