Clifford Elmer Books in Cheshire, UK is a fantastic excuse to put myself on an eastbound airplane, or at least check the mailbox every day. It's a bookseller specializing in true crime and criminology for decades. This is where authors of true crime with impeachable taste like to buy and sell rare books.
The bookstore offers a catalog by mail. Its website also has a page explaining the Notable Trials series, if you've seen a reference and wondered what they were.
I discovered this gem only recently, and got a chance to chat up the owner of the store. We traded some questions and answers about the most expensive book he's ever sold ($2,400, can you believe it?), the greatest treasure he's ever found, the most popular books, and his favorites.
(Clews note: What an image. The Church, the State, the Heavens, and the People (of both classes and both genders) all stand united in the ultimate condemnation of the robber-murderer. This illustration is from a 1786 broadside on the execution of a teenager who beat a milkman to death. Jpeg courtesy the blog Giornale Nuovo, Gallows Literature, based on "Curiosities of Street Literature," published by a London bookseller in 1871.
What's the most expensive book you've ever sold?
The most expensive single item we have sold in recent years is: Mrs Eleanor Mason's FLORRIE CHANDLER of the Secret to the Maybrick Poisoning Case. Prelims+45pp. Printed for Mrs. E. Mason by G.W.D'Vauz, D'Vauz Press, Rangoon, February 1890.
For many years collectors and librarians doubted the existence of Mrs Eleanor Mason's impassioned defence of Florence (Chandler) Maybrick. If indeed it had been published, then no copies remained or were held in any of the major international library holdings and it is not featured in the main bibliographies of crime.
Mrs Mason was the widow of the late Reverend Francis Mason D.D., Missionary to the Karens, Burma. At the time of writing she was living at No. 90 Cheap Road, Cantonment, Rangoon. The book was printed locally and obviously had extremely limited circulation.
Mrs Mason states that "...all the avails from this Pamphlet after paying expenses will be sent to Mrs Maybrick's Agent towards the costs of her Defence". The book sold for £1200 ($2400).
What's the greatest treasure, monetarily or historically, that you've ever found?
The greatest treasure - A collection of watercolour portraits and drawings of late 18th/early 19th century criminal characters together with contemporary notes relating to their characters and crimes. In total there are around 25 examples and most appear to have been drawn from life and are to a very high artistic standard.
The accompanying notes are in some cases supplimented with contemporary newspaper cuttings. (They are so superb that I have not persuaded myself to catalogue them yet but, in relation to your previous question, I would expect them to sell for £4,000 to £5,000 ($8,000 - $10,000).
Also, you would be amazed what some people leave in books!
What are the most requested titles?
The most requested titles are mainly from the Notable Trials Series published by William Hodge & Co. between 1906-1960. With over eighty titles to collect it can be a lifetime challenge, especially to get copies in collectible condition.
Who are the most requested authors?
Your question on 'most requested authors' is fascinating since, on reflection, I find most collectors are interested in particular cases rather than writers and will pursue any relevant tiles irespective of the author!
Unsolved or disputed verdicts attract the most attention.
Is there a particular book or broadside that's eluded you that you'd love to find?
After 30 years we have seen most things however, I am sure there are lots more items to come that we do not yet know about. In fact next week, maybe...
What is the best book you've ever read in this genre?
Best books - (this is a very personal choice)- Jonathan Goodman's Who Killed Julie Wallace -- A superb analysis of this classic unsolved Liverpool murder. It has everything.
Max Hasting's The Other Mr Churchill [The first true crime book I ever acquired. This one started it all!] A biography of Robert Churchill who for many years appeared, mainly for the prosecution, in most capital cases involving firearms. If you wish to cultivated an interest in English/Scottish murders 1900-1950's then start with this book and the following: Douglas G. Browne & E.V.Tullet's Sir Bernard Spilsbury - His Life and Cases.
Disputed verdicts are always interesting and one of the best of these is still Ludovic Kennedy's 10, Rillington Place (the Evans & Christie Cases). Even though it was first published in 1961 it is still in print in paperback.
You did not ask but my 'pet hate' is any of the more recent outpourings regarding 'Jack the Ripper', most of which are at best, misguided fiction. Just get a copy of Colin Wilson & Robin Odell's Jack the Ripper - Summing Up and Verdict or Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper, both over 20 years-old, and settle for that.
On a more academic note try- Albert Borowitz's (with notes by Jacques Barzun and Foreword by Jonathan Goodman [what a team!]) Blood & Ink - An International Guide to Fact-Based Crime Literature. Such a lovely book to dip into when you need a 'fix'.
What words of wisdom would you offer someone bent on amassing an historic crime collection?
Thoughts for collectors. Be just that, a collector. Do not rely on getting tiltes that you already know about from new book internet sellers. Seek out a good 'Bricks & Mortar' shop and get to know the seller.
You will be amazed how many titles you will come across whilst browsing, the best ones always turn out to be the books you did not know about beforehand. The biggest misconception is "If Amazon don't have it - it doesn't exist."
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