Rare books pair turning a new leaf in Blackrock

‘Most of the books we sell are to Ireland but the more expensive books tend to go abroad’

Although Ireland is a nation of prolific readers, it’s tough to make money from selling books as the closure of bookshops throughout the country in recent decades attests.

Making a living from selling rare books is even tougher but that hasn’t deterred Blackrock Rare Books in south Co Dublin, one of the newest entrants in the notoriously competitive Irish market for rare and collectible books.

The business was established (originally as Broadford Books) in 2013 by Dubliners Tim and Tanya Collie. Theythen took over running the bookshop in the Blackrock Market, one of Dublin's longest established second-hand bookshops.

Last year they bought the stock of C & P Hyland Books in Co Cork. They are continuing to run the bookshop at 19a Main Street, Blackrock at weekends, with a range of more affordable books. They also sell at book fairs but collectors are more likely to be interested in their website: blackrockrarebooks.com.

The Collies emigrated to England about a decade ago where Tim worked as a town planner and Tanya as a librarian but, after six years, they returned to Ireland in 2013 to launch their new venture.

"As one of the very few entrants in to the market in recent years we have been overcome with the generosity and assistance and advice from other booksellers who appear glad to have some fresh blood to help revive the trade," says Tim Collie.

Why is the business doing well?

“We are one of the few bookshops in Ireland not to focus on mainly Irish interest books, which has given us the opportunity to acquire some obscure and not-so-obscure books most others have little interest in. Thanks to the growth of e-commerce, we are able to gain access to customers in every corner of the world,” said Mr Collie.

Steady growth

“Recently we sold a book written in French to a Russian man living in Japan. While most of the books we sell are to Ireland, the more expensive books tend to go abroad. We have seen steady growth over the last year. Prices are beginning to rise.

“When sourcing books, we often find that the long-forgotten books buried in boxes in the attic are more valuable that the ones on the shelf downstairs. Ephemeral paper items – such as historical newspapers, magazines, receipts, memorial cards which we also sell – often hold important social history, which is now of huge interest to collectors. We get immense pleasure in being able to offer this to people who appreciate it, to save for future generations”.

Blackrock Rare Books has now published its debut catalogue. It features some 200 items in all price ranges, including a scarce copy of An Máirnéalach Dubh – a first edition copy, published in Dublin in 1933, of the Irish language translation by Seosamh Mac Grianna of Joseph Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus (€50); a first-edition copy of John Banville's 1981 novel, Kepler (€200); and a copy of The Riverbank Field by Seamus Heaney, published by Gallery Press, Loughcrew, 2007 – one of 500 copies signed by the author (€350).

There is also an 18th-century book with a fascinating title: The Universal Directory for Taking Alive and Destroying Rats and All Other Kinds of Four-Footed and Winged Vermin by Robert Smith – clearly a big seller back in the day as this is a third edition copy published in 1786 (€150). See blackrockrarebooks.com.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques