Skip to main content

ABAA Member Peter Kraus remembers bibliophile, collector, and seller Colin Franklin.

I was lucky enough to have not one, but two, truly great booksellers as mentors. The first, and most important, was my cousin, Hans Kraus. From my mid teens on, he initiated me into the world of rare books, Teaching me how to use a bibliography and  exposing me to everything from Egyptian Books of the Dead to a first edition of Ulysses. However, In 1967 I was lucky enough to meet Colin when he was still working at his family publishing house of Routledge and Kegan Paul, which had been the publisher of a book by my great grandfather, and I was working for the Kraus companies. We hit it off immediately, and he invited me to pay a visit to Culham, which was then his country house. There he proudly showed me his latest purchase, a complete set of Kelmscott Press Books, all on vellum, except the Chaucer, which was on paper and Inscribed by Morris and Burne-Jones to Swinburne. At that point I had never heard of the Kelmscott Press, nor did I know what a private press book was. Colin was the perfect teacher, there being no one better able to transmit their passion for books, and to explain them in a readily comprehensible manner. Many years later he did the same thing with Japanese books, giving me the courage to deal in them, although neither of us could speak or read a word of Japanese. Anyway, I was now hooked, purchasing my first press book the following week in the form of the Kelmscott edition of  Gothic Architecture, and thus on my way to becoming a collector. Since the firm of H. P. Kraus did not deal in press books, I was allowed to collect without any conflict. In fact, one day the firm was offered a collection of Eragny Press books, and I was allowed to buy them for myself. At some point I mentioned them to Colin, who was by then in business. He asked me to let him know if ever they became for sale. About two weeks  before I started my business I wrote and offered them to Colin, and when I came home from my last day at H.P. Kraus, his letter ordering them was waiting for me, making him, appropriately, my first client.

When Colin set up as a dealer, unlike pretty much every other dealer with a similar stock, he did not have a shop. This was an era when booksellers and bookshops were virtually synonymous. He began by issuing catalogues, which apart from containing the most wonderful books were written in Colin’s inimitable prose, which always felt as if he was talking to you. Colin’s books were always, without exception, immaculate, and more often than not, unique in some way or other. Colin loved large paper copies, copies in original boards or wrappers, copies with extra suites, or anything else which would make his copy stand out. He was also a lover of bindings, and one could always count on seeing at least one spectacular binding on a visit to Culham. As a bookseller, you could always buy a book from Colin confident that you would find a customer for it,  because you had a special copy of whatever it was.

A visit to Culham for all who were lucky enough to go there was one of the greatest of bibliophilic treats. The setting of the “book barn”was exquisite, consisting of a large high-ceilinged room with a seating area at one end and a large library table at the other, with the books arrayed behind glass in splendid bookcases, above which hung examples  of the work of the potter Alan Caiger-Smith, one of Colin’s many passions, and one which I too, picked up. Even in an era when most of the leading dealers had magnificent premises, Culham stood out for its unique combination of magnificent books in a beautiful setting presided over by Colin and Charlotte, and accompanied by chickens, ducks and bees. Although Colin was very much the genius behind his book selling venture, he and Charlotte were very much a team, and it is impossible to think of one without the other.

As word got out that there were amazing treasures to be found at Culham, a steady stream of collectors, librarians and booksellers began to visit. Some of this put something of an occasional strain on Charlotte, but she put up with it with endless good humor, plying countless visitors with home-cooked meals.

I cannot think of a higher accolade than "friend of Colin Franklin. He was unique in so many ways, but above all he was the ultimate bibliophile, with an unlimited willingness to share his passion. He will be missed by countless people, but none who knew him will forget him, and he will live on through his wonderful family and the books and manuscripts that he placed around the world.