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David Torres
David Torres

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I met Roy just once, and very briefly, in 2007. I had been trying to gather information about a memoir, published privately in India in or around 1863, in which the rules of snooker appeared to have been set down a good twenty years before they were formally articulated by the British forces in Madras. That strange and puzzling volume was Manwel Barberi, The Falcon of Valletta and his remarks on Chance in a series of letters, which I had found on a recent visit to Lisbon and which no-one I knew in the book trade had been able to tell me anything about.




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Also on the table were some nice early editions of Sperber, Kant, and Russell, as well as a few modern paperbacks by Georgette Heyer, Kingsley Amis, and Evelyn Waugh. All of them had been carefully spoiled with designs in paint, pencil, or felt-tip pen, some with words or phrases, others with delicate patterns; others still with crudely drawn figures and objects. Throughout his life and even into his late eighties, James explained, his father had spent his evenings altering the covers of his books with the materials that came to hand. What surrounded me in this purpose-built private world was a collection of about nine thousand books, the great majority of which had been carefully and systematically defaced.


James and I stayed in touch over the following months. We found that we shared a number of interests, and I would occasionally send him books or prints that I felt he might like. He in turn put me in touch with some useful contacts in the trade, including particularly Bill Littlefield, an American historian removed to Britain via Libya, who seemed to know quite a bit about The Falcon and with whom I eventually co-authored a brief article on the subject.


We began in earnest in the spring of 2010, first by marking up the bookshelves with section numbers, then by photographing and systematically numbering the books. We then set about gathering from friends and relatives any associated memories or information that might be interesting to posterity, which was tremendous fun; and finally we entered all these details into a database.


"We should not be excessively interested in books", he wrote. "We should be interested in stories, in language, in ideas, in perception, in imagination, in compression. These things are in books but they are not books. If a student finds he has an overwhelming interest in books he should consider a future as a bookbinder."


He was born in Budapest in 1918, the only child of Alva and Elisabeth Goldman. Alva dealt in rare and valuable books, and from their Andrassy Street shop, which included an apartment on the first and second floors, the family enjoyed a relatively privileged existence for the times.


Left: DSO-63007-JG: Our War Baby, D.S.O. Press, Mhow, 1915Right: RIM-23017-NJ: Arthur Rimbaud, Reliquaire, Léon Genonceaux, 1891Two of the rarer, and formerly valuable, books in the collection. Our War Baby is a humorous regiment journal compiled by the 1st Home Counties Brigade stationed in Mhow, India, and contains a number of pages of cricketing news. Very few copies are known to exist. Roy has defaced his with a sketch of the Cerne Abbas Giant wielding a cricket bat instead of a club. (He is possibly confusing it with the Long Man of Wilmington in the county of Sussex, a place which is referenced on the cover.) The once fine edition of Rimbaud's Reliquaire has been decorated with a Kandinsky-esque pattern of circles and lines in felt-tip pen, reducing its market value by about 6000.


Roy treated all his books equally regardless of any rarity value that they might otherwise have accumulated. By treating them all equally, he rendered them all equally valueless. That is one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that Roy could take a merely rare book and make it absolutely unique. That is how we look at it, and should you ever find yourself visiting the Collection, or attending one of our occasional exhibitions, we hope you will come to the same view.


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