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Jim Spencer: I want to make Hansons' library department world famous

Picture Caption: Jim Spencer, head of Hansons library department

Books, maps and manuscripts are soaring to success at a Derbyshire auction house thanks to the dedication of a man determined to make his library department world famous - Jim Spencer.

In February (2017), the 32-year-old, who says he owes his lifelong love of books to his mother, an English teacher, was tasked with developing this specialist section at Hansons Auctioneers.

And he’s pinching himself over the success he is generating – and the interest sparked among dealers and collectors from the UK and around the world.

He said: “The books and maps in our September Fine Art auction attracted interest from important collectors in several countries, and I was chatting to London dealers who were visiting us for the very first time.”

Highlights from Hanson’s library department’s September (30) Fine Art sale included:

  • Medieval illuminated manuscript Psalter: £5,800
  • Unusual 19th-century manuscript children's story/fairy tale, with naive surreal illustrations of witches, demons, fairies, ghosts: £900
  • 18th-century 'hornbook' dated 1743: £2,700
  • Plans, Elevations and Sections, of Hot-Houses', George Tod, 1807 (complete with hand-coloured aquatint plates): £2,200
  • Regency manuscript estate plan/map for Aldwick Court, Somerset, dated 1815: £1,350
  • 17th-century map of Cornwall by John Speed: £1,100
  • Lord Nelson autograph letter, written on board HMS Victory, signed 'Nelson & Bronte', dated 7th November 1803: £6,000

Jim’s department is born out of a personal passion for books, which at one point saw him work a year without taking a day off.

He said: “I love antiquarian books, fine leather bindings, especially works on natural history, travel and satire.

“Some incredible finds are coming in at Hansons, such as the medieval illuminated manuscript Psalter which sold for £5,800 (Sept 30). When I opened that book I just froze. I was shocked to make such an amazing discovery but delighted in equal measure.

“I’ve worked on both sides of the industry, both as a dealer and at an auction house, and I know what tempts bidders. I understand the importance of the internet and the future of the industry. I know how to generate interest and excitement internationally, with so much bidding now done online.

“Before coming to Hansons I had a business based in Birmingham’s Custard Factory specialising in Georgian caricatures and books. Prior to that I was a high-street bookseller at Waterstones. And you won’t be at all surprised to learn that I studied English Literature, English Language and Art at the University of Birmingham.

“I worked at Waterstones during the onslaught of e-books and e-readers such as the Kindle - and we won the war. People love the feel of a book, even the smell of the ink and paper, and nothing else comes close.

“I regularly give talks to antiques societies throughout the UK, usually regarding the history of prints and printmaking processes.

“My personal passion is for English comedies and my favourite books include Lucky Jim, Three Men in a Boat, Decline and Fall, Diary of a Nobody, Humphry Clinker, Tristram Shandy, and anything by Wodehouse.

“I began buying and selling antiquarian books and prints as a hobby around ten years ago. Eventually it became profitable enough to go part-time at the bookshop. I used to get up at 5am every Saturday and Sunday to trawl the car-boot sales before work, then visit auction houses during the week. I didn't have a day off for about a year.

“Some examples of bargain finds include a complete set of first-state Hogarth engravings, Marriage A-la-Mode, bought from a Bristol auction house for £95 and sold within 48 hours for £2,500; Samuel Palmer's Willow etching and an original Piranesi etching from Vedute di Roma, both part of a job lot for £5 from a Warwickshire auction house. They sold for more than £1,000.

“I also bought a complete set of Buffon's Histoire Naturelle for under £100 from an auction house in the Cotswolds and sold it for more than £1,000.

“Plus, I've supplied works to notable collectors, famous actors and authors, heritage organisations, private country estates, museums, universities and even film studios.

“I was always looking to the future, and could see that the internet was democratising the antiques industry. Online bidding is becoming so user-friendly that it enables collectors, internationally, to buy directly from auction.

“I needed to be dynamic, so it was a case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper. I share my passion with vendors and buyers, give talks and do the best I can for everyone.

“I love meeting people, have some great contacts and a manic energy. I'm determined to make Hansons’ library department world-famous.”

To find out more or arrange a valuation, email: [email protected]