Introducing Those Who Specialize in the Sale of Churchill Books:
Chartwell Booksellers, New York City
We continue our series profiling rare book dealers who specialize in the works of Winston Churchill. This month we spoke with Barry Singer of Chartwell Booksellers located in the shopping arcade of the Park Avenue Plaza in New York City.
CB: Who Are You?
BS: I am Barry Singer, the founder and proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers, which I opened in 1983. To the best of my knowledge, mine is the only standing bookstore in the world devoted to the works of Winston Churchill.
CB: How did you get into the business?
BS: Circuitously. In the early 1980s I was introduced to a developer named Richard Fisher who was then putting up a new building in midtown Manhattan to be called Park Avenue Plaza. Richard was the first Churchillian I ever met. I was a writer by profession then at Rolling Stone magazine. Richard and I got to talking about books, and he told me that he wanted to build a bookstore in the lobby of his new building.
He asked me what kind of bookstore I would create if I could, and I told him an English library sort of place with oak bookcases; an oasis from the city. Richard ended the conversation by saying that if I came up with a five-year business plan, he would back me in creating this store. I actually demurred, but Richard was persistent. His only request was that we name it Chartwell–for Winston Churchill. And so I opened Chartwell Booksellers as a select but general interest bookstore in April 1983.
CB: How did you reach the decision to dedicate the store exclusively to Churchill?
BS: It instantly became apparant to me that we should stock a few old Churchill books to complement our name. I had begun to send a mimeographed (!) newsletter to the distinguisehd tenants upstairs at Park Avenue Plaza announcing “new Churchill acquisitions” in our “Rare Book Department” (formed on the spot.) Right away I received a telephone call from the secretary of a Wall Street tycoon who said her employer would take all our new Churchill books, and would I please find him every book that Churchill had written in First Edition and have them all bound in leather. That became my dispensation to fly to the UK and begin buying Churchill books for the store in earnest. And I’ve never stopped. It’s been a blast!
CB: What advice do you have for building a collection?
BS: Buy what you love. Always operate from a sense of passion and curiosity. My own policy continues to be a simple one: anything you buy from Chartwell booksellers is returnable at any time for any reason for store credit. In other words, you can always trade up at any time to improve your collection. Buy what you can afford now, and later on as you learn more (and perhaps earn more), you always have the freedom to go further.
CB: What do people need to watch out for when building their own Churchill collections?
BS: Always buy from a reputable dealer whom you trust. The downside of the ever-rising interest in Chuirchill collecting is the appalling amount of forgery and mis-description that it has inspired. With all due respect, eBay is a cesspool of, at best, ignorance and, at worst, deceit. I recently collaborated with a London bookselling colleague to help apprehend a very professional (and talented) forger who had personally created most of the signed Churchill material on eBay over the past decade. He was arrested, convicted, and is now in jail.
CB: What trends do you see in pricing, supply and demand?
BS: For most of the life of Chartwell Booksellers, I’ve watched prices climb. Thirty years ago I sold my Wall Street tycoon a first edtion copy of Churchill’s first book The Story of the Malakand Field Force for $750. Today, fine copies are at least ten times that. However, the fact that the Forbes family decided a couple years ago to sell off Malcome Forbes’s massive Churchill collection has temporarily thrown a kink into this escalation. An ongoing series of Forbes auctions has flooded the market and depressed prices somewhat. It is, however, a temporary phenomenon–and, in truth, even a mixed blessing because it is inspiring to see all of this exquisite material leave private hands and enter the mainstream. Eventually, the collection will be absorbed.
CB: Why do you think people are so interested in Churchill?
BS: All sorts of people fancy him for every conceivable reason. Churchill seems to reflect almost anything that you care to project onto him. Everyone seems to want a piece of him.
CB: How do you get new customers and younger people interested in Churchill?
BS: Interest continues to soar–fanned by all the Second World War anniversaries. Also there is a perception that we lack a Winston Churchill today to somehow better grapple with the chaos of world events.
CB: What are your favorite Churchill books and stories?
BS: My favorites are the the ones that give a personal sense of Churchill as a human being: My Early Life, Thoughts and Adventures, Great Contemporaries. All of my favorite Churchill stories I have put into my own book, Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill. I’m happy to sell anyone a personally inscribed copy and then they can read it at their leisure, while looking at a lot of terrific pictures.
CB: What Churchill title or edtion would you like to have in your own collection?
BS: I don’t collect. I derive all my pleasure from having books pass through my hands to others. I have learned something new about Winston Churchill virtually every day. My customers teach me far more tha I have ever taught them. I love the proximity to Churchill. I love touching something that he touched if possible, but I have no desire to keep any of it for myself. Frankly, if I did I fear I would be out of business!
To visit the Chartwell Booksellers website and search its inventory CLICK HERE.