The Politest Bargain Basement Sale

I had spotted the small notice the week beforehand.  It had been affixed to one of the bookshelves, and it stated that Quinto Bookshop and partner shop Francis Edwards Antiquarian Booksellers would be closed that following weekend for restocking and would reopen again on Tuesday at 2PM.

Tuesday at 2PM: my diary was free.  I was already looking forward with anticipation to being the first to pick through Quinto and Francis Edwards’ new stock and to see if there were any bargains to be had in the sedate atmosphere to which I had become accustomed to browse.

How wrong could I be.

Come Tuesday at 1.55PM and the queue in front of me along Charing Cross Road to get into Quinto and Francis Edwards already numbered forty plus; by 2PM, the queue behind me was a further fifty strong.

On the dot of 2PM, the door opened and one hundred eager book-buyers progressed single-file down the narrow staircase to the bargain basement.  The staircase has long displayed a notice warning of its rickety nature and unstable bannister, but it held up admirably under the weight of this unexpected burden.

500 stair sign

The basement of Quinto and Francis Edwards consists of two rooms, neither of which could be described––in all honesty––as anything other than small.  On a warm day, occupied by a rampant bibliophile horde, it took on its best impression of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Customers were stacked three-deep at the bookshelves; those at the front were quickly amassing significant piles of books, which formed increasingly teetering towers in their hands.

500 basement

However, there was no pushing; no snatching; no raised voices.  No vulgar displays of manic, ill-mannered consumerism as is so often seen at the worst Black Friday or January sales.  In fact, it was the politest bargain hunt I have ever witnessed.

Many of the customers were clearly rival book dealers, some of whom obviously knew one another of longstanding.  There were friendly greetings and an exchange of professional banter; many ‘after you’s and ‘you first’s.  There were offers to get books down from the top shelves; suggestions of where certain books might be found that could be of interest to a dealer with a particular specialism.  An old copy of Tristram Shandy was pointed out on a lower shelf:

“How much?”

“A fiver.”

“Give it up here then.”

2.30PM was to find me back on the pavement of Charing Cross Road outside of Quinto and Francis Edwards, a big stack of––paid for––books in my hand, and a greater respect for the quiet and dignified camaraderie of my fellow bibliophiles in my heart.

© Fergus Longfellow


Fergus Longfellow comes over a bit gooey for Quinto and Francis Edwards.

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