Where Marx and Lenin once Stood

Where Marx and Lenin once Stood

Sun 13 May

It was a dreary morning, and it was more out of a sense of duty than anything else that I cycled to the Kempton Antiques Fair. The absence of other book dealers quickened my pulse. The field was open. But as I trawled round the fair my low expectations proved correct. Until, finally, I was on my very last circuit and I discovered a linoleum catalogue.

The cover looked like a piece of lino that somebody had walked over a thousand times. After quite a bit of argy bargy mainly concerning the state of the cover, I purchased it and left very happy. It was not until I got home that I was able to inspect it carefully. I discovered that the book was produced in France in 1909.

I used to have a customer who collected trade catalogues. He had ones for whistles, underwater-diving equipment, and accessories for battery chickens. But I don’t think he had ever seen one like this.

With my help, he eventually compiled a catalogue of catalogues, which we used to try to sell his collection. The British Library rang us and asked if we would like to donate them to the Library. As he was only selling to stave off bankruptcy, this was an unlikely prospect.

The British Library has the greatest collection of books in the country. But they do not go in for trade catalogues. Their collections contain the beautiful and the original. But they do not curate the everyday, which is what most of my clients want.

Admittedly not a lot of people collect linoleum. But there are people who reproduce the designs, and construct film sets. This is my market. These clients like to know exactly when a particular type of flooring was made. However there was also another use for this catalogue of lino.

I used to do a guide to England's secondhand bookshops, giving the opening hours of each shop. In Whitehaven, Cumbria, there was an elderly gentleman, the father of the owner of a book shop, who bored for linoleum. It did not matter with what subject you began the conversation somehow he would turn it round to linoleum. Most people are not aware that linoleom comes from Dundee, but by the time he had finished you were promising to make a pilgrimage there. Readers used to ask me to list when he was not in situ, i.e. a non-linoleum day.

Much later, in London, I discovered a wonderful fact. According to the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell, they had a piece of linoleum on which both Karl Marx and Lenin had stood at different times. I cherished this fact, and dreamt of going to Whitehaven again to stun the Lino man, with the Marx + Lenin Lino square, not literally, of course.

I got only as far as Cumbria before I bumped into another book dealer, and he informed me that the lino man had died. The next time I got to the bookshop, I spoke to his son and told him how sorry I was. I said how much I would miss his father, as would several other people, and suggested he put up a portrait of him as a cut of linoleum.

Article by drif field. See "Field Guide" for drif's review of secondhand bookshops.


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