Bernard Quaritch Ltd. and Henry Folger

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“I regret that you insist upon a discount from my catalogue prices. I must decline trading on such terms. That other booksellers allow 10% discount from their catalogue is no precedent for me. These men made their selling prices accordingly. I am sorry that I must lose you as a customer.” Hard bargainer Henry Clay Folger met his match in Bernard Quaritch Sr., as this quote from the London bookseller’s letter to the oil executive in New York City on March 25, 1897 attests. The business relationship survived, however. In his quest to assemble the most complete collection of Shakespeareana in the world, Henry Folger maintained correspondence with 600 booksellers, 150 in London alone. The correspondence with Quaritch Ltd. from 1893 to 1930 was one of the most enduring and fruitful. There was no way Folger would permit himself to miss out on being a persistent customer of such a skilled bookseller as Quaritch. Upon the German-born founder’s death at 80 in 1899, son Bernard Alfred Quaritch during his short life (1870–1913) left his mark by developing the firm’s business with the growing American trade. Folger carried on most epistolary exchanges under managing director, E. H. Dring (1864–1928).

Bernard Quaritch Sr. as a young bookseller in London, 1849

In his dealings with all booksellers, Henry Folger was the consummate businessman. He usually managed to obtain 10% discount by paying in ready cash. He often examined items before deciding whether they were keepers. Folger was adept at devising a pithy phrase that identified for the seller the main reason for his refusal. Two days after Christmas in 1909, he wrote Bernard Quaritch Ltd., “I have returned to you by express the large paper copy of ‘Ben Jonson,’ which you were good enough to let me examine. I was almost ready to keep it, and would have done so had the title page been equally as fine as the balance of the book.” In 1919 a letter revealed which party possessed the better copy. “I have Henry Irving’s own copy of this edition [Shakespeare], which, of course, makes it unnecessary for me to secure the copy you have.”

Booksellers warmed to Folger’s writing style that sent them scurrying to find another object to tempt him. Fully realizing that Folger was close to his wallet, the firm wanted him to know they would go the extra mile to satisfy his wants at least cost to him. “In November [1922] you asked for 9 numbers of ‘The Times’ of 1901. About 4 are out-of-print and the publishers want me to pay 5/- each for the other 5 numbers. I refused to do that as I think the price exorbitant, and I am seeking them second hand.[Signed] Quaritch Ltd.”

Sign outside Bernard Quaritch Ltd. Bookshop in London, 2008

As his collection grew, Folger pointed out how his needs had evolved. In 1919, “Thank you for your letter of May 30 with a description of Garrick autograph letters. I am usually much interested in Garrick letters and manuscripts, but have secured so many that I now limit my buying to material that has a Shakespearian interest.” Folger knew how to draw a line. Without hesitation, he wrote back on Aug. 6, 1929, “I do not care for the Kemble snuff box.”

I visited Quaritch Bookshop on Sept. 9, 2008, on one of my first research forays in preparation for writing the biography of the founders of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. I took the underground to Piccadilly Circus station, then walked to 5–8 Lower John St. I was ushered into a cavernous room on the right with antiquarian books of impressive dimensions lining the shelves, floor to ceiling. Two gentlemen––a Brit, Nicholas Poole-Wilson, 41 years with the firm; an American, Richard Linenthal, 29 years––in white shirts and tie sitting on opposite sides of the huge space seemed to have been born in that room. I evoked with Richard the alma mater we two shared with Folger, Amherst College in western Massachusetts. I was ecstatic when Nicholas suddenly took leave, then reappeared with a marked-up book auction catalog from 1903 containing––bound in the back––handwritten bid lists in the small clerk’s hand of Henry Folger. A treasure waiting to be examined!

Richard Linenthal, Quaritch bookseller, with Stephen Grant, Folger biographer, 2008

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Author:Stephen Grant

Independent scholar Stephen H. Grant is the author of the first biography of Henry and Emily Folger, COLLECTING SHAKESPEARE (Johns Hopkins, 2014), which describes how the Brooklyn couple founded and endowed the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC in 1932.

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