Founder of the Folio Society and highly regarded antiquities dealer

 

The founder of the Folio Society, Charles Ede, who later became a highly regarded antiquities dealer, died on May 29th aged 80. His working life was divided between two very different areas, linked by a desire to provide fine quality work at an affordable price.

This aim was enshrined in the earliest stated aim of the Folio Society: "To produce editions of the world's great literature in a format worthy of the contents, at a price within the reach of everyman." A perfectionist, Charles Ede could be abrasive and impatient, but he inspired great loyalty in those who worked for him.

The eldest son of Colonel Bertram Ede, head of MI5's section F, and Alice Warde, Charles Ede was educated at New Beacon Preparatory School, in Sevenoaks, Kent, and the Imperial Service College. It was there that a master introduced him to the work of William Morris, founder of the Kelmscott Press, whose socialist principles were to have a profound effect on his approach to business.

A chance meeting with the great antiquarian bookseller Alan Thomas engendered a love of printing; Thomas had recently acquired a large collection of Kelmscott ephemera, and, over two years, Charles Ede purchased a selection of leaves and design originals.

He often maintained that had it not been for the outbreak of war he would have pursued an academic career. However, in 1939, he gave up his scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, and enlisted.

He gained a commission in the Royal Tank Regiment, and saw service in France, Malta (where his father was head of intelligence), Egypt, Palestine and Italy. His last posting was in Brussels, where, as a fluent French speaker, he ran an organisation whose primary function was to recommend payments to the dependants of resistance fighters who died saving stranded allied airmen.

After the war, Charles Ede enrolled at the London School of Printing, launching the Folio Society in 1947 with Alan Bott, founder of the Book Society, and Christopher Sandford, proprietor of the Golden Cockerell Press.

At first, times were hard.Rationing meant acute shortages of paper, and, though Charles Ede proved adept at tracking down supplies, booksellers were uneasy at the idea of "a poor man's fine edition".

This problem was solved by the decision to offer books solely by mail order to customers attracted by a gift presentation volume, a sales technique pioneered in the US. It proved a highly successful approach, and membership grew rapidly in Britain and internationally. In 1955, larger premises, incorporating a club room and bar, were leased, and it was the possibilities of this space that led Charles Ede, five years later, to start Collector's Corner (later renamed Folio Fine Art), offering manuscript leaves, watercolours, Old Master prints and fine bindings, also by mail order.

It was a search for the latter, in Cecil Court, London, that led to Charles Ede's change of life. Spotting a Roman pottery dish in a shop window - and being amazed by its low price - he hired leading academics in the field to give him tutorials, and gradually ancient art occupied a larger and larger amount of space in Folio Fine Art catalogues.

By 1971, tired of publishing, and feeling that the Folio Society had outgrown him - he always maintained that meeting an employee he did not know was the turning point - Charles Ede sold the business and set up a gallery under his name in Brook Street, central London, selling antiquities. He went on to produce more than 200 catalogues, many of them devoted to specialist areas such as Egyptian sculpture, ancient writing and pottery from Athens.

In an area with many pitfalls, particularly with regard to provenance and authenticity, Charles Ede's scholarly approach and scrupulousness soon won a good reputation in academic and archaeological circles.

He had lengthy correspondence with scholars all over the world, and was energetic in tracking down parallels and information on the pieces he offered for sale. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was instrumental in building up many university teaching collections, particularly in Australia and the US. In 1976, he wrote Collecting Antiquities: An Introductory Guide, which ran to three impressions and remains the seminal work on the subject. His youngest son took over as managing director in 1986, though Charles Ede continued to research and design catalogues until shortly before his death. He married Elizabeth Craze in 1947. She survives him, together with four sons and two daughters.

Charles Ede: born 1921; died, May 2002