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Titans of the Trade: Christian White

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Our regular interview with an established bookseller.

What brought you into the rare book trade?

I’m a Book & Magazine Collector baby. Those ‘For Sale’ listings earned me beer money at uni, and gave me the thrill of making a sale.

Favourite holiday destination?

The Italian Lakes - best of all, Lake Garda.

Which aspects of the trade you most like/dislike?

Nothing beats buying manuscripts - it’s gambling, not investment. That 1620 letter from John Webster - is it the only surviving example of the handwriting of the Jacobean playwright or written by a clergyman from Rutland? It was the latter.

The worst thing is cataloguing boring books - I’m getting to be quite a snob and it alarms me a bit.

Dream dinner party for 8: who are your seven guests?

Zadie Smith, Martha Gellhorn, Mary Ann Evans, Anna Lapwood, Martin Amis, W. G. Sebald (might be catatonic) and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Favourite bookfair and why?

Edinburgh - just the best city, and a book-fair reborn thanks to Derek’s hard work.

Couple of useful pointers to new ABA members: Don’t be intimidated when you do your first ABA fair. We’re all just jobbing book dealers together. And if you’re prepared to make the effort to join the ABA, do make the effort to exhibit at the Chelsea Fair. It’s tremendous.

Which oversea bookfair works best for you and why?

New York - incredible levels of engagement and commitment from the super-sociable American public. And they really do buy books, but don’t expect to predict who it is that will buy.

Online bookfairs are quite the thing now - do they work for you?

I found them really useful during Covid and the immediate post-Covid period. The virtual ABAA California Fair in 2022 was incredible for me, but I’m not sure they’re going to survive.

What book or document do you dream of owning?

A Shakespeare lifetime quarto play (pre-1616). And WHEN I find one it’s going to be bound, unnoticed, with a bundle of boring imprints - between the funeral sermon and civil war tract.

Which book did you read as a child that has stayed with you?

Brendon Chase - I still want to run away to the woods.

Three all-time favourite bands/composers?

Max Richter, Mozart and Kate Rusby (the Barnsley nightingale).

Pint of beer or glass of wine?

A pint of Ilkley Brewery’s Mary Jane.

Any hobbies away from bookselling?

Planting trees.

As a northern-based dealer, where should the ABA be looking to have a fair north of London?

I’m not sure that another fair is really the answer - let’s make our existing fairs as good as possible.

As a manuscript specialist, what methods to you usually employ to verify scarce material?

I’ve made a real effort to improve my palaeographical skills - I’m getting pretty fluent reading Elizabethan secretary hand, but don’t test me!

When did you last cry?

My first daughter’s graduation, because my dad didn’t live to see the day.

Who (or what) inspired you to become a bookdealer?

Finding boxes of books discarded on the pavement in Coslany in Norwich. I selected a dozen decent looking things; presented them at the front counter of Tombland Books and they gave me a tenner in cash. I was 19 and I was hooked.

And if you weren’t one, what would you be?

Choral conductor.

Christian White Rare Books

Manuscripts, early printed books, association copies, annotated books.

Tel: 07811 455398

287 Leeds Road, Ilkley, LS29 8LL

Interview by Giles Lyon