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Boundary Books

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Dealers and publishers Boundary Books had a big birthday this year as it ticked over into its fourth decade. Proprietor Mike Down, now retired from a career in the nuclear industry, has a showroom in the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Stanford in the Vale that houses an impressive range of rare and difficult to acquire books and pamphlets, as well as many other items of cricketana, most notably paintings, photographs and autographed material. 

Before setting out on a history of Boundary Books’ publications it is worth mentioning their main activity, as that has given rise to its own contributions to the literature of the game. These days mailings are almost exclusively in the form of e-Alerts, of which there have been 348 over the last decade or so, all of which can still be accessed via their website. A couple of printed catalogues have appeared in that time however (Numbers 37 and 38) as well as a similar item to publicise an exhibition of Trumper and Grace memorabilia in 2015. All three are fascinating items in their own right; well produced, lavishly illustrated and containing much

In light of the above it is interesting to note that the business was originally set up, not for the purpose of dealing in second hand cricketana, but in order to publish what was to become the first volume in the MCC Cricket Library. Sketches at Lord’s was a book about the lithographs of John Corbet Anderson. In the days before photography Anderson produced portraits of the top cricketers of the mid nineteenth century. Many of the lithographs are reproduced and Mike researched and wrote the commentary. Also appearing in the book are pen portraits of the players featured, and those were written by the noted historian Derek West.

A standard hardback edition of Sketches at Lord’s was published by Collins Willow, leaving Boundary Books to produce a limited edition of 150 copies. It is a luxurious production with the leather bound book having a slip case, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers and being signed by both authors.

A few months later Boundary collaborated with Collins Willow once again. The project was a much anticipated volume of autobiography from John Arlott, Basingstoke Boy. Ultimately the book was something of a disappointment. Arlott had left the book far too late and he died less than two years after publication. The Boundary Books edition was very like its predecessor without the slip case. There were two hundred numbered copies, all signed by Arlott.

The next offering from Boundary Books was solely theirs, and appeared in 1991 and was, effectively, a record of the previous summer’s Test series in England involving India and New Zealand. Gooch’s Golden Summer was written by Bill Frindall and contained his remarkably detailed scoresheets to accompany the narrative. The book was illustrated by photographs from Patrick Eagar. Gooch’s Golden Summer appeared, entirely fittingly, in a limited edition of 333 copies all of which were signed by Gooch, Frindall and Trevor Bailey. The book was bound in red quarter leather, with the first ten only bound in full leather.

After Gooch’s Golden Summer quickly sold out the exercise was repeated the following season with the 1991 series against West Indies providing A Tale of Two Captains. The formula for the book’s presentation was much the same, although this time a foreword was provided by Ted Dexter, who also signed the 350 copies. This time the ‘special’ edition was twenty rather than ten, and the binding of that half leather rather than full leather. Again the book sold out straight away, but the exercise was not destined to be repeated.

Also in 1992 was a further project with Collins Willow who were publishing David Gower’s end of career autobiography. A special edition was issued by Boundary Books limited to 100 numbered copies. All were signed by Gower and there was an additional page to the standard edition that consisted of an acrostic verse written by Tim Rice, who also signed all the books. The production was green quarter leather, with a slip case and the top edge gilt.

Very similar in appearance to David Gower – The Autobiography was the next book that appeared from Boundary Books a year later in 1993. This time however there was no other publisher involved in a book written by EW ‘Jim’ Swanton about his own club side, The Arabs. Arabs in Aspic 1935-1993 appeared in a standard cloth bound edition with a dust jacket as well as in a limited edition of fifty copies, each signed by Swanton and by former England and Glamorgan captain Tony Lewis, who wrote a foreword.

Another new book appeared in 1993 and once more Graham Gooch was involved. The title of the book was For Essex and England and was based on Gooch’s own recollections of each of his hundred hundreds. Once again the book was produced in a run of 333 numbered copies, but there were two distinct editions. Numbers 101-333 were all signed by Gooch and were produced in quarter bonded leather with a gilt top edge. The first one hundred copies were described as the ‘Centurion Edition’. They were produced in a green quarter leather binding with all edges gilt. The book was also slipcased with the Essex badge in gilt on the front of the case. Inside each book was dedicated by Gooch to a specific century and there was also bound in a page signed by eleven other scorers of one hundred hundreds, top of the list being Sir Donald Bradman.

