The Last Stand, situated next to the Museum Tavern on the corner of Museum Street opposite the British Museum, specialises in antiquarian books on the Native American experience and first-hand accounts by the European interlopers in the lands of the Lakȟóta, with an accent on the authentic spiritual practices of the prairie peoples of South Dakota.
The bookshop, well-appointed, with three stories above that of the ground floor where much of the public-facing stock is kept, includes a first-floor reading room, a private flat, a roof-terrace and a dingy basement which contains a secret egress – never-yet-used and possibly stuck – to the pub next door. The shop has a thorough grounding in History and Science, rarer items in the related subjects of Victoriana and Criminology and is particularly renowned for its assortment of Cartographic prints and literature, the latter speciality drawing a range of collectors from the length and breadth not only of London, but of the south-east of England, notwithstanding the recent impact of the stock market crash on the book trade of 1930.
The proprietor is Edward Cody, proud son of a Lakȟóta mother who will hear nothing at all, thank you, of the manner in which one William Cody sired him in bigamous circumstances, owner too of the bookshop parrot “Buffalo Bill” – a creature as multilingual as his owner – and of a fearsome reputation at the auction houses of Bloomsbury, Mayfair and Belgravia.
His partner is Robert Nottingham, antiquarian, recently returned from a failed expedition to the Amazon to locate Percy Fawcett, who disappeared into the Brazilian Interior in 1925 searching for the lost city of Muribeca with a mysterious basalt idol he identified as Atlantean (Trail of Cthulhu, p176), a fiend for authenticity, scourge of forgers and filchers of rare items alike, and a well-known habitué of the Royal Geographical Society.
The third member of the confraternity is James William Barnes, an archaeologist in the mould of Basil Brown, self-taught, born and raised in the West Country and resident in one of the upstairs rooms of the neighbouring Museum Tavern, where he sometimes conducts less reputable deals on behalf of the bookshop. A keen believer in scientific progress, he keeps his doubts about the sometime shamanistic practices of Cody and the wilder topographical theories of Bob Nottingham to himself.
By using the excellent advice contained in Kenneth Hite’s Bookhounds of London on shared bookshop creation (p15), we soon found ourselves describing not only the sights and sounds of The Last Stand, but also those of the surrounding area, moving on to the bookshop’s deadly rivals in nearby Coptic Street, The Eye of Osiris, specialists in Egyptian Funerary Rites and Abyssinian Architecture – we’d very quickly found ourselves in the mode of the Pulp Arabesque – and then onto the altogether more friendly rivalry of the neighbouring Fine Books Oriental, purveyors of Japanorama and items of Sino-Eastern origin, adjacent specialist in numismatics King Croesus and, round the corner on Great Russell Street itself, The Red and the Black, a reputable source for the Classics and original artefacts of pottery. The unknown quantity was the recent arrival of Carpe Deus at the bottom of Museum Street, newcomers with the unfortunate reputation of buying up the stock of failing rivals at reduced prices.
It is a ferociously busy time for me right now but I find the game is so far up my street that I cannot resist any part of Bookhounds of London. We hope to begin The Last Catalogue of Ramon Dégas next week.