There’s not much you can’t buy in Newark if you are determined to shop local, but a partly hand-written score by Haydn’s pupil and rival Ignace Josef Pleyel, dedicated to the Prince of Wales more than 200 years ago, or a Practical Treatise On The Breaking And Training Of Wild And Vicious Horses might be pushing it – unless you go to the Oxfam Book Shop, that is.
The Carter Gate charity shop specialises in books and music and has established a well-developed niche and considerable expertise in selling rare and unusual books locally, nationally and internationally.
The store’s part-time manager and only paid staff member Kate Murrell makes full use of a talented cohort of 36 volunteers aged 15-89 to help her research and sell anything from Mills and Boon to Managing Radioactive Waste, a volume which (perhaps not surprisingly) ended up in a Japanese university. But the remarkable Pleyel score is a rarity even for them.
The score was simply donated to the shop. Says Kate: “One of our helpers, Karl Southern, has been doing a lot of research on this for his Duke of Edinburgh Award so that we can value it.”
For Karl, 15, from Brandon, near Hough-on-the-Hill, it’s been a challenge:
“I haven’t really done anything like this before. I’m normally just researching and pricing the books. I was quite surprised that Kate asked me to do it because I’m not all that experienced. I thought one of the adults would do it, so it was quite gratifying.”
Karl has been volunteering at Oxfam on Saturdays for a little over three months and has spent about a month researching the Pleyel score. “First it involved researching who Pleyel was, and trying to find examples of the music being sold. The score seems to be several pieces of his music bound together, so it was a case of trying to find single pieces and valuing those. Pleyel was one of Haydn’s students but apparently he was judged to be better than Haydn and he was famous for writing for royal courts – including the Prince of Wales, the King of Naples, the Tsar of Russia and others.”
Karl has used the website of antiquarian music dealers Wurlitzer-Bruck to try to evaluate the Pleyel score and has now put together his research, photographing the manuscript and writing up his findings to send the file off to OxfamValued, the specialist part of the charity devoted to getting the best possible price for high-value donations such as jewellery or art.
“We sent it off yesterday. It could be a few weeks before we find out what it’s worth. Individual pieces have gone for anything from $275-350, but this is just loads of them put together. It’s priced in dollars because it’s an American website.
We’re not sure whether or not Pleyel actually wrote the hand-written parts of the score or whether it’s been copied. It was one of Pleyel’s friends who printed the printed part of it.
Sorting more conventional books as I look around is Charley Harrison, 15, from Claypole, a crime fiction fan who is also working towards her DofE Award.
The shop switched from a general Oxfam charity store to books and records on a trial basis eight years ago. Within two or three years of the successful switch the shop was selling books online via ABE Books, an internet retailer specialising in rare and out-of-print books.
Says Kate: “Oxfam were The first charity to sell donated goods themselves online and we were the first pilot shop in the whole area to go into selling online with them because we’d done so well on ABE Books.
“We try to get some of the specialist books out downstairs in the shop but some are so specialist that you’d be lucky to find anyone who wanted them locally.
“I am trying to find one local business that would sponsor us for another computer to have downstairs, set up to look at the Oxfam inventory of books. Customers can look at ours and at all of them all over the country. So if they can’t find something they are searching for we can help them there and then.”
That would be yet another first for the Newark shop, which performs as well as Oxfam stores in much bigger towns and cities and has a high reputation within the charity: “We were runner-up nationally as the most popular Oxfam shop at our last Oxfam online conference. For the size of our shop, this is considered a high accolade!” said Kate.
The upstairs stockroom is full of surprises. Kate pulls down a handsomely boxed and lavishly bound edition of Shakespeare’s Othello and appreciates the volume’s fine, smooth paper with helper Ellie Lanes-Hope, from Hawtonville.
“This is one of our modern Folio versions of Shakespeare’s plays. They are very beautiful books and they are all limited editions on special hand-made paper from Germany, bound in Moroccan leather,” says Kate. “They come in these great big coloured boxes and they’re beautiful books. This one is worth about £100-£150. A local collector died and left them to us.”
Ellie was busy on the internet when I interrupted, researching the value of an obscure German book on the legacy of the Vikings: “You discover new things that you wouldn’t learn anywhere else and you learn new skills… I’d like to work in retail and I like working here – it feels like you are doing something good for the community,” said Ellie.
The downstairs cabinet devoted to relative rarities contained some novel volumes. The book on taming wild horses might just interest volunteer Kenric D’Souza, from Goa, who lives in Newark at the moment and has just finished his second year studying Wildlife Conservation at Brackenhurst College, part of Nottingham University.
Kenric has been helping with internet marketing and establishing the shop on Facebook and Twitter: “We’re trying to get a system where people can interact with the shop online. Say they have a favourite genre of books – fantasy or science fiction or crime – and we get a big collection donated – then we can post that online and people can see what we have.”
And there’s a familiar figure behind the counter – Joyce Smith, 80, of Philip Road, Newark, who has volunteered for 14 years and puts in 16 hours a week – “I enjoy meeting people, and trying to make money for Oxfam. That’s what we’re here for,” says Joyce, still a bit of a newcomer compared to Eileen Milner, from Claypole, who turns 90 this year and has worked at the shop for 30 years.
It must be true what they say – doing good for others is good for you.
• Pics: Karl Southern with the rare Pleyel music score he has been researching. Store manager Kate Murrell with volunteer helper Ellie Lanes-Hope admire a modern Folio edition of Shakespeare’s Othello.
• Oxfam Newark depends entirely on donations of books, LPs, DVDs, CDs, sheet music and musical instruments. Please bring anything you can bear to part with to our shop on Cartergate, Newark – or we can collect from your home at your convenience. More volunteers are always welcome.
Newark Oxfam Books & Music 01636 705851
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