Bookseller Karl Lawrence remembered

Bookseller Karl Lawrence remembered

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of my old friend, former bookseller Karl Lawrence (1928–2017).

I first met Karl in 1963. Sir Billy Collins had “discovered” him in the Bahamas—where Karl ran a shop for the Canadian book-trade entrepreneur Louis Melzack—and immediately offered him a job at Hatchards, the London bookshop Collins had recently acquired. I was working on the shop floor there, and Karl became an instant friend. He combined a love of books with a quite remarkable skill at selling them, and Hatchards flourished under the direction of him, Peter Giddy and Tommy Joy.

Karl and I became close friends and my wife and I were frequent dinner guests at the wonderful bohemian flat, in London’s Soho, he shared with his wife Rosaleen. It was above an archway in Manette Street which linked Greek Street with Charing Cross Road.

Our friendship continued long after I had deserted the book trade to become a diplomat. Karl moved on to other things too, though always involved with books. A stint at Collier Macmillan was followed by a move to André Deutsch. He ended his working life back with Collins, and upon retirement he became a member of the Collins Pension Fund board.

His passion for books stayed with him after he retired. He collected first editions and Folio Society volumes, which he enjoyed selling at book fairs. He was also engaged in recording an audio history of the publishing world for The British Library. In addition, he devoted time to the village of Taplow in Buckinghamshire, where he and Rosaleen lived for many years.

When I joined HM Diplomatic Service in 1970, my friendship with Karl endured. He celebrated his 75th birthday at my house in France. I last saw him in June this year, when I drove up to Taplow to see him and Rosaleen. I found him very frail and effectively bed-ridden, though still passionate about books and the friends we had in common in the publishing world. His death deprives me of a good and long- standing friend. I am sure that many others will share my grief— the world of books is diminished by his death.

Karl (pictured, far right, with friends) is survived by his widow Rosaleen (second from right), two sons and a daughter, as well as his grandchildren.