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MCKENZIE BRINGS UP DOUBLE-CENTURY

(This article appeared in the April 2019 edition of The Cricketer magazine and is reproduced with their kind permission.)

One of the few remaining specialist cricket bookshop in the world celebrates a double-century this year.

John McKenzie has run JW McKenzie Cricket Books since 1973. Opened on the site of an old library, McKenzie's shop in Ewell, Epsom, remains a keen destination for cricket fans and diehard collectors.

He is about to issue his 200th catalogue. Each has a different cricket theme and runs to about 140 pages - for instance Catalogue 199 will feature signed items, mostly books.

"I have always loved my books - especially cricket books," McKenzie says. "Once I left school I found jobs in two prestigious antiquarian bookshops - Francis Edwards and Ben Weinreb. They might not have been cricket but they still showed me how the business was run and it is just the same with cricket books."

For McKenzie, the love affair with the sport began young when his father, a South African journalist, introduced him to it as a child. "My father loved the game," he explained. "The poor man had to bowl to me but he always got a wicket! He got me into cricket and I just kept on.

"I came over from South Africa in the mid-1950s and watched my first Test in 1960. Three years later I saw the Test at Lord's against West Indies when Colin Cowdrey came out and batted with a broken arm and that stayed with me."

By the age of 18, McKenzie had become a serious collector, opening his store in 1976.
Among the rarest books he has traded are Britcher's, early cricket score collections published by MCC scorer Samuel Britcher between 1790–1805. Books that McKenzie calls "the predecessor to Wisden".

"Wisden was first published in 1864," McKenzie explained, "but before Wisden there were Britcher's. They were produced around the time of the French Revolution and were only around for 15 years."

"Original Wisdens do come along but they are not as rare as their predecessor. I've had one or two of those and while very desirable, they do not have the rarity of early 18th century Britcher's. That's because with Wisden, no one ever throws them away but with Britcher's they did. "

"It was worked out that there were probably only 400 titles printed in total in 1790 and yet one of them was about cricket. How could one of them be about cricket when it was in its infancy then?"  A font of knowledge on the history of cricket and the written word, McKenzie even began to issue and reissue cricketing prose himself.

"I started publishing books and when a book came into my hand that was hard to place, I would reprint 150-200 copies. I have just published a book that was written for me about Sir Garfield Sobers called The Bay Land's Favourite Son. This was published in a limited edition of 125 copies signed by Sobers.  It is also available as a standard unsigned edition in softback."

Now, after spending 46 years trading from his shop, McKenzie reflects on his time with real fondness: "It has been interesting, it really has. You never know what's around the corner."

By Matthew Cooper

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