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Cricket’s Greatest Collector?


Until very recently I had not really contemplated looking at past or indeed present collectors within this blog but, that deficiency having been pointed out to me by a fellow CricketWeb staff member (albeit one currently on a very long sabbatical) on reflection it seems like an entirely appropriate step to take.

The question is where do you start? There have been a few well-known collectors over the years, and are currently, not least our own Archie Mac, but there is a tendency amongst modern bibliophiles to be secretive, and it is not always easy to find out very much about them.

So for present purposes I will confine myself to a man from the past, Joseph Wolfe Goldman who, for reasons I will go on to explain, will in perpetuity be remembered as the man with the finest collection of cricket books ever to be in private hands.

As the name suggests Goldman was Jewish. In the 1850s his ancestors were Russian, but his family came to England and Goldman’s father, Isadore, qualified as a solicitor. Joe was born in 1895 and, when he was 18, he became articled to his father eventually qualifying himself.

The family firm, in which in due course Joe’s son Arthur would also become a partner, was called Isadore Goldman and Co. The practice still exists today with offices in London, as it has always had, and today also in Norwich and Portsmouth. There is a brief mention on the firm’s website of its heritage, although there is no reference to cricket nor do there appear to be any members of the Goldman family practising with the firm today.

Isadore himself seems primarily to have been a family lawyer, perhaps unusual in Victorian times. It is a mantle that Joe took over although his main practice area seems to have been insolvency work and, perhaps arising out of that, he also dealt with some significant criminal cases. Son Arthur was a decent cricketer, although not good enough to have played at First Class level. Professionally I believe he was a banking specialist.

A great cricket enthusiast Joe was, apparently, a spectator at WG Grace’s final First Class appearance. A keen player, albeit one with no great ability his playing career ended during the Great War when, an officer in the machine gun corps, he was wounded at Passchendaele. Although perfectly capable of resuming his legal career Joe would never again be mobile enough to play competitive sport and it was that inability that motivated him to take the passionate interest that he retained for the rest of his days in cricket books and cricketana.

Given that Goldman had a successful career he had the financial muscle to match his enthusiasm and quickly amassed a fine collection at a time when there were few other serious collectors around, or at least none who were buying as prodigiously as he was. Initially he lived in a substantial house in Golders Green in North West London before, after World War II, moving to an even larger property in Egham in leafy Surrey. It was just as well he had plenty of room as as well as concentrating on acquiring as many of the great rarities of early cricket literature as he could Goldman also made sure his collection kept up to date with all new releases, and to that end he had a standing arrangement with a major London book store.

Books were however just a small part of the Goldman collection which also contained around 500 prints and lithographs, 4,000 or so signatures and 2,000 cigarette cards. There were also scorecards, plaques, belts, buttons, a fine collection of rare old linen handkerchiefs, bronzes and ceramics as well as anything else related to the game which took Goldman’s fancy.

Like, no doubt, most other collectors Goldman also fancied the idea of getting his own name in print and, with the means to do so, privately published two books of his own. The first, in 1937, was a bibliography of cricket. Predating the first edition of Padwick by some 40 years it was a much more substantial volume than anything that had previously been attempted and appeared in a signed limited edition of 125 copies. Two decades later, in 1958, he published Cricketers and the Law, in celebration of the two areas of human endeavour that dominated his life. The book comprised brief biographical listings of all solicitors, barristers and judges who had played the game to a reasonable standard. It is a beautifully produced book and appeared in a limited edition of 350 copies, but is not difficult to track down today and is certainly not expensive, a copy recently struggling to break £30 on eBay. The bibliography on the other hand, despite having been superseded as a work of reference by Padwick, will nonetheless set a purchaser back, if he can find a copy, more than ten times that.

In 1965, aged 72, Goldman made the decision to sell his collection. Initially he tried to find a buyer for the whole lot, at an asking price of £20,000 (the equivalent sum today would be £380,000). No one came forward and the following year Goldman decided to put the collection up for auction and, at a time when specialist cricket auctions were extremely rare, Hodgson & Co of Chancery Lane in London were retained to sell the Collection and the sale of the first part, the rarest of the books, was fixed for 24 November 1966.

