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Antiquarian books are hot news across the world – and all eyes are on Derbyshire

Posted on 29/05/2019 in Press Coverage

In a digital age when nearly everyone – young and old alike – has a smart phone glued to their hand the world has much to thank Jim Spencer for, writes Charles Hanson.

His passion for books is helping to reinvigorate love for the printed page all over the world. For him nothing compares to the feel of a book, even the smell of the ink and paper.

Jim, 34, head of the books and works on paper department at Hansons, worked at Waterstones during the onslaught of e-books and e-readers such as the Kindle but says books have won the war.

He joined us in February 2017 determined to make our Library Auctions world famous. He’s well on the way to achieving that.

His discoveries, such as a Georgian sex manual from 1720 which made £3,100 from a £120 estimate, win headlines across the world. TV’s I’ve Got New For You latched on to that one.


His determined efforts to uncover forgotten treasures gain rich rewards. He practically crawled up chimneys searching every nook and cranny at Staffordshire mansion Bishton Hall last autumn, convinced he would find something special.

He’d all but given up then, just before the sale, discovered a first edition of one of the world’s most sought-after books, The Wealth of Nations. Published in 1776, it sold for £65,000.

Then there was the medieval illuminated manuscript Psalter which sold for £5,800. Jim came across it while routinely cataloguing at our Etwall saleroom – and froze on the spot, such was his shock.

There have been so many good finds, important buyers from London have been lured away from the capital to visit leafy Derbyshire to bid at his sales, which also features maps, manuscripts, famous signatures, vintage postcards and more.

He tells me he owes his lifelong love of books to his mother, an English teacher. He’s particularly fond of antiquarian books with their fine leather bindings, especially works on natural history, travel and satire.

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

He regularly gives talks to antiques societies throughout the UK, usually regarding the history of prints and printmaking processes.

His personal passion is for English comedies and 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.

He began buying and selling antiquarian books and prints as a hobby around 12 years ago. Eventually it became profitable enough to go part-time at the bookshop. He’d get up at 5am to trawl weekend car-boot sales for antiquarian gems. At one point, he didn't have a day off for a year.

Now his boundless energy is at Hansons and I’m delighted his department flourishing. Right now, he’s seeking items for his July Library Auction and wonders what the good people of Derby have tucked away at home.

Fascinating items consigned so far include a handwritten postcard by famous Nottinghamshire-born author DH Lawrence and hundreds of early 20th century postcards. My favourites include seaside offerings which include blustery scenes at Blackpool which don’t exactly shout ‘Wish you were here’.

Romantic wordsmith that he is, Jim is particularly taken with a love token Valentine, dated February 14, 1820, in our July auction. It’s extra special as it depicts the sweethearts in question - Edmund Hemming and Anne Wilkes. They’re dressed in the Regency clothing capturing the romance of the Jane Austen era.

But it's a tale of heartbreak. Research is still under way but we understand Anne died the following year and they never married. Thankfully, their love is set to be remembered 200 years later thanks to that special Valentine.

Enjoy free valuations at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, every Wednesday, 5-7pm, Fridays, 10am-4pm and Saturdays, 9am-noon. For book, maps and works on paper valuations, email [email protected].