Obituary: Robert Vaughan
Monday 11 July 1994
ROBERT VAUGHAN enjoyed two successful careers, the first as a theatrical manager and the second as an antiquarian bookseller.
Born in a tiny village in Denbighshire where his father was headmaster, he was educated at Ruthin School, near Mold. It was at first intended that he should become a doctor, but quite early in his study of medicine he found that the physical aspects of a doctor's life, the over-close acquaintance with blood and internal organs, were not for him, and he resolved instead to work in the theatre.
He was fortunate enough to get a job at the Old Vic, but soon reached the conclusion that he would not excel as an actor. He therefore turned to administration. He managed one of HM Tennent's companies, and went on to work in similar capacities for George and Alfred Black and later for Toby Rowland.
In 1963 he and his wife Colleen, who gave up a career as a dancer when the couple married in 1955, moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he became manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He served a term as Chairman of the Stage Management Association and sat on various Arts Council committees concerned with the training of arts administrators and theatre technicians. Policy disagreements at the RSC caused him to resign in 1976, to devote his time to bookselling.
Himself a book-collector of long standing, Vaughan had occasionally sold items from his collection when necessity demanded. He found, as others have done before and since, that in terms of price there can be a big difference between buying and selling. Taking the view that if you couldn't beat them you should join them, he became a part-time bookseller in 1953. Thereafter, from various addresses in and around London, he had traded by catalogue, and with collectors and dealers who visited his home by appointment. His stock then was almost exclusively confined to first editions of the 19th century and to good English literature in general. From the earliest days, fine condition was a hallmark of his books.
When he and Colleen opened a shop in Stratford, just a few hundred yards from the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, it was natural to add to the general English literature a strong section of Shakespeare studies and, in time, Robert Vaughan became arguably the world's leading specialist in that field, with collectors and librarians from all over the globe beating a path, if not to his door, then certainly to his letter-box. Those who visited his premises can bear witness to the fact that, unusually for a bookshop, they were preternaturally tidy and astonishingly free from dust. As one competitor remarked of the stock, 'Every book was interesting. Every book was worth reading.'
Vaughan played a full part in the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association, serving on its Committee for many years and acting as its President from 1988 to 1990. During his term of office, his diplomatic skills and his unfailing courtesy stood him in good stead. In a trade not noted for sartorial elegance, he stood out by being always immaculately dressed. Whether in a dark suit to conduct an annual general meeting or in less formal attire on a motoring holiday in a warm climate, he always presented a band-box appearance. His expertise and integrity were widely respected by his colleagues as well as by his customers. His wife survives him and the business will continue.
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