Richard Booth, Self-Crowned King of Used Books, Dies at 80

Richard Booth, Self-Crowned King of Used Books, Dies at 80

“Buying a small shop in Hay-on-Wye meant that instead of playing a minor role in a major business, I could play a major role in a minor one,” he wrote in his autobiography, “My Kingdom of Books” (1999).

He bought the former firehouse, then warehouses and a Norman castle, and began shipping in truckloads of books. Copycats flourished, too.

“Booth was buying them at pennies on the dollar in the United States,” Paul Collins wrote in “Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books” (2003), a book about Hay, “as old seminaries went bankrupt, as ignoramuses staffing Peabody Libraries sold off their treasures — because ‘nobody reads them’ — as New York institutions like Stechert-Hafner shut their doors, and as little old rich ladies died and left libraries to half-literate progeny.”

Mr. Booth’s inventory was encyclopedic. Browsers could find copies of “Ploughing Regulations for Bengal” and character studies of Cromwell’s skull. Americans stocked their personal libraries on the basis of specific bindings. He furnished books for movie sets and supplied a German town with the manuals to replicate the Wehrmacht’s original archive.

On April 1, 1977, Mr. Booth declared Hay an independent kingdom and named his horse prime minister, a stunt that he later augmented with passports and peerages. While he never abdicated, by 2005 his half-dozen stores had dwindled to one, which he sold. He continued to operate the King of Hay, which sold regal trumpery celebrating his reign.

His first two marriages were, as he described them, unsuccessful. (The second lasted one day. “Vicky wanted to flout authority,” he wrote, “whereas I did not think authority was worth flouting.”) In the late 1980s he married Hope Barrie Stuart, a photographer, who survives him, as do two sisters, Joanna and Anne.

Mr. Booth’s campaigns for public office were also unsuccessful. As the Socialist Labour Party candidate for the Welsh Assembly in 1999 and for the European Parliament a decade later, he drew less than 2 percent of the vote.

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