Former Iranian diplomat buys Piece Hall book collection

Auction of 30,000 books at Robert Johnston's book shop at The Piece Hall, Halifax.'Seller Robert Johnston, left, and auctioneer Gary Don.
Auction of 30,000 books at Robert Johnston's book shop at The Piece Hall, Halifax.'Seller Robert Johnston, left, and auctioneer Gary Don.
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A unique collection of 30,000 books amassed in the Piece Hall have been saved by a leading Iranian figure.

They will now be shipped over to Tehran, complete with the bookcases in which they are stored, to form an English section of a huge personal library.

Sadegh Kharazi paid £5,100 for the collection - and the transportation of the books weighing up to 15 tonnes will cost many more thousands.

He bid by telephone at the auction held in the unit run by Robert Johnston, who decided to sell-up ahead of the Piece Hall renovation work starting in the new year.

Mr Kharazi was an advisor to Iran’s former President Khatami and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and France.

He has also held other high-powered positions and is passionate about books, and has a keen interest in calligraphic and historical manuscripts.

Mr Kharazi travelled to Halifax ahead of the auction to inspect his intended purchase.

He has built three libraries in Iran with hundreds of thousands of books.

“These books are an endowment for the people of Tehran and will form part of a public library,” he told the Courier.

“It is a good, cultural bridge between the two countries.”

Mr Kharazi was attracted by the wide-ranging collection and its size, and that will give the people of Tehran unique access to a wealth of English printed books.

Mr Johnston, has run the bookshop for 11 years and it dates back to 1979 when it was run by the late Roy Forbes.

“I have been buying and selling all my time there,” said Mr Johnston who was delighted with the auction outcome.

When it became clear he would have to move out of the Piece Hall during the renovation work he decided to sell and his primary aim was to save the collection.

Mr Johnston added that the auctioneer, Gary Don, of Leeds, had willingly agreed to auction the books as one lot when others were reluctant to do so.

Mr Don said: “These books had to come out of the unit and there was limited time.

“Robert wanted them to go to as one lot and it was never about money, it was about not having to dump the collection.

“The books cover every subject you can imagine, good old books - it would have taken me six months to catalogue them.”

Bidding started at £2 and Mr Kharazi saw off all other challenges from people in the unit.

They included Andy Parker, of Better World Books.

He is based in Burley-in-Wharfedale and was alerted by the company’s American operation.

A Google alert showed up a Halifax Courier story in the states promoting the auction and he was despatched to bid but fell short.

“It was a unique opportunity and a calculated risk for us,” he said.

Mr Johnston, of Skircoat Green, Halifax, will now pursue another interest as he has qualified as a tournament director in the game of bridge and his wife, Irene, is a bridge teacher.

And, Mr Kharazi hopes to return to Halifax in the future to see the results of the £19 million Piece Hall redevelopment.

During his visit he toured the town centre and was impressed and pleased that Tehran and Halifax now had a link.

“It’s a beautiful town with history,” he said.