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Richard Valentine Remembered

It seems to have belatedly fallen to me to report the death of bookdealer, Richard Valentine, who died peacefully at home on Easter Sunday. I was lucky enough to be able to remember Richard and celebrate his life with many of his friends at his funeral. However, for some reason I had assumed that from within the ranks of the book trade, someone more 'qualified' than I would mark his passing.

Richard and I started bookselling at the same time, we both had daughters called Alice, born within days of each other; and it could be said that events conspired to make us friends. We shared a love of books - which he was good at buying, but not so good at selling - a subject we spent a great deal of time discussing over the years.

Richard started selling books for Alan & Joan Tucker, in Stroud, in the late 1970's. Alan first encountered him as the librarian of a local school, "leading a small farting dog on the end of a school tie. Richard was a wonderful talker, almost too good. Instantly one was swept into an inspirational saga of his pilgrimages... We instantly recognised each other as kindred spirits, the beginning of a friendship, which always had, for like repels like, an underlying spice of wariness. Richard was a born second-hand bookseller. He loved books, he knew everything, he was pretty useless, he was lost, he was educated, he had the voice, the looks, the charm, the background."

Walking into the Tucker's shop, Peter Goodden recalls being "welcomed by an amiable presence who could have been a Seicento Italian portrait come to life: strong, clear features; thick, glossy black hair, well cut in an upmarket 'pudding basin' style; a rapid poniard smile, and keenly communicative bright blue eyes. Richard could have been a minor Medici, banished from the main board for preferring books to banking. And prefer books to the grind of business he certainly did. He talked enthusiastically about them, was well informed and well read, and he had sound literary judgement and taste. But whatever subject - and there were many - Richard expatiated on became lacquered by his glittering advocacy. You always emerged from Richard's company into the greyer world outside convinced that life was bigger and better than when you had entered his premises."

By the early 1980's Richard had set up shop on his own, just down the road, in the small Cotswold town of Nailsworth. He hated the business of running a bookshop, but had a succession of them. Every time he vowed it would be the last, but he was so wedded to the town that he started its popular festival. A hopeless technophobe, he somehow eventually managed to wrest enough control of the PC, to spend the last few years selling books on the internet.

Thomas A. Clark, friend and frequent shop minder says: "My sense of Richard was that his province was being rather than doing (as Frank Sinatra might have said) that a personal quality distinguished him. I'm not sure how that would translate into the stuff of obituaries, which seem to be defined by accomplishments."

Much as he enjoyed books and endured bookselling, music was Richard's real passion. Finger in the ear, hardcore folk music. Tom Randall recalls Richard's "abiding interest in folk music and folksong, which was reflected, in his stock. He travelled far and wide to auctions in search of scarce works on folksong and traditional ballads, though often paying prices which left little margin. Outside of bookselling, Richard played piano in "the ground-breaking Old Swan Band formed in the early 1970's, when pianists in folk bands were a bit of a rarity." In my experience, the gentlest of men, he was apparently a demon ceilidh caller, with a reputation for exhausting the most enthusiastic of dancers.

Barely a week goes by without someone remembering Richard. Those of us whose lives he brightened, sorely miss him.

Mike Goodenough
Inprint
12.08.05.

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