The next publication appeared in 1994 and was again something of a departure. The author of the book was the late David Rayvern Allen, a great friend of Boundary Books and a great friend of the late John Arlott. Thus it was Rayvern Allen who wrote Arlott, a definitive biography of the great man. The book was published by Harper Collins but in addition to that there were just a dozen copies produced by Boundary books in a specially designed quarter morocco binding. It is a most attractive book and, unsurprisingly in light of the tiny limitation, virtually unprocurable.

Ian Botham’s post career memoir, My Autobiography – Don’t Tell Kath, was published in 1994 by Harper Collins. Boundary Books issued 102 copies of the book, bound in full leather with all edges gilt and in a slipcase. Each of the books was dedicated by Botham to one of his 102 Test appearances. Unsurprisingly in view of the subject’s popularity the book sold out straight away.

There is a school of thought that asserts that the most picturesque cricket ground in the world is located at Arundel in Sussex. By their very nature such subjective issues can never be settled, but no one who has seen the ground could deny that it is a wonderful setting for the game and, for many years when tours were tours, it would host a match between the tourists and a side styled as the Duke or Duchess of Norfolk’s Eleven. Cricket at the Castle was a centenary history of the ground written by the former local MP Sir Michael Marshall. A large format book there was a standard edition in card covers and a numbered limited edition of 100 copies signed by Hubert Dogcart and nine men who had captained the home side against the tourists, including Dexter, Lewis, Mike Brearley and the Reverend David Sheppard.

The following year, 1996, saw the release of another Boundary Books only publication. From Wheelwrights to Wickets was sub-titled The Story of the Cricketing Hearnes. There were numerous Hearnes in the First Class game from the late Victorian era onwards and the familial relationships are explained by the author, JW Hearne, the son of ‘Young Jack’ of Middlesex. Like the Marshall book this one had a card covered standard edition and a numbered limited edition of fifty signed by the author and by Swanton, who provided a foreword. Produced in the house style of red quarter leather the limited edition sits attractively alongside its predecessors.

1996 also saw a further collaboration between Boundary Books and a larger publisher, this time Richard Cohen Books, although it was a case of old friends working together again. The book was called Last Over, and was a selection of Swanton’s writings put together and edited by Rayvern Allen. At the time of publication Swanton turned 90, so that was the limitation. The books are numbered and individually signed by author and editor and as usual the book is bound in quarter leather although, for once, in blue.

Another great friend of Boundary Books was Gerald Brodribb, and finally in 1997 publisher and writer came together with The Lost Art, a typical case of Brodribb exploring a particular aspect of the game, on this occasion underarm bowling. We have already reviewed the book here. It appeared in a standard paper wrapped edition as well as a quarter leather bound signed and numbered limited edition of just fifty copies.

After a couple of years off Boundary Books were back publishing in 1999 with a new author and a new theme. The author was David Frith, and his theme an England tour overseas, on this occasion the first ever to Australia, back in 1861/62. The Trailblazers is a fascinating book including material from Frith’s own collection that had not previously been published. Again the content was available in an inexpensive card covered edition and, for the collector, there was a limited edition of 62 copies numbered and signed by Frith and bound in quarter leather in red.

Also in 1999 Boundary Books released a limited edition of 100 numbered and signed copies of what turned out to be Swanton’s last book, a collection of obituaries and pen portraits gathered together by Rayvern Allen under the title Cricketers of My Times. The book is presented in the usual quarter leather although it again departs from the usual red, on this occasion being a shade of brown similar to Botham’s autobiography. Interestingly Swanton, who normally signed his name ‘EW’ signed these, at 91 and in the last year of his life, ‘Jim’. According to Michael Down he remained the consummate professional, even at that great age.

In 2001 Boundary Books worked with the MCC for a second time. As with Sketches at Lord’s imagery was the key although not art on this occasion. Great Cricketers: The Age of Grace and Trumper was a celebration of the work of George Beldam, the first great cricket photographer. The author of the book was Beldam’s son, also George, and it is a thoroughly researched large format production. There were 500 copies of the blue cloth bound release and a further 48 multi signed copies bound in full leather and presented in a slip case.

Although for some years now Boundary Books has been Mike Down alone when the venture began two other collectors/enthusiasts were involved, Alan Harrison and Tony Laughton. The next project, in 2002, was a book written by Laughton, AD Taylor – The Cricketologist.  Taylor was a great cricket enthusiast and wrote the first bibliography of the game. He hailed from Sussex and his lifespan was between 1872 and 1923. Laughton’s book was published in a limited edition of 200 copies. Numbers 51-200 were a standard paperback. The first fifty were bound in blue quarter leather with all edges gilt and they were individually signed by Laughton and Doggart, who contributed a foreword.

