30,000 books for £1 - Piece Hall shop collection to go under the hammer

Halifax Piece Hall which is to be re-developed loosing its cobbles, and  local businesses  have to move out during this �19m facelift.  (BR1001/21e)'12 November 2013.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Halifax Piece Hall which is to be re-developed loosing its cobbles, and local businesses have to move out during this �19m facelift. (BR1001/21e)'12 November 2013. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Share this article

Auction bids will start at a modest £1 when a collection of 30,000 second-hand books go under the hammer as a single lot in Yorkshire next month.

It will take a few lorry trips to shift all 15 tonnes but auctioneer Gary Don doesn’t believe that will put off serious book dealers.

The Leeds auctioneer was at the Piece Hall in Halifax to see Robert Johnston, whose bookshop has become something of a tourist attraction.

Mr Johnston is selling up ahead of a £19m redevelopment of the Grade I listed Piece Hall, which will temporarily close from January 17.

Mr Don is relieved the collection is going as one lot.

“I don’t think anybody has ever sold 30,000 books in one lot,” he says. It’s a bit of a task to find somebody who wants them in their entirety – but what an opportunity. If I had to catalogue these I would have to put a year aside.”

The winning bidder will acquire enough books to open up their own store, he says.

“The collection is absolutely amazing, unique. I keep pulling out books worth £20-£30 each. You can pick out every type of subject you can imagine.

“We want these books to stay together. We don’t want somebody to buy them and then scrap them.”

Walking into the shop gives a buzz of excitement, says Mr Don.

“It’s a unique place – a bit Harry Potter-ish, with the smell of the books, the history and atmosphere. It’s a wonderful place. I would hope someone can reconstruct the shop somewhere else.”

Mr Johnston, 74, hopes the collection will fetch more than the £1 “reserve”, although he accepts there may be no takers at all.

“I rather think it will go for between £5,000 and £6,000 – or nothing.

“If someone has space and is looking for a new business opportunity, I’m convinced there is a future in second-hand books – they will never be printed again and the variety of content is unbelievable. Before I got this bookshop, I thought I was well-read . I wasn’t. Now I am widely read; I read everything.”

Mr Johnston, who lives in Halifax with his wife Irene, is receiving compensation for having to move out because of the redevelopment but thinks it is a good opportunity for him to try something else – probably in the world of bridge playing.

Other traders have been left angry and bitter at the decision to close the Piece Hall after being told it would remain open. Some have decided to move into new premises.

Pat Steer, of Collect@, is in the process of moving from the Piece Hall to Crown Street in Halifax town centre.

She said the redevelopment process had caused “an awful lot of heartache” .

“I’m terribly sad to be leaving. It’s a wonderful building but the stress has been phenomenal.”

The council’s director of communities, Robin Tuddenham, said the decision to close the Piece Hall was taken because of disruption to basic services and use of noisy machinery.

He added: “We have supported tenants into alternative arrangements whilst the building work is undertaken. The discussions with tenants included an enhanced financial offer as an incentive to come back to the Piece Hall in 2015.

“This included a discounted rent and service charge at what will be a transformed Piece Hall which will become an outstanding venue for heritage, retail and business for Halifax and the region.”

The collection will be auctioned at the Piece Hall at noon on Monday, December 9.