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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

The Psychic Bookshop

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The Psychic Bookshop
From left to right: Mr. R. G. Monier-Willians, Miss De Morgan, Arthur Conan Doyle and his daughter Mary at The Psychic Bookshop (ca. 1925).
Letterhead of the shop

The Psychic Bookshop was a bookshop dedicated to Spiritualism established in early february 1925 by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was located on the ground floor and basement of Abbey House at 2 Victoria Street, S.W.1., London, (behind the Westminster Abbey, and very close to 15 Buckingham Palace Mansions where Conan Doyle had his London flat). It was a book shop, a library, a museum, and a book publishing company.

An advertisement included in Pheneas Speaks (The Psychic Press, 1927) described the bookshop as follows:

This central depot for knowledge was established to meet the fact that psychic literature, the most important literature in the world, found hardly any place upon the shelves of the ordinary book seller.

What advantages does it offer?

1. It contains a splendid stock of psychic books, which is always kept up-to-date, and includes the old literature as well as the new.

2. It has a circulating library from which these books, which are often expensive, can be taken out at 2/6 a month or a guinea a year. Provincial customers are served by post.

3. It has a psychic museum which is unique.

4. It gives advice and direction gratis.

Come and inspect or write for Catalogues.

Telephone: Franklin 6248

Telegrams: "Ectoplasm, Sowest"



Opening

On 16 january 1925, Conan Doyle wrote a letter to the magazine Light which was published in the 25 january issue, announcing the opening of the bookshop :

« SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE'S PSYCHIC BOOKSHOP AND LIBRARY. Sir, — It has long seemed to me that one of the weak points in our psychic movement is the complete disconnection between our splendid literature and the man in the street. He is as a rule absolutely unaware of its existence. In an endeavour to get past this difficulty I am engaged in starting a psychic bookshop and library in one of the most central positions in London. It is in Abbey House in Victoria street, opposite to Dean’s Yard, and within a stone's throw of Westminster Abbey. I would ask the, support of all psychic students for this venture, so far as it can be given without encroaching upon the trade in psychic books already done by the London Spiritualist Alliance, or by the office of the "Two Worlds." I wish to open up new fields, not to encroach upon the old ones. Nothing but psychic books will be sold, and a large stock kept in hand, while every effort will be made to meet the wants of customers. Should any reader have duplicates which he could spare for the library he would do me a service if, after the beginning of February, he would send them to the manager at the address given. — Yours, etc., ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE. January 16th. »

In the same issue of Light, a separate request for donations was published by the magazine :

« A PSYCHIC BOOKSHOP. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has carried out a cherished scheme of his own by establishing a Psychic Bookshop and Library at Abbey House, Victoria Street (Opposite Dean's Yard and close to Westminster Abbey). The Bookshop will be devoted entirely to the sale of Spiritualistic literature and its success will depend upon students of psychic matters turning to it for the books which they need. A large stock will be kept and all requirements carefully met. Sir Arthur appeals for contributions of old psychic books or duplicate copies for use in the new library. We learn that the premises should be ready early in February and that letters should be addressed to Mr: Monier-Williams, Psychic Bookshop, Abbey House, Victoria Street, S.W. »


Employees

The bookshop manager was Dr. R. G. Monier-Williams (M.S. Honorary Member, Société Lorraine de Psychologie Appliquée [1]) and Miss De Morgan as an assistant (she was the grand-daughter of famous spiritualist Professor Augustus De Morgan) [2]. Mary Louise Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle's first daughter also worked in the bookshop as a temporary manager at the beginning but was asked to stay by the hired manager and assistant.

In the movie footage below, you can see Arthur Conan Doyle, his daughter Mary, R. G. Monier-Williams and Miss De Morgan at the entrance of the bookshop (1925) :



Mary described the bookshop as a kind of spiritualist clearing-house, where people could not only obtain the literature, but find a ready ear to tell their troubles to and get advice about the right medium. [3]


The Psychic Press

The bookshop published books under several imprints : The Psychic Press, The Psychic Bookshop and Library, The Psychic Book Shop, The Psychic Press and The Psychic Press and Bookshop between 1925 and 1930.


The Psychic Museum

Five months after the opening, Arthur Conan Doyle announced in Light (4 july 1925) he set up a Psychic Museum under the bookshop, where he exhibited documentary material on famous mediums, paintings done in trance, spirit photos, apports (objects that appear at a seance through no visible agency) and items related to spirit séances. The most famous items were the Cottingley fairies photos and the "gloves" materialized in a wax solution, filled with plaster.

