Finally to 84

In 1929 the firm moved to the now famous address at 84 Charing Cross Road, which had previously been occupied by the Individualist Bookshop (founded a few years earlier by the publisher Sir Ernest Benn). The shop comprised a ground floor, a basement and four upper floors to which only the staff and some 'preferred' customers had access.
( Right: Individualist Bookshop booksellers 'ticket' or label with '84' address.)

The picture on the right is from around the same period.

The picture on the left, taken on Saturday 13th February 1965, shows a view of Charing Cross Road. Marks & Co is on the extreme right (the area slightly darker than the rest of the photograph).

Its unusual to find a shot of the entire building, but here all four of the upper floors are visible.

 

Bookseller Raymond Kilgarriff remembers the shop in the 1930's..

"I was always surprised at the size of the Marks staff, although wages then were nearly negligible. Prior to the outbreak of war there must have been a half dozen male 'assistants' as they were called, in addition to the principals and female office staff. They seem to have worked very long hours. Always to 6 or 7 p.m. and before Christmas and at other busy times the shop would remain open until 10 p.m."

Fred Bason - Author, Diarist and Book Runner has this entry in his diary for 1933..

"Extract from Hodgson's Book Auction Catalogue:
Lot 557: Bason (F.T.) Bibliography of Maugham and Martindell's Bibliography of Kipling
What a thrill. Blimey! I'll go and bid for this lot up to £1., just for sentimental reasons.
Later: it made 25 shillings. I did NOT buy Lot 557. That nice firm of Marks in Charing Cross Road got it. Well, it is in good hands."

Michael Foot - M.P. and former leader of the Labour Party writing in the London Evening Standard in the early 1970's when '84' was threatened with demolition..

"Just a few decades longer than Helene Hanff was engaged in her delightful correspondence, I too, like my father before me, was a satisfied customer of 84 Charing Cross Road and some few neighbouring treasure houses nearby. If we happy band of London loiterers - sustained by so many Hanffs across the sea - allow the Charing Cross-cum-Covent Garden desecration to continue further, maybe we shall deserve the boiling oil too."

Michael Richards - writing from Australia in 2005..

"In the early 1980s I worked for several years for Robin Waterfield Ltd, in Oxford. This was when they were in Park End Street, although they are now in the High. Robert Rivington, who hired me and whom I later succeeded as shop manager, told me that the two bookcases on wheels we had stocked with cheap books on the footpath in front of the shop came from 84 after it closed - we charged 10p for the books, and didn't mind too much if they were stolen, as it was one way of getting rid of them (mind you I still treasure some of the books I found there myself)."

The late Maxine Stuart - actress and friend of Helene Hanff - visited the shop in the early 1950's..

"I went to the shop on Helene's behalf to deliver some nylons for the girls who worked there. I had a long conversation with one of them (I can't remember her name) and tried to answer all their questions about Helene.
I had a wonderful 6 month stay in London and enjoyed going to the pub to play shove ha'penny and darts!
"

Carlos Moura - writing from Brazil in 2012..

"I was in England from October 1969 until April 1970, at the Loughborough Technology University, in Middle England, two hours by train from London.
I used to go to London at the weekends and found Marks & Co when I was trying to get a copy of Mommsen's "History of Rome". A nice gentleman, in answer to my request, said : "I have it, but I can't sell it to you because I don't know where it is." He took me to the basement, pointed to the shelves full of books and told me : "Try to find it". I spent half an hour searching for it without success. Then I asked him to save it for me because I'd return as many times as needed. Finally, many weeks later, the set of five volumes in hardcover lay on his desk. I asked about the cost, fearing that I would have to pay a large sum, because it was clear that I was almost begging to buy it. The cost was only £3.00!
"

 

Left (above): browsers outside '84' during the late 1940's / early 1950's.
Centre (above): Outside '84' circa 1951
Right (above): shows browsers in 1970 shortly before the shop closed
Take away the people and you will see that very little had changed over that 20 year period.

The shop became a mecca for overseas book buyers as far back as the 1930's. Alberta and Henry Burke, two Jane Austen collectors, came to London in the summer of 1935. Forty years later in a letter to Charles Ryskamp the Director of the Pierpont Morgan Library, Henry Burke recalls their visit..

"We found a sympathetic friend in Mr.Cohen at Marks and Company on Charing Cross Road not too far from Trafalgar Square. We gave him a list of our wants and were amazed at the response we received within the next few months. Equally significant was Mr.Plummer, who was working on reconstituting complete sets of 'Ackermann's Repository'. A complete set in beautiful green morocco was selling for $350.00. We contented ourselves with buying odd,inexpensive,imperfect volumes."

With the outbreak of war in 1939 Marks & Co, along with many other antiquarian booksellers in London, needed to find safer storage for their more valuable books. With their international mail order sales declining fast, Marks shipped quantities of stock to Dawson's bookshop in Los Angeles with whom they already had a reciprocal agency agreement. The American booksellers took titles on a 'safe keeping or sale' basis for the duration of hostilities.
Dawson's seem to have paid particular attention to the 'sale' part of the bargain as they recalled that very few books were returned to Marks & Co at the end of the war.

The late Michael Foot was instrumental in getting a preservation order on the Charing Cross Road site which has ensured its survival. However since the late 1990's the premises have been home to a succession of bars, cafes and restaurants none of which seem to last very long. The latest occupant is Leon de Bruxelles, a trendy Belgian restaurant! (pictured on the left in 2013, the plaque is not visible but is apparently still there). Who knows, if this current gastronomic venture fails the place could well re-open as a bookshop?! To see other views of the exterior in the 1990's click here. Also of interest are two artist's impressions of the shop,click here to view. A plaque (pictured right - taken in 1994) commemorates the shop and Helene Hanff's book.

Ironically the picture most widely associated with Marks and Co (above), was taken by Australian photographer and publisher Alec Bolton in 1969, after Frank Doel's death. Click on this picture to take a look inside the shop.