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MCKENZIE DIGS IN TO PASS THE 200 MARK

(This article appeared in The Cricket Paper on 7th June 2019 and is reproduced with their kind permission.)

It will not be the fastest double century of the summer, having taken all of 47 years in its compilation.  But when you have shared your ';innings'; with among others, John Arlott, Don Bradman and Harold Pinter, what has been the point of hurrying?

John McKenzie, the world';s foremost cricket book dealer, will soon be sending out catalogue No. 200 from his unique emporium in Stoneleigh, Surrey.

For his customers, the four-time yearly tomes are always a delight, listing as they do books of differing vintage, Wisden almanacks or cricket memorabilia in themed editions.

And catalogue No. 199 reflected another of his activities, McKenzie has published more than 50 books the latest being an account of Sir Garfield Sobers'; early years and career which is pictured on the cover of a catalogue featuring autographed material.  Earlier titles often carried introductions and forewords by the much-loved radio and television commentator John Arlott who McKenzie frequently visited at the great man';s Alderney home.

"Those visits were always something to treasure, so convivial and full of great stores", he said.  McKenzie started selling books from the bedroom of his parents'; home and one of his early customers made a house call and McKenzie recalls an initially embarrassing encounter.

"The customer said he was coming round to buy some Wisdens and I had read his name as Mr Pineter.  My mother opened the door and was amazed to find one of the world';s foremost playwrights at the door.  She shouted upstairs there was Harold Pinter to see me, I shouted down, no, no it';s Mr Pineter.  Despite this we became friends due to our mutual love of cricket, and I would go to his house in Hampstead and play table tennis with him and his son.
One Evening I was even invited to dinner with one of his near neighbours, the famed actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who was a cricket fan herself".

The early catalogues featured barely 500 items, only briefly noted. Latterly, they run to 150 pages with 1,200 items forensically described.  Those items often include that cricket collector';s staple the Coalport china hundred hundred plates which display a players'; centuries marked out on images of cricket bats radiating out from the centre of the plate.

One such was produced with Sir Donald Bradman who McKenzie met in the company of Bradman';s wife Lady Jesse. "On one journey", McKenzie said, "she talked about the fear for her husband';s safety she had felt during the Bodyline Series of 1932/3".

But collecting and dealing in historic cricket books remains his passion and those pursuits have taken him all across the cricketing globe, with Australia and the West Indies being frequent ports of call.  And one recent visit was to Philadelphia, once the cradle of the American game, where inevitably, he unearthed several gems.

The Wisden almanack however, remains one of the most popular items among his customers, the first edition in 1864 having a value in five figures.  And some years ago he sold a complete set to the librettist Sir Tim Rice.

For McKenzie, a self-confessed cricket fanatic, his catalogues reflect a remarkable journey through the decades, "I';ve met some incredible people and been to some amazing places", he said.  "It really has been a labour of love".

By Edwin Charles

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