This is one of the stand-out events in the year, at least as far as I am concerned. 2013 year marks the fortieth birthday of an Edinburgh institution, the St Andrew’s and St George’s church book sale in aid of Christian Aid, and whilst clearly popular, still part of “unregarded Edinburgh”. I doubt many outside the city know of it.
It is the largest such event in the city, one of the biggest church book sales in Europe, and incidentally an excellent introduction to the manners of the sharp elbowed middle class of Edinburgh. The event’s first morning (always a Saturday) goes off like a sprint. The queue which has formed early on, wrapped up against the cold, Waitrose bags at the ready, stretches right down the street and round the corner into St Andrew’s Square. The initial hour or so is a heaving shoving mass of all sorts pushing into the boxes rooting for favourites. People crawl under the trestle tables to rummage in the boxes which are yet to be placed on the table. Frequently people can meet and make friends this way. It is a very odd event.
And it is simply vast, this is just so not a couple of boxes of dog-eared Dan Browns or Michael Palins. The books are divided into sections each with its own curator, who is quite often a professional in the discipline being sold. All under the expert eye of Mary Davidson conducting the whole show. Signage directing the browser hangs from the ceilings, indeed helpers are armed with maps to direct you to the location of say late Roman antiquity or car mechanics. Travel is divided down to country and often parts of country, novels are ranked by author A-Z. Specialisms abound. Law has its own department up in the gallery, as so do engineering, chemistry, sheet music ( a strong element) etc. Ephemera have their own section where antique scrapbooks vie with Victorian railway timetables and theatre playbills. Foreign languages are not simply lumped together but divided into each language. And it’s not just basic guides and dictionaries either. I felt rather diminished choosing my holiday Maigret when other more elevate souls have Racine or Voltaire in sight! Sadly this year was a bit thin on Chinese but Slovakian was there in strength.
Add in music both vinyl and CD, plus an excellent cafe downstairs doing lunch and it’s a day out in itself.
It certainly makes the money. In the week that it runs they regularly clear £100,000 or more, which is a humongous amount of books if you consider most sell for a pound or two.
Copyright David Macadam 2013