« A PROPOSED PSYCHIC MUSEUM. Sir, — I am establishing a small museum of psychic objects under the Psychic Bookshop, Abbey House, Victoria Street. The situation is so central that such a collection cannot fail to attract attention and to form a powerful propaganda centre. I should he greatly obliged if any of your readers will either give, lend or sell suitable objects. I have at present the two wax gloves lent me the Psychic College and I have the Garscadden collection photographs with some other pictures. With such a nucleus I should have no difficulty in getting together a worthy collection. Perhaps those who wish to help me will send me a line first so that I may tell them how far, with our limited space, their kind offers can be taken advantage of. ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE. »

Arthur Conan Doyle was interviewed by Leonard Crocombe in The Strand Magazine in may 1927 to explain the major objects in the Museum : The World's Happiest Museum with 10 photos of the main items.



End of the bookshop

The book shop never had real benefits, and the rent of the shop was £750 a year, which Conan Doyle paid on his own money. On 9 may 1930, when his health was bad, he wrote a letter to Harry Price to tell he was willing to turn the Bookshop into a company.

The shop was not turned into a company before Arthur Conan Doyle's death.

Edwin Butler, who worked in The Frienship Centre between 1932 and 1934, recalled what happened to The Psychic Bookshop in 1932 [4] :

« In early 1932, Jean Conan Doyle, Mary Louise Conan Doyle, Sir Robert Gower and W. R. Bradbrook finalised the transfer [of the Psychic Bookshop and Museum] to Stephen Foster, proprietor of the Friendship Centre. Later, when Estelle Stead moved from the Stead Bureau in Smith Square to Herne Bay, the Stead Library was also transferred to the Friendship Centre. The books of the three libraries (Conan Doyle Memorial, W.T. Stead Memorial and Friendship Centre) were so merged as to be indistinguishable. When war came in 1939, Stephen Foster moved to Balcombe in Sussex, taking some items with him. What remained of the libraries moved to the healer Ronald Beesley in Norfolk Square, W.2. What I have been unable to discover is what happened to the Museum? There were two large oil paintings, one a portrait of Sir Arthur; a large ewer in reddish-brown (an apport); many smaller items included the wax gloves from the “Margery” (Crandon) circle, the interlocked Zollner rings of different woods, and a collection of flintstones so split as to display alphabet and numerals white on black in the stones themselves - the label read, to the best of my recollection, "no claim is made as to the origin of these stones, but explanations are invited from geologists and others." I have heard rumours that (a) that Museum items were stored in London and destroyed by bombs in the "blitz" - but no precise location indicated; or (b) that items were purchased by Americans - but again unspecified. »


Lamond's Testimony

In 1931, while the bookshop was still running but Arthur Conan Doyle dead, Reverend John Lamond wrote a biography Arthur Conan Doyle — A Memoir (John Murray) where he wrote some pages about the bookshop (p. 215-217) :

« One of his many schemes for attracting public attention towards psychic study was the Psychic Bookshop which he established in Victoria Street, well-nigh under the shadow of Westminster Abbey. He desired that there should be some central emporium for the distribution of psychic literature. A good many agencies of this kind were in existence, but, as a rule, they were attached to some spiritualistic society. A few booksellers like Mr. Watkins had made a speciality of selling theosophical and spiritualistic literature, but Sir Arthur desired a shop in some public centre in which the literature of the movement would be the main feature. Associated with the Bookshop he formed a library and a museum. The museum contained objects of historical interest collected by himself, and articles contributed by personal friends. This shop for several years was under the personal management of Miss Mary Conan Doyle, his elder daughter. It was a bold venture, and in later years caused the founder considerable anxiety. In the future it is intended that it will form part of the memorial to be erected to commemorate Sir Arthur's labours. It was one of the many proofs of his desire that psychic literature should be made accessible to the public.

I can recall him in many scenes – on the platform, at some crowded meeting, in the chair at some business gathering, at his own fireside on a Christmas Eve, in the glades of the New Forest at Bignell Wood, or amid the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey when the Abbey bells seemed to sound him a welcome – but there is one unforgettable vision of him in the Psychic Bookshop that is stamped for ever on my memory. I had gone in to purchase some recently published volume, and found Sir Arthur with his coat off and a great bundle of books between his arms. That a man whose time was so precious should be engaged in that manual task of carrying about bundles of books seemed to me to be the decisive proof of his interest in the enterprise. I came out of that Bookshop a humbled man. If the readers of this volume could realise how much he valued the Bookshop, and how great was the joy he felt in seeing the parcels of books going forth to the ends of the earth, they would, as a token of gratitude to this great patriot and missionary, see that the Bookshop is re-established on a sound commercial basis. »






  1. Hartmann's Who's Who in Occult, Psychic and Spiritual Realms, The Occult Press, New York, 1925.
  2. In "Out of the Shadows" biography by Georgina Doyle (2004), the two employees are Mr. Walford and Miss Lynda Falconar, but these names are not mentioned in press articles, as are Monier-Williams and De Morgan.
  3. Out of the Shadows, by Georgina Doyle, Calabash Press, 2004.
  4. The Book & Magazine Collector (March 1998)

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