So what was in this collection? The short answer is almost everything. There was an Epps, a book of scores from 1799 of which only a handful of copies survive. There is a copy of Florio’s Italian to English dictionary, notable because it contains the first ever reference to the game of cricket. It was published back in 1598. Another rare book of scores is Bentley. Goldman had a copy of course, and his was signed by Fuller Pilch.

Goldman owned a full set of Wisden, although that was not included in this sale. There were however full sets of Lillywhite’s Guides, Denison and Lillywhite’s Cricket Companion (the ‘Green Lilly’), but the real gem is the 11 volumes of Britcher’s Scores. There were 15 editions of Britcher altogether, published between 1791 and 1805. There are only around 50 copies known to exist in total and certainly in 1966 no one had a full set. That situation has now changed and a full run of Britcher reposes in the MCC library at Lord’s. That will forever remain unique as there are two editions of which there is but a single copy and it seems deeply improbable that any private collector could ever hope to match the 11 copies that Goldman possessed.

The sale in central London was well attended, although not by Goldman himself. He chose to sell rather than having to, so that surprises me in some ways, although not in others. In quoting prices realised I will refer to 2019 equivalent values, and those will be of the hammer price. In the 1960s there was no buyer’s premium charged. In the twenty first century a premium of around twenty per cent (plus vat on that) is usually levied by an auctioneer on the hammer price.

The Epps went for £950 to Leslie Gutteridge of Epworth Books, the only specialist cricket dealer at the time. The only Epps I know of that has been sold in recent years went in 2005 at the Eagar auction for a 2019 equivalent of £135,000, so good business by Gutteridge. For the Britchers Gutteridge paid £6,700 – a few years ago just one appeared in a John McKenzie catalogue at £75,000. There were four on offer at the Eagar sale, and they realised an eye watering total of £393,000.

Another Gutteridge purchase was the six Denisons for around £700. All six were sold at the Curry sale in 2006 for a 2019 equivalent of £33,000. Denison’s rather commoner selection of pen portraits, The Sketches of the Players cost Epworth a mere £140 at the Goldman sale, and based on the Curry sale valuation would be worth £2,300 now. Back to the more impressive numbers the 22 Lillywhite’s Guides cost Gutteridge £3,700. An assortment of buyers paid as much as £23,000 at the Curry sale for just nine editions.

The Green Lillies at the Goldman sale went for £400, not this time to Gutteridge. Based on the set sold at the Curry sale they are now worth £4,600 although had that set not had all its wrappers removed it may well have gone for rather more. Again, as with almost all of the ‘old’ books the rise in value had been very substantial. Nothing seems to buck that trend, although that copy of Bentley, signed by Pilch, is a curious one. It was sold for £550 at the Goldman sale. Published first in 1823 a huge gain might have been expected, but based on the price that the self same book was sold for in the Eagar sale its value has little more than doubled, to just £1,200.

Some lots did not do so well and, then as now, it was the more common items that fared badly, albeit ‘common’ is something of a misnomer in this context. Goldman’s copy of Sir Jeremiah Coleman’s sumptuous limited edition The Noble Game of Cricket, went for £700, about what a decent copy would cost today. The pair of classic Edwardian Beldam and Fry volumes on Great Batsmen and Great Bowlers went for £110, somewhat less than they would go for today, but not spectacularly so. I was surprised to see a copy of the 1915 Memorial Biography of WG Grace in the catalogue, the more so because it fetched £50, rather more than it would cost today.

By the end of the sale the 301 lots realised a total of, in 2019 terms, just over £70,000. Although his Wisdens were not included, nor the overwhelming majority of the non-book items, Goldman must still have been disappointed with the amount realised giving the price he was asking for whole collection. In fact the ‘take’ proved to be even worse than that as, not disclosed at the time, a third of the lots were ‘bought in’ as they did not reach their reserve. Those items represented around a quarter of that £70,000 figure.

Whatever became of the balance of the collection subsequent sales never took place. Clearly everything was disposed of in due course, and six years before his death a brief news item appeared in The Cricketer implying the Goldman collection had by then been disposed of. He sold some items on a piecemeal basis to younger collectors, David Frith for one having benefitted from that, and perhaps in the end a dealer took the remaining items off Goldman’s hands – certainly it is the case that for 21st century collectors items bearing the bookplate of JW Goldman still turn up from time to time. The man himself lived on until 1978 when, at the age of 85, he died in a nursing home in Sunbury on Thames, a few miles away from his long time home in Egham.

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