Tony assured me on numerous occasions that we first met when he answered an ad I’d placed in the Trading Post. “I bought a pile of Film Fun weeklies off you.” They’re probably still neatly packed away somewhere in his collection. I found his name in an old 1970s address book that recently popped up again during a tidy-up.
The University of NSW book fair probably saw our next meeting. In the 1980s that event was held every second year on the ground floor in Unisearch House, Anzac Parade, Kensington. We spotted each other while scanning the children’s book tables, that being where our collecting interests crossed paths. Tony probably suggested that I visit him and have a look at his collection. In the mid-1980s I launched my small print run biblio magazine, “Golden Years” and sent Tony a copy. Some time after that we either met up at his home or more likely at the next book fair.
In 1989 I took a redundancy package and began spending a lot of time visiting secondhand bookshops, op shops and auctions. Perhaps Tony put me onto Tempe Tip, as the Salvos’ facility near the Tempe container depot was known. In earlier days prior to my becoming involved in the book world, this was the mecca for all bargain hunters, in much the same way the Chatswood White Elephant store drew those same folk on the North Shore.
At this point I should mention two long-departed and much-missed biblio mentors, Bill Hall and Tom Ebbage. Tom lived at St Johns Park on a 5-acre plot when I first visited him in the 1970s after Bill (one of the original Hammondville 100 settlers) put me onto him. We all collected vintage children’s publications. Interviews with both Bill and Tom can be found on my web site. Tony knew both but all of us were somewhat furtive in our contacts, especially when it came to mutual interests! At the time Tony and I were particularly interested in the works of “Biggles” author W E Johns. Tony then and forever was blessed with a 6th sense that always turned up trumps at any book sale. He was the Roger Bannister of the book world, without ever having to raise a sweat!
In the 1990s we made the decision (at different times, perhaps) to try our hand at selling books and collectables at the monthly Sydney Model Auto Club swap meet at Granville. This followed our visiting it prior to its move to the old Crest Cinema, when it was held in a church hall to the west of Woodville Road. Tony’s first attempt saw him do a roaring trade, taking in hundreds of dollars, hand over fist. If my memory serves me correctly, buyers were literally shoving money in his face as he opened up cartons of goodies.
At this point I’ll introduce another much-missed pal, Cathy Goodwin. Cath and I had teamed up due to mutual interests, namely media science fiction, Sherlock Holmes and The Bill. Cath wrote – brilliantly – and I, among others, published her work. She and Tony hit it off from the start and the three of us would meet at Tony’s occasionally to sort or more likely just talk. Before much longer we occupied tables every month at the swap meet. Tony, never the bloke to do things by halves, constructed marvelous display shelves that were easy to carry, erect and were I’m pretty sure, the envy of the other traders in the hall. The great advantage of any such event is meeting other collectors with similar interests. The best advantage, of course, was getting in early and wandering around the hall to see what you could pick up for yourself.
The old garage, as Tony called his collection repository, once upon a time contained his entire collection. So I’m led to believe although Tony did tell me a large part was still back in England in the family attic. Down the years, despite Tony’s best efforts at raining in his collecting passion by only picking up choice items, the collection grew and grew.
In the 1990s I became a volunteer at the Uni of NSW book fair. This led to volunteering in the book room “downunder” where the U-Committee sorted and priced the donations. It didn’t take much into talking Tony to follow suit. His workplace wasn’t far away so he could drive down during lunch on Mondays. Once he made his vast biblio knowledge known, he wound up working with the slow auction and collectables volunteers. Like myself, he also became involved in visiting folks to collect donations, a task that often required more tact than I could manage at times. Tony on the other hand, with his people skills and charm, came back with more interesting stories than I can remember. Generally it wasn’t unusual, when rolling up to a donor’s home, to be met with the questions: “How much are they worth?” or “How much will the university pay me?” Such is life!
As 2000 arrived, the monthly swap meet had moved to a less interesting location and collecting interest had generally waned. Tony tried other, bigger, events around Sydney while probably thinking over what the future held. We saw less of each other but kept in contact via the phone but eventually the idea of opening a shop popped up. I’d casually suggested it for years and, I’m sure, many other dealers and collectors Tony had come across also helped to cement the idea in his mind. Work pressure probably played a part in his decision to open the Old Book & Comic Emporium. A need to escape from the rigors of everyday life and try to channel one’s skills and interests in a different direction all played their part.
To be continued.