I received my first canoeing/kayaking book for my birthday in August 1970, a present from my godparents. “Tackle Canoeing: This Way” by Percy Blandford. A paperback book that is still available on both Amazon and eBay. Little did I realize that over the years it was going to develop into a major interest.
At the same time, if not a few months earlier, I joined the British Canoe Union ( now British Canoeing) and started to receive their magazine Canoeing in Britain. Gradually, and will no real purpose, the number of books and magazines in my collection, started to increase.
In about 1980 I started to actively seek out titles, visiting second hand bookshops at every opportunity, buying specialist book selling magazines in the hope that some antiquarian book seller had listed a paddling literary gem.
I think that the first two finds which stimulated my enthusiasm and interest were “Rapid Rivers” by William Bliss and first edition of “Glasgow to Skye” by Alastair M. Dunnett. By the 1990’s the collection had grown and a couple of rare finds encouraged me to buy a glass fronted book case to protect a portion of my collection from the harmful effects of sunlight.
I heard of several other people who had significant collections of paddling books but the only person I really met who had a similar interest was Tony Ford. He was the the Regional Coaching Organiser for the BCU in Germany at the same time I was for the Channel Islands. So we used to meet several times a year, normally in Nottingham, and talk about our latest acquisitions. I became aware that a number of the elder statesmen of British kayaking had significant collections of books, but I am never sure what happened to them. I heard of a rumour of a garage somewhere near Nottingham.
It would be good to know that somebody, somewhere thinks that canoeing and kayaking literature is of such importance that it is worth preserving, having a collection of as many of the paddling books as possible and available for individuals to use, when researching various aspects of paddling history. Sadly I have no idea if that has happened or is planned to happen.
One of the most significant developments in my book collecting career was the arrival of eBay. I no longer had to wait until I visited a new city and then searched out the second hand bookshops, the world of book collecting arrived in my living room. It was now possible to seek out those specific volumes, which I considered an integral part of any paddling book collection. Probably my best find was “Enchanted Vagabonds” by Dana Lamb and June Cleveland published in 1938 complete with dust jacket. I had rarely seen a copy for sale for less than £100 but managed to find a copy from a shop in Los Angles, via eBay, for around £10, an absolute bargain.
In addition it was possible to buy paddling magazines. I have a complete collections of “Sea Kayaker” and “Canoeist” magazines but that is because I subscribed from day one. Over the years though some real gems of kayaking magazines have appeared such as “The Canoe Camper 1938-40”. This is a fascinating read, giving a real insight into paddling before the Second world War. It is quite amazing some of the trips, which were undertaken including regular crossings of the English Channel.
There are still some good buys to be found online but sadly not in the quantity of the 2000’s. Too many people have realised that the old phrase “One mans rubbish is another mans treasure” is actually true and are now charging significant sums for really quite common books. In particular the significant increase in the use of “Buy it Now” has reduced the possibility of an unsuspected bargain. I still think fondly about those early halcyon days of eBay when it was worth checking every day, for new additions.
A development in recent years is the rise of e books, such as Kindle. A large number of books have become readily available and often for quite significant savings, over the printed versions. It is a great platform that those books which don’t have a large enough appeal for a print run and has allowed a number of kayaking authors (myself included) to see their work published.