Rummaging around local charity shops often rewards with a wee gem or sought after book but the this morning’s find turns out to be a little different. I’m very fond of reading vintage crime fiction and Freeman Willis Crofts is one of my favourite authors in the genre. His books were published largely in the early part of the 20th centre and are rarely reprinted, so finding one his books that I haven’t read being offered second hand makes for a good day and I almost always snap it up. And this one comes in the lovely green and cream bands of classic Penguin mystery and crime, so was irresistible. It is a little battered and dog eared but I don’t mind books like that if their just for reading, so long as they are not smelly, brittle or falling apart.
But its turns out that this copy has another twist which appeals in particular to that part of me which wishes I was a book collector as well as a reader. When I got it home I found it had a bookplate in it. When I find bookplates, I always google a bit to see if I can find out a bit about the previous owner – often they turn out to have been local or had local connections. Turns out though that the Anne and F G Renier, whose names appear on the bookplate,were themselves book collectors of some note.
Fernard Gabriel Renier (1905-1988) was a Dutchman, born in Flushing, who as a young man settled in England around 1918, studying languages at London University in the 1920s. It was here he met his future wife, Anne Cliff (1911?-1988) through a common interest in collecting match box labels. After university, Renier worked for the BBC World Service but he also translated several works from his native dutch and from German into English and produced various Dutch and German grammars and learning aids among other books, at times working in collaboration with Anne . Together they built up an enormous and in elements important collection of books, illustrations and popular printed materials. In 1970, they donated their collection of children’s literature to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Renier Collection was subsequently transferred to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and more recently to Blythe House, where it is now known as the Renier Collection and comprises some 80,000 books, games and printed materials. Two delightful colouring books from the Renier Collection were recently featured in a V&A blog post, Colour Our Collections.