Hatchards, the historic bow-front bookshop on London’s Piccadilly, wants to bring “back under people’s noses books that they should, they should read,” said Francis Cleverdon, the shop’s general manager.
So, “what we are doing is we are republishing things, books that we love,” he said during a recent interview in an upstairs office. On the desk beside him was a stack of those very books, in their colorful paper jackets, that make up the Hatchards Library.
The reissued titles, selected by the Hatchards team, debuted in 2018 with “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” by E.M. Delafield and “Thou Shell of Death” by Nicholas Blake. Now two or three books — typically out of print, overlooked or all but forgotten, Mr. Cleverdon said — are introduced each year. Usually, only 2,000 numbered copies of each title are printed, priced at less than 20 pounds ($24).
This year, “The Man Who Was Thursday,” an eclectic thriller by G.K. Chesterton, was published in July. W. Somerset Maugham’s “Christmas Holiday,” a coming-of-age novel, will be available at the end of this month. (A festive theme runs through the series, such as the 2021 addition “Tied Up in Tinsel” by Ngaio Marsh.)
Also this month, “Lucky Jim,” Kingsley Amis’s debut novel, takes the total of reissued titles in the library to 11.
Besides selecting the book and securing the rights, Hatchards also produces the artwork, including the cover and endpapers. Covers are done in different solid colors and feature a scene in gold, typically inspired, Mr. Cleverdon said, by the original book art.
“They make lovely Christmas gifts,” he said, “because they’re pretty and they are good books.” He also noted it was “very, very, very unlikely that the recipient is going to get two copies.”
And, “from our point of view, it makes the shop different,” he said. “You can’t get them anywhere else except Hatchards.”
Other bookshops in England also have explored specialty publishing.
In Norwich, The Book Hive, an independent bookseller established by Henry Layte, introduced the publishing imprint Propolis to showcase new voices, often on subjects or themes to do with the local area. Since its debut in 2014, it has published 13 books, beginning with “Ariadne’s Thread” by Philippa Comber.
And Persephone Books, based in Bath, started as a publishing company founded in 1999 by Nicola Beauman, and in 2002 added a bookshop. It specializes in reprinting, in elegant gray jackets, lost or out-of-print novels written by women in the years between the two world wars. Four books are produced each year, two in April and two in October. (The October 2023 titles were “Sofia Petrovna” by Lydia Chukovskaya, about Stalin’s purges in Russia, and “Out of The Window” by Madeline Linford, about marriage and sexual attraction.)
At Hatchards, the library project actually links back to John Hatchard, who founded the shop in 1797.
Originally the shop specialized in antislavery literature — Mr. Hatchard was an active campaigner — and became a meeting place for those writers. Eventually, Mr. Cleverdon said, some writers asked Mr. Hatchard to publish their works, which the bookstore did until around 1900.
“So we restarted it,” said Mr. Cleverdon, who has been at Hatchards for 13 years.