By Mirjam Foot
On 1 May 1926, Jean Athena, daughter of Jesse Israel Myers and Clare Myers, née Aronowitz, was born in London. Underweight and undersized, she kept opening her mouth for food, looking like an unfledged bird. Her Uncle dubbed her Robin and thereafter she was never called anything else.
In 1934 the family moved to Cambridge, where her father took over the family tobacco business, but, not a business man, made heavy losses. The already shaky marriage broke up and Robin lived with her mother until she broke free from her influence, by moving to London in 1958 and then spending a year abroad.
She went to school at the Perse in Cambridge (1934-44), where she was happy and made several long-lasting friends. She liked history and English, was no good at science and loathed sport. At Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, she read English and on coming down, embarked on a teaching career, first with short-term appointments at boarding schools in the West and North of England (1949-51). After 18 months as a publicity officer at Bowes and Bowes, a Cambridge bookshop, she went back to teaching, this time to teach English as a foreign language, a job she enjoyed, as she found the adult students more interesting. In 1959 she went to Spain for a year to teach EFL and, at the same time, to learn Spanish herself, a language in which she remained fluent. Back in London she gave private lessons and then in 1969 went to teach English and Spanish at the North London Collegiate School, until the late 1980s when she became the school archivist.
In 1964 she had started to work at the National Book League: this was her entrée into the world of books, a world she felt thoroughly at home in and which she enjoyed for the rest of her life. While there she compiled her dictionaries of books in the English language and of the British booktrade. She became involved with the ABA, which in the early days held its annual bookfairs at the NBL. After these became bigger and moved out, the PBFA moved in and Robin enjoyed both. She became an honorary member of the ABA, contributed to the Antiquaran Book Monthly Review and enjoyed the dinners and parties. She also joined the Bibliographical Society, on whose Council she served for many years as Hon Librarian, and whose first woman President she became in 1996.
In 1978 she became Archivist of the Stationers’ Company and later also a Livery Man. She joined the Court, was a regular and enthusiastic attender at their dinners and festive occasions and helped many scholars with their archive research.
In 1979 Michael Harris started the Book Trade History conferences and Robin joined him in this enterprise from day 1. They ran the yearly conferences, later with the help and support from Giles Mandelbrote, and Robin remained a driving force, giving talks, chairing sessions and preparing papers for publication. From c. 2005 the ABA agreed to underwrite the conferences and their office provided very efficient and much appreciated administrative support.
In 1997 she was presented with a Festschift, a great occasion with a celebration not even rivalled by that at the award of her MBE in 2010.
Robin had a great gift for friendship. She made and kept contact with innumerable friends all over the world. She loved parties, liked nice clothes, enjoyed travel, was fond of music, and was happiest in congenial company.
From an early age Robin wanted to become a writer and in due course developed a quite distinctive and elegant style.
As well as catalogues, lectures, reviews, many articles, several pamphlets and 3 books on the Stationers’ Company archives, she edited and contributed to 2 books focused on James and Andrew Coltée Ducarel, the second one, now ready for the press, entitled: “I do not eat the bread of Idleness”, a quotation from Andrew Ducarel, is equally applicable to Robin herself.
She will be missed by all her friends.