Part I: The Unwilling Spawn of a Rare Book Dynasty
David Brass

Monday, Aug 27, 2007

In the beginning (or, rather in 1960 at the age of thirteen), I was told by my parents and grandparents "you are to be a fourth generation antiquarian bookseller and you will work in the family bookshop every Saturday and school holiday"

This was definitely not what a thirteen year old wanted to hear... I was already into music and had just started learning to play the guitar, and so the concept of working in an antiquarian bookshop was a real interference with what I had in mind for my free time.

I must admit that working as a teenager (albeit part-time) in the bookshop at 48a Charing Cross Road, was extremely boring and soul destroying... even worse than school!!

At the age of seventeen (1964) - and by now being almost a full-time bass player, I was enjoying life to the full... touring round England with various bands, hopping from gig to gig... and only occasionally venturing into 48a. This was much to the chagrin of my parents and especially my Grandfather - Jack Joseph.

There is some documentary evidence linking my family with an early eighteenth-century London book-peddler called Lazarus, and speculation has been exercised over the possible connections with a Charles Joseph, a bookseller in St. Paul's Churchyard, who was charged with murder in 1516 (can you imagine the books he was selling - maybe a few left-over copies of the 1493 Schedel Liber Chronicarum!). The judge threw the book at him; he was hanged at Tyburn.

But it was my Great Grandfather Emmanuel Joseph who actually started the family business of E. Joseph way back in the late 1880's. For several years prior to that he had been working for Esther Lazarus (also in Holywell Street) with two other young men, Albert Myers and Charles Sawyer. He opened his first bookshop in Bedford Street, Strand sometime before 1890, then moved to Holywell Street before finally opening the well-known 48a Charing Cross Road shop in 1902.

My Great Grandfather died in 1930 leaving the business to his two sons, Jack and Sam Joseph, the former having joined the firm in 1911 after a period of training and experience in France and Germany, the latter, after the first world war and some years with Sabin's, the picture dealers.

Jack and Sam were completely dissimilar in temperament and appearance, but each complemented the other. My Grandfather Jack had the familiar physical characteristics of Mr. Punch, but his book knowledge was phenomenal, and he spoke near perfect French and German from the early years that he had spent in Paris and Leipzig.

Sam, though the younger brother by just eighteen months, looked at least twenty years younger than Jack. He was a handsome man with the Latin looks of those current Hollywood screen stars like Ricardo Cortez or George Raft. In the thirties he was married to a beautiful British actress named Binnie Barnes who had just had a great success as one of Charles Laughton's several wives in The Private Life of Henry Vlll. Soon after that Sam and Binnie left London for Hollywood - where she became quite famous in American films. A while later Sam returned to London alone... be continued.