“My favourite part of the job is talking to people,” John Atkinson tells me over the phone, legs freezing in the cold sting of an early February afternoon.
John Atkinson never thought he’d be making national news through his passion for pristine first editions.
“I love it when someone asks me about a book I’ve never heard of, which I then go and look up, and suddenly I’ve discovered something wonderful.”
He’s an avid book lover with a particular penchant for the author Ian Fleming, who gave the world James Bond.
When we speak on the phone, it’s not long before we spark a conversation in which he reveals to me how he made his small fortune.
It all started at the age of seven at a car boot sale with an unsuspecting copy of Just William.
How fitting that a book about an unruly schoolboy not unlike him was what awoke this love for books.
Yet, it wasn’t for another ten years until he fully realised this love would illuminate the pathway for the rest of his career.
John had run out of luck selling football shirts to his university friends to get by on rent when he stumbled upon a first edition of The Man with the Golden Gun by Fleming in Grainger Market, Newcastle.
He bought it for £45 instead of a concert ticket for a grungy garage rock band.
It was a decision which cost him a girlfriend, but looking back, John tells me it was more than worth it.
He soon made a profit through selling the book on eBay, far higher than he had selling second-hand Gary Neville jerseys.
Not long after, he re-visited the attic and blew the dust off an old cardboard box containing a collection of first-editions, all with their original dustcovers.
After he sold them for a pretty penny over eBay, he never looked back, and twenty years later, he’s been on national news.
Recently, he came across a full collection of first-edition Fleming James Bond novels, in mint condition and complete with comments from the author to lovers and friends, engraved in beautiful blue cursive.
According to experts, this makes the full collection worth £475,000, virtually half a million pounds.
When speaking of these novels, John’s passion starts to shine through.
“The novels Fleming wrote, the characters he created that have become immortal are transcendent of their medium.”
I ask John why he feels these books still resonate with readers today.
After a long and thoughtful pause, he responds: “I fell in love with the character and the films as a boy because I think it lets people into a world where anything’s possible.
“Everyone has bad days or gets bullied at school, and it’s nice to come home, pop in a DVD, and watch Bond defeat the bad guys and can identify with it on a primal level.
“It’s easy to identify with a hero who gets to do all the things we can’t do but wish we could.”
From here, our discussion launchpads into a discussion about Ian Fleming -the flawed, sometimes heroic, slightly tragic but utterly fascinating creator, and how Bond had to shed his politically incorrect skin to one more reflective of the times.
“Oh yeah,” John says with a knowing laugh, “the things Bond did and said in these books, he couldn’t get away with now.
“So it’s interesting that they’re worth so much today.”
I ask “Do you think it’s because of the character or because books are having a comeback?”
John tells me it’s both, as so many of the books he sells, especially Bond and Sherlock Holmes, place British people back in touch with the nation’s most iconic characters of the last century.
He adds that Harry Potter is now a proud member of this roster.
I begin to wonder if that’s the secret to John’s success – it puts people back in touch with a vital part of the nation’s fictional heritage.
Books may be easily thrown somewhat to the wayside these days, placed on the shelf, and forgotten about in favour of a good Netflix binge, which we all love occasionally.
Maybe books are being overlooked, but they may also become more revered at the same time.
I’m not saying books will have a full comeback.
After all, vinyl records aren’t about to suddenly come back and replace Spotify.
Perhaps as books take up a smaller and smaller part of our entertainment consumption, those who still read them are willing to pay more for the window into the past that they offer.
John Atkinson seems to agree with me and understands that even more as an avid Bond fan.
He knows the Fleming novels carry an extra significance for the nation, as they’re origin of one of our most popular characters.
“They wouldn’t have sold for half as much, and nobody would have cared if they’d have been some random detective pulp stories from the fifties.
“Bond is now cross-generational. The person that gave me these books has a connection to the character because his dad loved Bond.
“The character struck a chord with a generation, and that makes them enduring even today.”
Today, books tend to get lost in the shuffle, and it’s easy to forget that some of our most iconic characters originate in them.
It gets me wondering if, in fifty or sixty years, after possibly an endless string of remakes and spinoffs, the original Harry Potter books in their first edition print will go for a couple of million.
If that’s true, we might have an entire generation of John Atkinsons awaiting to heed the call and make their fortunes.
Main photo credit: The Yorkshire Post