Legendary bookseller of Nassau Street
FRED HANNA:THE BOOKSELLER Fred Hanna, who has died aged 77, operated from his family’s flagship store on Nassau Street opposite Trinity College Dublin for 47 years. One of the oldest and best-known bookshops in the city, it opened in the 1840s and in its day was frequented by both James Joyce and Brendan Behan.
Hanna’s grandfather, also Fred, took over the business in 1907, having worked for the previous owner William Magee. His father and uncle William in turn worked for their father.
He was introduced to the business at an early age. He recalled that when he was a boy, he accompanied his father on a purchasing trip to the Duke of Leinster’s library at Carton House. “I remember struggling out in the car. We had so many beautiful bound vellum books on board that it wouldn’t go over the spud of the gate.”
He also said that if he had all the second-hand books that were on sale in Hanna’s when he joined the firm, they would probably be worth up to £1 million today. But he had no regrets. They were there, he said, to trade and pay their overheads and give employment, and not make vast profits.
He had many stories of how over the years customers had made money on books bought from Hanna’s.
“Once I bought a very small collection of nicely-bound leather books with gilt edges – Richardson’s Pamela in three volumes – but I had only two volumes. Well, this particular student, who is a very knowledgeable second-hand bookseller now, pestered me for the two, and though I kept telling him they weren’t priced yet, he went on at me until one day, to get rid of him really, and not having studied the books, I gave them to him for a fiver. After that he searched England for the third volume, got a similar binding put on it, and then sold the three for around £450.”
He also recalled a 15th century medical book that he did not want to sell but which was sold for £75 while he was on holidays. He later learned it had been resold for £1,300. Born in Dublin in 1934, he was the son of Walter Hanna and his wife Nancy Louise (née Freeth) and was educated at Aravon junior school and St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham. By the time he joined the family business in 1951 it had expanded, having acquired neighbouring premises on Nassau Street. Its reputation grew, not only in relation to general bookselling but also in the areas of second-hand and antiquarian books.
Hanna enjoyed buying and selling books as well as meeting customers, while acknowledging the hard work involved.
“It is never really ending. The titles are changing all the time. There is always someone to see, a rep selling books, restocking of shelves, the answering of questions by the public, looking up a book to see if it is in print, tidying the stock.”
In 1987 The Irish Times reported: “At any one time Hanna’s newly installed computer has to cope with handling up to 70,000 different titles (including 300 on cookery alone) and annual sales of up to half a million items ranging from Irish interest books to Malay dictionaries and a volume dealing with trekking in the Himalayas.”
He regretted not opening a visitor’s book. Rock Hudson, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Shirley MacLaine were among the famous people who passed through. And writers who attended book signings included Edna O’Brien, David Frost and Séamus Heaney.
Having survived economic recessions, shoplifters, VAT on books and the arrival of Waterstone’s in Dawson Street, Hanna decided to sell the business in 1999. “I thought, if I do not go now, I will be here for the rest of my life,” he said. The name Hanna was part of the sale to Eason’s, which he regarded as a “wonderful honour”.
Fred Hanna’s won the inaugural O’Brien Bookseller Award in 1995 and in 1998, at the British Book Awards, was declared independent bookseller of the year.
Looking back on his career as a bookseller, he said: “It is a wonderful, wonderful job.”
His other business interests included George Webb’s and the Dublin Bookshop on Bachelor’s Walk, both of which he disposed of. The family still operates the Campus Bookshop at University College Dublin in Belfield.
He is survived by his wife Valerie, daughters Siddy, Calli and Judi, son Fred and grandchildren Suzanne, Emma, Jack, Max, Josh, India, Ava and Jasmine.
Frederick Freeth Hanna: born January 27th, 1934; died June 2nd, 2011.