English bookman John Carter came into my life in early 1990 and has made frequent appearances since. Our initial introduction was inevitable… I was a novice book collector eager for guidance when I stumbled across a reprint of his classic guide ABC for Book Collectors, standing fine in jacket on the shelves of a retail bookstore. I purchased the book for full price-- a rare occurrence then and now. Today, I hold the book in hand and I see my scattered annotations from that first reading. The foundation was set.
Before I discuss the origins and publication of ABC for Book Collectors a brief outline of its author is in order. John Carter (1906-1976), educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, became a bibliophile early on and found himself so keenly interested in the field he made a career of it. He entered the rare book trade in 1927 with the London branch of Scribner’s New York. The New York office would be in a few years overseen by notable American bookman, David Randall. The two men formed a formidable duo. Carter & Randall’s natural tastes ran to new paths in book collecting and bibliography. They published, via Scribner’s, a number of innovative bookseller catalogues designed to promote untapped or nascent collecting areas such as Mysteries, Familiar Quotations, Modern First Editions, & Musical Firsts. However, the rent must be paid and many classically expensive items were also sold with aplomb including a Gutenberg Bible. Carter became managing director of the London office in 1945 and remained at Scribner’s until 1953. In 1956 Carter joined Sotheby’s auction house and was also a director of Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York. His wide circle of associates lay at the heart of bookselling and book collecting of his era and included John Hayward, Graham Pollard, Michael Sadleir, and Percy Muir.