David Macnaughton

Edinburgh bookseller
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The Independent Online

David MacNaughton, bookseller: born Edinburgh 11 April 1937; married 1975 Kristina von Malmborg (died 1999); died Ayr 22 September 2006.

For over 40 years David MacNaughton was one of the best-known figures in the Scottish secondhand book trade. He opened his first bookshop, the Book Cellar, in Dundas Street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town in 1967. Subsequently, he ran so many bookshops, mainly in Edinburgh, but also in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dalmellington, that it was something of a hobby among his fellow booksellers to try and work out how many he had opened.

For 12 years the Book Cellar was one of the leading Edinburgh bookshops. MacNaughton, a founder member of the Scottish Antiquarian Booksellers Association, had a "nose" for a good book and his stock was always full of interest and variety. Even visiting on an almost daily basis as I did in the late Sixties, you could be sure that there would be some fresh temptation.

Although a basement, the front shop of the Book Cellar was bright and airy, the stock neatly and coherently arranged; down a flight of stairs was another room, which contained a gallimaufry of books and periodicals. More often than not, MacNaughton's sister Irene Moriarty would be at the desk typing their latest catalogue and he himself was often out hunting, whether responding to house calls or attending auctions, which were then frequent in the city.

Three mornings a week, summer and winter, Lyon & Turnbull held sales in Rose Street Lane South at the back of their George Street rooms, offering an eclectic and unpredictable mix of goods. With scant time for viewing and sometimes fierce bidding, the booksellers who attended had to be able to think on their feet. A few doors along, Dowells (subsequently Phillips and now Bonhams) held large specialist book sales and even their weekly household sales turned up unexpected gems.

Once, in the Book Cellar, David MacNaughton told me that he was building up a collection of Foulis Press books and pamphlets from the late 19th and early 20th century. He opened a deep drawer to reveal what looked like hundreds of pristine examples, bound in delicately coloured grey or fawn card wrappers, the front covers embellished with images by art nouveau artists such as Katherine Cameron and Jessie M. King. MacNaughton beamed proudly. It was like being with a fisherman who had just made a spectacular haul.

The Sixties and Seventies were something of a golden age for the trade, although even then people were referring back to the apparently halcyon conditions of decades before. Making a living in secondhand books required strong wits and nerve, intellectual and physical energy.

If secondhand booksellers have one thing in common, it is that they are diversely individualistic, with a singular tale to be told of how they were drawn to their way of life. The son of an Edinburgh frame gilder, MacNaughton left school at 15 and two years later joined the Royal Air Force and was posted to Germany for three years. After that he spent some time in London and his experience as a teleprinter operator secured him work on Fleet Street with the Daily Mail and Reuters. He loved the buzz of the newspaper world and being on the spot as news broke - he saw news of the death of John F. Kennedy come in on the wire. He usually worked nightshifts, by day trawling secondhand bookshops and dreaming of becoming a secondhand bookseller in his own right.

In 1975 MacNaughton married Kristina von Malmborg, from Sweden, in 1975. It was a true love match. Their hospitality at their home near Duns in the Scottish Borders extended to hosting Bert Barrott's annual West Port Books picnic, a gloriously eccentric affair. After Kristina died in 1999, David moved to Dalmellington in Ayrshire, inspired by the short-lived dream that it might become a book town. His retirement was nominal, as it is for many secondhand booksellers.

The warmth that typified David MacNaughton is summed up by the writer Catherine Czerkawska's anecdote about their first encounter at an auction in Ayr, following her purchase of an 18th-century bible. It bore the name Elizabeth Maclehose, a relation of Robert Burns's "Clarinda". MacNaughton, no doubt kicking himself for his unusual oversight, was immediately caught up in Czerkawska's dream of incorporating its story into a future novel. A spinner of possibilities and natural storyteller, he recognised a kindred spirit, and another of many friendships was forged.

Jennie Renton