Why you should care
Because everyone secretly wants to visit somewhere that was once on TV.
The now sole owner of Collinge & Clark has just thrown someone out for eating Chinese food as they browsed through his small, one-room bookstore. And I begin to fear that everything I’ve heard about Oliver Clark, with his solemn speech and penchant for locking up at sporadic hours, is true (it is, incidentally). Yet the specialist secondhand bookstore that stocks pricey design and typography titles endures. And in Bloomsbury, London, no less.
It would be easy to attribute this continued longevity to the store’s pop-culture status as the Black Books bookshop — the exterior shots for the 2000–2004 British TV comedy created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan were filmed here — although Clark quickly pooh-poohs that with a swift and withering, “I can, actually, sell books.” For the past decade or so of his 30-plus-year stint as a bookstore proprietor, he’s had “two or three people a day” stopping by because of the TV connection, and Clark seems rather irritated by it all. “Hearing the same jokes can get grating,” he says. (Recently, there have been ludicrous requests to film both a ballet and a heavy metal music video on the premises — Collinge & Clark’s very small interior was not, in fact, used for the show.)
The wide range of specialized and obscure typography titles is a big draw for font designers.
But pass Collinge & Clark’s TV-famous monochrome exterior, marred only by a row of blue plastic milk crates littered with decidedly non-design-oriented castoffs — like Artemis Fowl and a lone Jeffrey Archer title — and go inside. The cult-status draw may end at the threshold (there’s not a pile of rubbish or a discarded wine bottle in sight), yet the appeal abides. There is a robust collection of obscure titles, some of which have rough-cut edges and some of which are just perfectly charming in their own quirky right. Take the slender £125 book that illustrates the alphabet one page at a time using frogs and toads. (T is, naturally, for tadpoles.)
Then there are beautifully bound sketch collections and intriguingly titled texts with names like Henry James Sat Here and, simply, Wonderful Plants printed down the spines. Other books could quite easily be London pub names: Take Hammer and Hand and The Printer and the Poet, for example. And the wide range of specialized and obscure typography titles is a big draw for font designers. They love the weird and wonderful typeface titles he stocks, according to Clark, as they can’t be found elsewhere.
True to the fact that most of the shop’s tomes are about design — arguably the genre with the most notoriously awkward and irregularly shaped books — spines jut off otherwise neat shelves, or texts are positioned so that bare pages are left tauntingly open, inviting curious browsers to have a peek.
One book you shouldn’t expect to find? The Little Book of Calm. And definitely don’t make a joke about it. Or you might find yourself unceremoniously locked out with the not-so-rare rejects in those iconic milk crates.
Go There: Collinge & Clark
- Location: 13 Leigh St., King’s Cross, London. Map
- Hours: 11 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Pro tip: If you’re looking for some more literary exploration in the vicinity, Collinge & Clark is a stone’s throw from both the British Library and Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station.