Art was back on the agenda in 2002 as well, and once again the MCC Library were involved. Brodribb, who we have met before, was a great student of Nicholas Wanostrocht, otherwise known as Felix. A top class cricketer back in the mid 19th century Wanostrocht was also a talented artist. Felix and the Eleven of England was another sumptuous production. The book showcased more than fifty full page reproductions of watercolours painted by Felix, put in context by more than 100 pages of Brodribb’s narrative. Sadly Brodribb died shortly before publication, and was therefore unable, alongside Doggart (who wrote the foreword), Dexter (President of the MCC at the time) and a descendant of Felix to sign the limitation leaf that was bound into the 250 leather bound, all edges gilt and slipcased copies of a fascinating book.

Over the next six years there was just one new publication from Boundary Books. In 2004 Aurum Press published Rayvern Allen’s biography of Swanton and, as had been done for Arlott, a special edition was issued by Boundary Books. Again there was a special cover design, similar to that on the Arlott, and the book was also bound in quarter morocco. The only difference is in the number of the limitation, fifteen rather than twelve, although for all practical purposes that is a distinction without a difference.

It was 2008 before the next original Boundary Books publication appeared, and Captain of the Crowd was certainly a good one, as anything that gets a five star rating out of the Mac must be. You can read his review here. The book appeared as a standard hardback with dust jacket, but there was also a very attractive limited edition of fifty copies, specially bound and in a slipcase which also housed a second volume, in a matching binding, that contains a dozen facsimiles of Craig publications.

A year after Captain of the Crowd appeared Boundary Books produced what will doubtless remain their largest single volume, The David Frith Archive. Frith has spent a lifetime building up a huge collection of cricketing memorabilia of all kinds, and when he decided to catalogue it it ran to 1,073 pages. Boundary Books published the book in a limited edition of 75. The first fifteen were bound in a similar manner to the Captain of the Crowd and were housed in a slipcase and accompanied by a disc recording the archive in a digital form. The remaining sixty were ‘ordinary’ hardbacks. All 75 were, of course, signed individually by Frith.

In 2010 Echoes of a Golden Age appeared, and on reflection this reviewer feels a little mean spirited in not quite matching the Mac’s five star rating for Captain of the Crowd. If I had the ability to go back into the review and up the rating by that last half star I certainly would. It is a wonderfully presented book in either incarnation and a fascinating read.

A year later another book appeared that sold out almost immediately and has proved very difficult to find copies of is EK Brown – Cricket Bookseller by David Smith, the uncle of one Ed Smith, England selector. Ted Brown’s name remains a revered one amongst collectors even those like this reviewer who did not start to build their collections until after he had retired. A numbered limited edition of ninety copies was produced, seventy being paperbacks, and the first twenty as very nicely produced hardbacks, and rather different from the usual ‘house style’.

What is currently the penultimate Boundary Books limited edition to have appeared was what amounted to a follow up to The Captain of the Crowd. After the first book was published further information appeared armed with which Laughton felt, nine years later, sufficiently confident to attempt to put together a bibliography of Craig’s many publications. The result was produced in an edition of 75 copies. The first fifteen copies were bound in cloth in a similar style to the original special edition and each sold with an original poem. The remaining sixty copies were housed in card covers.

To date the last book to appear from Boundary Books was Calling the Shots, Mike’s own book on the subject of many years of correspondence that passed between Swanton and Sir Donald Bradman. We reviewed the book here shortly after its publication.

Will we see any more from Boundary Books in the foreseeable future? Happily I can reveal that a couple of projects are underway, although they may be the last two. One is a memoir of Rayvern Allen that Mike himself is writing, and the other is a new book from Tony Laughton. Having done much new research Laughton has written an account of a tour of the West Indies by an MCC side led by Lord Brackley in 1905. The trip is long forgotten but was an important step along the road to the West Indies becoming a power in the world game. Brackley’s side contained a sprinkling of Test players, including the underarm bowler George Simpson-Hayward, and enjoyed a successful trip but the fledgling home side gave them a fright in the second representative match and during the tour Barbados and Trinidad (twice) recorded comfortable wins.

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