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archive files:

A Life's Work Brought to Book (Peter Miller)

Laying your Cards on the Table (Ephemera)

Psycho - Hitchcock's original typescript

Going by the Book - a tour of some of the U.K's best bookshops

George II's Kitchen Secrets Revealed

Feasts Fit for a King


21st May 2004

Is this England's oldest teabag?
Maev Kennedy [Arts & Heritage] writing in The Guardian


A York bookshop believes that the proud boast of a long-vanished Welsh grocer is the oldest paper bag in England - and there's a packet of fine tea on offer to anyone who can produce an older one.

Tony Fothergill, of Spelmans in York, believes the bag was made in Bristol around 1850, a few years after the introduction of commercially manufactured bags, but before machinery to do the job was imported from the US.

Somebody was charmed by the elaborately dressed Chinaman with the background of pagoda and palm trees: the bag survived, in near mint condition, tucked between the pages of a book.

"It was used - it still has the little pinhole in the corner for threading a string through," Mr Fothergill says, turning it upside down and shaking it carefully. "Empty though, not a grain of tea left."

His firm has form in turning up miraculously surviving paper ephemera: his own favourite was a Georgian "two pints please" notice for a milkman.

Triangular paper bags, rolled from a single sheet of paper, are known from the 18th century, but mass production had to wait for cheap rolls of paper replacing handmade single sheets.

The "mother of the paper bag" was Margaret Knight, an American also dubbed "the Female Edison". She was an inventor from childhood, who at the age of 12 invented a safety cut-out to shut down factory machinery and protect workers. She went on to perfect designs for shoe sole cutters, internal combustion engines, and sash windows.

She was working in a paper bag factory when she invented the better paper bag machine - it automatically folded the paper to create a flat bottomed bag - but her advice was rejected with scorn, so she founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company in 1870.

This bag was made by Robinsons in Bristol, a surviving firm of printers. It was almost certainly a standard design, with the name of the trader added - the double E on the man's scroll suggests careless overprinting. Spelmans will offer it for sale at the ABA book fair next month at Olympia in London.


17th February 2001:

Tim Teeman writing in The Times

Ken Spelman, a true treasure trove based in York, boasts a beautifully designed, easy-to-follow site selling "rare, antiquarian and fine out-of-print books bought and sold in all quantities; 52 years' experience and over 40,000 titles", with Blink, "a specially designed search engine for the book collector."

16th November 2000:


James Fergusson writing in The Bookdealer.

Ken Spelman Rare Books have gone, till now, from strength to strength. Their latest catalogue, 43, 'Recent Acquisitions', celebrates the expansion of their shop into the premises next door, thus reuniting the two shops which were one before the First World War.

Their catalogue cover illustrates in full colour their new shop front, art books displayed artfully under a vase of flowers, books on orangeries and the kitchen garden lined up beside Sargent and Venetian villas, glass and Ibsen. The fanlit shop door stands open, revealing bookcases eight shelves high - orderly, packed, inviting. Inside is a photograph, black and white and a little faded, of the shop as it used to be circa 1910, before Spelman's (now in only their 52nd year) had it.

Edwin Story Booksellers & Stationers were more old fashioned. The lettering is hotchpotch, a mixture of sweetshop-curly and classroom-plain straight on the glass. The two windows are subtly different - as though Story's, too, have overrun a willing neighbour. One is stacked with photograph frames and other paraphernalia of stationers for the gentry; the other is an obscure muddle of books and prints on which even my eager magnifying glass sheds little light. In each door stands a figure - each, again, oddly different in physiognomy and dress: two proud Story cousins in suits waiting for Passchendaele?

What is impressive about Spelman is that in the twenty-first century not only do they seek to remain, indeed to expand on street, but that at the same time they ally this expansion to e-development.

'We are committed to maintaining the tradition of a general country bookshop but in this new century this will be complemented by a large web site as well as regular printed catalogues in our specialist areas of the humanities and the fine arts.'

Thus the shop boasts a stock of 40,000 books across the board, while the website shows 'over 10,000 titles searchable on-line', with 300 titles added each week. This is progressive and interesting; and not, from current evidence, at the expense of the quality of their printed catalogues.

The latest, divided into sections entitles 'Art, Architecture & Design'. 'Gardens, Landscape & Agriculture', 'Country House Guides'. 'Picturesque Travel & Aesthetics', 'Italy & the Grand Tour', 'Illustrated Books', 'Literature', runs to 337 items, well chosen, clearly presented and with judicious illustrations.

Their web-site is equally hospitable..."

Reproduced courtesy of The Bookdealer.