Monday, November 23, 2015

Smart & Mookerdum, Booksellers, Rangoon

It wasn't the content of this book, a political history of India, that first made me take it off the shelf, but the resonant title, The Lost Dominion. However, what made me want to keep it was the elegant label, in royal blue ink, of Smart & Mookerdum, Booksellers and Stationers, of Rangoon (Burma) pasted to the title page.

There are collectors of booksellers' labels, but their quarry must be hard to find: only by looking inside books can you discover them. They often add history and romance to the story of a particular volume, and should always I think be left inside.

This bookseller has a minor literary interest, because their shop is mentioned by George Orwell in his novel Burmese Days (1934), based on his own time there as a colonial policeman. “Oh, the joy of those Rangoon trips!” his doomed protagonist Flory says, “The rush to Smart and Mookerdum’s bookshop for the new novels out from England, the dinner at Anderson’s with beefsteaks and butter that had travelled eight thousand miles on ice, the glorious drinking-bout!”

The name of the book's author, Al. Carthill, was, according to the British Library, a pseudonym for Bennet Christian Huntingdon Calcraft Kennedy, a District Officer in India. He wrote half-a-dozen or so other titles, either of politics or of poetry.

There is another book for sale bearing a Smart & Mookerdum label, a copy of D H Lawrence's Women In Love (Secker, 1921), but this one must be a different version, because it includes the bookseller's address, 58 Barr Street, Rangoon. I should imagine this was a most keenly sought-after title by the jaded Burma hands Orwell evokes.


  1. I could never bring myself to remove a bookseller label/ticket or a bookplate in any of my books. In my mind, it would be like erasing the stamps from a passport. Once in a while, the combination of a rare and far-flung bookseller label coupled with an equally unusual bookplate will provide a compelling mystery to solve. Sometimes the history of the book's travels and ownership outshine the actual contents.

  2. Fascinating find. I would never remove this sort of label from a book I'd bought.