I first learned about the beloved London generalist secondhand and rare bookstore Any Amount of Books' purchase of 20-25,000 publisher's file copies from artist and Marchpane rare book dealer Natalie Kay Thatcher's Instagram feed.
As soon as I could the following week, I dropped in and bought a handful of first edition file copies by women writers for The Second Shelf. I also happened to be in the store yesterday, and bought a few more. I like the idea of a copy that sat in a publisher's archive as a sample of the book as they published it. They stamp all sorts of marks on the pages, usually anathema to dealers and collectors, but sometimes it contains the exact publishing date or how many first editions were printed, which can inform the collector about the publisher's belief in or relationship to the author. But I also realized, as a new bookdealer, that I knew very little about what a file copy really meant to the rare book trade or collector. They certainly didn't seem like much of a big deal, as the copies I bought were between £5-7 each, so I called up Any Amount of Books owner Nigel Burwood to ask him about them.
He bought the stock in bulk from Orion books, a publisher that has subsumed many other publishing companies including Victor Gollancz, the popularly collectable publisher of literature, particularly known for publishing fringe and genre (Burwood mentioned LSD, pacifism, and Orwell all in the same sentence), American authors, and sci-fi, recognizable for their yellow covers and bold font choice and splashes of red ink.
Often, he explained, publishers first call in the "big guns," like Peter Harrington, who have pick of the rarest and most prized books, so by the time Burwood bought his thousands, most copies of Orwell and Vera Brittain, for example, were gone (though he did find a few), and that some of those titles are worth a great deal. He mentioned that a friend of his once was able to buy a file copy of Ford Madox Ford's The Questions at the Well, which was printed in such a small quantity that it was pretty much unknown. Those type of books are so rare that collectors never have them. "File copies are known to dealers as a wonderful thing, you get some of the great rare books as they are sometimes the only copies available, it had such a small print run."
They aren't to everyone's taste though, Burwood pointed out. "It's a literary taste, a bibliographical thing. And most dealers can't handle that quantity of books the publisher wants to clear from their storage, but we can."
Any Amount of Books has only looked at 25% of their acquisition so far and they are having fun decorating their windows with the stock. Many are available in the store, but many of the nicer and rarer things are available online. They are still relatively affordable, at £30-50 each.
Image credit: A.N. Devers