Obituary: Edward Nairn, 95

Edward Nairn. Pic: Comp
Edward Nairn. Pic: Comp
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EDWARD Nairn, a literary enthusiast who became one of the longest-serving members of Edinburgh’s book trade has died, aged 95.

Mr Nairn created the well respected John Updike Rare Books in 1964 alongside Ian Watson, and the thriving association with his business partner would last almost 50 years, with their business specialising in 19th and 20th century literature, private press and illustrated books.

John Updike booksellers became universally recognised for both the quality and condition of their stock.

Mr Nairn was born in Glasgow in June 1918. His parents were both professional musicians and they imparted a deep love and understanding of music in their son, an appreciation which fuelled his later love of literature.

The bookseller’s first job was in the design department of Templeton’s Carpet Factory in Glasgow, a position he disliked and soon moved to Jackson’s Bookshop.

While at the store, he would become friends with Scottish poet Christopher Murray Grieve, best known by his pen name Hugh MacDiarmid.

Mr Nairn would also make connections with artist-poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, spending time with him during service in the Second World War.

He moved to the Capital with his mother in the late 1940s before a brief stint in London.

He returned to Edinburgh in 1948, becoming an employee at James Thin – a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop at the time.

He would work at the store for the next six years, retaining memories including a detailed recollection of individual volumes and where they had been placed on the shelves all those years ago.

Charles Sarolea, the first head of the French department at the University of Edinburgh, was among regular customers, having bought a neighbouring four-storey house to make room for his expanding book collection.

From 1954 until 1962, Mr Nairn went into partnership with Kulgin Duval, working from a flat in Rose Street. They remained lifelong friends, but Mr Duval would move into antiquarian books.

Mr Nairn met Mr Watson in the early 1960s, prompting them to form John Updike. The partnership kept up with prices and trends, with their buying involving discussions and shrewd business sense. Both men spent plenty of time travelling, with no formal shop hours to keep. They visited bookshops across the country, combining buying trips with meetings with friends, who were often artists, writers or musicians.

A visit to “the Updikes” itself always involved a feast of books, a tea party and chat.

The final tea party took place in the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. Mr Watson will 
continue to trade alone as John Updike following his close friend’s passing.