Tuesday, March 15, 2011


My project at work seems to be going from strength to strength. I have a first-rate team working for me and every other week, sales reach an all-time high. Things have come a long way from two years ago, when I worked alone in a vast, empty, open-plan office, wondering if I'd ever be able to make a living out of the strange assortment of books and ephemera that arrived in the warehouse below.

But there is one threat to our growth: we are running out of space. If we can't double our inventory within the next six months, then the project will start to lose momentum and we may have to throw away perfectly good books to make room for the newer titles.

I've no doubt that someone thought that they were doing me a huge favour when they suggested that we move into this abandoned warehouse, only a minute's walk from my current office:

When I first saw this building, I thought I had entered a scene of post-apocalyptic desolation, reminiscent of the Tarkovsky film Stalker. The ground was littered with abandoned objects, giving the impression that its inhabitants had left in a hurry during an emergency:

It didn't get any better inside:

When I reached the top of the stairs, I was greeted by the sight of a dead pigeon:

I was told that the warehouse was "purpose built", but for what? Abducting and torturing political prisoners? The only thing missing was a bare lightbulb.

Back in the air-conditioned comfort of my office, I found these wonderful covers:

It's very rare to find an 80-year-old book with its original dustjacket. I don't know why people didn't hang on to them the way we do today, particularly when the cover design is as appealing as this, but I don't think that dustjackets were regarded as an integral part of the book (please feel free to correct me on this, as I'm only guessing).

I love the font of this prescient book, which was published in 1934.

This title was published in 1969 and the cover design's elegant, modernist simplicity is typical of textbooks from this period. I would have probably made the tree more abstract, as it looks a little incongruous, but I still like the cover.

I also admire the clear, understated design of this cover, published a couple of years after 'The Birth of Modern Ireland'.

But nobody could call this jacket design understated:

This absurb dustjacket design lays itself open to a number of interpretations. Judging by the look of horror on the young man's face, I can only assume that the monkey committed a faux pas when passing the port.

What will happen to book jackets in the age of the Kindle?

I seem to be ranting about the Kindle a lot at the moment and as Martin H so perceptively observed, this may be because I'm "teetering on the edge of Kindledom".


Anonymous said...

Moving into a warehouse like that could be fantastic. It's basically a blank canvas. Get some young designers from the local art school to help you do it up using free/cheap materials. Get some of your cool old photos framed. Get some decent space heating (maybe radiant heaters hanging above your workstations).

Awesome, I'd ask you for a job if I were still living in Brighton but alas, I'm in New Zealand. :)


Martin said...

Would I be considered alarmist if I asked, 'is that asbestos or concrete cladding on the warehouse'?

Like Josh, I think your world of work sounds fascinating, particularly to a former cataloguer, like me.

lucy joy said...

My home town really must be awful. To me, that building looks to be in really good condition.
That beautiful building is only now being demolished. It was 'the place to be' until a few months ago, our only shopping precinct.
You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter...

Steerforth said...

Josh - if this was a Cliff Richard film, I'm sure that we'd have the whole place transformed in a weekend. But I don't think the photos do justice to the sheer awfulness of the warehouse.

There is a serious damp problem that would ruin books and cost a fortune to fix. Also, the electricity supply has some sort of Heath Robinson set-up where the light switches are in the building next door.

I like blank canvases, but not rotting ones ;)

Martin - It's entirely possible that it's asbestos. I don't think that the building would pass any health and safety inspection.

Blazing Modesty said...

I would be quite tempted by the abandoned warehouse, minus the dead pigeon.

Glad things are working well with your project!

Steerforth said...

Okay Lucewoman - you've beaten me hands down. I now feel like a pampered, Regency fop.

Blazing Modesty - I'm sure that Chris would love this warehouse - it's the perfect settting for a sequel to Ten Dead Men.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Great photos, tho!

Anonymous said...

If only most buildings lasted as well as most books! Good luck finding a better space.

Anonymous said...

Dustjackets do wear out over time. Perhaps individual copies of books used to get much more wear than they do nowadays? Copies got passed around and used a lot more, whereas now they get read once and put on a shelf. Also, there is that notion of collectable value of original packaging which just didn't exist in the past.

(Of course, everyone now keeps packaging and I expect the reverse to become true - it'll be more unusual to find a book without its dustjacket)

Steerforth said...

Well Romney, that certainly applies to some signed books - try finding me an unsigned copy of Gary Barlow's autobiography!

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear that things are going well at your book business. That's the kind of good news we need to hear.

Regarding book jackets: I think you're right about people not thinking they were important. My mother and I nearly came to blows after she threw away the dustjacket from the first hard-cover non-children's book I ever bought (I was about twelve at the time) because the beautiful tuquoise, tan and white cover was torn! By the time I found out, the trash had been collected and the cover was gone for good. All these years later, the sight of my poor beautiful "naked" book still makes me sad. But in her defense, she really didn't know it had any value or I'm sure she wouidn't have done it.

Canadian Chickadee

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Love the 'Future Imperfect' cover.

The very best of luck in finding new premises. Preferably less post-apocalyptic.


katyboo1 said...

I have a terrible confession to make, which as a book collector and bibliophile now makes me shudder with shame.

As a child I used to take off the dust jackets from books and colour them in, chop them up, use them as book marks, and just generally trash them.

I found them cumbersome and irritating. They were always slipping off or tearing, so I just took them off and found other uses for them. My dad, who had loaned me his collection of Famous Five hardbacks from when he was a boy, complete with dust jackets, went mental when he found out what I'd done.

We had a huge collection of old books, from both my parents and grandparents childhoods, and also because we would buy at rummage sales and the like, because it was cheaper. I never considered them to be valuable, so I would write in them, play libraries with them, and colour in the illustrations.

I was a book collector's worst nightmare. I hasten to add I used to read them over and over again as well. I didn't just mangle them.

I look now at the stock my mum buys, and my heart breaks when you find a beautiful illustration some child has coloured in. Ironic really.

Anonymous said...

the light switches are in the building next door? I see potential problems there.

Glad work is going so well.

The Jet Age cover is marevellous. It's so opitmistic somehow... Froma time before we knew how much of a mess of things everything makes... (Or at least, could pretend we didn't know.)