3 November 2000

Old book, rural theme and a fascinating read

Should you be stuck

for a special gift for an

avid country sportsman,

why not consider an

antiquarian book.

Jeremy Hunt went browsing

in Westmorland and was spoilt for choice

NEVER judge a book by its cover – and nothing could be more truthful as you browse along the shelves at Verdun House. Here, concealed in a terraced cottage in the village of Shap, near Penrith, lies a treasure trove of country life writing.

Step inside, straight off Shaps main street, and be swept away into another time. There are only two small rooms here but David Grayling has packed them both with almost 3000 books covering the countryside and natural history, hunting, shooting and fishing.

Most of these antiquarian gems have long since cast their covers. Some, despite their age and yellowed pages, have been cherished by previous owners and remain outwardly pristine. Others, more ragged around the edges, perhaps bearing pencil notes on well-thumbed pages or even better still a personal inscription scrawled in Victorian ink, proudly bear their history for all to see.

Its as though each one has its own story to tell, but not just a story in words.

The look, the feel and even the smell of these books gives a tantalising hint of their earlier life. Look closely as you turn the pages. You may find a clue to their past. And thats what makes every one of these books unique.

&#42 30 years collecting

David Grayling, who began collecting old books over 30 years ago, used to work in agriculture until redundancy forced him to turn his hobby into a business.

Prices range from a few pounds to over £1000. And while some books are almost 150-years-old there are plenty of post-war works whose growing "collectability" is rapidly increasing their value.

"An antiquarian book doesnt have to be 100 years old to make it valuable. There is now a huge demand for books written in the 1950s and 1960s. Books that were considered relatively insignificant when they were first published are now hugely collectable and selling for three figure prices," says Mr Grayling as he hands over a small and rather ordinary-looking country book written in the early 1960s and still clad in the cover that clearly dates it.

The price marked on the inside is seven shillings and sixpence. "This is a little beauty. Its current value is around £130."

His business has now achieved international renown but it had humble beginnings over 30 years ago when he bought two second-hand books on hunting from a small shop in North Yorks. He can still remember their titles and their authors.

Those two purchases began a fascination with old books. But in the early 1970s Mr Grayling became a victim of the shake-up following the BOCM-Silcock merger and lost his job as a poultry advisor. Thats when he started to deal in antiquarian books.

"We now live in a society where everything old is collectable; that wasnt the case when I started. In my early collecting days I relied on junk shops that had acquired boxes of old books from house clearances. I was always on the look out for anything on field sports and country life and I learned what to buy mainly through instinct."

&#42 Memorable discovery

And those instincts started to pay off although on one memorable occasion it wasnt a country book that he spotted. The notable "find" was a rare copy of the Douai Bible – the first Latin to English translation of the Roman Catholic New Testament dated mid-1600s. It was bought privately from a house in Preston and later sold to another dealer for £100. "Quite a lot of money in the 1960s," recalls Mr Grayling.

But as a life-long countryman – Mr Grayling is a past master of the Lancashire-based Bleasdale Beagles and is a keen fly fisherman – he decided to specialise in antiquarian books on field sports and the countryside.

"New books are fine but there is something very special about old books. The writing style and the illustrations transport you back into another era which for the specialist – no matter what their country interests are – are totally absorbing. Old books have a nuance that modern books can never recapture."

Mr Grayling has recently bought the entire collection of fishing works belonging to the well-known author and angling writer Arthur Oglesby of Harrogate.

"There are over 300 books in the collection. Its a great opportunity to handle so many wonderful old works on fishing and its particularly satisfying to know that all these books will be bought and treasured by another generation of angling enthusiasts, such is the attraction of antiquarian books. They never lose their appeal and they nearly always increase in value."

David Grayling also publishes out of print works. His latest, A Shooting Mans Creed was written by Sir Joseph Nickerson – creator of many of UK farmings "giants" including the Nickerson Seed Company, and the Cotswold Pig Development Company.

David Grayling Books: (01931-716746)